Search Results for: Scott Rae

The Virtues of Capitalism: Interview with Scott Rae (part three)

We continue with our final part in our three part interview with Scott Rae about his book (with co-author Austin Hill), The Virtues of Capitalism: A Moral Case for Free Markets (Northfield Publishing, 2010).

In some quarters, Ayn Rand and her philosophy are upheld as the quintessential defense of capitalism? How should we appreciate and assess her ideas in this area?

Rand lived under Russian socialism and saw it for what it was—a terribly inefficient system that denied human beings their creativity and innovative traits. She promoted the market as the best system for producing prosperity and was rightly skeptical of government getting in the way of business. However, she was an ethical egoist who maintained that self-interest was all that was necessary as a moral guideline. She and her followers actually hold that altruism is intrinsically demeaning because it is a handout. I take her views on the market as being pretty good, but would reject her ethical and psychological egoism.

Behavioral economists have argued that, more often than not, irrationality and impulsiveness drive financial decision-making, whether among individuals or on behalf of groups (e.g., Wall Street financial traders), compared to decision-making driven by rational self-interestedness. How should we think about these factors, given a broadly theistic view of human nature?

Human beings are not homo economicus, as Marx suggested. We are not entirely objective, self-interested economic actors, as some libertarians insist. There is a good deal of what Yale economist Robert Shiller called “irrational exuberance,” echoing a phrase originally coined by Alan Greenspan in the mid-1990’s. The stock market, for example, defies rationality at times, more often than investors care to admit! Emotion plays a role in ethical as well as economic decision making, and only a reductionistic view of human nature would insist otherwise. Being both made in God’s image and fallen at the same time suggests that our economic decisions are complex combinations of factors that we still are trying to understand fully.

Given the current global financial crisis, obviously something clearly failed monumentally. But what exactly failed? How should we understand the morality of the crisis?

This is a very involved discussion—I’d summarize it by saying that the combination of short-sighted public policy (cheap money for so long among other things), regulators and ratings agencies who dropped the ball and perverse market incentives, created a perfect storm of conditions in which greed could and did flourish for a time. Capitalism didn’t fail—at a minimum the financial system failed, which is not the same thing a capitalism failing. And it failed primarily due to the financial system making a bad bet on housing prices never really falling. Their model of spreading out risk actually incentivized a variety of parties, from homeowners, to lenders, to mortgage brokers, to commercial banks, to take very unwise risks. And when those “chickens came home to roost,” some were allowed to suffer the consequences of their poor decisions (ie. homeowners being foreclosed on homes that they should never have bought, for example). The application of moral hazard (the view that if you don’t have to pay for your financial sins, you’ll commit them again) to the “too big to fail” banks is a bit more complicated (though the government did let some fail—Lehman Brothers). The bailout money was designed to unfreeze bank lending to businesses—which had essentially stopped in late 2008-early 2009. That was a worthy goal and an important function of the financial safety net. There’s some evidence that mortgage lending has really changed and tightened up, but there’s also evidence that on Wall Street, not much has changed. There are lots of good accounts of the financial meltdown—I’d recommend Financial Shock, by economist Mark Zandi.

Among evangelicals, in the last few years there’s been an increased amount of chatter and organization of endeavor around the issue of “social justice.” In light of capitalism as an economic and moral-cultural system, how might we best think of “social justice”, its meaning and implications for bringing about good for other people?

Social justice is a proper ordering of society, in which God’s righteousness pervades the institutions of society. The term has become almost a buzz-word for left-leaning political applications of Scripture. The major terms of the debate are not about the ends of an economic system, but the best means to achieve those ends. It begins with business having a good answer to the question, “what are we in business for?” Not just to make money, but to contribute to the common good, to enhance human flourishing and provide a place for people to do meaningful work in supporting themselves.

As you say in your last chapter, “Capitalism can’t do it all.” How can we discern what are nonmarket goods and services?

Some goods and services are what we call “market inalienable.” That is, they should not be subject to market forces, because doing so involves violation of important values or virtues. For example, we decided long ago that human beings should not be bought and sold in the open market because to do so violates a fundamental principle of human dignity. This is why some forms of surrogacy that involve the clear purchase and sale of children should be illegal. Others should not be available on the market because of their potential for serious harm should they be misused, or the ease with which they can be misused. There is some debate about other products and services, such as prostitution, reproductive services, organs, etc.

