The foundations of understanding the market, understanding man
Religion & Liberty Online

The foundations of understanding the market, understanding man

I am a great fan of “back to basics.” This is because the general population does not know what the educated person of my youth knew. Let’s take college education. The undergraduate university I attended had a heavy core curriculum. In philosophy alone there were five required courses in sequence. I would minoring with 21 credits. In theology there were four, again in sequence. In history there were three—two in sequence and one of the student’s choice. In political science there were two in sequence, same each with math and science. There were five in English, again in sequence. Today it is very rare to find such a core. Nowadays, a typical student is usually required to take an English writing course and then maybe one or two courses in each major area, not in sequence, but of his own choosing. The result is that the student’s knowledge is a hodge-podge, rather than a sequential building from a foundation. So the foundations are missing or shoddy.

I was a critic on panel at a scholarly conference in Texas once. I was assigned a person’s paper to critique, and the jist of my argument was that the whole argument was founded on Nominalism. Since the other person had a doctorate as well as I, I assumed that we would have a fruitful discussion over the very foundation of the professor’s paper and research, where she would have to defend the nominalist basis of the paper. But, instead of addressing my critique, she discussed another person’s paper, which was not her job. After the panel ended, I asked another person on the panel who had been a former student of mine, why this happened. He threw up his hands and said, “Philosophically illiterate?”

This is exactly my point. This person’s knowledge base was very flawed such that she did not know a very basic concept that all students (even those with only a B. A.) in my generation who had attended at least Catholic universities would be familiar with.

So what I am going to do now is discuss in the following series the fundamentals of man’s nature and how it plays out in everyday life.

The big point to remember here is that both society and the market are sui generis: that is to say, self-generating. They come from themselves. No one created society except the people who live in it. And they did it by there multitudinous interactions. They did it by the interactions of a free people, exercising their freedom. Adam Smith correctly called this the system of natural liberty. It is natural because God gave all human beings a free will, just like his. God created the universe absolutely freely, and gave his creatures a free will. He also gave us reason, similar to His, but his reason is so far above ours, it is not that similar. Hence, our free will is more like God’s than our reason.
As God tells Job (chapter 38),

Who is this who darkens my council

With words without knowledge?

Brace yourself like a man

I will question you
And you shall answer me.

Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?

Tell me if you understand.

Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!

Who stretched a measuring line across it?

On what were its footings set,

Or who laid its cornerstone—

While the morning stars sang together

and all the angels shouted for joy.

Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?

Let him who accuses God answer him!

And so forth. God’s reason, while similar to ours, is inscrutable, because his reason is infinite. We cannot figure him out, but we can know what he tells us, or reveals to us. St. Paul says: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise ;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” (1 Cor 1: 18-21)

Maybe we concentrate too much on the evil in the world which is a result of the weakness of men with original sin, than the actions of everyday life. Maybe harping on sin and crime makes us feel better about our own sins and crimes. Be that as it may, the real way to find out about man, is to look at man in his everyday operations—doing the things natural to him as man. So we are going to look at man in his nature, first. We will do this by examining the famous book by Karol Wojtyla, who became Pope John Paul II, The Acting Person. By examining this book, we will fill in the philosophical details of that which makes the market.

To be continued. . . .

Read more from Dr. Luckey at “Catholic Truths on Economics.”

William Luckey

Dr. William R. Luckey is Professor of Political Science and Economics at Christendom College and has expertise in Political Philosophy, Business and Economics, and Theology. He is an Adjunct Scholar of the Mises Institute and of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.