Saturday, May 22, 2021

The trouble with capitalism

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.  (Matthew 19:24)

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?  (Mark 8:36)

Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. (Matthew 4:4)

When people use or hear the word “capitalism,” some of the things they might bring to mind are:

1. The institution of private property, including private ownership of the basic means of production

2. Market competition

3. The existence of corporations as legal persons

4. Inequalities in wealth and income

5. An economic order primarily oriented to the private sector, with government acting at the margins and only where necessary

Now, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with any of those things.  Indeed, some of them (such as private property and a government that respects subsidiarity) are required as a matter of natural law.   Eliminating all economic inequalities (as opposed to remedying poverty, which is a very different matter) is neither possible nor desirable.  The concept of the corporate person has long been recognized by, and regarded as salutary within, the natural law tradition (whatever one thinks about its instantiation in modern business corporations).  Socialism in the strict sense, which would centralize the most fundamental economic decision-making, is intrinsically evil.

On the other hand, other people using or hearing the term “capitalism” might have in mind things like:

6. A doctrinaire laissez-faire mentality that is reflexively hostile to all governmental economic intervention

7. The market as the dominant social institution, with an ethos of consumerism and commodification of everything as its sequel

8. Corporations so powerful that they are effectively unanswerable to government or public opinion

9. Doctrinaire minimalization or even elimination of social welfare institutions, even when there is no feasible private sector alternative

10. Globalization of a kind that entails dissolution of corporate and individual loyalties to the nation-state and local communities.

Now, all of these things are bad and should be opposed on natural law grounds.

This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but merely illustrative.  And what it illustrates is that it is unhelpful to talk about either embracing or rejecting capitalism full stop.  The term has too many connotations for that, and needs to be disambiguated.  Hence the sweeping claims often made by both sides in the debate over capitalism inevitably generate excessive heat while reducing light.  When people say “I support capitalism,” they often mean “I support 1-5” but their opponents hear them as saying “I support 6-10.”  And when people say “I oppose capitalism,” they often mean “I oppose 6-10,” but their opponents hear them as saying “I oppose 1-5.”  To a large extent, they talk past each other.

When we do disambiguate the term, we get more light and less heat.  But we also lose the simpleminded pro-capitalist and anti-capitalist slogans.  No doubt that is precisely why friends and critics of capitalism alike prefer not to disambiguate it. 

Does this entail that no interesting general claims can be made about actually existing capitalism (as opposed to the abstract models of capitalism put forward by its defenders and its critics)?  Not at all.  Having pleaded for nuance, let me now boldly make some sweeping claims of my own.  I can at least promise that I will offend both sides.  Here are the claims:

I. Capitalism has made us materially much better off.

II. Capitalism has made us spiritually much worse off.

In defense of the first claim, I would simply refer to the standard arguments made by libertarians, free market conservatives, and liberals like Steven Pinker, which I regard as unanswerable.  The rule of law, stable property rights, the price mechanism, the division of labor, and other aspects of modern market economies have made possible astounding wealth creation and technological advances that have raised the material conditions of everyone.  As Pinker writes:

Together, technology and globalization have transformed what it means to be a poor person, at least in developed countries.  The old stereotype of poverty was an emaciated pauper in rags.  Today, the poor are likely to be as overweight as their employers, and dressed in the same fleece, sneakers, and jeans.  The poor used to be called the have-nots.  In 2011, more than 95 percent of American households below the poverty line had electricity, running water, flush toilets, a refrigerator, a stove, and a color TV.  (A century and a half before, the Rothschilds, Astors, and Vanderbilts had none of these things.)  Almost half of the households below the poverty line had a dishwasher, 60 percent had a computer, around two-thirds had a washing machine and a clothes dryer, and more than 80 percent had an air conditioner, a video recorder, and a cell phone.  In the golden age of economic equality in which I grew up, middle-class “haves” had few or none of these things.  (Enlightenment Now, p. 117)

Before you respond that government had something to do with this as well, let me emphasize that I don’t disagree with that.  Again, I am not talking about the laissez-faire fantasy capitalism of libertarian dreams and socialist nightmares.  I am talking about actually existing capitalism, which has always had a significant public sector component – government provision of basic infrastructure, military research and development vis-à-vis technology, redistributive programs, and all the rest.  The point, though, is that it was precisely the governments of capitalist countries that oversaw these advances, because they protected and supplemented the overall capitalist order rather than subverted it.  Even redistributed golden eggs have first to be laid by the market economy goose. 

But affluence can have a high spiritual cost, as classical philosophy and Christian theology alike teach us.  Modern capitalist society is essentially an instance of what Plato called the oligarchic sort of regime, which he regarded as the third-worst sort – or third-best, if you want to accentuate the positive.  It is better than democracy and tyranny, but worse than either the rule of the Philosopher-Kings or what Plato called timocracy. 

Now, keep in mind that the way Plato characterizes the five sorts of regime that he distinguishes is primarily by way of the kinds of souls which predominate in them, and that the characterization thus presupposes his tripartite conception of human nature (in terms of reason, the spirited part of the soul, and appetite).  A society governed by the Philosopher-Kings is one in which the highest part of the soul, reason, is idealized and is dominant in those who govern.  A timocracy is a society in which the spirited part of the soul, and the martial virtues that characterize it, is dominant in those who govern it.  A democracy, as Plato characterizes it, is a society in which the lowest, appetitive part of the soul dominates and tends toward licentiousness.  A tyranny is what results when a particularly ruthless democratic soul imposes its will on the rest. 

Oligarchy as Plato conceives of it stands between timocracy and democracy.  Like democracy, it is governed by the appetitive part of the soul.  But the specific appetite it fosters, the desire to acquire wealth, is not as unruly or chaotic as the pursuit of sensual pleasure that dominates democratic society.  Its satisfaction requires some degree of self-discipline and delay of gratification – and thus the bourgeois virtues, which, though not as noble as those honored in the two higher sorts of regime, at least put some restraints on the other appetites.

The trouble is that, for one thing, later generations within an oligarchy, who enjoy the benefits of affluence without having had to exercise the discipline required in order to create it, tend to become soft and decadent.  And for another thing, there is money to be made in catering to the lower appetites.  Hence oligarchy tends to decay into democracy in Plato’s sense.  And that is why the America of the robber barons and of the military-industrial complex eventually gave way to the America of Woodstock and the sexual revolution, and now to that grisly amalgam of the two – the America of contemporary woke capitalism. 

If easy affluence is corruptive of the natural virtues, it is even more corruptive of the supernatural virtues.  The rich young man, though he showed initial interest in following Christ, opted instead to hold on to his possessions when he had to make a choice (Matthew 16: 19-22).  This famously led Christ to warn that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). 

Now, superficial readers of this passage suppose that it is fundamentally about the duty of material assistance to the poor.  They overlook the reaction to Jesus’s teaching:  “When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, ‘Who then can be saved?’” (Matthew 19:25).  Why would they ask such a thing, since only a minority of people are rich?  St. Augustine answered as follows:

When the Lord says that a rich man does not enter the kingdom of heaven, his disciples ask him who can be saved.  Since the rich are so few in comparison with the poor, we must understand, then, that those who yearn for such material goods must realize that they are included in the number of those rich. (Questions on the Gospels)

Or as Haydock’s commentary puts it: “The apostles wondered how any person could be saved, not because all were rich, but because the poor were also included, who had their hearts and affections fixed on riches.”  The problem with the rich young man, then, was not that he was rich, but that he valued riches above following Christ.  And that is a spiritual malady that can afflict even those who are not rich, but who cannot bear the fact.  Indeed, they can be in even worse shape if they add to this sin of avarice the sin of envy. 

But it is a commonplace that those who suffer want of any kind are more likely to perceive their dependence on and need for God, whereas those who have much can become self-satisfied and distracted by worldly concerns.  In particular, they are in danger not only of the sins people usually associate with wealth – avarice, gluttony, and pride – but of the even more insidious sin of acedia or distraction from the highest, spiritual goods.  Hence the rich stand in special need of warning.  How many more are bound to be in this spiritual danger, then, when many more are affluent – as they are in modern capitalist societies?

That Plato’s and Christ’s warnings have been borne out is obvious from the collapse of traditional morality and widespread apostasy from Christianity that have characterized modern capitalist societies, and from the way of life that has replaced them.  In such societies, “success” is conceived of in terms of the acquisition of material wealth.  Preparing the young for adulthood is conceived of in terms of training them for a “career” that will assure them this “success.”  Pursuit of this goal is the preoccupation not just of an elite, but of everyone – achieving it is the “American dream.”  Social justice is conceived of primarily in terms of enabling as many as possible to achieve this “dream.”

Everyday life is devoted to making money that one might spend on dining, entertainments, travel, and other material goods – which enable one to rest up so as to be ready to get back to making money.  Advertising is ubiquitous, and consumers dutifully pursue the latest new product, the latest pop culture fad, the latest fashions, or the latest enthusiasm in cuisine.  Though political fights may arise over various cultural and moral controversies, in the end it is the state of the economy that tends to determine who gets into power.  Even conservative parties tend to cave in on “social issues” but will fight tooth and nail for tax cuts, deregulation, and the like.  “It’s the economy, stupid!” is the bipartisan conventional wisdom. 

Even otherwise traditionally-minded Christians become suckers for obscene materialistic distortions of the faith, such as the “prosperity gospel.”  Liberal Christians, meanwhile, emphasize helping the poor and marginalized – not to save their souls, but rather to get them into the same rat race that the rest of society runs in.  Christ says: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).  But secularists and modern Christians alike, whether conservative or liberal, take the highest end of moral and political endeavor to be to build a world where no one ever has to deny himself anything and there are no crosses of any kind.

From a traditional Christian point of view, then, the main danger of actually existing capitalism is not that it makes people poor, but on the contrary that it makes them rich compared to most people who have ever lived, and certainly fixates them on the acquisition of material wealth.  It has thereby led the mass of mankind into a particularly insidious sort of temptation that relatively fewer were faced with in previous ages.  Most people read passages like Matthew 19:24 and smugly think of the rich as “them.”  But to paraphrase Walt Kelly, we have met the rich man, and he is us.

Is the solution to abolish riches?  No, because wealth is not intrinsically bad, and indeed is a positive good.  Again, the problem is not riches per se, but the fixation on riches.  And the fixation can exist even when riches do not.  The solution is to counter this fixation.  Sound principles by which this might be done were set out by popes Leo XIII,  Pius XI, and John Paul II, who condemned socialism in absolute terms, but defended capitalist institutions only with significant qualifications of a kind that no libertarian or classical liberal could accept – and who insisted that both the crisis of modernity and the social transformation needed to remedy it are fundamentally moral and religious rather than economic in nature.

Related reading:

Hayek’s tragic capitalism

Adventures in the Old Atheism, Part IV: Marx

Liberty, equality, fraternity?

Aquinas contra globalism

Continetti on post-liberal conservatism


  1. WCB writes:

    We have seen the phenomena over the last few decades that worker productivity has risen dramatically. But wages for the lower deciles of working Americans remained flat. And the compensation of CEOs has risen dramatically. crony capitalism in all it's glory.

    The GOP keeps this this way by playing divisive wedge issue politics. meanwhile opposing living wages,minimum wages, decent medical care for all, and more. Wealthy corporations earning billions pay no taxes. Rich Americans cheat wildly on their taxes and get away with it.

    Our philosopher kings were Reagan, Ayn Rand and Arthur Laffer.

    Time to consider a better model. The Scandinavian model for example.


    1. Or we could, you know, not continue letting the means of production in the hands of few? Even our good Leo the XIII knew that a market economy only works out if we don't have a elite that can change the rules thanks to having a lot of power.

    2. Even if that is true, what could they buy with those wages back then compared to now? Could they have bought Iphones? Could they have had access to all the world's data and knowledge? A GPS system everywhere they go? Could they find the best price for a product by looking everywhere around the world and comparing prices?

      Even if the wages have remained flat, what the average or below average person can do with it keeps changing dramatically and for the better. And that happens in that system of capitalism (not so capitalistic for libertarians, totally capitalistic for a marxist).

    3. Can the Scandinavian model deal with the problem of rising rent prices? Or the problem of people in urban centers not having enough children? Or the problems created by Silicon Valley-level tech? If it give a good answer to those problems, then I'm for it.

    4. The Scandinavian model; I will consider Sweden. Not the present model but the 1970/80's one that Senator Sanders is enamored of.

      Do you know that in the 1970/80's, Sweden was (on a per capita basis) the largest exporter of armaments in the world? Yes, it was relatively easy for a small country to export death and destruction to generate profits to finance a generous welfare state. But after the end of the cold war, their slice of the business of death and destruction began to contract and Sweden's welfare state had to become much more "market oriented".

    5. @Zeno Iphones, GPS etc are not a result of capitalistic markets. None of those technologies would not exist had the state not leaped above market rules with the profitless space program.

      Wages are stagnant because money itself has no inherent principle in it to further innovation. Economies that run on the dictates of the market enter permanent stagnation and collapse for 2 reasons. Human development decisions cannot be reduced to mere accounting and budgets. A budget is nothing more than a probable guess.
      The second is that market based economies always have an element of usury in them. Once you get money you want more of it so you begin engaging in rentier activities which drain productivity.

    6. WCB writes:

      Can the Anonymous posting using my WCB moniker stop? It's really annoying here.

      I wouldn't have presented the Scandinavian model, or, at least, not in its current form, for it can be still seen as too capitalistic for some concepts (such as "free market"). Some critics, such as Lakey, showed that the attraction for the Scandinavian model is mostly based on inaccuracies :

      "Americans imagine that "welfare state" means the U.S. welfare system on steroids. Actually, the Nordics scrapped their American-style welfare system at least 60 years ago, and substituted universal services, which means everyone—rich and poor—gets free higher education, free medical services, free eldercare, etc."

      Jeffrey Sachs, who's a bit more incisive - rightly so, in my opinion - states that there are so many similarities between Thatcherism and Scandinavianism that it's futile to separate the two, even on conceptual details.

      And don't get me started on Denmark. There is nothing socialist in there, nor the hint of a "third system", just masqueraded market-economy.

      Next time you impersonate me, Anonymous, please don't take such obvious bad examples.


    7. Anonymous WCB, there's an interesting article written by Feser just above your comment.
      You could read it.

    8. Scandinavian model?

      You mean:

      - no national minimum wage at all
      - a flatter tax system than the US
      - no centralized healthcare system
      - an economy built largely around the export of oil and gas

      The list goes on. Sounds like the Scandanavian model is pretty in line with the GOP actually.

    9. I pretty much discount any assertions of "stagnant wages", when made without any explanatory detail, as being essentially empty. Do you mean "stagnant" while taking into account inflation? The difficulty there is that the inflation index ALREADY accounts for a changing structure of what money is spent on. Nobody now spends money on buggy whips. Wiring 700 sq. ft. of house (the average size of a house in 1890) for electricity now costs less (in adjusted pricing) than it would have in 1890. And you can use that electricity for 1000 uses now that you could not use it for in 1890: you couldn't play a stereo with it then. What price do we put on being able to listen to a Bach piece any evening you decide to instead of having to wait for the public performance of that one piece, say, in 3 years? (You could price it by HIRING a symphony orchestra to play it, say $30,000.)

      And so on.

      Feser made this point: the very goalposts for what COUNTS as "in poverty" are different now. I have run across more than one homeless person who has a cell phone. The very idea of being so poor as to be homeless, but having enough wealth to call anyone and receive calls at any time, would have boggled the mind of wealth/poverty analysts in 1930. The problem of obesity shows a very strong correlation between obesity and LACK of wealth, rather than the reverse.

      The fact is that as the rich have been getting richer, so also the poor have been getting richer. Maybe the rich have been getting richer faster (maybe even MUCH faster) than the poor. But this fact should never be referred to under the title "stagnation".

      Also, while there is SOME correlation of wealth as staying in families so that those born rich get richer, the correlation is not perfect: it's not true that those who were poor in 1970 are the same people as those who were poor in 2010. There is significant fluidity to the identities of who makes up those percentiles of "rich" and "poor". Like in 1890 and 1930, immigrants make up a VERY sizable percentage of the lowest rungs in wealth...but they don't all remain at the lowest rungs, and for sure their kids don't all remain there. So even some sort of "stagnation" (however poorly defined) in, say, "the 5th percentile" doesn't represent the SAME PERSONS staying in the 5th percentile all their lives.

  2. I think a term like “economic subsidiarity” would be better than the term “capitalism”, because that is really what it is, or at least ought to be. “Capitalism”—for all the flaws that accompany it—is essentially just every participant voting with their dollars on the direction of human endeavor. In contrast, socialism—for whatever else can be said—always means some central authority making decisions; and making them badly. For this reason, socialism always begins with free stuff and ends with people eating their pets. Despite this, as Paul Kengor says, there is never a shortage of jaw-dropping economic ignoramuses lining up to give the “workers paradise” another shot.

    Susidiarity, however, doesn’t come with it’s own moral compass. For that we need to look elsewhere. And we’d be a lot better off if the moderns would stop looking in all the wrong places.

    1. In contrast, socialism—for whatever else can be said—always means some central authority making decisions; and making them badly.

      A centralized state making decisions is less evil than letting evolution (=random mindless motion of dollars instead of genes) make decisions.

    2. Tryte

      Biological evolution does not consist in the random mindless motion of genes, and a free, open market does not equate to the random mindless movement of dollars. You need to sign up to Biology and Economics 101 sir.