What are the necessary conditions for capitalism to flourish?

The infrastructure must be right—including things like a well-established rule of law, protection against fraud, incentives for innovation such as patent laws, and a cultural system in which market participants have internal moral resources capable of restraining self-interest.

How might the church, as a local moral/cultural institution, help teach and train people about the virtues of capitalism, and the role of Christian presence in a capitalist society?

This is very important—for one, churches should affirm business as a morally serious calling in which a person can bring honor to God by doing his or her work with excellence and integrity. This is what Paul means in Col. 3:23 when he commands that we “in everything we do, do our work heartily as unto the Lord. . . for it’s the Lord Christ whom we are serving.” Further we need to affirm that there is nothing wrong with success, ambition or making money. Third, we need to affirm that business is a crucible in which our spiritual formation occurs.

At the 2009 annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, Scott Rae gave a plenary address, titled, “On the Intersection of Faith, Economics and Social Ethics: Business and  Spiritual Transformation.” Scott is professor of Christian ethics and the chairperson of the philosophy of religion and ethics department at Biola University’s Talbot School of Theology.

The Virtues of Capitalism: Interview with Scott Rae (part two)

Below is part two of our interview with Scott Rae about his latest book (with co-author Austin Hill), The Virtues of Capitalism: A Moral Case for Free Markets (Northfield Publishing, 2010).

Noted sociologist Daniel Bell wrote in his influential 1976 book, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, about how capitalist systems are constituted by distinct yet related social systems: the moral/cultural, the economic, and the political. How are these systems and their institutions interrelated?

I agree that these three systems function to provide checks and balances for the others. Typically, when the moral/cultural system fails to provide moral limits to the economic system, then the law steps in. And the frequency with which the law is involved testifies to the relative weakness of the moral/cultural system. I think the financial meltdown is a good example of the failure of both the law and morality to rein in excesses on Wall Street—but both are reacting, mostly appropriately.

What are the “virtues of capitalism”?

The virtues that are both required and nurtured by participation in the market system are things like service, trust, promise-keeping, truthtelling, diligence, thrift, and what might be called “entrepreneurial traits,” such as innovation, creativity, etc.

As you know, University of Southern California philosopher, Dallas Willard, has been working on a book length project concerning “the disappearance of moral knowledge.” In the absence of moral knowledge, in what sense, if any, can the virtues of capitalism expect to thrive, let alone survive?

I would suggest that even though moral knowledge is on the wane, there is still a reservoir of some shared values, sufficient to make the economic system function. Think for example of how many transactions are completed that are based on trust—most credit transaction fit that description. In the absence of moral values, capitalism becomes Darwinian, and then it becomes essentially state-sponsored, as the law steps in to regulate more and more, analogous to what exists in China.

What do you take to be the most substantial criticism of capitalism? How might it be considered and answered?

That capitalism does not distribute the goods of society in an entirely equitable way. Capitalism is very good at creating wealth, but distribution is another matter. I don’t have a problem with merit being a primary basis for distribution. And I believe that the economy is not a zero-sum game—that the rich can get richer without it being at the expense of the poor. But I am troubled by the increasing gap between rich and poor and worry about what that might do to social stability if that’s a long-term trend.

What do you take to be the most prevailing misunderstanding of what capitalism is and what it does?

That it is based on greed. Michael Moore called capitalism a system of “legalized greed.” Adam Smith said nothing of the sort in The Wealth of Nations. He distinguished between greed and self-interest (which the Scripture does too) and maintained that the social virtues of compassion and justice moderated the pursuit of self-interest. Scripture commends self-interest (Phil. 2:4—look out not only for your interests, but also for the interests of others).

Could capitalism, as an economic system, fail to adequately work, in some sense and in some way, if a culture is driven by the satisfaction of desire as an end?

You get people in business without ever thinking about what they are in business for, other than making money and advancing their careers. This is why people can’t wait to retire, because their work has become divorced from any meaningful purpose. Capitalism will not cease to work—it’s just that the market will reflect those values, as it is already beginning to do.

You can learn more about The Virtues of Capitalism by visiting the book’s Facebook page. Part three of our interview with Scott Rae continues here.

