Workplace Politics


Aristotle saw a close relationship between politics and ethics. He provided a view of the political life that was lacking in Plato’s philosophy. Aristotle’s approach legitimized political life and allowed each citizen to have access to the true order of things. Aristotle claimed that philosophic contemplation constituted the highest form of human life, however, he believed human beings could not perpetually engage in this contemplation. First of all, contemplation is a leisurely activity not often possible in political life. Though he affirmed the supremacy of philosophic life, Aristotle maintained that moral perfection could occur in political life. There are difficulties with pursuing moral perfection in this arena. Reason easily falls into error when the truth is exaggerated or a partial truth is mistaken for the whole truth. Businessmen and women confronts the perils of workplace politics on a regular basis.

Aristotle’s Politics revolves around the polis which “belongs to the class of things that exist by nature.”[1] Aristotle describes the final cause of a thing’s natures by defining its telos—that at which it aims—its end which he argues is the best. In the polis, self-sufficiency is the end, so it is the best. The polis that is self-sufficient aims to cultivate the good life for its citizens, helping insofar as it can to produce good and virtuous citizens with a distribution of power centered on the middle class. The best kind of constitution, for Aristotle, is that which promotes the middle class. Having a vested interest in keeping most of the power in the middle class helps to navigate away from the extremes of democracies and oligarchies. Aristotle sees government as an oversight committee of separate functions and bodies. According to Aristotle, the state was an organization which oversaw other organizations with separate functions.

Man alone knows that which is just and unjust. “Justice belongs to the polis.”[2] By his nature, man is bound to political life, the pursuit and acquisition of justice. This justice depends on the common pursuit by individuals who comprise the polis which exists by nature and is prior to the individual. Man as a singular entity is a part. As Aristotle famously put it, man is by nature a social animal. He is inexorably tied to the polis. The polis is the whole. To be a man or woman cut off from the polis is to be “either a beast or a god.”[3] The polis is prior to the individual because the whole is necessarily prior to the part. “If the whole body is destroyed, there will not be a foot or a hand, except in that ambiguous sense in which one uses the same word to indicate a different thing, as when one speaks of a ‘hand’ made of stone; for a hand, when destroyed will be no better than a stone ‘hand.’”[4]

In terms of his political philosophy, Aristotle defines virtue in relation to the polis. He or she who is isolated, and unable to share in the benefits of political association, must possess virtue; otherwise, they are “a most unholy and savage being, and worse than all others in the indulgence of lust and gluttony.”[5] Aristotle posits that within the polis, “a distinction is already marked, immediately at birth, between those of its members who are intended for being ruled and those who are intended to rule.”[6] Thus, being a virtuous person is that which is in accordance with a man’s nature. Being that man’s nature is rational and social, he or she must find a way to satisfy these parts of themselves in order to be whole as an individual and part of a whole of the polis. “[Mind] rules the appetite with the sort of authority of a statesman or a monarch.”[7]

The argument continues, “What holds good in man’s inner life also holds good outside it.”[8] The polis comes before family in the same way that family comes before man and man comes before animals. “Tame animals have a better nature than wild, and it is better for all such animals that they should be ruled by man because they then get the benefit of preservation.”[9] He argues that this ordering is a matter of nature. “A polis or state belongs to the order of ‘compounds,’ in the same way that all things form a single ‘whole.’ This ‘whole’ is composed of a number of different parts.”[10] He later states that the polis is “a compound made up of citizens.”[11] Aristotle posits that “a citizen proper is not one by virtue of residence in a given place.”[12] He mentions that the polis strives to provide justice and ensure a good life for its citizens.

Aristotle claims it is “possible to be a good citizen without possessing the excellence which is a quality of the good man.”[13] Being a good citizen requires performing the social function designated to him. It does not go by the same rubric that judges the quality of a good man. “[On] the assumption that the temperance and justice required for ruling have a special quality, and equally that the temperance and justice required for being a subject in a free state have their special quality, the excellence of the good man (e.g. his justice) will not be one sort of excellence.”[14] The theme of the ruler and the subject, or the tamer and the tamed, is of key importance for Aristotle. He says that one cannot be a ruler, as opposed to a tyrant, without having been ruled. The same principle is often applied in business. An individual is frequently promoted from within the company because he or she is familiar with the power structure.