    3. False dichotomy. The dollars are spent by people with minds.

  3. You’ll have to write something about Distributism in the future Dr. Feser. I don’t know quite what to think of it and would like the input of influential Thomists such as yourself.

    1. There is not really much to say. Distributists themselves can't really say what Distributism is other than vague moral platitudes. They say it is the widespread distribution of the means of production. OK. How is that different from Capitalism? How do you achieve that? They can't say.

      When you combine the moral sentiments and the complaints against Capitalist greed, you inevitably end up with 40 acres and a cow. How do you build a microprocessor with 40 acres and a cow?

      I love Chesterton and Belloc, but for all their writing on the subject they never did really pull it off; they never could really get past the rhetorical flourish and just explain what it is. They, like the Distributists today, spent their time (and all their ink) merely complaining about Capitalism and Socialism.

    2. How does haggling in a marketplace looking for a profit get you to microprocessors? It doesn't.

      Capitalism seeks the easiest way to generate profits which almost always means rents. Capitalist firms like sure things, this means they will *never* engage in the discovery of new principles because there is no guarantee they can recoup accounting costs.

      Microprocessor revolution came from the state ordering a gigantic amount of them for the space program. At the time, people had no idea of all the secondary effects the space program would bring about.

      If you based your decision on money you would never land on the moon. The side effects of the space program brought about the computer revolution which powered the economy for the subsuequent 5 decades.

      Companies like apple, intel etc are merely secondary effects of the developments that only a nation state capable of organizing that amoutn of resources could generate. So the market for iphones exists because of the space program, its a secondary effect of it.

      Capitalism is about rentiers attempting to monopolize what already IS and turn it into a marketable commodity.

    3. @T N

      How to spread the means of production will depend on the distributist, you have integralists, soc-dems, libertarians etc. I, personaly, think that combining the old land value tax with some insights from the left-libertarians would do the trick. Also:

      "When you combine the moral sentiments and the complaints against Capitalist greed, you inevitably end up with 40 acres and a cow. How do you build a microprocessor with 40 acres and a cow?"

      I don't think that Chesterton would say that everyone should literaly go farm. Going by Belloc in one book of his that i read, the idea is only that we should own what we use to work.

      One could ask them how would we continue to make big things if we abandon the centralized system of capitalism. Well, we got this one! Take a look:

      Even Proudhon, while mostly a individualist, defended that there are things that need several people working together to do. He only objected to the way that we do it now.

    4. Arguably, a "cooperative" is not in any essential different from an "employee-owned corporation". And I have long thought that this would solve a lot of moral degradation issues with what we tend to see in real-world capitalism. But in fact, employee-owned corporations often have done OK, but often have not, too. They fail a lot, just like others: United was probably just the biggest example.

      The reality is that as a company gets larger, more authority MUST run into hands of a class of professional managers/executives whose capacities exceed those of ordinary productive workers. As far as I can tell, the only way to eliminate this need is, I think, to limit the size of such collectively-held entities. And while this might be JUST the sort of good thing that we need, it necessarily runs adverse to "economies of scale" benefits, and so you would have to make a rigorous argument that the benefits of keeping all entities small exceed the benefits of those economies of scale. I would not be able to make that argument.

    5. Having done my share of gardening (and failing to produce goods even CLOSE to making up for the money spent), I am extremely wary of GENERAL assertions in favor of "40 acres and a cow". Not everybody is cut out for farming, and that's a simple fact. A model that assumes they are is aimed for failure.

      Likewise, not everyone is equally fit for directing their OWN productive activity in a cooperative endeavor; some will do better work if directed by another. This just means putting decision making authority into some OTHER person's hands. And there is little difference between this, morally speaking, and being an "employee".

      I think Feser hit the nail on the head: Inequalities in income (or wealth) are NOT per se evil, and we should NOT assume that in the best world generated before the eschaton, all people would have equal wealth. Given inequalities in wealth as legally and morally permissible, (and given a legal system in which hiring is legal), there will be situations where some people (who have more available resources for productive activity) employ other people (who have less or none), and trying to set up a system which never has employers and employees is going to end badly.

      So, unless distributism limits its main objective to something like "usually" or "by and large" (e.g. "MOST people work on their own assets") I think it is going to be problematic.

    6. I doubt that the average distributist would disagree with what you are saying. One inspiration is the european middle ages, where you did have hierarchy on the guilds and on the farms(these were usualy doing by families, after all).

      The problem is more with the current system, where the concentration of ownership of the means of production by some make wage-labor a necessity for a lot of people. The power that the market has on society is also a big problem. Compare with traditional societies, where the production and distribution of things where but a part of the social life.

    7. And almost forgot, if the number of autonomous players is bigger, as it would be on a distributist economy, companies would not exactly be capable of growing so much that they need a class of managers. The only exception would be natural mobopolies, but we are not anarchists, so we could probably handle these.

    8. Talmid, I would like to think you are right in saying if the number of autonomous players is bigger, as it would be on a distributist economy, companies would not exactly be capable of growing so much that they need a class of managers.

      I fear, though, that is just not so, that economies of scale, together with finding managers who excel at managing personnel, will help small companies grow big more than "many autonomous players" will hamper them. Left to themselves (i.e. without laws and rules to preclude it), small companies that excel over their direct small competitors by consistent margins DO tend to get large. And those consistent margins can be found precisely by excellent management.

    9. Well, you are seeing things on a non-free market. Today you got a centralization of the means of production on few hands, a lot of regulations that act as a barrier to new players, taxes that do the same, and literal government help to big companies grow even larger. On a model that helps create centralization it is not a suprise that it happens.

      I agree that better managers would still have the advantage if we changed the system. But you will not grow that large if you don't have the State protecting your interests indirectly or even directly(a thing that aparently republicans do defend a lot, if what i heard is correct).

  4. I’d like to compliment you on tackling the issue of capitalism in this post. That said, I think there are some issues that you would agree need to be addressed in greater detail. While it is true that capitalism has made us wealthier in some ways, there are some notable counterexamples.

    First, we might look at the phenomenon Henry George pointed out that was endemic to urban centers of capital: that the capital-intensive activities of cities led to rising rent prices, which in turn led to people working in technology firms living in cramped, overpriced apartments and eating crap.

    Second, we might also look at the “IQ-Shredder” aspect of big cities. Essentially, cities are fertility sinks whose economic incentives lead the smartest people not to have kids, as the price of raising a child, sending him to school, etc. costs way too much for the average urban worker. As a result of this decline, the cities will be incentivized to seek talent elsewhere. This phenomenon may have something to do with the push for mass immigration in recent years. Essentially, it’s a brain drain of the third world to fill the vacuum traditional white-collar natives would’ve left behind. This phenomenon may also be related to the first point, as it’s a lot harder to raise a family in a cramped apartment building, as any parent will tell you.

    Third, Silicon Valley and its economic products have been an unmitigated disaster for the human race. Small businesses are now totally dependent on Amazon, Google, and Facebook to sell their products. The gig economy created by companies like Uber sucks people in and keeps them in substandard living conditions. Social media creates alienation between people and their environment, making it harder for neighbors to help each other materially.

    The above examples can be multiplied, but my point is that there are distinct ways the current economic system has made us all poorer. Yes, the lines on the graphs have gone up, and the poorest among us have greater access to junk food and consumer items. But the incentives for living a good life, even in a purely material sense, have declined drastically. As a result, people are becoming more and more miserable each year. Any wonder in this spiritual malaise that we’re seeing increasing drug and suicide epidemics?

  5. One's answer depends upon one's question. I haven't read the post yet (but will) and probably don't need to in order to see that the Church's main gripes with capitalism are not addressed because its prefacing factors ignore the main chunk of them:

    The problem isn't that the market is dominant in society (which is bad) but that it is sovereign and independent in capitalism.

    In capitalism, economics is considered "science" rather than something inseparable from morality, something which IS beyond the "science" of economics.

    Private property in Catholic teaching is relative only.

    The acceptability of inequalities in wealth and income does not exempt society (through the state if necessary) from intervening in the economy to remedy need, regardless of whether the poor are "to blame" for their situation (as Burke falsely claimed).

    Abundance does not justify an unjust economic system or philosophy any more than the lack of it might make a system unjust. The fact that material abundance has gone hand in hand with religious decline in the West is not a necessary consequence (as the first, Catholic, modernity demonstrated). Therefore Christianity will retain what it decides to retain from the achievements of capitalism, before killing it off.

    1. The thing is that the average person, having no means of production that they can use, is WAY more dependent on the market that the average guy centuries ago, If you could change that, not only that problem would be no more but you probably would severaly limit the dependence of the economy on trade between places, for the average city would be self-suficient(or close to that).

      That is a naivety of saying that the problem is only spiritual. Of course that it plays a large part, but it is easier to sell if the average folk is not even close to a saint, so our economy is part of the problem. The woke capitalist is way more interested in seeling stuff that in make society "progress".

  6. This post is basically an extended exercise in post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacious reasoning. There's also no reason to believe that the government interventions advocated by the modern popes would, in fact, make people less greedy and society more spiritual and virtuous. Everywhere "Catholic social teaching" has been tried -- Latin America, every social-democratic European nation, fascist Italy, etc. -- it has failed. More overtly social-democratic nations are at least as hostile to the Church as less-social-democratic nations like the U.S. are -- and left their peoples materially miserable besides.

    There's also no reason to believe that people in less developed nations are more virtuous, let alone holier, than people in wealthier ones. I believe every nation excels culturally in some particular respects, but when we look at the overall situation of, say, "shithole countries," their people don't appear to be holistically morally superior than we in the U.S. are. They might not share our particular vices, but they have vices of their own, from polygamy and superstition to very severe ethnic hatred that routinely break out into violence and even outright genocide.

    1. I would like some examples of the Pope/Church implemented government intervention policies and your analysis of why they failed.

      I will expound on the "just wage"; Yes, this is Catholic Social Teaching that all companies should pay a just or living wage. But, and the but is very important, if the implementation of a just wage would cause the company to become bankrupt or reduce it's survivability, then the just wage MUST NOT be imposed. Catholic Social teaching says that the individual companies wage structure are not unjust, rather the structure of the industry is somehow out of balance with the natural order. Then the leaders of industry, government, labor, and other institutions should work together in good faith to develop a solution to the overall problem distorting this particular industry.

      Second point, what has become to be called economic success of a country in the modern sense, is dependent on at least these two things: Universal Individual Private Property and a High Trust Society. Those failures in policy you mentioned were thrust upon the Low Trust Society of Latin America.

    2. Anonymous,

      Before I agree with your point, below, I must say it will be easier to converse with you if you have a UNIQUE identifier. If you don't want to have a logged-in profile, you can still add a unique combination of letters at the bottom of your post.

      I agree that a sound just wage should not enjoin that a company must pay "just" wages if that will make the company bankrupt and defunct. Excellent point.

      It's just that I have NEVER, until your post, read a proponent of "just wage" actually say that. Thank you for saying it. Can you say it louder? Can you point to any other (and more notable) authors saying it?

      Here's my example of what needs to be included in "just wage" theory. 70 years ago, my uncle started a restaurant. At the beginning, he worked 18 hour days. He employed 2 brothers and 2 sisters, and they sometimes worked 14 to 18 hour days. He undoubtedly paid himself AND them, at the beginning, wages that were significantly lower than any ordinary notion of reasonable wage (considered as a general wage independent of situation). Eventually, after years of hard work, the restaurant was well established and successful, and he was able to pay typical hourly wages, and (probably) a just wage.

      It is common, and seems nearly ubiquitous, for the term "just wages" to be mentally equated with "living wages", but this is simply not valid and needs to be made clear. For example, a teen starting a new job after school, who has no real skills, should not be paid a "living wage". He is (a) NOT PRODUCING enough wealth for him to live on, (much less enough for him to live on plus some profit for his employer), and (b) he is SUPPOSED to be supported by his parents. The same is true for many unskilled laborers, and also for many disabled people: their ability to generate wealth with their labor does not meet even THEIR OWN needs, much less provide profit over that. For all such people, the social structure of society would, ideally, MAKE UP for what they need by other means and mechanisms than what an employer pays them for work. But to put the onus on an employer, to force an employer to pay such a person a "living wage" just FORCES employers not to hire such people to begin with. That's at least as unjust to low-skilled workers as under-paying them. No, each and every person should be paid a just wage, but it is economically impossible that every worker is WORTH a "living" amount of income for his hours of work. (And some workers can work only a hour or two a day.) A just AND wholesome society uses additional structures to meet their needs. "Family" is one, but there should be others.

      I agree that individual private property is a fundamental norm that underlies economic success of ANY long-term healthy system. I would even urge it being a necessary aspect of natural law even apart from original sin, and thus is NOT "relative" in the sense some (often older) Christian authors assert. I think Leo XIII implicitly indicated this.

    3. Thanks for your reply.
      To economists personal anecdotes are not data, but they are wrong. One of the biggest problems with economists, whether Libertarian or Marxist etc, is that they don't have any ability or desire to include your story into their data. So, garbage in yields garbage out.

      For a source by a notable author, search for "Introduction to Social Justice" by Rev. William Ferree, S.M., Paulist Press 1948.
      The PDF can be downloaded on a few sites, I found the CESJ . org to be highly readable. But ignore the "Foreword" in this book; it wasn't written by Ferree or part of the orginal publication.


  7. Feser writes: "... the crisis of modernity and the social transformation needed to remedy it are fundamentally moral and religious rather than economic in nature."

    No, they're not. The economic framework that blooms today can only be understood within the context of the prevailing moral and religious framework of Western culture that allowed it to flourish in the manner it has. How convenient it is to forget throughout the 20thC Western countries were completely dominated by religion; in terms of % christian population, public religious observance, limiting business trading hours, social observance, church attendance, together with any other metric one cares to consider. Our Western economic structure was born out of and thrived within the contemporaneous religious mores of our community. Every Western country at the mid-point of the 20th century had populations in excess of 95% by poll data. Throughout the last 100 years Western religious tradition ran side-by-side with Western capitalist economics. Throughout that time morality and ethics were never a legislated or mandated function of doing business, only the law. Morality and ethics in business were never strong points. Capitalism has always operated on the premise, "whatever we do might be awful but it is lawful".

    So to pretend that 'the social transformation needed to remedy it (the crisis of modernity) are fundamentally moral and religious rather than economic in nature', is simply not substantiated nor supported by the evidence.

    Interestingly, and perhaps more importantly, the idea of incorporating a 'wellness' criterion into corporate annual financial reports and other economic reporting obligations, both of government and private organisations, is gaining increasing support. The notion of profit and loss, dividends to shareholders, share buyback etc, etc, do not reflect a totality of the role and contribution a company makes to improving the social worth of a community.

    The World Happiness Report has just been released for 2021 ranking some 150 countries. SEE HERE

    It remarks:

    "The results from both methods had European countries occupying nine of the top 10 spots on the list of the word’s happiest places, with New Zealand rounding out the group. The top 10 countries are Finland, Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Luxembourg, New Zealand and Austria. Australia came in at 12th, the same as the previous year.

    It was the fourth consecutive year that Finland came out on top. The United States, which was ranked 13 five years ago, slipped from 18th to 19th place. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom fell from the 13th position to 18th."

    I say interestingly, because 9 of the top ten are all countries that have a significant population of atheists. The upshot is that the evidence simply doesn't support the notion that a return to religion is a solution to the 'crisis of modernity'.

    Rather than 'going back to basics', as Dr Feser is suggesting, we need to be moving 'forward to fundamentals' and exploring new, meaningful measures to set the SS Capitalism Economics on its proper voyage into the future. It will require a rethinking of the capitalist model and changes made if it is to be one that operates on a more inclusive, just and fair dealing basis. Just as one says, 'there is no such thing as a free lunch', so too is there no such thing as a 'free market'. Markets inevitably gobble up competition and become monopolies which be their very nature are not 'free markets', a marketplace where entropy reigns supreme.

    1. I say interestingly, because 9 of the top ten are all countries that have a significant population of atheists. The upshot is that the evidence simply doesn't support the notion that a return to religion is a solution to the 'crisis of modernity'.

      Happiness is caused by moral goodness. Morally good people are naturally happy and morally bad people are naturally miserable. This is also confirmed by science, where newly made paraplegics and lottery winners quickly return to their base level of happiness, because neither winning the lottery nor paraplegia changes your moral character.

      You're obsessed with happiness because you can't ever have it. Because you are the typical libertarian atheist that infests Christian societies. Note that communist atheists can be happy, just not libertarian atheists like you. You're just too much of a psychopath to think anything exists outside of your own imagination.

    2. Tryte

      Do you always generate such drivel?

      People differ in personality, but barring major trauma generally have a pretty consistant background mood ( or level of happiness ). When great good fortune or tragedy strike they are perturbed away from this 'natural' level, but tend back towards it in time. This is just a general psychological fact about people, and has nothing to do with moral character.

      Could you substantiate your bizarre claim that happiness is caused by moral goodness, so that immoral people are naturally miserable? You no doubt have the highly contentious Thomistic definition of morality in mind, and so presumably think that anyone who has an uninhibited sex life lacking reproductive potential ( same sex relationships, use of artificial birth control ), or who rejects RC say, are utterly miserable. What rot!

      Hey Papilinton, did you realise that you are obsessed with happiness because you can never have it? Bet you did not realise that you are miserable did you? LOL

    3. WCB writes:

      Anonymous, I'm not sure if you're trying anything, but don't be so uptight. You have to reason using your arguments first, not produce rant. It's counterproductive.