The Virtues of Capitalism: Interview with Scott Rae (part one)

The morality of capitalism is one of the most pressing moral issues that Christian philosophers and theologians need to address today. Toward that end, we interviewed Scott Rae about his just released book (with co-author Austin Hill), The Virtues of Capitalism: A Moral Case for Free Markets (Northfield Publishing, 2010). Scott is professor of Christian ethics and the chairperson of the philosophy of religion and ethics department at Biola University’s Talbot School of Theology. Below is part one of our multi-part interview with Rae.

How did this book come about?

The book came out of a long journey that my writing partner, Austin Hill, had experienced that began with his studies here at Talbot in the Philosophy program—a course he took with me on “Faith and Economics” and an Acton Institute seminar that he attended while a student here. More recently, in his job as a radio host he had been reading about the broadsides that capitalism had been taking as a result of the meltdown of the financial system—particularly an article in a UK newspaper entitled, “G20 Nations Must Make Moral Case for Capitalism.” Shortly after reading that article, he called me and insisted that we needed to write this book—and now!

Are you trying to recover a particular moral, philosophical and economic tradition?

We are advocating the kind of capitalism that we believe was originally intended by Adam Smith and has been more recently very ably articulated by the Catholic theologian Michael Novak. We hold that Smith intended that the market be regulated by both political and moral restraints. Specifically, Smith argued that the pursuit of self-interest was moderated by what he called the “social virtues” of compassion, justice, benevolence, etc. Smith was neither a libertarian nor an ethical egoist—he held that there was a place for government and for morality in providing restraints on self-interest.

In chapter one, the book tries to address the attitude, “I only care about the moral issues,” which, arguably, tends to persist among so-called American “faith-based” groups and individuals, especially evangelicals. Why is there often a disconnect between morality and economics, whether among the so-called “Religious Left” or the “Religious Right”?

There is less of a disconnect among the religious left than the right, in our view. What’s assumed is that the most pressing and clearest moral issues are the ones related to life—abortion, euthanasia, stem cell research, etc. Those have been at the top of the agenda for some time, and justifiably so. Economics by contrast, is often viewed as morally neutral—that the market is simply a system that reflects the values of the culture, but doesn’t shape values.

The other reason for the disconnect is that issues of economics are so often overlapping with contentious and divisive political issues—immigration, for example, that we tend to shy away from addressing them.

A further reason for the disconnect is that applying the Bible to matters of economics is hermeneutically tricky because of the major differences in economic life and structure between the ancient world and today. It’s not enough to say that since materialism is a matter of the heart and the heart hasn’t changed, the Bible’s message can be applied easily. Those premises are true, but the conclusion is not—applying the Bible to economic life is very tricky, especially the Old Testament. Many of the laws that gave people a fresh start economically (Jubilee, redemption of land, etc.) would be very difficult to apply today—or at least it’s not clear how to apply such laws today.

What is an economic system and what should it try to accomplish in light of one’s view about what it means to be a human being?

An economic system is the way in which exchanges are structured among individuals and institutions—it has moral implications because it’s about how we order our lives together in community. An economic system should provide adequate opportunity for self-support and a safety net for those who cannot support themselves. The Bible is clear that those incapable of self-support are entitled to a share of the community’s goods.

Chapter two attempts to show how the Bible offers consistencies with “capitalist principles” (20) What are those principles?

The fundamentals of the market system include freedom, initiative, creativity and provision for the poor. We hold that that the entrepreneurial traits necessary for success in economic life are actually important Christian virtues. Further, we hold that the responsible wealth creation of the market system is how an economist would capture the biblical notion of human dominion over creation from Genesis 1.

What do you think are the most compelling biblical evidences for your claim about capitalism, as an economic system, to be the “preferred choice” among its competitors because it “best honors the human person, and is the way in which we can most productively order our lives together” (20).

I’m not sure there’s a chapter and verse for this—but more broadly speaking the biblical principles that uphold human dignity, creativity, and initiative. The Bible upholds the pursuit of self-interest (“look out not only for your own interests, but also for the interests of others,” Phil. 2:4) and even mandates it in places (where Paul cautions the Thessalonians that “if you don’t work you don’t eat,” and that if you don’t take care of your family, you’re worse off than most people. There is nothing wrong with the pursuit of self-interest, moderated by concern for others, and nothing wrong with being successful, moderated by generosity. We also hold that the mandate to care for the poor suggests that capitalism, properly functioning, is the best hope for the poor around the world. Since 1970 roughly 1.2 billion people have been elevated out of poverty into the middle-lower middle class. Granted, there’s a long way to go, but it is widely attributed to be the case that most of the intractable poverty is in sub-Sahara Africa, where we would suggest that the market as Adam Smith envisioned has yet to be implemented.

