Economists and theologians usually inhabit different intellectual worlds. Economists investigate the workings of markets and tend to set ethical questions aside. Theologians, anxious to take up concerns raised by market outcomes, often dismiss economics and lose insights into the influence of market incentives on individual behavior. Mary L. Hirschfeld, who was a professor of economics for fifteen years before training as a theologian, seeks to bridge these two fields in this innovative work about economics and the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas.
According to Hirschfeld, an economics rooted in Thomistic thought integrates many of the insights of economists with a larger view of the good life, and gives us critical purchase on the ethical shortcomings of modern capitalism. In a Thomistic approach, she writes, ethics and economics cannot be reconciled if we begin with narrow questions about fair wages or the acceptability of usury. Rather, we must begin with an understanding of how economic life serves human happiness. The key point is that material wealth is an instrumental good, valuable only to the extent that it allows people to flourish. Hirschfeld uses that insight to develop an account of a genuinely humane economy in which pragmatic and material concerns matter but the pursuit of wealth for its own sake is not the ultimate goal.
The Thomistic economics that Hirschfeld outlines is thus capable of dealing with our culture as it is, while still offering direction about how we might make the economy better serve the human good.
[An] outstanding book about economics and ethics…If we can better order our lives—and in Hirschfeld’s account, most of us need to—then we can achieve better markets and create more just market systems.
For those seeking succinct, clear and accurate accounts of the Thomist understanding of the human person and the presuppositions of economics, this book could hardly be bettered.
[Hirschfeld] integrates economic research into a ‘philosophic and theological discussion about the human good and human happiness.’ This knowledge may not be quantified in pie charts, by Wall Street, or within algorithms, but Hirschfeld insists that wisdom lies beyond the labs and the think-tanks…Aquinas and the Market begins a necessary conversation between economic and theological sectors, in the academy and, one hopes, outside the ivory towers and seminaries, to calculate our ultimate worth.
Excellent…Hirschfeld offers an attractive and sophisticated model for how theology should approach economics.
We are not lacking in Christian critiques of neoclassical economics. Rarely do these come from a Harvard-trained economist turned Catholic theologian. In order to diagnose just how the rational choice model frustrates, rather than facilitates, the pursuit of happiness, we must get clear on the nature of genuine human flourishing. In a book both acute and winsome, pragmatic and visionary, Hirschfeld turns to Thomas Aquinas for inspiration. Only with an adequate anthropology in hand can we understand both why economic analysis works as well as it does, and why it ultimately leads us astray. Freed from the pursuit of maximal utility, we can begin to build a humane economy. A wise and urgently-needed contribution!
In Aquinas and the Market, Mary Hirschfeld takes on the demanding task of relating religion—particularly Christianity—and the discipline of economics. Uniquely qualified, she accomplishes the task with insight and elegance. The book is well-written, timely, and a ‘must-read’ for both scholars and students interested in the relation of faith and economics.
While most theological reflections and critiques of the economy are often sorely deficient in economic understanding, Aquinas and the Market fills this void, offering careful analysis of the moral thought of Aquinas and its relevance to economics. Hirschfeld writes with clarity, providing a foundation upon which to better understand Aquinas’s project on its own terms.
Hirschfeld shows that the rational choice model of economists is too weak to make coherent sense of human well-being, even in matters economic. She proposes that we take the best insights of the economists and embed them in a more comprehensive account of practical reason, such as that of Thomas Aquinas. This kind of thought experiment is long overdue.
Excellent…Lays out a Thomistic approach to mainline economics.
Deeply researched, carefully argued, and provides an important perspective on the prospects of bringing theology and economics into a productive dialogue. Hirschfeld represents an important voice in seeking to bring these two distinct fields together in an interdisciplinary manner.
- 2019, Winner of the The Aldersgate Prize
- 2019, Winner of the Economy and Society International award
- 288 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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