    4. Hi WCB

      On a rational level I agree with you of course, but it is very difficult at times. The previous contribution from Tryte - in which the mild mannered Papilinton was called a psychopath - was nonsense from start to finish, and prickled me.

      As I have said before, I admire your equanimity in the face of provocations and attacks, but I am not convinced that this is getting you anywhere, though me must consider the 'lurkers' as you put it, who read these threads but do not contribute to them. In the last discussion thread your efforts were met in the end by a bunch of hoax posters claiming to be you.

    5. Tryte 10.32AM

      Why do you believe that communist atheists can be happy but not libertarian ones ( you even highlight this in bold )? I presume that you believe both atheism and communism to be evil, but you had previously informed us that morally evil people are miserable. So how can any kind of atheist be happy in your view? Of course , in reality atheism of any variaty is no bar to being happy at all.

    6. WCB writes:

      I'm amazed how you're replying to someone who's masquerading as me.

      I'm no one to suggest you're ranting just to provoke tension drama or anything, but none of your interventions succeeded in providing insightful content. Your interventions seem to be only into poking the ashes to burn the remains of rational discussion the "lurkers" you claim to be are.

      I'm tempted to believe that your flattery and "admirations" are just in fact ideas to meddle the waters.

      If you are the one posting as me, please stop.


    7. Pwhahahaha, WCB and Anon, you're two doofus. I've made comments from one to the other a couple of times, and you're just unable to see. Two trolls. Amazing ! ;D

      Keep on the show !

    8. WCB writes:

      None of the comments above are from me.

      Not cool. Stop.


    9. To elaborate on WCB above, pack it in you tedious little prick. God is watchihg you do and is taking notes.

    10. God is watching what you do and is taking notes.

    11. WCB writes:

      I did not partake in any of the comments of this thread. Stop this.


    12. "God is watching what you do and is taking notes."

      No. God cannot take notes. HE IS notes. :)

    13. Papalinton,

      I agree with you on the whole "there is no such thing as a free market" thing. And I honestly think that there is something sinister about the alliance between "capitalists" and "religious conservatives" in the twentieth century. I think that marriage between those two groups was a poison pill.

      That said, I'm not sure where you got the idea that religiosity had nothing whatsoever to do with happiness. Religious people tend to be happier than non-religious people, as this article shows. There are also studies showing that leftists tend to have more mental health issues, such as this study here. Shouldn't studies like this be taken into account if we are to solve the problem of declining mental health and happiness?

    14. @ BalancedTryteOperators

      You have missed the intellectual boat, literally.

      My citing of the World Happiness Index is not about happiness per se. The nine European countries, along with my dear compatriots across the 'Ditch' (the Tasman Sea), following in tenth place, clearly demonstrate THERE. IS. NO. 'CRISIS. IN. MODERNITY'. They are the happiest people in the world, collectively. And they run their nations founded on capitalist economic principals. By every criterion the World Happiness Index uses as a measure, they are indeed the happiest. So with just this modicum of research data, the whole notion of Feser's, "... the crisis of modernity and the social transformation needed to remedy it are fundamentally moral and religious rather than economic in nature", is completely blown out of the water.

      It is crapola writ large, with no supporting evidence. Period. Feser can bleat all he wants but the fact remains, religion is a relic of old thinking that simply does not translate into the contemporary post-religious world. Just as alchemy, astrology and numerology have been replaced by chemistry, astronomy and predictive science, so too will the occultic foundations of religious belief be relegated to the checkered history of mythology..

      Surprisingly, you do make one truthful statement that is backed up be the evidence. You say: "Happiness is caused by moral goodness. Morally good people are naturally happy and morally bad people are naturally miserable."

      For once in your life you have stated fact. I couldn't agree more. Those northern European countries, along with New Zealand are the happiest because they are MORALLY GOOD PEOPLE, and morally good people are happy. They are also largely atheist. They are happiest because organised religion has been largely shown the door and now no longer meddle in their affairs of community, state and governance.

      Overall, that has to be a good thing. No?

    15. Papalinton - Interesting, if study after study were to show that religion and belief generally made people happier and live longer, what would that do to the point you are making here?

    16. MattSimmons - Point me to the studies.

    17. Paplinton, they are many, Google turns up most of them. Here is one for you

    18. Matt Simmons 12.39AM

      Not had time to read this yet, but if it is claimed that X is conducive to happiness say, we should then look more deeply and ask 'is it X per say, or the correlates of X'?

      It would not be surprising if religion conferred positive psychological benefits in some cases, as it provides meaning , structures ones life and makes it future orientated ( the afterlife ), enhances feelings of self worth and makes one part of a community and so networking group. But other things can do this to varying extents, such as charitable and voluntary work, hobbies, political campaigning etc. So before claiming that religion is special in itself, we should ask if any positive effects are due to it providing community and meaning for those involved. There are alternative non-delusional ways of doing this of course.

    19. MattSimmons

      An interesting study. But I couldn't find the data which outlined the causal link between the 'truth value' of religion or religious belief and well-being/higher life satisfaction. To be sure there is a correlation, but no data or evidence for causation. The key to this report is 'affiliation', belongingness. The only significant role religion has played in this report is its use as a vector to channel group solidarity with other 'like-minded' people who share a common bond. And there are countless sociological studies that attest to the effect of working as a group, a team, or as a community. So the findings are not remarkable in any sense that demonstrates well-being/life satisfaction is attributable to religion solely, or that that well-being was exclusively a product of the religiosity.
      As the report showed; "Muslims display significantly lower life satisfaction than the non-religious, which appears to be due to their underprivileged social position rather than intra-religious factors of believing and belonging."

      So clearly, the role of religion to life satisfaction for Muslims shows an absolutely inverse link. One could then reasonably infer from this report that Catholics have a higher life-satisfaction co-efficient, not because of their religiosity, but due to their privileged social position rather than intra-religious factors of believing and belonging.

      Given the data, this would be just as veridical a finding in this report.

      In their conclusion, the researchers found: "Both Model 1 and 2 show there is no universal effect of religion on life satisfaction in this study."
      For some religious groups life satisfaction was up, for others life satisfaction was down.
      Another conclusion: "This point is further illustrated by the fact that we find a negative relationship between being Muslim and life satisfaction".
      A third conclusion reached: "Hypothesis 1a, which states that religiously affiliated individuals are more satisfied with their lives because of their religious beliefs, must therefore be rejected."
      A third conclusion noted: "When it comes to the neighborhood, exploratory analyses show that religious attendance and embeddedness in a cohesive neighborhood are indeed positively correlated".
      You will note this finding has more to do with group behaviour and embeddedness rather than the 'truth value' of a religion.

      Indeed there are many studies that show that countries with deep religiosity are also the poorest nations. SEE HERE, <a Href="><b>AND HERE</b></a>
      And that stands to reason. Because when one lives in perpetual existential fear, living hand-to-mouth daily, not knowing whether they can feed and protect themselves and their family from the ravages of poverty is it any wonder people turn to the one psychological salvific prop left; a belief that someone, something, 'out there', will look after them.

      So the paper is more about the social, social effect of group behaviour that has the greatest impact on well-being/life satisfaction. As I say it is not religion but religious affiliation that is simply the vector for promulgating life-satisfaction. And that message is clear in the reporting.

    20. I do remember one Inspiring Philosophy debate where he argued that on these studies is important to separate intrinsic religiosity, beliving and praticing the faith, and extrinsic religiosity, being part of a religious group. Aparently the studies that separated both showed that the first one had a correlation with hapinness and good behavior.

      Still looking at me? I don't have the studies, unfortunately. Michael probably showed they on the debate*, but i can't remember. Sorry.

      *is one with Dillahunty

    21. Papalinton - Why am I not surprised that a "modicum of evidence" is enough for you to trash Feser's hypothesis, yet I point you to a source that states "The positive relationship between religiosity and life satisfaction is well-established" and suddenly you do a deep dive critical review?

  8. Errata

    "Every Western country at the mid-point of the 20th century had populations in excess of 95% by poll data."

    should read:

    "Every Western country at the mid-point of the 20th century had populations in excess of 95% Christian by poll data.

    1. And world population has one Papalinton in excess. Can we exchange him for Elvis?

  9. Overall, a thoughtful post (while I don't agree with any of the supernatural ideas or claims).

    However, it is clear Feser writes about liberals and social justice as an outsider, who doesn't actually understand its goals/policies.

    For example: "Social justice is conceived of primarily in terms of enabling as many as possible to achieve this "dream.'" "Liberal Christians, meanwhile, emphasize helping the poor and marginalized – not to save their souls, but rather to get them into the same rat race that the rest of society runs in."

    Also, I would argue the modern conservative Republicans care MORE about social issues than economic issues. Which is contrary to his claim that, "(e)ven conservative parties tend to cave in on 'social issues'..."

  10. "Also, I would argue the modern conservative Republicans care MORE about social issues than economic issues. Which is contrary to his claim that, "(e)ven conservative parties tend to cave in on 'social issues'..."

    Hmmmm. I think Rod Dreher would disagree with you.

    1. DrYogami,

      I have no idea who that is. But my comment is refering to the majority of modern conservatives Republicans, not each one individually.

  11. I have a proposal on the rationale of the disciples’ question “Who then can be saved?” after Jesus told them that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God:

    The disciples, like other first century Jews, might have associated being rich with being blessed by God and being in the favour of God. If so, this would then lead the disciples into thinking: “if even the rich, being blessed by God and in God’s favour, cannot be saved, then wouldn’t the rest of us (eg the poor) be hopeless?” Hence they asked: “Who then can be saved?” If this is indeed the background, then Jesus’ reply that “all things are possible with God” means that it is no obstacle for God to save those people whom they thought are hopeless.



    johannes y k hui

    1. Johannes, it saves one aspect of what was said, but not the other: why Jesus would bother to point it out. And it does nothing to correct Jewish misunderstanding about the rich being more in God's favor than the poor (even if both are far lower down in His favor than they had thought).

    2. Hi Tony,

      I do not understand what what you are referring to in your statement “why Jesus would bother to point it out”. Care to elaborate?

      On your second point about nothing was done in the episode to correct the Jewish misunderstanding about correlating being rich to being blessed by God: this episode would partly correct that misunderstanding, and Jesus’ other sayings would complete the correction.

      For example, according to Luke’s Gospel (Luke 6.20-26), Jesus pronounced that “blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God... woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort in full” [implying there is no more good things for you in the next stage of your life]. This is illustrated by Jesus’ parable of the Rich Man & Lazarus in Luke 16.19-26. The Rich Man was living in comfort while Lazarus was suffering in poverty, sustained by the hanging around outside the Rich Man’s gate to eat the Rich Man’s leftover food. After their death, Lazarus began his next stage of existence in comfort in Abraham’s bosom while the Rich Man entered into his next stage of existence is agony in Hades. The explanation given to the Rich Man was this: “ Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony.” This parable is like an illustration of Jesus’ pronouncement of “woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort in full” [implying there is no more good thing left for you in your life after life] while the poor would enjoy the fullness of the Kingdom of God in their next life and hence “blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God”.

      Hence Jesus’ teachings in other places would supplement the needed correction to those Jews who misunderstood that their fellow rich Jews were the ones in the favour of God.



      johannes y k hui

  12. Gaining riches from the capitalistic system is not a problem, but I suspect that to use most of the riches to finance our comfort or to keep accumulating riches (while giving only a minority of it to help the poor) is a BIG problem, in a world with many people suffering in poverty. So the problem is not about being rich per se, but being rich in a world with poverty.

    Jesus taught his audience not to store up earthly riches but instead to store up “heavenly treasures” by selling earthly possessions to help the poor:

    “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
    - Matt 6.19-21 (this saying was in the context of Jesus teaching a general audience)

    Jesus explained “storing up treasures in heaven” this way:

    “Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor does a moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
    - Luke 12.33 (this saying was in the context of Jesus teaching a general audience)

    Even in Jesus’ specific instruction to the rich young man, Jesus told him to sell his possessions to give to the poor so that he could have “treasure in heaven” and follow Jesus:

    “Looking at him, Jesus showed love to him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
    - Mark 10.21

    So quite consistently in different context, different Gospel writers presented Jesus linking “selling possessions to give to the poor” with “storing up treasures in heaven”. The early church presented in Acts 2 and Acts 4 did that. So did many Christians in the first two hundred years, base on the letters of various early church fathers.

    As can be seen in the above, two Gospel authors presented Jesus saying: “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”. This implies that how one deals with earthly possessions would indicate where one’s heart truly is. It appears to imply that if one’s earthly treasures are placed in the hands of the poor in obedience to Jesus, then one’s heart would be with God, while if one’s wealth is stored in the banks of the rich, then one’s heart is really with Mammon/Wealth despite one’s belief that one heart is with God. The latter belief that one’s master is God despite being rich in a world with poverty may just be a self-delusion. “No one can serve two masters... You cannot serve God and Mammon/Wealth.” (Matt 6.24)

    While the rich young man saw himself as having obeyed the commandments, by refusing to sell all his possessions to give to the poor, he actually have disobeyed the second commandment to love his neighbour (which includes the poor). As the Apostle Paul said: “For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (Galatians 5.14).

    Hence, while being a rich Christian per se is not a problem at all, perhaps, being a rich Christian in the context of a world where many people are suffering in poverty is a big problem.



    johannes y k hui

    1. WCB writes:

      You missed the whole point of the gospels. Jesus tells his followers, sell all you have and give to the poor. Where your treasure is,, you heart will also be. You cannot serve God and mammon.

      Jesus repeatedly taught that the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven was to be soon, soon, soon! Anything that might keep one from being one of the chosen was to be given up.

      Jesus was not giving an economic system for all time. But just to survive the coming apocalypse and coming of the new order. \
      Which did not happen as predicted. So if as many Christians claim, this second coming and the Kingdom of Heaven is still to happen in the near future, these commands to sell all you have etc. are still necessary for salvation when that occurs.


    2. Johannes, as far as I can tell, there has NEVER been a time when the (fully committed) Christians ALL sold ALL of their wealth and gave it to the poor. Even in the early days when Acts says that Christians sold their property and handed it over to the leaders to allocate, it never says they did that with EVERY STITCH of their assets: (including their clothes, the boats they fished from, their tools, etc). And there are implications that they did not do this: Throughout Acts, we see the apostles staying at the houses of various Christians. And Paul, when he heard about the Christians in Jerusalem in dire straights, raised up a COLLECTION, which means that they asked for donations, instead of simply going into the common pot and deciding how much to take out to send to Jerusalem. And Paul advised various churches to "put widows on the rolls" which implies that there were some NOT on the rolls, which means that some did NOT live off a common pot of wealth day to day.

      Taken with Peter's fatal correction to Ananias and Sapphira, and Christ's rebuke of Judas who objected to an expensive perfumed oil being used instead of being sold and the proceeds given to the poor, all this indicates pretty strongly that Acts does not mean everyone sold every stitch of their assets and handed over to support the poor.

      Pope St. John Paul II indicated that while it is a good thing to give a poor man a meal to eat, it is still a better thing to give a poor man (who can work) a fitting job he can do so he can earn his meal and his other needs: it serves not only his physical needs but also his spiritual needs, i.e. human dignity to be ABLE to work and serve others. Hence the man who uses his "accumulated wealth" to erect a factory that employs many, and pays them good wages, is doing good, charitable service to "the poor". As a consequence, it is impossible to say of each person who has a "high net worth" that he is neglecting the second great commandment, or that he has placed wealth above his neighbor (or the poor). Some have, and some maybe have not, and the external facts cannot distinguish. For that reason, it is not the wealth alone that tells us whether someone has the right attitude toward wealth.

      The crux of the issue is that invested wealth must first be ACCUMULATED as (temporary) surplus that will (eventually) be used, but (while being collected) is not (yet) being used: a savings account is NOT SIN.

    3. Hi WCB,

      You wrote: “You missed the whole point of the gospels... Anything that might keep one from being one of the chosen was to be given up.”

      Precisely storing up treasures on earth instead of storing up treasures in heaven is something that would “keep one from being one of the chosen”.

      Being rich and using most of those riches to build a “good life” for like the rest of the worldly minded people would be “storing up treasures on earth”.

      To “store up treasures in heaven” is to use a significant part of one’s riches to reduce the suffering of the poor and needy”, according to Jesus’ teachings given to his general audience (Luke 12.33) and at another time speaking to the Rich Young Man.

      Base on the Gospels’ portrayal of Jesus, Jesus’ teaching to his followers to sell (or use) one’s possessions to help the suffering poor was not because the world was coming to an end (whether he or his followers believed that the world was to come to an end in their time is independent of the instruction to sell one’s possessions to help the poor and needy). It is rather because the persons suitable to “inherit the Kingdom” are persons are those who have a loving heart to help the suffering ones such as the widows, the sick, the poor and needy etc. See Matthew 25.31-46.

      The letters of James also said: “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1.27)

      The Gospels did not portray Jesus explaining to his followers that they should sell away their possessions because the end of the world is near. The reason given was that the possessions are to be sold to help the poor.

      The Christian community portrayed in Acts 2 and Acts 4 explained that those Christians sold their possessions to help people in need.

      Even after the first century we have church fathers who were said the same. Example:

      Justin Martyr in the second century wrote:
      “We who once took most pleasure in the means of increasing our wealth and property now bring what we have into a common fund and share with EVERYONE IN NEED.”