How you hold the authority of the Bible in this book, especially in chapter two, is suggestive of an important methodological consideration relevant to how scripture integrates with other areas of knowledge. The book seems to bank on the fact that scripture is not just a source of one’s religious beliefs, perhaps one’s doctrinal beliefs, but the Bible is actually a source of knowledge about reality. Is that correct? If so, can you possibly elaborate on that point and how it might be relevant to how various publics (religious and non-religious) interact with scripture and economics?

You’re right about our view of the Bible—we see it as a source of knowledge, not just opinions about our beliefs. This is a broader philosophical question of epistemology—we reject the contemporary notion that the only stuff that counts for knowledge is that which we can verify with our senses or by science—that’s the hubris of empiricism that has worked its way into our culture and educational system. We hold that the integration of the bible with economics is a critical task for scholars today, but it must take into account some of the hermeneutical difficulties mentioned above given how different economic life was in the ancient world.

How might scholars working in philosophy, biblical studies and theology, or at any of their intersections, do further integrative work that would contribute thinking about economics and capitalism?

This is a great question—most of the most contentious issues concern not the ends of economics, but the best means to accomplish those ends. The Bible is clear on the ends and most people agree on the ends—it’s the means that constitute the differences. And the means involves a variety of disciplines—economics, political philosophy, social sciences, theology, etc. One example that could really use some work is the issue of immigration—that has all the above disciplines, and then some, that have a bearing on that issue. The Bible has a lot to say about immigration—but applying that takes skill and discernment since the political landscape in biblical times was so different from today.

You can learn more about The Virtues of Capitalism by visiting the book’s Facebook page. You may also be interested in Michael Novak’s 2004 speech, “Wealth and Virtue: The Moral Case for Capitalism.”

2019 “Disappearance of Moral Knowledge” Symposium

Dallas Willard Ministries (DWM) recently released some interesting video presentations at a Center for Christian Thought hosted symposium on Dallas Willard’s Disappearance of Moral Knowledge, which we are also happy to promote here. The symposium is part of DWM’s recently launched Moral Knowledge Initiative. Introductory papers were presented by Gregg Ten Elshof on an “Overview of the Issues Presented in the Book” (see the Westmont 2018 presentation) and by Steve Porter “The Primacy of the Individual in Reclaiming Moral Knowledge.”

Jonathan Haidt and the Disappearance of Moral Knowledge: How Good Intentions and Philosophical Confusions Threaten to Perpetuate the Problem”

by Aaron Preston

Jonathan Haidt published The Happiness Hypothesis in 2006, and has become a leading public intellectual addressing matters of morality and ethics.  Dr. Preston chose to present an overview of Haidt’s work because, “As far as the project of making moral knowledge available as a public resource is concerned, Haidt is the one who is making an impact.” Haidt observes that we have lost “a richly textured common ethos with widely shared virtues and values,” and shares many of Willard’s concerns.  But he desires to restore virtue because of its importance to human happiness, and it is happiness itself, or more broadly emotion, that is the goal.  While Haidt needs better philosophical grounding to sort out his own understanding of reason, intuition and emotion, Preston sees him as a potential ally for the Moral Knowledge Initiative.

Response: Commentary on Aaron Preston’s, “Jonathan Haidt and the Disappearance of Moral Knowledge”

by Aaron Kheriaty

Kheriaty affirms much of Haidt’s work, but puts it in the category of “sociology of knowledge” which Willard says “deals with the causal conditions that bring about the general acceptance of certain thoughts and beliefs as representations of reality—moral or otherwise” (DMK 12). Any such knowledge generated by the social sciences is only knowledge by general consensus and can therefore easily disappear when this consensus changes. Studies of the human soul have fallen into this category (DMK 10). In response to Haidt’s heavy emphasis on emotivism in his moral psychology and philosophy, Kheriaty prescribes a regrounding in the part of classical platonic tradition “which we could roughly describe as the doctrine of participation: all normally functioning human beings participate by a kind of intuition in the logos – in a universal reason or ordering principle.  This participation allows us both to know the world, which is rationally ordered and intelligible, and to reason and deliberate together in the pursuit of truth and goodness.”  Accounts based on evolutionary psychology or the sociology of knowledge are incapable by themselves of recovering moral knowledge as a publicly available resource.

