Who Adds the Greatest Value to the Economy?: The Laborer, the CEO, or the Philosopher? Part Two
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By John von Heyking, October 13, 2010 in Professional Development, What is Education?

Read Part One here.

The lesson about the moral economy that Alberta energy producers are only now learning is one applicable to all businesses.  The business economy exists within a moral economy.  A businessperson illiterate in moral language will be defenseless against moral opposition to his product.   Exposure to at least some of the great moral thinkers like Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Kant, and Mill helps him participate in the moral economy that sustains his business economy. 

An understanding of things done for the sake of something else, or for their own sake, or an understanding of the virtue of moderation and justice, is crucial to everyday life, including the life of a businessperson.  How should we understand the moral status of things that are both beneficial and harmful?  What does “benefit” and “harm” mean?  At what point does “harm” become too much?  To whom? To society as a whole? Should the harm done to a single individual outweigh benefits to an entire society, or vice-versa?

An exposure deeper than what one usually gets in “business ethics” (which is usually taught be someone with visceral hatred of capitalism, and is therefore quickly forgotten after the course is finished) is needed.  I do not suggest moral philosophy can be reduced to marketing.  I am claiming quite the opposite, in fact.  Illiteracy in moral philosophy on the part of our business (and government) class leads people to think moral philosophy can be reduced to marketing.

            Our society tends to regard the university professor of liberal education as parasitic to the wealth creation of the laborer and CEO.  This false view neglects the moral economy in which each of them participates, and to which each adds his own unique value.

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2 Comments
Lee Trepanier on Oct 13, 2010 at 12:06 pm

Do you think there is anything peculiar about Canada, or at least western Canada, that makes it more amendable to a moral economy than compared to, say, the United States?

John von Heyking on Oct 13, 2010 at 12:13 pm

Lee: No. At one point one may have pointed out that the moral economy of the United States was cultivated by American patriotism, whereas Canadian patriotism is more elusive and therefore a weaker restraint on greed. However, as Samuel Huntington, among others, has shown in his "Dead Souls: The Denationalization of the American Elite," the American corporate elite is not guided by patriotism. This makes it difficult to determine where the cultural wellsprings for the moral economy might emerge.

about the author

John von Heyking
John von Heyking

I teach political philosophy at the University of Lethbridge, Alberta, as well as religion and politics. I received my Ph.D. from the University of Notre Dame in 1999.

My publications include Augustine and Politics as Longing in the World (Missouri, 2001), Civil Religion in Political Thought:  Its Perennial Questions and Enduring Relevance in North America (coeditor; published by CUA Press, 2010), Friendship and Politics: Essays in Political Thought (coeditor, published with U. of Notre Dame Press, 2008), two edited volumes of The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin (Missouri, 2003), as well as articles on Aristotle and friendship, political representation, citizenship, republicanism, just war, Islamic politics, politics and prophecy, leadership, the place of America in contemporary political thought, religious liberty under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the political philosophy of rodeo. I am also at work on a book-length study on the relationship between friendship and political order. My editorials have appeared in the Globe and Mail (Toronto), Calgary Herald, C2C: Canada’s Journal of Ideas, and the Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs. I am currently Associate Editor for History, Theory, and Law of the journal, Politics and Religion, published by Cambridge University Press. His work has been translated into Italian, German, and Chinese. I have delivered invited lectures to audiences throughout Canada and the United States, as well as in Germany, France, Switzerland, and Russia.