Social Economics: Premises, Findings and Policies

By Edward J. O'Boyle | Go to book overview

4

GAIN-SEEKING

The economoral nexus

Peter L. Danner

Solidarity has long been a key dimension in Bill Waters's conception of social economics. The solidarity Waters espouses, transcending party, class, ethnic, and other narrower kinds, is derived from the social and moral nature of the human person. In that spirit this exploration of the basis of personal integrity in economic action is dedicated to Bill as a way of thanking him for his many years of friendship to me and invaluable service to our Association.

Discussing the economic and moral principles, which relate to economic acts, calls for at least scanning the basic logic involved. When an object of inquiry or research falls within the provinces of several sciences, full understanding of the object requires blending the insights of all the relevant sciences in so far as they pertain to the object's nature and/or functions. For example, eating is subject to both dietician's advice about healthy diets and moral principles about overindulgence, disgusting manners, and sharing with others in need. Since gain-seeking is both the driving force of economic activity and an appetite with a unique object, it falls under the purview of both economics and morality, among other sciences. Therefore, understanding gain-seeking fully as human action requires blending the relevant economic and moral principles into a guide of conduct, called economic morality.

That this conclusion usually evokes an obdurate skepticism is largely due to the long history of contention about the role and value of gain-seeking. Reviewing this in context with the changing content of economic wealth might remove such doubts.


A HISTORY OF WEALTH AND GAIN-SEEKING

Throughout the Classical and Medieval period the appetite for gain and the sense and acquisitive appetites were so intertwined that moralists made little effort in discussion to separate them. This made sense because most wealth consisted of lands, homes, furnishings, apparel, slaves, and stores of coin-things, while due to past gains, which were useful, pleasurable,

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