“The Disappearance of Moral Knowledge in Education”

by Mary Poplin

Following the exclusion of Christianity and any organized moral knowledge in the academy, the focus in teacher education became stages of development (e.g., cognitive, social and moral), all deeply embedded in scientific method. There is a loss of meaning that comes with an attachment to physical sciences because they cannot deal with the big issues of life. This has created a culture of despair on college campuses. Student health centers are being overwhelmed by students struggling with anxiety and depression, as suicide statistics in young people continue to rise. In the classroom, courses that address moral knowledge and goodness are in high demand because they offer hope for students examining their lives and looking to their future. But teacher training in the last several decades barely touches issues of morality or character. Today the emphasis is largely on culture, gender, and class seen through the lens of critical theory. This is the case in K-12 as well, which is a crucial time for character formation. With this educational trend, defining “the good person” becomes a significant challenge, but one of utmost importance so that students can know how to become good people.

Response to Mary Poplin’s “The Disappearance of Moral Knowledge in Education”

by Mike Austin

The university as we know it is in trouble. It is no longer a “uni”-versity because it’s not united. It is shifting from a marketplace of ideas to a platform for social change, and the understanding of who counts as a “good person” is weak. But our secular colleagues do have some access to moral knowledge that is grounded in the character of God, though it is perhaps indirect, which Austin encouraged us to make use of as we do our work. We can find common ground, insofar as there is knowledge about morality, human selves, and human flourishing, that is available outside of special revelation. This includes using the empirical work available to us via positive psychology to make our case. As Poplin points out, “scientific findings that relate to human flourishing reveal the advantages of living Christianly”: physical and mental health, longevity, the family, education, and more. We need more of this kind of work on Christian virtues, such as faith, hope, and love, at the academic and popular levels.

Law, Discursive Distortions, and the Loss of ‘Moral Knowledge’”

by Steven Smith

Smith’s central concern regarding moral knowledge is found in his reframing of the issue as the “very real, non-academic question that all of us constantly face: How should I live?  Or, in a communal version: How should we live together?” This allows him to write about the good person from a normative legal and moral perspective and articulate a possible way forward. He acknowledges we live in a world of “rampant normative pluralism” and identifies the challenge it presents for “modern legal and political theorizing, and in many respects for modern law.” He doesn’t hold out much hope for a “recovery through greater philosophical attention to ‘the good person’” as a merely human remedy, but recommends that ministry, rather than either law or philosophy, “is the best prospect for a recovery– if not of ‘moral knowledge,’ exactly– at least of a sensible, grounded normativity in our current society.”

“The Disappearance of Moral Knowledge in Law”

by Robert F. Cochran, Jr.

Cochran described the ways in which moral knowledge has been disappearing from legal theory over the last two centuries, and how these changes are manifested in legal ethics, lawyer counseling, law school and law practice. His paper particularly emphasized the influence of Oliver Wendell Holmes’s philosophy that there is no “higher law,” but that law is merely the assertion of power here on earth. While not very optimistic about the prospects of the return of moral knowledge in the legal field, Cochran pointed to the possibilities present in the New Natural Law theory being championed by John Finnis (emphasizing “the good person” as Dallas does), and noted that the newest member of the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, was Finnis’s graduate student at Oxford. Cochran’s presentation ended on a hopeful note with a white board comparison of Finnis’s Natural Law and Natural Rights (2011) with Willard’s DMK and the similarities in what both authors are promoting.