      Basil the Great in the 4th century wrote:

      “It is absurd and disgraceful for one to live magnificently and luxuriously when so many are hungry…If one who takes the clothing off another is a thief, why give any other name to one who can clothe the naked and refuses to do so?The bread that you store up belongs to the hungry; the cloak that lies in your chest belongs to the naked; the gold that you have hidden in the ground belongs to the poor.” … “How can I make you realize the misery of the poor? How can I make you understand that your wealth comes from their weeping?”

      The rationale for selling possessions is to help those in need, and not because of the impending end of the world (ie independent of any belief that about the end of the world).


      johannes y k hui

    4. Hi Tony,

      It seems like you have misread what I wrote. I did not write that ALL Christians sold ALL their properties in the early church. Neither did I write that Jesus taught his audience that they all should sell ALL their possessions. His saying to his general audience in Luke 12.33 “ “Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven, ...” is not the same meaning as “sell ALL your possessions...”

      My point is expressed in the first two paragraphs which I am quoting here for convenient reference:

      “Gaining riches from the capitalistic system is not a problem, but I suspect that to use most of the riches to finance our comfort or to keep accumulating riches (while giving only a minority of it to help the poor) is a BIG problem, in a world with many people suffering in poverty. So the problem is not about being rich per se, but being rich in a world with poverty.”

      “Jesus taught his audience not to store up earthly riches but instead to store up “heavenly treasures” by selling earthly possessions to help the poor”

      There is no concept of selling ALL possessions in what I wrote regarding Christians in general (other than what Jesus told the Rich Young Man/Ruler). For his general audience, Jesus only said “Sell your possessions and give to the poor...”. Not “ALL”.

      To use most of our accumulated riches to build a good life like what the worldly-minded people do (while giving only a small portion for charity) would contradict Jesus’ teachings.

      Giving away possessions would include setting apart possessions to help the needy, even if those possessions are still in one’s legal ownership. Those set-apart possessions may take some time to be utilized fully for the needy, such as if they are set up in the form of a trust-fund or trust-asset for the needy. These possessions/assets are set apart in the sense that even if we are still legally owning them, we no longer allow ourselves to use them for more frequent overseas vacations, getting a luxury-class car, going for more regular expensive dining etc. These set-apart possessions are really to be used to help others who are suffering and in need.



      johannes y k hui

  13. This is an excellent take on a complicated issue.

    One tiny correction: the paragraph beginning with "If easy affluence" refers to Matthew 16:19-22. It should be Matthew 19.

    But in any case, thanks for developing these thoughts. I remember you putting some of them down in the comment section of one of your older posts.

  14. I think asceticism is particularly valuable in our time of abundance. Since we really cannot have the opportunity to be without material goods in America, the best we can do is act like we don’t have such goods. It is difficult to do, for sure. But I think it is something more people need to talk about.

  15. From Prof. Feser's OP: "Socialism in the strict sense, which would centralize the most fundamental economic decision-making, is intrinsically evil."

    Would worker co-ops, in which the workers in a participatory way distribute the surplus value that is created by their labor and its products (incl. reinvesting some into the coop), count as socialism? Richard Wolff touts the worker cooperatives in the Mandragon region of Spain.

    Re Plato's Republic: it's a good idea to balance the account of constitutions and character types in the Republic with the account in the Statesman 301-303. There the "Eleatic Stranger" says that of lawful states, democracy is worse than aristocracy or monarchy, but of unlawful states, it is best (or least bad), so better than oligarchy or tyranny.

    1. WCB writes:
      At the start of the industrial revolution, we found out the hard way that laissez faire capitalism was a disaster. In the era of Teddy Roosevelt, we learned that monopolies and trusts need to be dealt with. FDR demonstrated a welfare state "socialism!" according to the conservatives of his day, worked well. Supply side capitalism which was tried in Louisiana and Kansas with rather bad results shows that bad types of capitalism are not viable models of capitalism. Democratic socialism has worked well in Europe, a prime example is post war Germany. The Scandinavian nations demonstrate that a mild form of "socialism", well designed, works rather well.

      This idea that "socialism is evil" is nonsense and has been ever since the GOP used that claim in an attempt to derail FDR's New Deal. "Socialism is evil" is an ideology that has been disproven by recent history.

      Kansas demonstrated that GOP claims about capitalism being a panacea for all economic ills is nonsense. And experiment that should be a textbook example of why Supply Side economic favored by so many Republicans is dead as a door nail.

      Abandon ideology and look to real world experience for economic policy.


    2. WCB,

      I was going to make a snarky comment, but upon reading the rest of your comments on this post I was surprised to see you being reasonable. I apologise for being unpleasant to you in the past - I was exasperated since whenever we discuss anything remotely connected to race it immediately devolves into a complete shambles. You may be surprised to hear that, though I'm not a socialist, we have more in common on this issue than you might think. I generally support "capitalism" in the senses 1-5 mentioned by Feser above, but I don't much care for the Republican Party's doctrinaire economic stances - I am more concerned with promoting a moral and just society.

    3. WCB writes:

      Sorry, someone has been actively posting using my name. I haven't posted yet under my name here.


    4. @Ficino

      I don't think that this model would count as socialism in the sense that it is condemned by the Church, for in the cooperatives the right to private property is still respected. The popes were mostly reacting to traditional marxism(specially St. John Paul II, who had a history with the soviets).

      The problem with this model is more that it, i think, brokes subsidiarity by centralizing too much. The more catholic approach would probably be to have the average worker doing things in its own and having cooperatives only on jobs that require a lot of people.

    5. WCB, your claims are all false. The welfare state not only did not succeed, it failed spectacularly. It lengthened the Great Depression and has been an enduring drag on the economy, keeping more people poor longer than would have happened in a more free market economy. Furthermore welfare is far more responsible for our social ills than capitalism is. By making fathers unnecessary, or even a financial negative, and by paying single teenage girls to get pregnant, welfare led to the destruction of families, which led to children being raised without the benefits of a father, which leads to many social ills.

      Supply side economics didn't fail. It has been used successfully by Reagan, Clinton, and Trump to get the economy out of a slump.

      And the GOP has never claimed that capitalism is some sort of panacea for all economic ills. The claim is rather that socialism is a recipe for economic and social disaster--which it has been over and over.

    6. @Talmid: I have never read up on socialism. All I know is from some videos by Richard Wolff. Wolff however says that Marx developed and worked from a labor theory of surplus value. I've seen mainstream, non-Marxist economists say a labor theory of value is hopeless, that the pricing mechanism in the market does all the work that a theory needs. I have no clue.

      But I thought the idea of a worker cooperative seemed to have things going for it. There used to be even dairy cooperatives in NY State and NJ back in the day when dairy farming was a major industry there. There would be cooperative creameries - buildings now devoted to other uses.

      I'm not arguing a position, just wondering whether it's practicable in a business for the workers to decide how to use the surplus that they produce. I guess one downside is, lots of meetings!

    7. Marx labour theory of value is a subject that i admit that i don't know much. From what i understand his view was more complicate that the average presentation, which aparently came from Adam Smith. But i do see he as being up to something on his analysis of wage-labor.

      And i do see workers cooperatives as a way better model. It is just that on Catholic Social Teaching we got something called subsidiarity*, so it would be best if the average guy worked alone IF he could and wanted. But that is only a problem if one is defending that ALL should work in cooperatives, if one can choose them there is nothing wrong.

      *man, if i writed that right i will be happy, it is hard even in my language!

  16. Re: the claim that Capitalism has made us spiritually worse off - compared to what and when? 18th century England? 17th century France? 10th century Rome? 1st century Rome and Octavian's pleas for more virtue? Or perhaps you would point to some time in the Ottoman empire? Or the Ming Dynasty of China? Or are you saying the Aztecs of Mexico were the be all and end all of high spirituality?

  17. It's bizarre how often in recent weeks I've seen general criticisms of modern America or the modern Western world dressed up as criticisms of "capitalism". In this case, Dr. Feser is essentially blaming social decay on wealth, and blaming wealth on capitalism, but unless he is going to argue that therefore we need less capitalism so we have less wealth (which I assume he would not argue), what is the point of mentioning capitalism at all in the discussion? Sure, wealth tends to lead to various social ills. Why not just say that?

    In other cases on other sites, critics of "capitalism" didn't even bother to draw a causal link from the ills they were discussing to capitalism. They discussed pornography and prostitution and the breakup of families and blamed it all on capitalism without even a gesture at an argument for why the problems would be due to capitalism rather than to other causes. The mere fact that these things happened in a capitalist society seems to be enough to blame everything on capitalism.

    What I strongly suspect is going on here is that some clever socialists are making inroads into conservative thought circles, using the same techniques that Leftists have always used to fool conservatives into dropping their guard.

    "Be open-minded."
    "You're smart enough to see that there's another side to this, right?"
    "Try to be fair in your evaluation."

    All of these are strong points to conservatives, and all are routinely exploited by people who have no intention of reciprocating. Leftists aren't going to reach out to meet your hand, they are going to lean back, hoping that you overbalance and fall.

    Capitalism is seen as the opposite of socialism. That means that any criticism of capitalism will inevitably be seen as good points for socialism, whether the critic of capitalism meant it that way or not. Criticizing capitalism is a sucker move for conservatives. If you want to criticism greed or wealth or sexual immorality, criticize them as they are, don't try to shoehorn those criticisms into a criticism of capitalism.

    1. David Gudeman,

      This is exactly why we have to break free of the "socialism-capitalism" dichotomy. For one thing, there are multiple versions of capitalism, and not all of them are moral. Second, there are other forms of economic organization that we have not tried in the modern era yet.

      Nobody here is arguing that we reach out to the Left on this issue, least of all myself. But do you honestly think that big business and their libertarian cronies are on our side either?

    2. Mr. Geocon, identifying "capitalism" with "big business and their libertarian cronies" is part of the deception. It suggests that if we get rid of capitalism, we get rid of big business, but that's only half the story. Get rid of capitalism and we replace big business and their power to kick you off Twitter with big government and their power to send you to prison for making unapproved economic choices. You will never get rid of people having power over you; the most you can do is limit the forms of that power. Capitalism does the most to limit the forms of that power.

      There is no alternative to capitalism and socialism because those are just names for the two ends of a linear scale. Capitalism indicates economic freedom; socialism indicates economic tyranny. Capitalism means the government doesn't try to control prices or wages or product features; doesn't tell people what they have to buy or who they have to buy it from. Any attempt to do those things is moving in the direction of socialism and tyranny.

      Criticizing capitalism is inevitably going to be seen as criticizing freedom in favor of tyranny, and to the extent that people listen to you, it is going to lead to more economic tyranny.

    3. David,

      Yeah, I can see that you are of the "socialism is when the government does stuff" school of thought. This kind of hyper-pro-capitalism masquerading as opposition to the current progressive system is funded by the very same elites within this system. Hayek, Friedman, the Chicago School, and the rest did not fund their own research and careers. Rather, they were funded by the very same sources that funded the Civil Rights movement, feminism, and gender ideology – that is, the Rockefellers, the Fords, the Carnegies, and the like. It is all a matter of record.

      This isn’t surprising because, when we look at their underlying assumptions, Marxists and libertarians are functionally interchangeable. Both are liberal because both deny the obvious truth that all actions were/are done according to standards put forward by authority figures, either explicitly or implicitly. The "linear scale" view of economics that puts capitalism on one side and socialism on the other neglects the fact that both Marxism and libertarianism (both forms of liberalism) presume a lot of the same starting assumptions). Both groups conflate possession and property because they both treat the individual as before society and political organization. This view, in turn, comes from the collapse of the English monarchy in the sixteenth century and is completely unjustified.

      All liberal theory - from Ludwig von Mises to Karl Marx - is fundamentally anarchist. What varies in how delusional it is on this point. If all property is possession, then we have to try to explain how and why people stay together, which is where Thomas Hobbes comes in. The Marxist conception of the state is fundamentally Hobbesian, the only difference being that the war of all against all in Marx's state of nature is between classes, not individuals. Liberalism treats the state as an alien entity.

      By contrast, possession is the mere act of possessing something. The sovereign, being sovereign, possesses everything under his control. It is not the sovereign’s property, because property is legally acknowledged ownership. Property requires legal status, which is provided by the sovereign, who as lawgiver is above the law. This is the absolutist view of politics that St. Thomas Aquinas believed in. Because absolutism rejects liberal anthropology, it is neither capitalist nor socialist, and trying to fit it into the linear spectrum constructed by von Mises and other libertarian gurus would beg the question.

    4. Mister Geocon, nothing of what you said seems to be relevant to what I said. You start with a ridiculous strawman: " are of the 'socialism is when the government does stuff' school...", and then go into a word salad of irrelevant assertions. Am I supposed to be opposed to the civil rights movement in the first half of the 20th century when blacks were an oppressed minority in much of the country?

      Capitalism is not libertarianism. Libertarianism can reasonably be described as having similarities to anarchism, but capitalism cannot. Saying that government ought to keep out of economics is not remotely similar to saying that we don't need a government.

      Your critique of Marxism using Marxist theory and terminology is just a string of incoherent slogans and non sequiturs, which is what most Marxist arguments are.

    5. David,

      I must commend you for being able to both accuse me of "strawmanning" you while also completely ignoring everything I said. Let me reiterate what I said so that you understand (since, judging by your dismissal of what I said as "word salad", it appears you didn't).

      First, if you are a liberal of any kind (not just a libertarian or a Marxist, but a liberal of any kind), then you are an anarchist. The very idea of individualism is anarchistic. The idea that the state is an alien entity is anarchistic. The idea of property "rights" is anarchistic. To the extent that liberalism starts with anarchistic premises and then tries to justify the existence of the state, it is incoherent.

      Second, what I was criticizing was your assumption that if you have any critique of capitalism, you must be a socialist (or, alternatively, a useful idiot for socialists). The reason I thought you were a libertarian (and thus of the "socialism is when the government does stuff" school of thought) was because this is a very radical position. It's the position of Ludwig von Mises, who denied that there could ever be some moderate position between capitalism and socialism. You cannot defend this position without coming across as an ideologue of some kind.

      Third, you bizarrely accuse me of using "Marxist theory and terminology", which is kind of... I don't know. This accusation comes out of nowhere. Where is the "Marxist" theory and terminology?

      Finally, what I said earlier about Civil Rights: that movement was the start of the modern progressive order that conservatives nowadays call tyrannical. My point was that the modern conservatives' preferred gurus and the modern left's preferred gurus were both funded by the same kinds of people. This should give you the hint that this dialectic we're living in is a manufactured one on some level.

    6. @David Gudeman

      Saying that capitalism and socialism are the only options depend on very broad definitions of both. The idea that capitalism = free market is very modern, for instance. I don't know the history, but i suppose that it started in the past century, maybe in the Cold War?

      If you go back more that a century you see that when Marx, Proudhon, Tucker, Chesterton and Belloc etc, criticize captalistm they have a very diferent understand of the term. Something like "capitalism is a economy model where the production of goods is mostly by means of wage-labor".

      If you define it that way, them you see that "capitalism" can be opposed by a non-socialist*. Since a sistem where the production is mostly by means of wage-labor requires that a lot of people do not have owenership of the means of production that they use, someone who defended that we should have the average person as owning some(as distributists defend) wouldbe a non-capitalist that is not a fan of the State as well.

      *your definition of socialism will also be important

    7. @Talmid, this post was not written to 19th century readers or to experts on Marxism. I used the terminology that would be understood by the readers.

    8. Dr. Feser did highlight on his post the importance of defining things right when we talk about capitalism. I was just doing exactly that to try to show you why it some people that criticizes "capitalism" are not necessarily socialists.

      And, being honest, the old definition is WAY better that the new, that i suspect is only there to facilitate the "capitalism x communism" false-dichotomy that, i think, was born on the Cold War. There are a lot of positions that reject the current sistem and right-wing libertarianism that have nothing in common with marxism-leninism.

    9. Talmid is exactly right. When the Popes attacked socialism, they were explicit in what they meant by that term. At the same time, they opposed lassaiz-faire capitalism while also saying there was nothing morally wrong with a more regulated kind of capitalism.

  18. The point about the wealth and comfort pushing us away from spirituality is truly very inteligent. A interesting take on that is the Devas on buddhism.

    On this religion, Devas are beings way superior to humans, kinda like pagan gods, but their easy and blissfull life cause they to not realize neither the suffering of the lower beings nor their own mortality. So even being way smarter than us and living very long they fail to pursue Nirvana and end up dying and being reborn on lower realms.

  19. The post does not seem to address the basic criticisms of capitalism I outlined above.

    The problem, as the post mentions, is not just wealth, but one's attitude to it. But the problem is also how wealth is generated. If this is done unjustly, or consists in the constant destabilisation of societies, as has happened in capitalist systems since the eighteenth-century, then it is negative, even for people who supposedly benefit materially.

    In capitalist systems, increasing material wealth has gone hand in hand with loss of property for the average person, in particular property that is used for production. In addition, professions have become more and more an unstable mean of generating money that something that helps individuals define themselves.Belloc wrote well on this subject. Ignoring this principle of economic stability, which is the heart of what Christians aspire to in society, has resulted in the frantic movement of people and goods - around the world with globalism - or within modern nation states in its no-so-different "alternative".