There are struggles that are integral parts of reality for workers. A boss who is unable to grasp these struggles and work toward easing them is not a leader. A successful leader uses the combined talents and resources of workers in order to accomplish the common interest of the company. A tyrannical boss is one who seeks natural goods that are personal. Aristotle’s signature Cardinal virtue of prudence emerges again in his Politics. He says, “‘Prudence’ is the only form of goodness which is peculiar to the rule,” and goes on to say, “The form of goodness peculiar to subjects cannot be ‘prudence,’ and may be defined as ‘right opinion.’”[15] The other forms of goodness—temperance, justice, and courage—belong to rulers and subjects in equal fashion. Men desire to live a social life because they are “drawn together by a common interest, in proportion as each attains a share in good life. The good life is the chief end, both for the community as a whole and for each of us individually.”[16]

Aristotle claims that “man is by nature an animal intended to live in a polis.”[17] His argument for the polis as a structure of the natural world is based on social practices which man commonly holds in esteem. Aristotle’s focus with respect to social practices is the common good. As the polis operates in conjunction with its end, it is where man can attain a good life.[18] It is a place for human flourishing. Aristotle posits all associations to this polis have some good toward which man lends himself. For Aristotle, that which is just is ordered by associations that embody the cultivation of the good life. While the requirements of a good citizen apply to all citizens according to the constitution under which he lives and his social function, a good man is given his attainment of virtue in accordance with his nature. Though these distinctions may overlap, for Aristotle, being a good citizen does not mean the same as being a good man.

Moral perfection, for Aristotle, hinges on the development of proper habits—right thinking, right choice, and right behavior. The virtuous businessman or woman seeks the middle ground, mean between excess and deficiency, but mean is different for every person. Each mean is agent-relative. “In his Politics, as in his Ethics, Aristotle stresses the element of purpose. Just like human beings, the state is naturally endowed with a distinctive function.”[19] Happiness, while being a good in itself, can additionally fulfill a greater good. Aquinas believed the ultimate end was the supernatural end, but in terms of human affairs, he prioritized the greatest goods as the preservation of life, propagation and education of offspring, and pursuit of a peaceful society. “The state’s function was to keep the peace and thus secure the common good, but the common good has “no meaning for Aquinas except insofar as it results in the good of individuals.”[20]

Aquinas divided practical science into ethics, economics, and politics. He concluded that they “constitute not one science composed of three parts but three separate and specifically distinct sciences, thereby investing ethics and economics with an autonomy that they do not possess in the Aristotelian arrangement.”[21] Aquinas’s natural philosophy, his ethics, and political philosophy were inspired by Aristotle. Being a theologian, Aquinas peered through his theology like a lens when studying philosophy. His analysis of Aristotle’s Politics led to a paradigm shift away embracing Plato’s The Republic. The Politics, on the basis of Aquinas’s preference, meant more acceptance of the view of the “agreement between philosophy and the city and hence a greater openness to philosophy on the part of the city than The Republic.”[22]

Aquinas’s political philosophy is best understood as a modernization of Aristotle’s political philosophy in light of Christian revelation “or more precisely as an attempt to integrate Aristotle with an earlier tradition of Western Political thought represented by the Church Fathers and their medieval followers and compounded for the most part of elements taken from the Bible, Platonic-Stoic philosophy, and Roman Law.”[23] Aquinas distinguishes between “the domains of faith and of reason or between philosophy and theology, each of which is conceived as a complete and independent science.”[24] Fortin says Aquinas “looked upon Aristotelian philosophy as the most perfect expression of natural truth.”[25] Whereas Aristotle never speaks of natural law instead only natural right, Aquinas came to be regarded as the exponent of the natural law theory for the Western world.