Response to Cochran and Smith on Legal History and Ethics

by Scott Rae


In his response to Cochran and Smith, Scott Rae provided the following analysis of law and morality: “The authority of the law depends on the moral attitudes that undergird it, giving it the competence to order society that it claims to have.” He gave an example of the loss of moral knowledge as applied to physician assisted suicide, indicating a trend toward its wholesale adoption due to the prevailing attitude around the question of who is being harmed, along with the societal position expressed by Genontologist Joanne Lynn that, “there is nothing cheaper than dead.” Rae closed his paper with a quote from James Davison Hunter’s The Death of Character: “We want character, but without unyielding conviction; we want strong morality, but without the emotional burden of guilt and shame; we want virtue, but without particular moral justifications that invariably offend; we want good without having to name evil; we want decency without the authority to insist on it; we want moral community without any limitations to personal freedom.” And his own personal assessment, “It strikes me that the death of character and the disappearance of moral knowledge go together, which lends urgency to the recovery of moral knowledge.”

Celebrating the Life and Work of Dallas A. Willard (1935-2013)

We celebrate the life and work of Dallas A. Willard (1935-2013), who was a scholar, mentor, professor and friend to many in the EPS and beyond.

The Evangelical Philosophical Society was pleased to host him as our 2011 plenary speaker at the annual national meeting of the EPS and also a plenary speaker at the 2011 EPS apologetics conference. His last Philosophia Christi article appeared in the 13:1 (Summer 2011), titled, “Intentionality and the Substance of the Self” (7-19). His other contributions appeared in the 4:1 (Summer 2002) issue, “Naturalism’s Incapacity to Capture the Good Will” (9-28), and then in the 1:2 (Winter 1999) issue, “How Concept Relate the Mind to Its Objects” (5-20).

Before his death, Willard was completing his manuscript (tenatively titled), The Disappearance of Moral Knowledge, a snapshot of which was given at the 2011 EPS annual meeting, but more fully accessible to the public in 2010, at a lecture series hosted at the University of California-Irvine. His opening chapters in his last published book, Knowing Christ Today (HarperOne: 2009) are also relevant to these developments.

From among the EPS membership and contributors to Philosophia Christi, here are some tributes to Dallas Willard’s life and work:

For some further info on the state of forthcoming, posthumous work by Willard, please see the June 2013 interview with Bill Heatley.

Addendum: On October 4, 2013, a “Celebration of Life” memorial service was given at the University of Southern California, in honor of the many years of Willard’s faithful work at the university. A basic video of that tribute is available here.

Talbot’s Philosophy Department Mourns the Death of Dallas Willard

Dallas Willard’s academic influence permeated from within and beyond the University of Southern California. As a former trustee, his impact upon Biola University, and especially her philosophy faculty, is significant. Scott Rae, Chair of Talbot’s Philosophy Department, says of Dallas:

We at Talbot, and especially in the philosophy department, are deeply saddened with the homegoing of our mentor and friend, Dallas Willard.  We want to remember his immense contribution, not only to Talbot and Biola more generally, but specifically to our philosophy program.

Dallas was a source of great encouragement to us when we began the program some 20 years ago and has remained one of our best friends and supports for our ongoing work. He mentored a number of us in our doctoral programs at USC, marked us deeply and impacted not only our professional lives but our spiritual lives as well.  He was very inspirational to us to remember the right things and set our priorities accordingly.  He modeled the kind of humility that continues to, we hope, define our community, where we take God’s Kingdom very seriously, but do not take ourselves that seriously.

We will miss him greatly and will always appreciate his calm demeanor, well thought out views, the priority of the Kingdom and his love for Jesus.  We know he is better off, but I’m pretty sure we’re not–his loss is incalculable.  Thanks, Dallas, for your investment in our program, faculty and students.

Scott Rae, Chair of Talbot’s Philosophy Department, was at USC from 1988-1992, and his dissertation was on the “The Ethics of Commercial Surrogate Motherhood.”

Doing the Right Thing: An Appraisal

Special Pricing

Moderated by Fox News’ Brit Hume, and Co-Hosted by BreakPoint’s Chuck Colson, and Princeton’s Robert George, in this series a distinguished panel of experts offers a substantive, resourceful and engaging discussion on ethics at the intersection of moral epistemology, cultural analysis, applied ethics, and theological-philosophical anthropology:
Panelists include Acton Institute’s Michael Miller, David Miller, and Glenn Sunshine.

In six 30 minute DVD sessions, the panel discusses the following before a live student audience at Princeton:

  • How did we get into this mess? (connecting the “crisis of ethics” with the “financial crisis”)
  • Is there truth or a moral law that we can all know? (natural moral law theory)
  • If we know what is right, can we do it? (character formation)
  • What does it mean to be human, and why does it matter?
  • Ethics in the Market Place (morality of capitalism and business ethics)
  • Ethics in Public Life (professional and political ethics).