    However, the problem with distributism was that a mere wider distribution of property does nothing in the long run to prevent thrifty individuals from acquiring the property of their neighbours. The solution to this (and to the entire economic question possiblly) is the principle behind the traditional corporation.

    This guaranteed the exclusive use of productive property to individuals, while preventing them from alienating it as they saw fit. This allowed them to obtain more wealth from extra work, but also ensured that nobody be left without property. This is the village corporation which existed in Europe for over a thousand years, and was copied by the Moshav system in Palestine. The principle can be used in any part of the economy and is not necessarily rural.

    This is an example of the way we should be thinking. To even pose the problem as one of capitalism versus socialism is to reject any alternative to this shallow game of ideologies which is less than two hundred years old.

  20. Of the popes Feser cited, he naturally omitted Pope John xxiii and his encylical "Pacerm et Terris," where in para 11 he said:


    11. But first We must speak of man's rights. Man has the right to live. He has the right to bodily integrity and to the means necessary for the proper development of life, particularly food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest, and, finally, the necessary social services. In consequence, he has the right to be looked after in the event of ill health; disability stemming from his work; widowhood; old age; enforced unemployment; or whenever through no fault of his own he is deprived of the means of livelihood. (8)

    Conservatives in the US, like William f Bucklely, Jr, founder of "National Review," hated Pope John's encyclicals.

    1. Is there a contradiction between what Feser wrote and the quote from John XXIII?

    2. WCB writes:

      FDR's Second Bill Of Rights (Wikipedia)

      In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.

      Among these are:

      The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
      The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
      The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
      The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
      The right of every family to a decent home;
      The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
      The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
      The right to a good education.

      All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

      America's own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for all our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.

      It would seem FDR and Pope John XIII were pretty much on the same page as far as economic rights.


    3. I remember asking Dr. Feser about a similar subject* one time and he responded. His answer would probably be that yes, we do have a right to these things, but HOW to make sure that people have these is a pratical question that can't be answered by ethics alone.


    4. It is fine to point out these rights: to a useful and remunerative job, to earn enough, to sell at an adequate return...

      But one must never forget that calling these "rights" is using the term in - at the VERY BEST - an analogous sense somewhat removed from certain other rights. Possibly even an equivocal sense. If one forgets or obscures that important truth, one ends up with all sorts of grave distortions of social matters.

      For instance: nobody can guarantee a farmer a "right" to an adequate return if he grows a crop of "food" nobody actually wants. Nobody can insist that a person has a "right" to a "useful" job if he (a) won't learn a skill, or (b) won't work hard. The right to "medical care" is contingent on an equal right of others NOT to enter the nursing and medical fields if they do not desire to do so: it is not a right to insist on the slave labor of others to take care of my medical needs.

      These and many other qualifiers constrain the meaning of "right" in these contexts.

    5. That sounded a bit weak. It's doubtful farmers feel wronged because they grow crops nobody wants but because they are not paid enough for them - due to globalaism or monopolisation within states.

      As for for the right to medical care being contingent on an equal right of others not to enter nursing. If this idea is applied to food, our right to eat is contingent on the right of others not to produce it. This would only be valid if you were Robinson Crusoe. But you're part of the great human family that must look after itself. These are non problems, designed to ignore the just price and the right to proper health care.

      I think you ought to consider Aquinas more than fashionable conservative writings on the subject. The same goes for private property being of relative, not absolute value.

  21. Nice post.

    Capitalism as ideology reflects (one variant of) liberalism as applied to the economic sphere: the efficient satisfaction of whatever subjective consumer desires people happen to have. It purports to be neutral toward the various consumer goods and lets the market, i.e., the aggregate of individual desires, determine ‘value’. But a thing’s true value is not reducible to what people happen to want as determined by the market. Ideological free marketism denies this, or at least, claims that the economy ought to be so ordered as if things were reducible to subjective desires (this is analogous to liberalism in the political realm, which claims that politically, we should not treat any view of the good as objective, but ought to let men pursue their own vision of the good). Thus, ideological free marketism is itself a distortion of value.

    Another problem with ideological capitalism is the autonomy granted to the economic sphere. The economic sphere ought to be subordinate to the common good rather than an autonomous sphere independent of other non-economic concerns a society might have.
    Restrictions on economic activity that might run afoul of free market principles and result in market 'inefficiencies' can be perfectly legitimate so as to order economic activity toward higher goods.

  22. I can at least promise that I will offend both sides.

    Feser got that right. He's a prophet!

  23. Two fatal flaws of the post:

    1. Its based on strawman version of socialism. There is nothing centralized about real socialism, socialism is about working class control of factors of production.

    2.Writings like that of Pinker are fatally flawed. They are based in cherry picked data. They are refuted many times.

    1. These are some pretty good points, not going to lie. Socialism can mean government ownership of the means of production, but not always. It's a very broad term, much like capitalism. Pinker's case that capitalism has made us richer overall also has some flaws, as I pointed out here.

    2. Anonymous, can you include a unique identifier with your posts, (like WCB has been doing). It would make things easier.

      Although it is clearly possible to distinguish between government control of assets of production, versus "OTHER" control of the assets of production, it remains the case that FULL and COMPLETE worker control of the assets that workers use in production ONLY ever occurs when the workers themselves OWN the assets used in production, separately and individually: John owns the assets John uses, Bill uses the assets Bill uses, etc. This is not in any way, shape, or form "socialism". Hence, socialism necessarily implies SOME divergence from EACH worker owning the assets he employs in production, and this necessarily implies someone other than the worker working the specific tool is deciding how the tool is to be used. This can be a "manager", or an "investor", if you have (some version of) capitalism, or it can be "the union" or "the state" in other models, but even when it is "the union", what this ultimately means is that it is the chief controllers of the union who decide ultimately.

      However you want to dice up the theoretical categories, though, employee-owned corporations are classed under "capitalism", usually, and so far as I am aware, all of the ACTUAL examples of "socialism" (i.e. what is actually CALLED socialism) in real life have always involved heavy layers of state involvement in deciding who decides on the use of the tools of production.

      In practice, any place where you as an individual are legally allowed to own your own assets of production, and you voluntarily cede control to a collective entity (such as a co-op, for example) is not called "socialism" precisely because you decide whether the asset will be controlled by a collective or not. "Socialism" is reserved for systems where the individual does not have that choice.

      (There are, of course, mixed systems where some assets are up for individual ownership, and other assets are not. The existence of mixed systems does not undermine the principle.)

      When the individual is not legally allowed to decide to retain ownership of the assets of production, then that lack of "ownership" control is enforced by the state - this what it MEANS to say he is not legally allowed. But if the state enforces it, then the state is obviously heavily involved in saying who DOES control the assets.

      (Example: Sam Morse plays around with new-fangled electricity. As long as his playing around is unproductive, nobody cares. When he invents the telegraph, then the state comes along and assigns its control and use to X entity, taking it out of Sam's control. It matters little whether X is itself "the state" or some "public corporation" or some other structure, the point is that it's NOT SAM. And thus, even if the chief deciders at X are called "workers" (heh, that's usually going to be facade), the "workers" making the decisions won't be the worker(s) who actually USE the assets. And usually, the "workers" who make MOST of the effective decisions will be a small subset of all workers.)

    3. "socialism is about working class control of factors of production."

      But the means of production are not distributed among the workers. All the workers control the means of production entirely. Any way that this control applies, it will be centralized.

      Any attempt to develop some structured hierarchy or "federalized" structure would just defeat the whole point. The only way that would work is with some kind of representative body, but that just makes the control even more explicitly central.

      Socialism not being about central control would be surprising to the developers of socialist thought.

    4. Just gonna let this here:

    5. Whatever Benjamin Tucker says about it, as soon as someone in the worker class spends more than a trivial amount of time being the one who decides how the assets of production are used by others, he ceases to be simply one of "the worker class." And as has been proven the world over, more such authority tends to aggregate toward small cadres of such men. Thus it ceases to be "the workers" deciding on the use of the means of production. Anarchic socialism devolves into other socialism within months, if not weeks. It is a mirage.

    6. I agree that Tucker socialism would not last, but it is still a political position diferent from state-socialism, so Anon definition could be used as a type of socialism.

    7. I will also point out that the category "means of production" is almost always, in socialists hands, a mirage as well. There is nothing that fundamentally divides things that can be used to produce from things that cannot, as an a priori principle. There are only things that often, or generally are used for production versus things that usually are not. But that's purely ad hoc. Horse shit is a waste product...until it is "manure" and then "fertilizer". Same with compostible vegetable scraps. Same with paper scraps that (now) can be recycled. Green plants give off a waste product called oxygen, which we use as a resource. Give materials science another 200 years to develop (without a global disaster), and "land fills" will simply become "resource mines" for valuable chemicals.

      When Edison performed thousands of experiments toward producing a light bulb, nearly all of the items he made were junk after the experiment. But at the end, suddenly he had "productive assets". But calling it that is a purely ad hoc change. In another 20 years from now, THAT kind of light bulb will be outlawed as too inefficient, and it will once again be mere trash that nobody wants.

      And once you realize that human ingenuity has, in a concrete instance, changed what everyone else thought of as mere trash, into a useful asset, the difficulty of coming up with a concrete moral basis for taking it out of the hands of the person who first found its usefulness is, of course, one of the fundamental moral difficulties of socialism. It is why some socialist have, instead, run toward treating ALL property (and not just productive property) as belonging to the whole of mankind and not to individuals.

  24. I would quibble with the inclusion of no. 6, doctrinaire laissez-faire, among the "bad" aspects of capitalism. Being a doctrinaire laissez-faire simply means understanding the social and economic consequences of interventionism and therefore opposing them.

    1. WCB writes:

      We tried untrammeled laissez faire capitalism during the industrial revolution. It was a hellish horror. History speaks, do try to listen.


    2. Is that the same history that tells us the middle ages were full of oppressed and superstitious peasants, corrupt and decadent clergy and a brutal inquisition burning witches left and right?

    3. WCB writes:

      The middle ages. Feudalism. Another nasty economic system that was sheer misery for many.


    4. The industrial revolution would never have happened if there was not significant government intervention on things. Both the right-wing libertarian that says that the free-market gave us industrialization and the mainstream leftists that blame the free-market for the horrors of the industrial revolution have quite a lot of reading to do.

    5. @WCB: I think your understanding of history is fundamentally flawed. If you read any economic history of either the Middle Ages or the 19th century, you will discover that neither period can reasonably be characterized as "nasty" or "a hellish horror."

      Both eras were characterized by economic expansion that benefited the broad population, and this process of economic development came to a halt due to the rise of intrusive government. From about 1300 in the Middle Ages and 1914 in the latter case.

      @Talmid: I think you need to elaborate on that. I know of no historical evidence to suggest that's correct, it's an old trope by state socialist and Marxist scholars with no foundation in reality.

    6. Here's something interesting: a libertarian YouTuber (aka someone who disagrees with medieval economics) made a video arguing that, in many ways, life was better for someone living in the fourteenth century than in the nineteenth century:

    7. I have no idea what is meant by mediaeval economics. But Academic Agent is very much worth watching, and I did previously watch that video.

      Sure, in many ways society was healthier in the 14th century although it was poorer, but if you're contrasting it to life in modern times you're contrasting a virtually stateless society with society destroyed by an all-dominant state.

    8. Kristoffer,

      There's something to what you said. Bertrand de Jouvenel did point out that, contrary to the Whig view that the history of mankind is one of increasing freedom, the modern state is far more all-encompassing than it was in older societies.

    9. De Jouvenel is a very interesting thinker, although I think largely forgotten today.

    10. Mister Geocon,

      a libertarian YouTuber (aka someone who disagrees with medieval economics) made a video arguing that, in many ways, life was better for someone living in the fourteenth century than in the nineteenth century...

      Another irony regarding libertarianism is that a society set up to be libertarian would end up looking like feudal society, with its voluntary contracts entailing mutual obligations (vassalage), private armies for protection, minimal or non-existent state, etc. Yet somehow, I don't think this is exactly what libertarians have in mind when they imagine their ideal society...

    11. @Kristoffer Hansen

      Well, it all starts on XVI century England, where king Henry the VIII dissolved a lot, and i mean a lot, of monasteries and took the land to the Crown. Needing money to fight, the king selled the monastic property to private hands and so garanted that there was a lot of concentration of wealth on few hands. Lets say that this opened a door to the Crown power being more "controlable" by the wealthy, as we can see way later on the so-called Glorious Revolution.

      Combine that with the Inclosure Acts later and you got a lot of land being concentraded on private hands thanks to the State, allowing a lot of investment on technology and allowing cheap and abundant labor to be obtained to work on the new factories. Change this very contingent situation and you likely never would have a industrial revolution, at most a very diferent* one.

      *and likely one way more just

    12. @Ian

      I can't speak for others, but that sounds pretty good to me.


      That's a very anglo-centric story, so doesn't explain much. It's also not clear to me how forced redistribution of property should lead to industrialization - on the contrary, it's destructive of wealth. The enclosures were not exclusively state-driven - but again, to the extent that they were, they were destructive of wealth.

      Cheap and abundant labour was only a reality because capitalists were able to circumvent destructive guild restrictions and similar, and/or these were gradually abolished. The alternative open to the labourers was not a glorious life as yeoman farmers, but short miserable lives as beggars and vagrants. Thank God there were no laws against child labour. In any case, it's precisely capitalism that has made cheap labour a thing of the past, as wage rates rise as a consequence of the further accumulation of capital.

    13. Kristoffer,

      Perhaps the reason for the "state-driven" and "destructive" enclosures is because the only alternative to working in guilds were "short miserable lives as beggars and vagrants"? Maybe these wealth-destroying practices were actually worth the cost?

    14. Mister Geocon,

      It wasn't a lack of capital or because there was no work that there was this excess population. They were forcibly prevented from working by all the privileges granted to special interest groups, restricting the number of men who could work in a specific trade so the established craftsmen could earn higher wages for instance. That's one reason early industrialization was organized on the putting out system - to evade regulations and privileges that were only effective in towns.

      Just to be clear: there's a world of difference between medieval guilds and the system that developed in the early modern period and with which industrialization did away. Or I should say, the destruction of which paved the way for industrialization

    15. @Kristoffer Hansen

      Well, the first industrial revolution happened on England, so...

      Thanks to the State, a great deal of property was controled by some people. Thanks to this, one from the elite had the facility to invest his money in the scientific research that gave us the technology capable of generating industrialization and also, after the machines were invented, to actually produce they, set up the factories etc. If one was not filthy rich already, good luck investing on technology or opening factories.

      About the poor, come on, don't you think that the fact that the land was mostly on the hands of some people, incluiding what used to be common land, had a significant part on people being so poor that they had to work in factories? If one can't sustain itself because some dick has the land them of course working for others will look atractive.

      About capitalism, not really. What changed productivity was industrialization. If capitalism was the cause of it is precisely what we discuss.

    16. @Talmid

      Sure, England was first - except for the capitalist economies of western Europe in the Middle Ages, especially northern Italy and the Netherlands. There was also quite a bit of "industrialization" at the time, as detailed by Jean Gimpel in The Mediaeval Machine. This video gives an overview:

      It's also simply incorrect to think forced concentration of wealth through state action was necessary for capitalism to somehow get off the ground. It wasn't the landed aristocracy (or the slave owners, or the Indian Nabobs, the other two classes pointed to in this narrative) who provided the capital for investment in new industries. By and large, capital was provided by merchants and bourgeois savers, and early on, if you insist on focusing on England, investment from the Netherlands.

      Of course it mattered who owned the land under what conditions. But people didn't "have to" work in factories, this was their escape from grinding poverty forced upon them by the privileges granted to special interests.

      And no, whether capitalism was the cause of industrialization has not been the topic of this discussion. But industrialization required a greater availability of capital to invest in factories, machines, etc., so it clearly was a consequence of more capital being available for investment. Maybe you dislike the term capitalism, fine - we can call it something else, maybe anarchy of production as Marx called it. Although he didn't understand it, it is precisely "anarchy" i.e., the lack of central controls and direction of economic effort, that make economic progress possible.

    17. I admit that i forgot about Italy and the Netherlands, good point. But England still gave us the biggest technological advances, probably the worse social conditions and the face of the industrial revolution, so it is more important.

      It is true that there was a lot of financing from the merchants, but it is also true that aristocrats had a help in the financing, even if a indirect one. They specially had a helping in, by robbing people of a lot of land, making sure that the industry had in its disposal a lot of people who had to choose between working on factories or "grinding property". We seen to agree that the State was a dick on helping these guys.

      One also can't forget slave trade and others advantages of having the State pillaging other places and taking the riches(and people) to your country. Silly me forgot that detail*, i was not sure on the dates. It is very unlikely that the english *vaishyas* would have the capacity to invest as well as they could if there was not this sistematic robbing by the britishs.

      Just to make this clear, if my first post did not do it: i disagree with the idea that a completely free market(if there could be such a thing) was responsable by all the bad stuff that we saw on the start of the industrial revolution, i reject WCB view. But i also reject the right-wing libertarian idea that it was the free market alone who did it all. As Dr. Feser says on his post, it was both State action combined with private actors that gave us that era, the good and the bad, and the thing is still true nowdays.

      In fact, the system today where wage-labor is the principal way of producing stuff is just how i define "capitalism", so i agree that the system that gave us industrialization is called capitalism. It is probably a nominal agreement only, though, for you seems to use the word as a sinonimous of free-market. I guess that we can ignore the discussion about the right way to use the term and continue discussing if the industrial revolution required State help or not to happen as it did.