Aristotle’s notion that more than all other animals man is a political and social being guided Aquinas’s political philosophy. Civil society was seen as something natural to man, not given by nature. Civil service was necessary for man to perfect his rational nature. “Only within the framework of civil society can man attain the fullness of life, so much so that the man who leads a solitary life away from the company of his fellow men either falls short of human perfection like a beast or has already exceeded that perfection and achieved a state of godlike self-sufficiency.”[26] Aquinas’s political philosophy is centered on the common good which takes precedence over the private good. “Through knowledge of the natural law man accedes directly to the common order of reason, over and above the political order to which he belongs as a citizen of a particular society.”[27]

In Aristotle’s ethics from which Aquinas draws his political philosophy, action may deviate from the norm by excess or defect. Virtue requires avoiding both extremes and the right mean to be observes at all times. This mean is relative to the agent. “The Ethics does state expressly that the mean of reason is the mean such as a prudent man, who is, as it were, a law unto himself, would determine it.”[28] Aquinas’s political philosophy, while highly influenced by Aristotle, also finds refuge in non-Aristotelian ideas such as natural law which supplies the most general standard for human behavior. This foundation on which man’s knowledge of the moral order rests is a major tenet of his vision of civic society. Aquinas’s narrative of man is one that purports a being whose knowing of moral rectitude is both innate and substantive to his core.

Law, for Aquinas, is the measure of action by which man is led to or restrained from acting. The word law (lex) is derived from ligare which means to bind. It binds man to his action. “[Law] has as its first and foremost purpose the ordering of the common good. To order something to the common good is the responsibility of the whole people, or of someone who represents the whole people.”[29] The enactment of law belongs to the whole of society whether by democratic action or at the hand of a ruler who is responsible for the collective whole. It is the responsibility whole of society and its steward to whom the end is directed to protect law as it is the glue which holds each individual responsible for his actions. Aquinas believe in the Aristotelian notion that law leads to virtue. For Aquinas, “[rational creatures] participate in eternal reason in that they have a natural inclination to their proper actions and ends.”[30]

Aquinas argued that in order for man to be perfectly virtuous, he must be upright when enacting laws about matters that are capable of being judged. He also believed that internal motivations were hidden thus in order to attain this level of perfect virtue man must not cast judgment on them. “Man possesses a natural aptitude for virtue but he needs a certain discipline to perfect that virtue.”[31] The capacity to act upright resulted, according to Aquinas, from a habit or interior disposition. In this way, moral virtue in the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition is acquired by the repetition of acts which the law prescribes and through the practice of habitual living under good laws. The rule and measure of action is the reason. Reason has the power to move the will. When man desires an end, reason commands that which must be done to accomplish it. It is in the character of law to be guided by reason.

Aquinas’s political philosophy meant more than the acceptance of Aristotle’s notion of an agreement between philosophy and the polis. It included eternal reason in which man participated. His rational nature is inclined toward proper actions and ends. Aristotle believed that the “best constitution for a city or kingdom is one in which one person rules in accordance with virtue, and under him there are others who govern in accordance with virtue, and all have some part in government because they are all eligible to govern and those who govern are chosen by all.”[32] Law is directed towards an end. “Every part is ordered to the whole as the imperfect is to the perfect. The individual is part of a perfect whole that is the community.”[33] As Aristotle said, “Man is the noblest of animals if he is perfect in virtue, but if he departs from law and justice he is the worst.”[34]

Having built his political philosophy on top of Aristotle’s foundation, Aquinas appropriated the length and breadth of ancient philosophic wisdom. Political life, according to both philosophers, was natural to man and necessary for the fulfillment of his human ends. “Aquinas, like Aristotle, viewed the moral perfection that comes from participation in political life as inferior to the intellectual excellence that comes from the perfection of human reason.”[35] It cannot lead to his ultimate perfection. “Aquinas’s theologically informed position is unparalleled in its ability to moderate the claims of political life and of classical philosophy, preventing either from giving exaggerated or incomplete accounts of the true nature of human life.”[36] Grace, for Aquinas, perfected human nature by elevating it to the supernatural end it could not have otherwise achieved on its own.