Each session offers a stimulating panel discussion about the above topics, along with some interaction with student questions in the audience. The student questions are substantive and interesting. At times, George even directs one of his Princeton students to help answer a question from a fellow student. It feels dynamic but not busy. Moreover, various guest experts make appearances throughout the series, whether for the purpose of modeling the truth of some concept or for offering perspective to the discussion. Guests include former New York Time’s columnist Ben Stein, Acton Institute’s Robert Sirico, Calvin Seminary’s Neil Plantinga, Biola University’s Scott Rae, Joni Erickson Tada, and many others. Audience interaction and guest contributions enrich each 30 minute session with perspective, insight, and different voices and experiences.

I appreciate how the above topics interrelate with each other. Clearly, the series intends to utilize the current “crisis” ethos punctuated by the financial crisis as a prompt to ask the deeper, worldview sorts of questions about knowledge of what is good and how to live in it. But the series does not start and end with individual, moralistic navel-gazing, which so often abounds with “privatized morality” habits of thought. The series decisively connects the centrality of both the sound development of the “inner life” and the “outer life’s” character formation. A thick concept of human flourishing pervades this DVD series: Human beings are not only free but are designed to flourish in virtue.


There are several worthwhile benefits to this DVD series. Below are some that come to mind:

  • It provides a workable framework for thinking about moral knowledge and its importance for character formation and development (here, one could supplement the DVD series with Dallas Willard’s Knowing Christ Today and David Horner’s Mind Your Faith).
  • It connects the realities of the current “financial crisis” with correlating moral problems like the “crisis in ethics.”
  • It offers discussion about character formation and not simply a primer on ethical theory.
  • It recognizes that capitalism as an economic system is not amoral but that economic life and endeavoring must be bound by knowledge of what is good.
  • It is interested in helping people conform to moral reality and not simply a discussion about the dialectic of historical or contemporary ethical theories.
  • It could be usefully incorporated, in whole or in part, in different learning environments.
  • It has a resourceful leader study guide, with helpful outlines, discussion prompts and recommendations to read more (although, mostly web sources at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview).

For local church small groups that I help lead, students that I teach, and for pastors that I try to resource, Doing the Right Thing is the helpful DVD learning resource that I can confidently entrust to others. In part two of my appraisal, I offer some thoughts about how to use this series.

Recommended EPS-ETS Panel Discussion (WEDNESDAY): On Public Ethics

From Being Right to Being Good
Recapturing Biblical Ethics & Virtuous Living in an Age of Relativism 

8:30-11:45 am
Parc 55 – Market Street
Room: A4


  • David Naugle, Distinguished Professor and Chair of Philosophy, Dallas Baptist University
  • Robert P. George, Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University
  • Michael Miller, Director of Programs, Acton Institute
  • Scott Rae, Professor and Chair of Philosophy of Religion, Talbot School of Theology
  • Charles Colson, Founder of Prison Fellowship, BreakPoint and the Colson Center for Christian Worldview
  • John Stonestreet, BreakPoint and the Colson Center for Christian Worldview


8:30-8:40:      Welcome and Introduction of Panelists (John Stonestreet)

8:40-8:55:      David Naugle, “Reordered Loves, Disordered Loves: Rethinking Vice and Virtue”

8:55-9:15:      Audience and Panel Response

9:15-9:45:      Robert George, “Ethics in an Age of Relativism” (via SKYPE)

9:45-10:00:    Audience and Panel Response

10:00-10:15:  Break

10:15-10:35:  Michael Miller, “Men Without Chests Revisited: Educating for Moral Imagination”   

10:35-10:45:  Audience and Panel Response

10:45-11:00:  David Naugle, “The University of Popular Culture – Faculty, Curriculum, and Grading Scale – The Real University Students Attend”

11:00-11:20:  Scott Rae, “From a Culture of Death to a Culture of Life: Virtue and the Contemporary Challenge of Bioethics”

11:20-11:30:  Audience and Panel Response

11:30-11:45:  Charles Colson, “Doing the Right Thing” (via SKYPE)

