Academic journal article The Journal of Philosophical Economics

Economics, Chrematistics, Oikos and Polis in Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas

Academic journal article The Journal of Philosophical Economics

Economics, Chrematistics, Oikos and Polis in Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas

Article excerpt

Introduction

Even though economics, together with politics, is a practical science and considered part of moral philosophy, following the marginalist revolution of the late nineteenth century, economics has ended up adopting as its pattern of scientificity that of the natural sciences, specifically, that of mathematical physics (Mirowski, 1989). In perspective, the consequences of this methodological approach are ambivalent. On the one hand, there has been an enormous development of quantitative techniques of analysis, useful both for the modelling of theoretical relations of some complexity and for the econometric testing of certain hypotheses. On the other hand, the limitations to the understanding of economic activity as a truly human activity with all that this entails, as well as the prediction errors repeatedly committed by mainstream economics [1] point to the need for a rethinking of the fundamentals of economic science.

In this spirit and in spite of the centuries that have passed, to recall the conceptions of Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas about the place economic activity occupies in the 'social whole', may serve to set a valid starting point to redirect the scientific practice of economics, obviously not in its techniques of observation and modelling, but in its finality and ultimate meaning. According to a widely-held opinion, economics had been constituted as a science independent of philosophy since Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations. This work coincides, not by chance, with the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution in England. 'The economy', understood as the set of productive and mercantile activities, apparently emerged as a space of action with its own dynamics, independent of other contexts of sociability such as religion, moral, family or politics. It is significant that Smith himself studies morality, regarded the result of a feeling of sympathy that leads to concern for others (The Theory of Moral Sentiments, 1759, Ch. 1), as a world apart from the working of 'amoral' markets exclusively based on self-interest. However, as is well-known, this fact does not lead to conflict between men, but to harmony thanks to the famous 'invisible hand' (The Wealth of Nations, 1779, Ch. 2).

The supposition that the economy is set apart from the other spheres of human sociability [2] is pointed to as one of the causes of the insufficiencies that economic science has both to explain and to propose solutions to important problems faced by today's societies (lack of solidarity, corruption, underdevelopment, inequality). In contrast, Aristotelian economic thought and its scholastic extension assign to the economy a specific place coherently integrated in the 'social whole'. Thus, economic activity, conceived on the basis of a Christian anthropological foundation such as that underlying Thomistic scholasticism and the current Social Doctrine of the Church [3], occupies a precise place as part of a natural legal ordered totality, which furnishes sense and moral guidance to this activity.

The objective of this paper is to analyze how the insertion of the economy into a natural social order occurs according to the Aristotelian-Thomistic perspective. For this, we must refer to the original meaning of 'the economy' because our modern conception of the economy does not coincide with that of Aristotle and the Greek thought. Oikonomia refers originally to the law (nomos) of the house (oikos) (Leshem, 2016, proposes 'household management'). In classical Greece, the oikos included both goods and persons -free and slave- under the authority of the head of the household, what we would call the family and family wealth, a unity of persons and goods. In modern times, the meaning of 'the economy' as relative to the family governance of persons and goods has been lost, while what originally constituted 'the chrematistics' (the acquisition of livelihoods) has been identified in practice with 'the economy' such as it is commonly understood today. …

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