Aquinas’s approach affirmed intelligibility of grace and the harmony between revelation and reason. He subordinated Aristotle’s political philosophy to a transpolitical purpose for human activity. “Aquinas believed that such flourishing best occurs in the political community, ‘the most perfect of all human societies.’”[37] Virtuous habits required of businessmen and women who operate in the realm of workplace politics are as such because they serve basic goods and ideally supernatural ends as well. These political acts in the workplace perfect the acting person. Business has a political dimension, but the human being has a transpolitical nature. Working toward these ends perfects man and situates him within the natural social order. Aquinas’s cosmopolis broadens the businessman’s and woman’s moral horizon. Furthermore, the aim of the successful leader, the pundit of the workplace, prioritizes the greatest goods both within and around the business to be an extension of a transpolitical, ethical practice.

[1] Aristotle, “The Politics,” in Princeton Readings in Political Thought, ed. Mitchell Cohen and Nicole Fermon (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), 109.

[2] Aristotle, “The Politics,” 110.

[3] Aristotle, “The Politics,” 110.

[4] Aristotle, “The Politics,” 110.

[5] Aristotle, “The Politics,” 110.

[6] Aristotle, “The Politics,” 111.

[7] Aristotle, “The Politics,” 112.

[8] Aristotle, “The Politics,” 112.

[9] Aristotle, “The Politics,” 112.

[10] Aristotle, “The Politics,” 112.

[11] Aristotle, “The Politics,” 113.

[12] Aristotle, “The Politics,” 113.

[13] Aristotle, “The Politics,” 115.

[14] Aristotle, “The Politics,” 116.

[15] Aristotle, “The Politics,” 117.

[16] Aristotle, “The Politics,” 117.

[17] Aristotle, “The Politics,” 109.

[18] Aristotle, “The Politics,” 109.

[19] Stumpf and Fieser. Philosophy: History and Problems, 95.

[20] Stumpf and Fieser. Philosophy: History and Problems, 181.

[21] Ernest Fortin, “St. Thomas Aquinas,” in History of Political Philosophy ed. Leo Strauss, Joseph Cropsey (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012), 258.

[22] Fortin, “St. Thomas Aquinas,” 250.

[23] Fortin, “St. Thomas Aquinas,” 248.

[24] Fortin, “St. Thomas Aquinas,” 252.

[25] Fortin, “St. Thomas Aquinas,” 253.

[26] Fortin, “St. Thomas Aquinas,” 254.

[27] Fortin, “St. Thomas Aquinas,” 258.

[28] Fortin, “St. Thomas Aquinas,” 263.

[29] Aquinas, “Politics and Law,” in Princeton Readings in Political Thought, ed. Mitchell Cohen and Nicole Fermon (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996) 145.

[30] Aquinas, “Politics and Law,” 146.

[31] Aquinas, “Politics and Law,” 148.

[32] Aquinas, “Politics and Law,” 150.

[33] Aquinas, “Politics and Law,” 144.

[34] Aquinas, “Politics and Law,” 148.

[35] Marc D. Guerra, Christians as Political Animals: Taking the Measure of Modernity and Modern Democracy (Wilmington, Delaware: ISI Books, 2010), 68.

[36] Guerra, Christians as Political Animals, 69.

[37] Guerra, Christians as Political Animals, 126.


Ethical Economy


Adam Smith believed in a natural economic order expressed through competition, self-interest, and individual entrepreneurialism, an ethical economy. “[Smith’s] aim was to provide economic stimulus to business in reaction to the excessive state protectionism of mercantilism.”[1] He wished to assist business and individuals by promoting freedom from the control of the state. Smith’s doctrine on ethics, Theory of Moral Sentiments (TMS), laid the foundation for this moral and political system, and helped to fortify the egalitarian philosophy of the Scottish Enlightenment. Smith integrated this with his economics and political science in Wealth of Nations seventeen years later in an effort to develop an ethical economy. The result is a system of ethics with a moral framework for individuals and business in lieu of excessive state control.