      *which is definity very important, sorry for forgetting it

    18. (It was "grinding poverty", lol)

    19. Kristoffer Hansen, there is no comparison between the economic activity of the Middles Ages (whether in northern Italy or elsewhere) and the nineteenth-century. Capitalism saw the rise of enclosure, enforcement of absolute property, and the dispossession of many millions, who had to work in factories and mines under appalling conditions. The improvement of these conditions under duress cannot hide the profound destabilisation and destruction of traditional societies. Awful.

    20. Miguel Cervantes, that's simply wrong. I have no idea where you get these ideas from. Enclosures were largely an 18th century phenomenon in England and is in any event a red herring. Millions weren't dispossessed, the fact that these millions survived earliest childhood is itself due to liberalism and the widespread improvement in living standards it made possible.
      If you want to defend "traditional society" that was destabilized - well, you're simply shilling for what was overall, despite all their pretentions to nobility and having a right to an elevated position in society, a parasitical elite. A society organized along those lines is not a good thing.

      Talmid, I simply think it's incorrect to say that dispossession of the poor through enclosures was a necessary precondition for an industrial workforce - or in any way related. There is a very limited use for workers in agriculture once the basic needs of people are met, an expanding population would have to find employment elsewhere. This was prevented by the web of special privileges created in the early modern period.

      Now, if land had been more widely owned, it would certainly have been able to support more farmers as agricultural capitalists. But this is still far short of the excess population which had to find employment elsewhere to survive. In any case, just because land was owned by aristocrats does not mean they actually worked it. It was virtually always leased out to smaller farmers, so it's doubtful that many more people could have been supported on the land if it had been more justly owned. (Just to make clear: large-scale ownership of land has always been a consequence of conquest or political privileges, the economically optimal size of farms is small. So the extreme concentration of land among nobles can only be explained as due to special privileges given and enforced by the state.)

      As for the points on slave trade and imperialism (I'm not sure what you refer to with "vaishyas") - I don't think there's any evidence to suggest that these were important sources of capital. Most of the plunder was simply consumed. Deirdre McCloskey has some good critiques of this idea in Bourgeois Dignity (which is not to say I endorse everything McCloskey says).

      I agree that England is the premier example of industrialization, but the bad conditions of the working classes have been... exaggerated. The source for this meme or trope is the parliamentary Blue Books compiled in the 1830s or 40s, I forget the exact date. Now, these were not disinterested compilations of statistics: they were part of a campaign by the conservatives against the liberals. The liberals had abolished slavery and other privileges hurting the interests represented by the tories and this was a way of getting back at them - by claiming that they, in fact, had their own slaves in the factory system. That workers had it worse than pampered parliamentarians was true - but so what? They were even at that early date manifestly better of materially than their forebears, because they had the ingenuity to seek employment in the new factories and because capital accumulation and ingenious businessmen made the factories a reality.

    21. I would say that robbing the poor of land was necessary on the sense that it made the owners of factories lives way easier because them they could pay worser salaries and force more work from their employees, since it was this or nothing. If you took that off them the workers would have the option of just continue farming and so there would be way less people competing for jobs. Thus giving these that did go to the factories way more power on the negotiations and so you would see better living conditions at the time. You also would probably see the industrialization growing way slower because it would be less profitable, but that actually might be better, for society could probably adapt to it better.
      (And i agree that only something like the State or other powerful group could create large ownership of land, i'am more of a distributist)

      Imperialism and slave trade were hardly the direct fund of the industrial revolution, but they sure helped a lot. When the imperialist consumes he is helping the english economy grow more and this eventually makes the merchants, bankers etc(the groups that i called "vaishyas") richers. If you took that off then the investiment capacity of these guys would in no way be close to the same. The english where powerful back them and this allowed them to invest a lot. If this country was not out robbing people then the tech advancements would be way slower, which, again, actually would probably help society adapt better to technology.

      About the english workers, i agree that they were better materially, but this hardly matters much if you compare they with what they could be in a diferent situation. The english worker was away from his traditional way of life, was working for others(which in itself has a lot of problems), was having contact with pollution, with overcrowding, working in very repetitive jobs etc. The average man TODAY is materially better that in every other time in history, but i doubt that his life is truly better that the average one in every other period...

      Actually, our talk made me realize that while a more libertarian England would probably never industrialize at the speed that it did, things would be better to the people even to this day. If you don't look ONLY to material conditions. While i disagree with you when you say the State was not much of a help on the industrial revolution happening on the speed it happened, i agree in the end that the english State screwed us up a lot. Did a lost, them? :)

  25. I really do hope that people who always speak publicly about the economy will look at some of the economic data to see if it supports their claims. Alexandria Ocassio-Cortez keeps saying that HUGE numbers of people have to work two jobs to support their families. If your look at the numbers, you can see that just two percent of Americans work more than one job.

    1. WCB writes:

      An estimated 7.8% of U.S. workers had more than one job as of the first quarter of 2018,
      up from 6.8% in 1996, according to new data unveiled by the Census bureau, which provides
      a more detailed analysis of multiple job holders than was previously available. The
      findings were based on data from 18 states.


  26. "The problem is the fixation on riches. Fixation on riches can exist even when riches do not. The solution is fundamentally moral and religious rather than economic in nature."

    I think this is the key point Ed is making here. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with capitalism and many other systems of regulating markets, they cannot be the sole organizing principle of a nation. There must be some higher moral and spiritual principle that binds a society together. That something, whatever it is, and it may be more than one thing, needs to keep us from being overly fixated on the accumulation of wealth. It also has to have due consideration and care for the poor. And I think the emphasis has to be first and formost on individual responsibility for caring for the less fortunate, and secondarily on corporate or collective responsibility.

    And I think this is where the idea of an examplar is important. In the Buddhist concept, you have Siddhārtha Gautama. For Christians, there is Jesus, of course, and a long history of saints who have given their lives to serving the poor. Other religions seem to have less regard for the poor - especially those that endorse a caste system and reincarnation.

    But enough with my opinions - perhaps a review of the papal documents Ed posted will provide some helpful insights in overcoming this fixation on riches that leads to so many vices.

    1. The muslims also do try to help the poor, using the Zakat tax.

      And a problem with helping the poor is that this prevents the money used being utilized to BUY. A society of hedonists is better to the market, that is how you get woke corporations.

    2. Hi Talmid,

      Money given to the poor would tend to be spend almost immediately to meet their immediate needs and hence would be quickly channeled back into the market and help the economy going. In contrast, money given to the rich (eg via some tax incentives or rebates or other means) might tend to be stored up somewhere, such as being channeled to overseas investments or buying overseas properties. In comparison, money given to the poor tends to be spend quickly while money given to the rich tends to be kept away from the local economy for a longer time, relatively speaking.



      johannes y k hui

    3. True about Muslims Talmid. And good point Reasonable.

      Another aspect of being fixated on wealth, I think, can even appear in those claiming to be charitable. For example, Paul says, if he gives up all he has to the poor, but has not charity or love, then he is nothing. I think this implies a hierarchy of needs, perhaps how Maslow defined it. The begger on the street who wants money for his next hit may not be benefited from direct alms, but may benefit more from food. The poor who are uneducated and so can't rise above their circumstances through learning a trade or a skill will only benefit so much from money. And so money given to the institutions that help educate the poor is a good thing.

      I also think that in discussions of living in common and sharing all they have, as they appear in the gospels, that this has more to do with how christians should treat each other, as much as they can. But there is a explicit acknowledgement from Jesus that the poor will always be with us. There will always been inequalities of income. And so when the woman poured the spikenard on his feet and Judas was all scandalized about how the item could have been sold, Jesus tells him that she did a good thing.

      The primary goal of not being fixated on wealth is so that the person free him or herself from trusting an idol that cannot ultimately provide happiness. That love has to be rooted out and redirected primarily towards God, and secondarily towards the good of their neighbours, as thow their neighbours good were their own good, to a certain extent. One has to provide for one's own necessities, the those who are under one's own care, and finally on others.

    4. Hi Daniel,

      (1) You wrote that “The primary goal of not being fixated on wealth is so that the person free him or herself from trusting an idol that cannot ultimately provide happiness.”

      Given the existence of poverty in our world, if one is truly not trusting in wealth to provide happiness but instead to trust in Jesus and his teachings, then one would be following his teachings to live a simple life and focus on “storing up heavenly treasures”. Living a simple life would enable one to have more money to help the needy, and enable one to have more possessions that can be sold to help the poor (whether directly, or indirectly such by financing education and vocational training for the poor).

      (2) About Sharing What They Have:

      In the early church, the selling of possessions to put into a common fund was to help the poor and needy REGARDLESS of whether those poor and needy happened to be Christians or non-Christians.

      Jesus’ teachings, such as via the parable of the Good Samaritan, showed that our neighbours (whom we ought to love in practical ways) include people who are outside our faith-system.

      Jesus said we are to love our enemies with our possessions:

      “Give to EVERYONE who asks of you, and WHOEVER takes away what is yours, do not demand it back... If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? [implying that one should lend to enemies even knowing that one would unlikely receive it back the enemies] Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But LOVE YOIR ENEMIES AND DO GOOD, AND LEND, EXPECTING NOTHING IN RETURN; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil people.” - Jesus’ saying in Luke 6.30-35

      (3) About providing necessities to ourselves (ie including our families) first:

      This is true but we need to be careful with how we may keep re-defining what are “necessities”. Many people keep re-defining necessities. When they were relatively poorer, they said to save up money to finance their children’s futures university education in their country is a necessity so they can give very little to help the poor. Later when they have grown richer and affording university education for their children is no longer a problem, they say they need to save up even more money now because they want to send their children overseas to better universities instead of the universities inside their own country. The latter becomes a re-defined necessity and therefore they could still give little to help the poor and needy. My point is that our heart is deceitful - we must be careful with how we can be flexible to keep expanding the items included in “necessities for my family”. We tend to compare with our worldly peers and as our peers keep upgrading their lives with better possessions, we also want to do the same and not be left behind with a simple life.

      As the Apostle Paul said: “If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who DESIRE TO GET RICH fall into temptation and a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge people into ruin and destruction.” (1 Tim 6.8-9)

      There is a point (4) after this comment.


      johannes y k hui

    5. Hi Daniel,


      (4) Re: “The Poor You Will Always Have With You”

      As you would know, Jesus’ saying in the context of the incident does not mean that “the poor will always be there, therefore it is pointless to try to eliminate poverty as it is impossible”.

      In that incident a woman was criticized by the disciples for pouring expensive perfume on Jesus because that jar of perfume could have been sold to help the poor. Jesus defended that woman’s action and said:

      “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for the burial.” - Mark 14.7-8

      “The poor you will always have with you” was specifically addressed to those who were criticizing the woman’s action in that room on that day, telling them that their master would die soon and very soon there would be no more opportunity/time to do that anointing action, while there would be plenty of opportunities/time for the disciples to help the poor given that the poor would still be around after Jesus’ impending death.

      Hence “the poor you will always have with you” is not talking about an inevitable and unchangeable everlasting presence of poverty till the end of this world.

      This is even more so if Jesus’ “the poor will always have with you” was an allusion to this text in the Torah:

      “There will always be poor people in the land. THEREFORE I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” —Deuteronomy 15:11

      So “there will always be the poor around you” does not imply that “therefore you do not need to bother too much with the poor and needy”.

      Instead, it implies that “therefore we should not be using our possessions for our comfort above what is necessary for a simple living, but to sell our possessions to help the poor and needy”.

      As the church fathers said:

      “The rich are in possession of the goods of the poor, even if they have acquired them honestly or inherited them legally.” “Not to enable THE POOR TO SHARE IN OUR GOODS is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours but theirs.”
      - John Chrysostom, 347-407 AD

      “[T]he superfluities of the rich are the necessaries of the poor. Those who possess superfluities, possess the goods of others…” –Augustine, 354-430 AD

      The MORAL OWNER of the sperfluities in our legal ownership are those suffering in poverty and misfortune.



      johannes y k hui

    6. Hi Reasonable

      “Given the existence of poverty in our world, if one is truly not trusting in wealth to provide happiness but instead to trust in Jesus and his teachings, then one would be following his teachings to live a simple life and focus on “storing up heavenly treasures”. Living a simple life would enable one to have more money to help the needy, and enable one to have more possessions that can be sold to help the poor (whether directly, or indirectly such by financing education and vocational training for the poor).”

      Agreed. And we also have to be wise about how and with whom we share our wealth or to ask for things we really don’t need. As the Didache says “Woe to him that receives; for if one having need receives, he is guiltless; but he that receives not having need, shall pay the penalty,” and about giving, it also says “But also now concerning this, it has been said, Let your alms sweat in your hands, until you know to whom you should give.”

      “In the early church, the selling of possessions to put into a common fund was to help the poor and needy REGARDLESS of whether those poor and needy happened to be Christians or non-Christians.”

      I’m not sure this is true. I think it can be proven that they gave to those in need who where part of the faithful primarily, and if they had anything more to share, they might share with the rest of the poor. Clearly if our neighbors who are not of our faith are truly in need, then we have a moral obligation to share. But how that sharing is done is up to the individual.

      “(3) About providing necessities to ourselves (ie including our families) first…”

      Agreed with what you say about the shifting and relative scale of what is defined as a necessity. I chose to have a large family despite the relative difficulty of doing so in a western society precisely because I thought it was the hypocritical to have a small family when surrounded by such first world wealth. But I think it is important to try to discern our moral obligations within our own state in life and within our own societal context. And the church does not strictly define what this should mean for each person.

      Also, what it means to be in need in the western world cannot be strictly defined according to material wealth, although I am not saying that this is not an important factor. There are many other forms of poverty in wealthy western societies that need to be addressed as much as we are able. These include loneliness, isolation, moral poverty, and spiritual poverty. For example, Revelation 3:17 “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and have gotten riches, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art the wretched one and miserable and poor and blind and naked. I counsel thee to buy of me gold refined by fire, that thou mayest become rich; and white garments, that thou mayest clothe thyself, and that the shame of thy nakedness be not made manifest; and eyesalve to anoint thine eyes, that thou mayest see.”

      “(4) Re: “The Poor You Will Always Have With You… So “there will always be the poor around you” does not imply that “therefore you do not need to bother too much with the poor and needy.”

      I think that many passages imply that there will always be inequalities in society, whether they be in material wealth or in terms of different charisms and talents. Jesus speaks strictly to those who have much saying that much will be expected of them – including much charity and help for those who have less. But when and in what way that sharing is done is left undefined. And I think this is a prudent approach. And the modern Catholic church defends private property as an important principle.

    7. Regarding the Church Fathers quotes you mentioned below - they are interesting! Thanks for posting them. Unfortunatly that thread appears to have been hijacked. :)

      I think its important to reach each quote in context. The Didache quote is important, yes, but I think we have to keep in mind the first passage of the Didache I quoted above which implies someone in control of the giving of alms, accountability for those receiving alms, and wisdom about when to give alms. All of which implies private property. This does not contradict your thesis of a moral obligation though.

      With regard to the Christosom passage, he was expounding on the passage in acts that describes all people living in common. But he was doing so from a fourth century context where this was no longer the case. He was imagining a Eutopian society where everyone lived in common and everyone shared all they had. And the family of ten did not split off into their own households and thus incure waste. But that vision did not correspond to the reality at all. What was a reality in his day can be seen here:

      "It is right that what belongs to the Church be preserved with all care to the Church, with a good conscience and faith in God, the inspector and judge of all. And these things ought to be administered under the judgment and authority of the bishop, who is entrusted with the whole people and with the souls of the congregation. But it should be manifest what is church property, with the knowledge of the presbyters and deacons about him; so that these may know assuredly what things belong to the Church, and that nothing be concealed from them, in order that, when the bishop may happen to depart this life, the property belonging to the Church being well known, may not be embezzled nor lost, and in order that the private property of the bishop may not be disturbed on a pretence that it is part of the ecclesiastical goods. For it is just and well-pleasing to God and man that the private property of the bishop be bequeathed to whomsoever he will, but that for the Church be kept whatever belongs to the Church; so that neither the Church may suffer loss, nor the bishop be injured under pretext of the Church's interest, nor those who belong to him fall into lawsuits, and himself, after his death, be brought under reproach."

      Its messy. The following cannon is even worse, again showing the reality of original sin:

      "Let the bishop have power over the funds of the Church, so as to dispense them with all piety and in the fear of God to all who need. And if there be occasion, let him take what he requires for his own necessary uses and those of his brethren sojourning with him, so that they may in no way lack, according to the divine Apostle, who says, Having food and raiment, let us therewith be content. And if he shall not be content with these, but shall apply the funds to his own private uses, and not manage the revenues of the Church, or the rent of the farms, with the consent of the presbyters and deacons, but shall give the authority to his own domestics and kinsmen, or brothers, or sons, so that the accounts of the Church are secretly injured, he himself shall submit to an investigation by the synod of the province. But if, on the other hand, the bishop or his presbyters shall be defamed as appropriating to themselves what belongs to the Church, (whether from lands or any other ecclesiastical resources), so that the poor are oppressed, and accusation and infamy are brought upon the account and on those who so administer it, let them also be subject to correction, the holy synod determining what is right."

