The concept of development does not occupy a central place in the social doctrine of the Catholic Church. Neither does it enjoy a key role in philosophical and social scientific discourse. The Philosophical Dictionary edited by Max Mueller and Alois Halder simply places the entry development under the rubric of evolution, (1) thereby underscoring its biological affinity. Development denotes the continual going forth of a higher condition out of a preceding lower state, in which the new higher state was already prepared and formed. Relevant examples would be egg cells, the unfolding of the embryo, the path of human life from conception to death, or the mutation and selection of species, as investigated by Charles Darwin under the rubric of evolution. All of these objects, however, pertain to the domain of biology.
When the notion of development is brought to bear on societal and economic processes, we are faced at once with two questions: (1) Does the newly attained status of an economy, a society, or corporate entity amount to a higher status that was prefigured in a prior lower one? (2) Is it feasible to define the preceding status not just as temporally prior but also as located on a less-advanced level?
To transpose this matter to a current topical subject one has to ask: Has the new twenty-five member European Union attained a higher level than before when it comprised a mere fifteen members or when it was constituted by the six founding members? Furthermore, does this new state come about by itself or does human action through reason and free will determine development?
When the concept of development is employed outside the sphere of biology, it seems to render the greatest utility in the various engineering disciplines. It is here that new machines, materials, communications, and control systems are being developed, and one is justified to speak of the emergence of a higher or more advanced state out of a lower less-developed one. Indeed, such developments are subsequently designated as progress.
In economics, the concept of development is likewise often used as synonymous with progress. The range of application is broad-from increases of productivity or the gross domestic product to the expansion of corporations or the growth of market share.
When used in the social sciences, the notion of development loses its conceptual clarity. Even when invoked as a synonym for progress, it remains highly problematic. The development of societies and political systems does not always constitute progress or establish a natural law, as Karl Marx would have it when he claimed to have discovered a law for the development of societies based on the contradictions between productive forces and ownership of the means of production. (2) Against Marx, the assertion has to be made that societal development is dependent on human action and that such action is fundamentally ambivalent. While human action may well be constructive and advance the common good, it may also be destructive and cause much harm. (3)
The majority of countries on earth have been classified as developing countries. From the perspective of Western industrial nations, the economic, social, and educational systems of these states were branded as backward or underdeveloped, the overwhelming majority of them having been colonial dependents of the industrialized nations until the early 1960s. It is a widely held expectation that these countries will raise their future economic performance to the level of development attained by the Western industrialized world. The social teaching of the Church started to examine the economic, social, and global aspects of development for the first time in 1961 in the social encyclical Mater et Magistra by Pope John XXIII. The date of publication coincided with the beginning of the epoch of decolonization. In subsequent years, the question of the most appropriate development …