The central idea in Smith’s ethical economy is the retention of wealth within a nation. He viewed all outside influence on the market as a force that would derail economic progress. His position was that the law of supply and demand was absolute, and it could be used to help build the economy. With it, Smith developed an ethical structure, a moral framework that reoriented the focus of wealth within a nation. While these principles can certainly be practiced in international trade, that fact is beyond the purview of Wealth of Nations. He is getting at the common good of the community, and focuses on the interactions between business owners and laborers. If the economy was to be controlled by the will of the people, the people needed to exercise good moral sense. This could not be achieved without a vigilant eye on the common good and justice. Otherwise, either under the runaway control of the state or the unrestrained will of the populace, property and individual wealth could be at risk.

Smith says labor has a real and a nominal price. Its real price is the quantity of the necessities and conveniences for which it can be exchanged; its nominal price is its valuation in money. “Labor alone, therefore, never varying in its own value, is alone the ultimate and real standard by which the value of all commodities can at all times and places be estimated and compared. It is their real price; money is their nominal price only.”[2] Smith claims labor was the original money, not gold or silver. Its value is “precisely equal to the quantity of labor which it can enable them to purchase or command.”[3] Though labor, for Smith, is the real value of all commodities, it is not the value by which commodities are commonly estimated. He observes, “[When] barter ceases, and money has become the common instrument of commerce, every particular commodity is more frequently exchanged for money than for any other commodity.”[4]

The proportion to which a nation is supplied with necessities and conveniences must be regulated, Smith argued, by two different circumstances. The first was the skill with which labor was applied and the second was by the proportion of employed laborers to those unemployed. The common good is a moral union of wills formed by many individuals acting through choice to pursue some good which each could not attain alone. Brian Mullady covers the common good and its effect on ethics in business. He says the common good is “a moral union of wills formed by many individuals acting through choice together to pursue some reasoning good which each could not attain if left to himself [or herself].”[5] He gives an analogy about bees whose concerted effort allows for the construction and execution of a complex society. Individuals herd together in order to achieve a common goal. Mullady comments on this herding instinct, “Since men are governed for their own sakes, they are governed as individuals and not just as members of a collective or herd.”[6]

It affords a sense of security. It may also provide real protection should a tyrant choose to act in such a way that goes against the better sense of the collective. Mullady is alluding to the danger of excessive state control. The purpose of authority is to provide for the common good. The common good works in tandem with the individual good in much the same way that order and end complement each other. Mullady says, “[A] true community order pursuant of a correct human end fulfills the individual.”[7] The common good is achieved by many; it cannot be achieved by the few. For Mullady, justice regards the “other.” This can mean a neighbor, a business associate, or the whole community. Mullady reminds us that the “due” is the right. “Justice is in the will because it involves realizing the good.”[8] Justice is more than the giving of rights. It restores balance between two parties. This balance is referred to as the “mean.” Mullady says, “The ‘formal object’ of this virtue is still to give another his due.”[9]

The subjective experience is an inductive personal perception. It is structured and orders habituated thoughts and actions. These personal truths orient the agent within a value system. Once sense-information is judged qualitatively, the end becomes the objective—that which the agent desires to ascertain. The agent reorders his or her volitional patterns in order to accommodate for this objective. Ethics is having identified the proper means to a proper end. Ethics has import for both the virtuous agent, the subject, and the end, the object. Virtue perfects the agent; it is not so much about the product as it is about the formational interior of the producer. The agent is relative to the work being performed. The work necessitates a worker, therefore, the subjective is prior to the objective. Work is ordered such that it begins in the subjective agent and perfects the objective end. The agent seeks to perfect the end, for instance, a material good. The practice is also formational for the agent.

