The Evolution of Social Ethics: Using Economic History to Understand Economic Ethics

Journal of Religious Ethics 27 (2):285 - 304 (1999)
In the development of Roman Catholic social thought from the teachings of the scholastics to the modern social encyclicals, changes in normative economics reflect the transformation of an economic terrain from its feudal roots to the modern industrial economy. The preeminence accorded by the modern market to the allocative over the distributive function of price broke the convenient convergence of commutative and distributive justice in scholastic just price theory. Furthermore, the loss of custom, law, and usage in defining the boundaries of economic behavior led to a depersonalization of economic relationships that had previously provided effective informal means of protecting individual well-being. Hence, recent economic ethics has had to look for nonprice, nonmarket mechanisms for distributive justice. This is reflected, for example, in the shift in attitude from the medieval antipathy toward unions to the contemporary defense of organized labor on moral grounds
Keywords economic history  just price  scholastic economics  economic ethics  Catholic social thought
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