Why the Acton Institute? Philosophy’s Good Beyond Philosophy

When it comes to the question, “why do I enjoy studying philosophy?” or, if you will, “what motivates me to ‘do philosophy?’” I suppose that I have a simple answer: I want to become a more resourceful person to the people that I serve through whatever spheres of influence that I might have. In that regard, my view is that philosophy is not merely a handmaiden to theology and nor is it just an indispensable second-order discipline to serve other disciplines. But, really, philosophy is a handmaiden to life, a handmaiden to my life in service to others.
This view of philosophy’s practicality helps me decide how to think about my intellectual, moral, and spiritual appetites, their diet, their growth, philosophy’s place in my diet, and a course of action concerning how to get fed in order to feed others. I philosophize, therefore to serve others. At least that’s my goal.
Why is this important? For me, it means that philosophy’s good is far more than just merely “doing philosophy” for the sake of the health of philosophy as a discipline or philosophy for the good of the professional guild. As such, it means that I need to regularly fill my diet, especially my intellectual one, with more than just philosophical work for the sake of philosophical work. I want to know how philosophy has a touch-point with real life, actions, choices, routines, and relationships.
In my estimation, typical “philosophy conferences” are often inhospitable to reaching beyond the discipline and profession of philosophy with the good of philosophy (part of the reason why I intentionally self-discipline myself from attending most philosophy conferences in any given year). So, if I want to attend a conference, I ask, “How will this make me a more resourceful person?” Specifically, “will this help me recognize and utilize philosophy’s good as a handmaiden to life, especially the lives that I serve?” That’s my primary intention.
The work of the Acton Institute (, and especially their annual Acton University conference, is highly hospitable to this sort endeavor. Over the last several years, I have attended Acton University (second time this year, and happening now!), their Toward a Free and Virtuous Society events, and also co-sponsored Liberty Fund and Acton Institute events.
Honestly, I don’t know of any other conference or organization that intentionally affords the Christian philosopher the unique opportunity to engage in such interdisciplinary work at the intersection of theology, economics, and social policy. As a matter of enrichment (personally and professionally), I “come alive” at their gathering, my imagination is cultivated by the possibilities of how the theoretical and practical  goods of philosophy can converge and collaborate with other bodies of knowledge.
Acton’s intellectual architecture is intelligently designed to permit – no, encourage! – the good of philosophy to be utilized in this way.
The Mission of the Acton Institute is to promote a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles.

How could Christian philosophers not be stakeholders of such a mission?
If you are a Christian philosopher that is bored or maybe burnt-out with doing philosophy just for the sake of professional philosophy, connect with the Acton Institute! Subscribe to their stimulating, cutting-edge, and historically-mindful peer-review publication, the Journal of Markets and Morality.
If you are a Christian philosopher that longs for deep, abiding, rewarding interdisciplinary work that appreciates the convergence between a theology of human personhood and an economics of human action, come to Acton University! Regardless if you are an undergrad, grad, PhD, post-grad or professor of philosophy, come and belong.
Over the years, various EPS members have taught at Acton events (e.g., Scott Rae, Jay Richards, and Craig Mitchell immediately come to mind), they have collaborated with others to help create helpful content, and many more have attended numerous Acton-sponsored events.
For Christian philosophers, the work of the Acton Institute is for more than just the self-identified ethics professors (although, if you are a Christian ethics professor and you’ve never attended Acton University, may I simply say with all charity intended, shame on you!).
Briefly and rather quickly, here are some possible projects that EPS members could develop under the inspiration of the Acton Institute’s mission and endeavor:
  • Ontology of money, wealth, business, corruption, rights, civic order, freedom, virtue, public good, markets, social institutions and order, culture, power, law, human flourishing, envy, greed, wealth accumulation vs. divestment, work and play,  etc.
  • Philosophical anthropology of human persons and actions that’s most conducive to accounting for ordered freedom, human dignity, distinctiveness of humans as economic actors; our concept of human embodiment and the work that such a concept can do in light
  • Epistemological factors, ranging from which sources of knowledge and epistemic traditions are helpful to understanding the economics of human action; the epistemic status of “common grace” and natural moral law as a witness to human responsibilities and duties toward our neighbor.
  • In philosophy of religion, how our conceptions of the original sin, evil, and corruption have philosophical pay-off for a theology of economics; how our philosophical conceptions of creation, the created order, materiality have implication for understanding the nature of material culture and a theology of work.