As volitional patterns adapt, the agent develops. “Art makes the work good; ethics make both the work and the worker good.”[10] Doing the work is necessary. The work is objective, but the effects are agent-relative. The “subject” refers the person performing—the root of which is ‘form’—the work. According to Mullady, “Two weaknesses follow from this. The first is that competition enters economics. This is not a healthy competition to provide a better product or service but is solely motivated by the desire to increase wealth at the expense of other. The second is that man now thinks he is the absolute master of the material world and can do what he likes with it.”[11] He goes on, “Property is a demonstrative conclusion from the principles of the natural law which encourage man to develop his material goods for his own personal perfection and for the perfection of the common good of society.”[12] Social duty, for Mullady, goes along with wealth. There is a duty to furnish a just product or service and a just wage.

Since the common good involves the end and order, the community has a legal right to demand certain goods. Justice obliges members of the community and the community can demand other virtues rooted in natural law for its maintenance. Aquinas’s first principle is not an article of faith but a metaphysical truth. From this, we understand issues through reason as well as through revelation. Adam Smith says in Wealth of Nations, “[Man] has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favor, and show them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them.”[13] Scholars agree, “[The] common good has no meaning for Aquinas except insofar as it results in the good of individuals.”[14]

Smith points out that whoever should offer to another a bargain of any kind, knowingly or unknowingly, is proposing to do just this. He summarizes the sentiment “Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want”[15] as the manner by which we obtain from one another the far greater part of those goods. Mike Hill and Warren Montag paint a picture in their book The Other Adam Smith that Smith is generally considered the proponent of ethical restraint based on recognition of the other, the impartial spectator. He pursued a strategy “that resists the transindividual dimension of human interaction, and does so by means of the very vocabulary of transindividuality. Thus, the objective of the TMS is not so much to refute or disprove the idea of a transindividual dimension as it is to render it unimaginable.”[16] The politics of transindividuality is generally associated with the philosophy of right by Hegel and the economic philosophy of Marx.

Smith’s Wealth of Nations maintains that all parties involves obtain from one another the greater part of those mutual good, by treaty, barter, and purchase, when the individual, through his or her deeds, works toward the common good. Christel Fricke and Dagfinn Føllesdal write in their book Intersubjectivity and Objectivity in Adam Smith and Edmund Husserl, “Smith’s philosophical work is focused on topics belonging to the realm of practical philosophy. Apart from a few essays on rhetorics, aesthetics, and the history of science, he mainly wrote and lectured about moral theory, economics and the philosophy of law.”[17] Smith says himself that, by pursuing his own interest, a man or woman promotes that of the society better than if they had intended to promote it. This is the jewel of Smith’s ethical economy.

The system given by Smith in Wealth of Nations has a lot in common with the notions of ethics promulgated by Aristotle and Aquinas. Smith even uses the term ‘prudence’ as the fulcrum upon which his ethical economy rests, and the mechanics behave the same. He’s getting at a middle path, a golden mean, via prudential deliberation. Smith’s ideas in Wealth of Nations circle around the division of labor which, he says, is not originally the effect of any great feat of human wisdom, foresight, or supernatural intention. So many advantages are derived from this division of labor. Smith says, “It is the necessary, though very slow and gradual, consequence of a certain propensity in human nature which has in view no such extensive utility: the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another.”[18] He also shares the belief that the difference between dissimilar characters seems to arise not so much from nature but from habit, custom, and education.

Smith insists that a worker of the lowest and poorest order, if he or she is frugal and industrious, can enjoy a greater share of the conveniences of life than if they were left to other, more savage devices. Furthermore, it was his philosophy that the number of useful and productive laborers would always be in proportion to the capital stock used to employ them. Though his vision feels like the capitalism framed by the American dream, it’s really more about the value add of the division of labor. He mentions that while it may happen that a single worker has stock sufficient both to purchase the materials of his work, and to maintain himself until it is completed, as both master and worker as it were, and enjoys the whole value, that this includes what is usually designated as two distinct revenue streams belonging to two distinct individuals, the profits of stock and the wages of labor.

