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Teleological Reasoning in Economics

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Part of the Virtues and Economics book series (VIEC,volume 1)


The prime example of a teleological approach to economics can be found in the first part of Aristotle’s Politics. He defines economics as the art of creating the material and social conditions for the survival of the oikos or household. Simultaneously, he integrates economics in a social matrix that subordinates economics to politics and ethics. Modern philosophy and economics is anti-Aristotelian and anti-teleological. Modern economic actors are supposed to be driven by autonomous preferences and free choices. The market functions as a causal equilibrium mechanism that promote welfare for everyone as an unintended byproduct. Although Adam Smith interpreted this unintended teleological effect as an ‘invisible hand ’, he was one of the first moral philosophers to underpin this order with a non-teleological substratum. After him, the deconstruction of teleology pursued its logic giving way to the idea of economics as a process of ‘creative destruction’ (Schumpeter). The paper explores how thinking economics as a relational dynamic opens a space for human creativity without losing the embeddedness in an ecological system of meaning and purpose.

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  1. 1.

    Just as there is a strict demarcation and hierarchy between the celestial/divine and the terrestrial/human sphere, there must be a clear demarcation and hierarchy between politics and economics.

  2. 2.

    In a social context with many rational actors and managers , the free market offers a solution. Instead of claiming a super rational manager who transforms the state into a despotic regime, the market introduces a system of free exchange where all rational actors can try to make a benefit without manipulating the other or imposing his/her will.

  3. 3.

    Although I have some problems with other parts of the encyclical, chapter 3 of which has been strongly influenced by the ideas of Stefano Zamagni , it is a challenging piece of economic philosophy. For an analysis of the encyclical see Bouckaert 2012.

  4. 4.

    Economy of communion is a concept and a practice launched by Chiara Lubich in 1991 at Sao Paulo and promoted by the Focolare movement.

  5. 5.

    Philosophers as J. Maritain (1936) and E. Mounier (1936) and especially Jewish philosophers as H. Bergson, M. Buber, S. Weil, F. Rozenzweig and E. Levinas opened a new metaphysical perspective originating from personal experiences of deep interconnectedness and leading to social relations of dialogue, social responsibility and servant leadership. See Personalism (Bouckaert 2011b).

  6. 6.

    According to Lietaer and Dunne (2013) worldwide over 4000 complementary currencies are brought into use. Alternative currencies are not new. During the crisis of the 1930 ‘s, there were some successful introductions. But most of them did not succeed because national authorities did not accept them as a means for legal payment. One exception is the WIR in Switzerland which is still in use. To-day governments actively support new experiments. Some are designed for the development of local economy and employment such as the LETS (Local Exchange Trading System) which in France are known as Grain de Sel (SEL). Others are intended to stimulate local systems of social care as e.g. the ‘Caring Relationship Tickets” or Hureai Kippu in Japan (1995). A third category of currencies started to meet unmet needs in a local community such as e.g. the PEN exchange in Takoma Park (US).

  7. 7.

    A fuller treatment of alternative currency is beyond the scope of this paper.

  8. 8.

    The spirit is the human faculty that relates us in a non-conceptual and intuitive way to all living beings and to Life as the transcendent Source in all of them.


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Bouckaert, L. (2017). Teleological Reasoning in Economics. In: Rona, P., Zsolnai, L. (eds) Economics as a Moral Science. Virtues and Economics, vol 1. Springer, Cham.

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