    8. All of these very good comments about people being poor, and the possibility of giving them succor out of what we have, are fine. But I believe they all need to be tempered by a basic fact of life in this world before the eschaton: every single person, no matter of what class or condition, will die. At the moment of death, he / she FAILS to have what is needed for continued life: more food, more medicine, more blood (if bleeding out), more warmth (if freezing to death), etc. Even the rich are lacking SOMETHING, or they would not die. And death is God's plan for us all: it is the passageway to the next life, one of (hopefully) glory. God does not intend for us to live this life here forever.

      What does this mean? It means - among other things - that both poverty AND surplus is inherently relative to the situation. Being not God, we cannot simply WILL to continue living, we are at the mercy of things beyond our control. And even great wealth does not change that. At the moment of death, MANY people could manage to live a bit longer if they had MORE HELP from others, but we should not think that this means, in each case, we are obliged to give that help. If a person is dying of cancer, and we can spend $2 billion on an incredibly difficult treatment to stretch that life out by 20 minutes more, we are not obliged to spend $2 billion to do so. If an alcoholic is dying of cancer and liver disease, we are not obliged to get them a liver transplant (at the cost of over $100,000) so they can live some 6 months longer without liver disease and die from the cancer.

      In addition to what Johannes said above, Christ's rebuke to Judas also meant that the principle is NOT: "no wealth should ever be spent on any benefit above mere survival until EVERYONE has EVERYTHING they need for survival, no luxuries until everyone is above mere survival-level in goods." The spikenard was, indeed, a luxury, and Jesus did not object to its being used. So also was the wine at the wedding feast. So, even in the face of need of someone, somewhere else, it is lawful and indeed upright to spend more than the merely "necessary" on celebrating what is excellent.

    9. Hey Tony,

      I agree with your first two paragraphs. Mortality is definitely a privation that seems built into the system, so to speak. All the riches in the world cannot postpone that day. And, as a thought experiment, even if you could prolong life indefinitely, I don't believe that would make it a good life. The good life depends on other factors, which are moral and spiritual.

      And yes, I agree with what you say about Jesus not asking us to give up all of our private possessions. The story of Zacchaeus is a good case in point in Luke 19:

      "8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

      9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

      So Zacchaus gives half of his possessions to the poor and promises to pay back four times to those whom he may have defrauded. That implies a substantial portion remains for his private use. And yet Jesus praises him and calls him saved!

      I also think there is a separation between those who live in common and those who live "in the world", so to speak, when Paul talks about whether to be celibate or not in 1st Corinthians.

      "28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman[i] marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. 29 This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, 30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, 31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away."

      So "...those who buy, as though they had no goods." Clearly they have goods, but Paul is teaching them to not be fixated on them. He does not call on them to put everything they have in the common treasury governed by the bishop and the deacons.

      Paul also talks about having a moral claim to financial support on people he has converted, but says he did not make that claim so as not to be a burden on them. Again, this implies only a moral obligation. And clearly those with wealth often put up the disciples and gave them food, and aided them on their travels. This is the kind of practical help that only the rich and provide, at times. And Jesus also had some very high profile folks helping him out.

  27. I want to apologize for all the blasphemous remarks I made about the Virgin Mary, Jesus, and God. And references to sexual sin in a glorifying tone. And insulting remarks to Feser. This will be my last comment, and I only plan on visiting the site sparingly. I still think the doctrine of hell is stupid and evil, as indeterministic choices are random and all sins are done out of weakness or ignorance.

    Augustine overcame sexual sin because of the leisure time he had in the scenic gardens of Milan. Many are overworked, poor...not so lucky.

    Michael "Counter-Rebel"

    1. Another hoax post no doubt.

  28. Off topic, but there's a new review of "The Last Superstition" at the following link. Not a kind one:

    1. Good to hear - the book is dreadful, with Feser well up his own arse all way through it. He manages to be a bigot and so shed much of his potential readership on page one!

      The site you have linked to is amazing though. Thanks!

    2. You know, we would respect you more if you just admitted you were the blog writer instead of posting as "Anonymous".

    3. Bellomy - What are you on, i'm not Feser!

    4. My reaction is one of gobsmacked bemusement. Feser's book FINALLY gets a review after Loftus tussles with him years ago in this very combox? And what a shallow review it is. He thinks the clincher is Aristotle saying not every event has a final cause (which is something that I don't think Feser would even disagree with) and argues that his whole argument for God boils down to the Fifth Way (which is idiotic if one has even bothered to read Feser carefully). The comments on that post are even worse, if you can believe it...

    5. Loftus is weak sauce.

      He is just a low rent PZ Myers and about half as smart(which is nor saying much).

      He is Jerry Coyne without his anger issues.

      Gnu Atheism is intellectually inferior. The only Atheists who are worth the time of Classic theists are philosophical atheists.


  29. Before I think out loud on the implication of early Christians’ attitude towards possessions/wealth on our lives in the capitalist system, let me present some quotes to give us an idea of the general sentiment about possessions and wealth among Christians writers of the first few centuries. Please try not to over-interpret or reading things into what they said (ie be careful of eisegesis). For example, it is wrong to interpret them as recommending an coerced selling/sharing of possessions.

    “SHARE EVERYTHING with your brother. Do not say, ‘It is PRIVATE PROPERTY.’ If you share what is everlasting, you should be that much more willing to share things which do not last.” – The Didache, c. 100AD

    “PRIVATE PROPERTY is the fruit of iniquity. I know that God has given us the use of goods, but only as far as is necessary; and he has determined that the use shall be COMMON. The use of all things that are found in this world ought to be common to all men. Only the most manifest iniquity makes one say to another, ‘This belongs to me, that to you.’ Hence the origin of contention among men.” - Clement of Alexandria, 150-215 AD

    “We who once took most pleasure in the means of increasing our wealth and property now bring what we have into a COMMON FUND and share with everyone in need.” – Justin Martyr, c.150 AD

    “They [the Christians] take his [Jesus’] instructions completely on faith, with the result that they despise all worldly goods and hold them in COMMON OWNERSHIP.” - Lucian, in his writing against Christianity, c.170AD

    “We who share one mind and soul obviously have no misgivings about COMMUNITY OF GOODS.” – Tertullian, 160-225 AD

    “And all the believers were together and had ALL THINGS IN COMMON; and they would sell their property and possessions and share them with all, to the extent that anyone had need.” - Acts 2.44-45

    “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but ALL THINGS WERE COMMON PROPERTY to them. And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each to the extent that any had need. Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement), owned a tract of land. So he sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” - Acts 4:32-37

    “Sell your possessions and give to those in need. Get yourselves purses that do not wear out, treasure that will not fail you, in heaven where no thief can reach it and no moth destroy it. For wherever your treasure is, that is where your heart will be too.” - Jesus telling a mass of people gathered to listen to him in Luke 12.33-34]

    (to be continued)

    1. (continuation)

      “That expression, therefore, “I possess, and possess in abundance: why then should I not enjoy?” is suitable neither to the man, nor to society... He [God] has determined that the use [of all things] should be common. And it is monstrous for one to live in luxury, while many are in want.” - Clement of Alexandria, 150-215 AD

      “Nature has poured forth all things for the common use of all people. And God has ordained that all things should be produced that there might be food in common for all, and that the earth should be the common possession of all. Nature created COMMON RIGHTS, but usurpation has transformed them into PRIVATE RIGHTS… God gave the same earth to be cultivated by all.” –Ambrose, 340-397 AD

      “The rich are in possession of the goods of the poor, even if they have acquired them honestly or inherited them legally.” “Not to enable THE POOR TO SHARE IN OUR GOODS is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours but theirs.”
      - John Chrysostom, 347-407 AD

      “[T]he superfluities of the rich are the necessaries of the poor. Those who possess superfluities, possess the goods of others…” –Augustine, 354-430 AD

      “The dispersion of property is the cause of greater expenditure and so of poverty. Consider a household with husband and wife and ten children. She does weaving and he goes to the market to make a living; will they need more if they live in a single house or when they live separately? Clearly, when they live separately. If the ten sons each go his own way, they need ten houses, ten tables, ten servants and everything else in proportion… Dispersion regularly leads to waste, bringing together leads to economy.” – John Chrysostom, 347-407 AD

      “Give away these earthly things, and win that which is in heaven. Give that which you must leave, even against your will, that you may not lose things later. Lend your wealth to God, that you may be really rich. Concerning the way in which to lend it, Jesus next teaches us saying: ‘Sell your possessions, and give alms, provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail’ … Worldly wealth has many foes … but no one can do damage to the wealth that is laid up above in heaven.” – Cyril of Alexandria, 378-444 AD

      Applying the underlying sentiment of the above to Christians living in the capitalist system today may mean that we ought to be very mindful on how we spend our money because even though we are the legal owners of our money, we are not the moral owners of those money.

      The MORAL OWNERS of the money in our legal possession are those suffering in poverty and misfortune. We are truly only stewards of those money.

      Jesus has already told us how to use those money: to use most of them for the poor and suffering ones, and not to indulge in our creatively comfort above living a simple life.

      This means we may need to downgrade from our relatively luxurious residences to a simpler residence, to buy new clothes less often, and reduce other indulgences.



      johannes y k hui

    2. You might all follow the example of hugely inspiring and influencial philosopher ( and atheist ) Peter Singer, auther of such books as 'The
      Most Good we can Do' and founder of the charity 'Giving what we can'. He and his wife donate 40% of their income directly to charities helping those in extrene povety. This atheist no doubt casts most of you believers in a very bad light.

      I admire Peter Singer enormously, as I do Leon Trotsky and Peter Tatchel.

    3. PS

      And Jack Kevorkian RIP

    4. Interesting that you bring up Singer. Ed has written on him more than once.

      I'd say he's a pretty good example of the category of intellectual Feser was describing in his last post.

    5. Yes , i'm sure he is. Someone who is not afraid to ask difficult questions, gonwhere the arguments ( according to his lights ) lead, and is not preoccupied with fetishising the metaphysical beliefs of the masses.

    6. Well, difficult questions aren't always the best questions or the right questions. Or, come to think of it, even necessarily meaningful questions. Why are unicorns hollow?

    7. Dr Yogami

      Singer is professor of biorthics at Princeton, and as an applied ethicist is deeply involved with difficult questions of immense practical and existential import - very meaningful ones too. He does not deal in unicorns, hollow or not.

    8. Well, if you say so. I suppose the question of whether it's permissible to screw the family dog might be a difficult one of 'immense practical and existential import and a very meaningful one'.

      I often ponder with great disgust on what bigots natural law theorists are as I lovingly glance over at Rover while a lush R&B song plays. He eyes me back with what I can only see as unbridled lust. That, or suspicion...

    9. Oh come, come Dr Yogami, you are better than that. Singer has explored a wide range of practical ethical issues, and is particularly concerned about the alleviation of human suffering because of extreme poverty as outlined in my original post, and his personal efforts and sacrifices in this area put the overwhelming majority of Christians to shame. You have simply selected an unrepresentative example for its shock value.

      Having said that, one must never prejudge the results of a philosophical investigation, and certainly not reject it because it does not comport well with 'common sense', personal prejudice or the metaphysical beliefs of the masses. That is the philosophical method of the savage. Inquiring about the ethical status of sex between humans and non-human animals is perfectly legitimate, and Singer I believe was once brave enough to carry through an analysis that arrived at different conclusions from those of natural law theory. Good on him too.

      You often ponder with great disgust on what bigots natural law theorists are do you? Well that makes two of us!

    10. Anonymous

      "You often ponder with great disgust on what bigots natural law theorists are do you?"

      Indeed I do! While Rover's long tongue slurps in my mouth, I often ponder with rage what Feser's take on our relationship would be. Society just doesn't understand, ya know. Unzipping my pants and sprinkling dog food powder down my crotch so that man's best friend can enjoy the experience of tailler une pipe, it does make me sad.

      On the other hand, in some respects the natural law theorists seem just a teeny bit braver. I mean, their ideas on sex, contraception etc. are really unpopular right now and could get you fired in some places. Still, that's not good enough to keep me from enjoying doggy-style sex. Or just doggy sex.

      Anyhoo, I thought you might enjoy this interview with a gentleman who talks about what it's like to date a horse. Natural law bigots won't understand, but thankfully you and I get it! 😁

    11. Dr Yogami

      Haha, your post was pretty funny and made me chuckle.

      As you will know , Peter Singer is an ardent defender of the welfare of animals, so hardly advocates that they should be shagged by lusty humans with reckless abandon. But it is a perfectly reasonable question to ask if it is always wrong for humans to have sex with non-human animals, and if so why. Just pointing out that most people find it disgusting is quite irrelevant, and if you reject the natural law framework, saying 'it is unnatural' does not carry any weight either. Of course, natural law theorist proscribe loving gay relationships and artificial birth control for the same basic reason as they do zoophilia, so modern , secular ethicists are hardly likely to be impressed by them or their reasoning.

      I will look at the link later, but if it relates to what I think it does I have already read the very moving book about the relationship.

      Incidentally, because non-human terrestrial animals cannot give consent and report abuse, I think that as a precautionary measure it should clearly be illegal for humans to have sex with them. The reasons here are very different from those that a natural law theorist would give though. But note that their reasoning would apply just as much to non-human extraterrestrial rational animals too if offspring could not result from the union, regardless of how similar they were to us in their external appearance and psychology. Does that seem right to you?

    12. Anonymous

      "because non-human terrestrial animals cannot give consent and report abuse, I think that as a precautionary measure it should clearly be illegal for humans to have sex with them."

      Why do you think this? Normally we don't care about consent of animals. We drag them around on leashes, use shock collars to correct them, kill them for our food/euthanize them whether they want it or not, artificially inseminate them (which would be called sexual assault if we did it to a human without her permission, etc.)

      I recall when Rick Santorum made his 'man on man, man on dog' comment, there was outrage on the political left that he would dare to make any sort of comparison. It's interesting that there are some, like Singer, who would bite the bullet and accept the corollary.

    13. Dr Yogami

      Well, I am concerned about the suffering of animals and wish to minimise it, as does Singer, so I would like to see many aspects of our treatment of them halted. Now having sex with an animal often has great potential to cause it to suffer and to damage it- through rupture or haemorraging for example - so the fact that they cannot consent is significant. Basically, I do not think it acceptable that a potentially damaging and distressing proceedure be forced upon an animal purely for human pleasure, and that is just as true of battery farming chickens as it is of screwing them. Now it is possible of course to imagine scenarios where the zoophile is considerate, and copulates only with large animals which are distracted at the time , say by food, and desisting at the first sign of distress. I do not think such instances would be morally objectionable ( there are non-moral reasons why they may be inadvisable though ), but of course the 'transaction' is entirely private and the animal cannot report abuse. For this reason I think the law should prohibit sexual relations between human and non-human animals. This is a precautionary stance to protect the animal.

      I do not know if humans and Cardasians can produce offspring together in The Star Trek universe, but if not would you find a loving interspecies relationship between them perverted and a moral abomination? Just curious.

    14. This comment has been removed by the author.

    15. Anonymous

      You've brought up the thought experiment of humans falling in love with an alien species with which they can't reproduce a couple times. There was a movie released several years ago with a premise much like this called 'The Shape of Water'. The film did arouse some controversy due to the story pretty much seeming like an apology for bestiality. Anyway, your previous post asked

      "Does that seem right to you?"

      It sounds a little like you're appealing to my intuitions on the subject, which is the procedure that you and Singer think is precisely what we SHOULDN'T do. If some valid philosophical system seems to go against common sense, well then so much the worse for common sense.

    16. Dr Yogami

      I was just curious about how sold you were on natural law ethics that's all, as you do not come across as an ardent proselytizer for it like some on here. I notice that you did not directly answer my question ( and although we should hardly see our deeply held intuitions as being veridical, some may turm out to be correct ). Also, on previous discussion threads you have been capable of disussing gay and transgender rights without blowing a gasket, condemning them, mentioning God or using the word 'evil' in every other sentance. This all suggests that you are not fully taken by the highly restrictive natural law way of looking at things.

    17. Anonymous

      I'm not an 'ardent proselytizer' for it, but I don't dismiss it either. I don't blame people who are convinced by it for mounting a rigorous defense. It's true that the natural law viewpoint is highly restrictive, even to the point where it might strike some people in the modern world as kind of ridiculous. Even I have that inclination sometimes. But I do wonder if this is mainly due to our hypersexualized and pornified culture where any bizarre thing can be seen on a smartphone (Two Girls One Cup--which I've only heard descriptions of--is a case in point). I do sometimes think our pleasure-centric culture distorts human reason about these things.

    18. Dr Yogami

      Two Girls One Cup - what's that then? Seriously, I have never heard the expression before. I'll have to look it up!

      You do not have to be particularly liberal to find some aspects of natural law theories restrictiveness to be ridiculous - its condemnation of even loving gay relationships and artificial birth control for example, or their pathologising of something as natural as masterbation. Given half a chance of course, they would force their ridiculous neurosis on everyone else too.

    19. Anon,
      Natural law theories are supposedly ridiculous, according to whom? Artificial birth control is ridiculous to me. Its popular acceptance is indicative of social pathology. Animals in the wild do not masturbate, but those in captivity do. Strong, alpha animals do not; weak, pathetic, loser animals do.
      Lesson in there.

    20. Anon

      I can't for the life of me see any lessons in there at all, other than you being a total fuckin' cock for drawing a comparison between what nonhuman animals and humans do , as if that was a guide to action, and also implying that people who masturbate are weak, pathetic loosers - well, that covers just about every male adolescent in history then and a decent percentage of females ones as well!

