Ancient Economic Thought - Vol. 1

By B. B. Price | Go to book overview

3

LOOKING FOR OURSELVES IN THE MIRROR OF OUR PAST

With what does economics cope? and the differences in the Jewish and Christian rationales for handling usury

Mark Perlman


WITH WHAT DOES ECONOMICS COPE? THE CULTURAL LEGACY: A "SNAKE" UNDER THE RUG

Part of economists' hang-ups of the late nineteenth and most of the twentieth centuries is their excessive envy for the purported certainties of the "hard" sciences. Being generally secularists, economic thinkers have rejected Natural Law as no more than simple seventeenth and eighteenth century folklore. Instead, they hold that theirs are worlds and minds, both in the nature of the tabula rasa. 'Twere only it was so. Ours is not a world starting from a blank slate: Robinson Crusoe was no more than an imaginary device of a clever writer. The difficult problem we must face is how to recognize what has been so indelibly inscribed both in our view of the world, and certainly in the ways that our cognition operates.


The Greek and the Hebraic legacy in broad terms

In years past it was common to write about the differences between two separate elements in our Western cultural tradition, the Hellenistic and the Hebraic. The division is often seen in terms of the being contrasted with the becoming. The Greek-Hellenistic tradition stressed the centrality of a logical system and accepted without comment its being closed; the Hebraic stressed dynamic quality of an on-going dialogue between man and God and worried little about its openness or indeterminacy. As some would have it, the Greek tradition stressed the perfection, yet with subtle intricacies, of a static system, the Hebraic tradition the essential irrationality (some have preferred to call it the "super-rationality") of a dynamic one. The Greek system was built around logic, a set of rules at the heart of scientifically

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