Bringing Realism to Management Education: Contributions from Catholic Social Thought

By Clark, Charles M. A. | Review of Business, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Bringing Realism to Management Education: Contributions from Catholic Social Thought


Clark, Charles M. A., Review of Business


"The time has come, for a new and deeper reflection on the nature of the
economy and its purposes."
--Pope John Paul II, New Year's Message (2000)

Abstract

Catholic social thought is based on the ideals of the Gospels, but it is also based on an interdisciplinary and realistic understanding of the nature of the human person, society, property and the purpose of business. As an ethical foundation for understanding the role of business in the life of the person and society, Catholic social thought forces an education in business to be more realistic than it typically is.

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Introduction: Is There a Catholic Perspective on Business?

Underlying the effort to bring the insights and perspective of the Catholic social thought (CST) tradition to the understanding of business is the assumption that a business education at a Catholic business school should in some manner be different from one received at a secular or non-Catholic college or university. Catholic colleges and universities do not exist so that Catholics can receive an education without having to interact with non-Catholics. This is not the purpose of such schools, nor is it the reality, as many Catholic colleges and universities have very high percentages of non-Catholics among their student population, often above 50%. The mission of all Catholic colleges and universities is to provide a "Catholic" education, but what exactly is a Catholic education, and specifically a Catholic business education? At one level this would mean the inclusion of the sacramental life of the Church in the overall university experience, as well as the other activities typically carried out by Campus Ministries.

At a deeper level, the significance and function of a Catholic education stems from the root meaning of "Catholic," that is a "universal" education, an education of the whole person. The mission of these institutions is to develop the person both intellectually and spiritually; to provide a morally-grounded and values-centered education. Although most business schools in the United Sates have mission statements that commit them to the promotion of "values" or a "values centered education," the grounding of such values is left up in the air. Adherence to the post modern outlook prevents them from asserting any substantial values, any higher authority, any bottom line on what is right and wrong. Thus they can talk of "values" as long as they do not mention any substantial or invariant "values." Though faith and reason are clearly distinguishable, they can never be fully separated. In the attempt to first delineate faith from reason (during the Enlightenment) and then the modern and postmodern effort to amputate faith from reason, modernity has lost both. (1)

In many ways, the Catholic social thought tradition is a movement in the opposite direction, combining faith and reason in an effort to understand economic and social issues. It is my contention that the Catholic social thought tradition brings more to the table than "values" or uniquely "Catholic" (or Jesuit, Augustinian, Dominican or Vincentian) "values." It offers a different "vision" of the role of business in contemporary society. Furthermore, this "vision" raises questions that typically do not get addressed in most business programs. CST does not offer an alternative economic or management theory. Instead it offers a perspective, a metaphysical foundation, upon which one can construct explanations of the economy and business. The purpose of this article is to explore how this alternative "vision" could influence and shape the management education at Catholic business schools, hopefully laying the foundations for future efforts in actually creating authentically Catholic perspectives on business.

What is the Catholic Social Thought Tradition? (2)

The Catholic social thought tradition has been described as "social wisdom based on: biblical insights; the tradition of the early writers of the church; scholastic philosophy; theological reflection; and the contemporary experience of the People of God struggling to live our faith in justice" [8:73]. …

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