      Look, if you wish to limit your sex life by refusing to use artificial contraception, or alternatively and irresponsibly knock out endless kids, be my guest. Equally , if you are going through a lean period as regards the old sex, and wish to desist from helping yourself along choose how frustrated you becone, lest you be a weak, pathetic looser, then that's fine too. But do not expect the vast majority of people to take you seriously or follow suit ( those that have a choice that is - many are still deprived of the blessing of cheap, easily available artificial contraception ).

    21. Anonymous

      "other than you being a total fuckin' cock"

      I'm beginning to wonder if it's worth corresponding with you. This is supposed to be a philosophy blog, not a place for trading insults. If that's your thing then perhaps social media platforms are more your style.

    22. Dr Yogami

      You can correspond with me or not, as you like. Personally, I thought that the implications of the Anon post at 8.51pm were insulting too.

  30. I think the doctrine of divine simplicity is still problematic, especially when considering God's Omniscience and Knowledge.
    My objection is somewhat related to the freewill vs Omniscience argument.

    Firstly,to say that God if God knows what exactly we will do,there are only two options,either we have freewill and our actions are in the realm of possibility,or that which he knows necessarily happens,and we have no freewill.

    The first option seems plausible of course,but it's not.This option means one thing–that God doesn't know what exactly we will do till we do it,and remember if he knows exactly what we do,and we do otherwise,his knowledge fails.

    But in this case,our actions would appear to God as a roll of a die. He may know the outcomes of the die,but he doesn't know which outcome would appear.

    With that in mind,let's get back to God,God by definition has non of his properties contigent on anything.
    ..... But,...,if we are free,then God's knowledge of what we'd actually do depends on us.
    And this is a logical contradiction,it's either we're not free or God depends on something (which goes against classical Theism)

    And remember,we can't seperate God's knowledge from God's being,given divine simplicity,by entailment it follows that God's being is dependent on us .
    Even if we breakdown knowledge down into categories like Natural,Middle,Free Knowledge.
    We still have a category of God's knowledge dependent on something.

    Conclusively,If God is a simple, Necessary Being, then he could not create free creatures.
    If he could,the collorary of that his knowledge would be contigent on the actions of those creatures,a contradiction of him being Necessary.

    1. I'm sorry if all I said sounded off topic,
      I just came from a post where you discussed the topic,but I can't seem to able to comment on that post for some unknown reasons
      Here's the post

    2. So Metro Manuel,

      Let's get into it wee ladd. Maybe I can help ye?

      >Firstly,to say that God if God knows what exactly we will do,there are only two options,either we have freewill and our actions are in the realm of possibility,or that which he knows necessarily happens,and we have no freewill.

      Free will means we have the true power of volition moved & determined by our intellects.

      That is our intellects apprehend some good and we with that volition freely determine ourselves toward it, by the intellectual act of willing.

      Quote" St. Thomas takes voluntary to mean that which follows from the will. Even those things concerning the will that cannot be otherwise, necessities according to nature and finality, are voluntary.(ST Ia, 83, 1 ad 3.) While what the will is and the end for which it acts are unalterable, its actions still proceed from the will itself. These acts are then called voluntary. On the other hand, the necessities are not, for they are not acts of the will, but principles of its operation."

      This means if I freely choose X at Time Y I cannot also choose Not X at Time Y. But prior to Time Y I am free to choose of my own volition either X or Not X.

      Boethius said if I observe Socrates sitting it does not follow my observation causes Socrates to sit. So God knowing from all eternity I will choose X rather then Not X does not "Fate" me to choose X since I am the true secondary cause of my will choosing X. God is not doing it on my behalf & neither is the nebulous pagan concept of "Fate" doing it for me either.

      God does not merely create and sustain the universe as the First Cause. He also moves all secondary causes to action as instruments without undermining their intrinsic causal efficacy.

      Free-will is the cause of its own movement, because by his free-will man moves himself to act.

      But it does not of necessity belong to liberty that what is free should be the first cause of itself, as neither for one thing to be cause of another need it be the first cause. God, therefore, is the first cause, Who moves causes both natural and voluntary. And just as by moving natural causes He does not prevent their acts being natural, so by moving voluntary causes He does not deprive their actions of being voluntary: but rather is He the cause of this very thing in them; for He operates in each thing according to its own nature.

      To simplify, God is the cause of my choice of X at time Y being a free one. But God does not choose X on my behalf nor in my stead. I am the true secondary cause of my choice which by definition is a free one.

      >God by definition has non of his properties contigent on anything.
      ..... But,...,if we are free,then God's knowledge of what we'd actually do depends on us.

      Fallacy of equivocation. God's essence and will is not changed by my will and God knowing what I will choose freely doesn't change His essence.

      So I don't get this objection? God knows all actual and potential futures or choices but this Knowledge doesn't change the divine essence ergo how is God made contingent?

    3. Part II
      >And remember,we can't seperate God's knowledge from God's being,given divine simplicity,by entailment it follows that God's being is dependent on us.

      No God's Will is free because nothing causes it but Him. He is not like us exercising it as a true Secondary Cause but as The First cause. There is no external pressure or cause determining what God wills. Nor is there any passive potency in God's divine essence that is being made actual moving the divine will because God's essence is Pure Act & unchanging. Notionally and logically the Divine Intellect moves the Divine Will in that it is notionally and logically prior to the Divine Will(because Intellect proceeds Will & Volunteerism is for tossers). But naturally given the divine simplicity the divine intellect is not really distinct from the divine will.

      God has free will because notionally and logically prior to God willing from all eternity God can either Will X or Not X from Time Eternity. When God wills X He must by necessity do X but if He wills X from all eternity He cannot logically will Not X.

      God notionally and or logically has a choice between X and Not X but not really in the sense God is not acting in Time as God is pure Act thus timeless. But nothing moves God's Will but God and it is the nature of Will to act voluntarily. So God as a Free Will not a mere being among beings who merely has the distinct attribute of free will distinct from his being. God choosing X from all Eternity is still a voluntary eternal free choice of God's.

      Indeed given the divine simplicity. God doesn't have free will. God is a Free Divine Will. How can He not be if only He alone can move Himself?

      >If God is a simple, Necessary Being, then he could not create free creatures.

      Well given the metaphysical assumptions of Mechanistic philosophy and or modern materialism then Free Will doesn't exist in the first place.

      But I don't see how God cannot create a being with free will? We can't do it. Which is why no matter how we advanced in Computers or Science we become we will never make C3PO or Lt. Data or some such AI we can "program with free will" or some uber soft Scific BS. The intellect and the will are not material in any fashion.

      Anyway these are my thoughts. Maybe somebody like Tony or somebody else more intelligent than moi can clear up what I wrote above up. Or elaborate better.



      >Even if we breakdown knowledge down into categories like Natural,Middle,Free Knowledge.

      I am an Ex-Molinist. But I will say if God told you what He foresaw you choosing from all eternity then God would also foresee from all eternity wither or not giving you this knowledge will change yer choice.
      You would still have to choose what to do now that you have this knowledge. Would you choose to "change yer fate" (metaphorically speaking of course "Fate" is for tossers. I prefer Divine Providence) or choose to embrace it? God would still know from all eternity what you would freely do in that case and God would still cause that choice to be free.

      Of course since God is the cause of free will and the cause of our wills being free then it seems to me He would eliminate the middle man and get to the point.

      So I no longer consider "Middle Knowledge" but others who are not Thomists I say you do you.


    4. I will take a stab at adding (what I hope is) two clarifying points about the voluntary.

      What is voluntary is what proceeds from the will. But this happens in two ways, and one is what we MORE TYPICALLY mean by "free". The will is designed to tend toward "good". This is its nature, and is NOT free in the ordinary, common sense: we cannot choose to tend instead to evil precisely seen AS evil; we can ONLY choose what is perceived as good in some sense (even if it is perceived as evil in some other sense). No choice about THAT.

      But among goods, there are two classes: (A) there are goods that are good in some way, degree or sense, but are also LACKING some other good or other. Then (B) there is the (unique) Good that entails, holds, comprehends, ALL good, the Universal Good. When the will perceives a good of class A, it MAY choose such a good, on account of the goodness perceived, but it is not bound to: it may also NOT choose it, insofar as the will can instead act on the perceived incompleteness of its good and instead choose to act toward some OTHER good. THIS is the common usage of "free" will. When the will perceives a good of class (B) precisely as complete and total, it is NOT ABLE to not choose it: the will has no capacity to direct itself away from that Good toward some other, because of its totality of goodness ALREADY including whatever is good in any other, PLUS MORE. Thus, when it acts in favor of that Good of class (B), it is acting voluntarily because it is from the will, but not "freely" in the ordinary, common usage. It is not free to NOT act that way.

      We never perceive a good under class (B) in this life, that's the character of the Beatific Vision in heaven. In this life, we always see the Universal Good under a veil, i.e. NOT under the guise of comprehending all aspects of good. Hence in this life we are always capable (free) to choose Not-God for some other good.

    5. The second point is that (in this life) when we choose a thing, we always (and "necessarily") choose it ON ACCOUNT of its good (as perceived), and not on account of its perceived lack of good. Hence in a sense THE GOOD CAUSES our act of choice - but not "un-freely", since we are able to choose good Y rather than good X. But what this means is that the first cause of all good things is, also, a cause of our act of choosing - though not as forcing it. On the other hand, when we make a morally bad act, we are NOT choosing it precisely on account of its badness, but on account of its goodness, whereas what accounts for it being a morally bad act is that it is DEFECTIVE in goodness for this specific situation, and in our willing it we take was is a POWER of choosing what is properly good (i.e. the morally good choice) and reject to use the power for that, instead defecting away from the proper good to the improper good. Thus the "ACT" of choosing in this case is "good in a sense" and "bad in a sense", just in different senses of course. The act (as are all acts) stem in original power, from the First Cause, which is the cause of all goods and the cause of the will's power to choose good at all, and also of the will's initially tending toward the proper good here and now. The act is BAD in the sense of the will DEFECTING AWAY from the motion to the proper good to an improper good.

      Think of a child at the top of a slide: he "tends toward" the ground (the goods) the way a body tends downwards naturally, and more specifically he tends toward the good at the bottom of the slide (analogously, the nature of the person provides guide-rails "toward" what is properly good for humans). The First Cause gives him the initial impetus that will, if he does not defect away, land him at the due good at the bottom of the slide. But if he puts his hands down and shoves sideways, he will STILL land at some "good" on the ground, just not at the proper good (and, in the process, will smack himself silly). The cause of the motion TOWARD the (improper) good is still from the First Cause, is not from the First Cause insofar as the good is improper, but insofar as it is a good at all. The motion toward the improper good precisely as improper is WHOLLY due to the child, and wholly due to a deficient cause, i.e. a LACK, not a positive being. Thus St. Thomas says good is "the cause" of evil, not per se, per accidens, in that good is the cause of what is, but deficient cause is the "per se" cause of what is evil precisely in its being evil, and THAT is defect, not "being".

    6. There is a veritable mystery in both our good acts and in our bad acts in that we cannot DIRECTLY access their moral status, but also in evil acts in that they are, in a sense, "unexplainable". This is because good is a POSITIVE cause, and explanation, of other goods, and "good" is (transcendentally) convertible with "being", which is precisely what is knowable. Hence we are capable of KNOWING the good in its positive dimension of being, and of seeing it as real and as cause. Evil, however, is not being, it is LACK of being, and hence it is not DIRECTLY knowable as such, it is knowable through knowing the real (i.e. "being") from which it defects. Hence a DEficient cause is, likewise, not knowable directly as cause, but indirectly through the being which is defective. And so an evil action, precisely insofar as it is evil, is not DIRECTLY explainable as having a per se cause the way good has a cause, but only explainable in terms of what is by way of deficiency from what is. This is naturally not as knowable as what is. Hence it is more obscured in the mind.

    7. Hi Tony,

      If you can afford a bit more time, can you illustrate what you have said in your above three posts using an example such as a robbery?

      Say, for example, a person has a strong desire to buy a particular dream house but it is beyond his financial means. He could work for another ten years to save enough money for it, or he could rob and kill a wealthy old lady without being get caught by the police (just conceive of a situation that he is able to get away with the robbery and murder) and then buy that vacant house within weeks. Almost an immediate gratification of his desire! He knows that he works for another ten years, the price of the house might have risen by a lot more and he may still not be above to afford it.

      The dream-house is a good.

      The well-being and life of the old lady is a good.

      Can you illustrate using an example similar to this or some other example?

      Thanks Tony.



      johannes y k hui

  31. WCB,

    It is quite surreal watching you troll yerself.
    (but that is what you get for being a troll. Nobody here believes you.)

    But in the unlikely event somebody is really imitating you then I recommend a variation on Ficino's advice he gave you over at Strange notions.

    Instead of posting anon or using a google account use the Name/URL function. Just post yer name as WCB and in the URL you can put yer favorite atheist website or E mail. I recommend an E mail so Prof Feser can identify it is really you and use that handle from now on.

    This is obviously sound and sensible advice. Unless my original intuition yer just meta trolling is correct than predictably you will post as an anon troll berating me with foul language and praising yerself as a wonderful brilliant person nobody can argue with yada yada yada.

    Now carry on. Politics bores me so I don't have any opinions to offer on the topic of this thread.

    PS to all you trolls anon and whatnot. Blog masters can look up yer URL & they can know if yer using a VPN. So they can pretty much spot sock puppet posts(pretending too be multiple people and talking to yerself). Which why I would never do it.

    No only because of the moral reasons (it is a form of lying) but yer nor fooling anybody especially the blog master. It would be too easy to get caught.

    Now back to the politics thread. Wake me when we get back to metaphysics....cheers.

    Have fun the rest of you.

    1. Son of Ya'kov

      OMG, how utterly obsessed you are, and how pathetic and sad. You even had to bring your ongoing vendetta against WCB onto this thread, and vent your paranoia about him supposedly trolling himself, just as you were convinced that I was StarDusty, Papalinton, Ghostman and every Anonymous and Unknown that ever posted on this site. You are ill Yakov.

      WCB has always conducted himself in a polite and level headed manner - unlike yourself with your rants and abuse and bragging about humiliating and breaking people - so I do not think that many people here believe that suddenly, after all this time, he has flipped and become as deranged as you are. And incidentally Yako, you do not become any more credible in your allegations just because FOR ONCE you write normally, instead of churning out all that Scottish scat.

      If Feser really can establish if WCB is holding conversations with himself I wish he would do so and vindicate him, making you look an even bigger tit in the process.

      I am thinking of using a Google account and adopting the moniker 'Conscience of Yakov' so that I can more easily highlight your antisocial activities.

    2. Plot twist: I, too, am WCB. I am merely pretending to be a integralist. Mwa ha ha.

    3. Never believed that you could be for real, so that's a relief!

    4. Please,I'm not WCB or anybody you think me to be.
      I'm just a fan of Edward Feser,who happens to be kinda agnostic.

      I've been studying theology for a while, and I think some Arguments are pretty sound,I'm just lookin for clarifications on some problems I'm encounterin during my studies,with this I posrg being an example.

      I'm sorry if I was off point
      As I explained,my reasons for postin here instead were:

      “I just came from a post where you(Edward Feser), discussed the topic,but I can't seem to able to comment on that post for some unknown reasons
      Here's the post ”

      I just need answers,any sufficient answers,but I've been trying to contact Ed Feser,I can't seem too.

      Maybe you could render some help.

    5. Manuel I think I will take a run at yer post above on divine simplicity.

      It looks challenging.

    6. Manuel

      Get ready for a rendition of War and Peace and a bucket load of sophistry!

    7. Yer just sad because you can't respond intelligently to any version of Christianity more sophisticated than Young Earth Creationist fundamentalism.

      Son go learn some Atheist Philosophy so ye can keep up with the Classic Theists. Now off you pop.

  32. Mister Geocon,

    I thought you where an integralist. Cheers.

    The real WCB doesn't know what that is and for some mad reason he thinks animals can reason?

    Yeh I know!!!:D


    1. Are you for real?

    2. I thought I made it clear from the "Mwa ha ha" that I was being sarcastic when I said I was WCB. I was sort of mocking the idea that Anonymous was a bunch of different people at once. The fact that Ya'Kov so readily believed that has me worried...

    3. MR GEOCON

      I was being sarcastic at 10.30AM, in response to your sarcasm! Of course you were making an attempt at a joke, as poor as it was. That fact completely escaped Yako though, which should tell him a great deal!

      When I asked 'Are you for real?' at 11.28AM, it was meant for Yako, who had just taken your rejection of integralism seriously.

    4. Geocon,

      U the man bro. Keep on keeping on.

    5. You guys have to cut Son of Ya'kov some slack, after all, I don't think English is his first language - isn't it Glaswegian or something like that?

  33. Everything a Thomist needs to know about Capitalism.

    1. From Henri Grenier’s manual on Thomistic Philosophy. This is the final volume, Moral Philosophy.

    2. Thank you for this, I look forward to dipping into this. Although I'm be sceptical of the claim that this is _everything_ a Thomist, or anyone else for that matter, needs to know about capitalism.

    3. I wasn’t being precise with words and for that I apologize. : )

  34. WCB writes:

    Mister GeoconMay 26, 2021 at 9:57 AM

    :Plot twist: I, too, am WCB. I am merely pretending to be a integralist. Mwa ha ha."

    I am the real WCB and I am not a Catholic integralist. And I find Pope Pius IX's encyclical the "Syllabus Of Errors"to be a silly thing.