He goes on to stress his point by contrast of allegories, one where a sole worker bears the brunt of these efforts in order to monopolize stock and save on wages and one where ten workers who exert themselves in tandem to produce upwards of forty-eight thousand pins in a single day. The take-away is, in this latter model, each individual produced four thousand eight hundred pins each de facto. It would be inconceivable for one individual to accomplish alone the same volume of production. Smith’s theory of a division of labor allowed for an extraordinarily more productive business model. The fruits of the labor were far greater than the sum of their theoretical separate parts. Modern business practices are impoverished by the distance between economics and ethics. It is assumed that, had this been observed today instead of Smith’s day, neither company stock nor a just wage would be extended to the workers as incentive to perform.

In Robert George’s essay Business and Family in a Decent and Dynamic Society, he reminds us that business is a calling, even a vocation, a way of serving from which the logic of stewardship has seemingly disappeared. George says, “Utilitarian ethic reduces the human person to a means rather than an end.”[19] His argument is that the success of businesses and the economy as a whole depends on a system of ethics for the administration of justice. He is confident that if everyone were perfectly virtuous all of the time, humanity would still need a system of laws to accomplish many ends for the common good. For George, the two pillars of social dynamism are: institutions of research and education in which the frontiers of knowledge are pushed back and through which knowledge is transmitted to students and disseminated to the public; and businesses which generate, distribute, and preserve wealth.

He raises an interesting point. “Business cannot manufacture honest, hard working people to employ. Nor can government create them by law. Businesses depend on there being many such people, but they must rely on the family, assisted by religious communities and other institutions of civil society, to produce them.”[20] Since business has a stake in the health of the community, it should avoid doing anything to cause it harm. Business should do what it can where it can to strengthen the fabric of society instead of tarnishing it with the shortsighted practice of profiteering. The converse, however, according to George, is also true. Business has made upward economic and social mobility possible for countless individuals. Even when government rather than business supplies the money, it is business that is generating the wealth that government distributes. For George, business is a pillar of decent and dynamic societies.

Business and Family in a Decent and Dynamic Society resolves to and revolves around one central tenet which also seems to be the crux of Smith’s ethical economy: “Just as the family has a stake in business, which, after all, provides employment and compensation, and which generates economic prosperity and with it social mobility, business has a stake in the family.”[21] Smith saw economics as a branch of moral philosophy. He is well-known for the passage, “[By] directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.”[22] Roger Scruton reminds us that “The very same ‘invisible hand’ that, according to [Smith], produces public good from the pursuit of private profit, produces private profit from the pursuit of public good. Moral and economic values are not in competition but, in the right context, to pursue the one is to obtain the other.”[23]

Smith’s ethical economy is not synonymous with laissez-faire capitalism which is characterized by the absence of government involvement in the free market. The basic good of Smith’s vision included a moral sentiment. He recognized that justice factored into economics. Smith was a proponent of the middle way, economic moderation with respect to the government—not excessive state control or deficient state involvement. His system offered a practical solution to the problems which always seem to bubble up when the alternative economic models are implemented. He addresses this directly. “No regulation of commerce can increase the quantity of industry in any society beyond what its capital can maintain. It can only divert a part of it into a direction into which it might not otherwise have gone;” He goes on, “[It] is by no means certain that this artificial direction is likely to be more advantageous to the society than that into which it would have gone of its own accord.”[24]

While this passage is prone to misinterpretation by supporters of laissez-faire capitalism, Smith was himself a strong supporter of the notion of providing for the community from within. Dodging this aspect of his philosophy drastically diminishes not only its charm but ultimately its effectiveness. Smith elaborates, “He saves himself the risk and trouble of exportation, when, so far as he can, he thus converts his foreign trade of consumption into a home trade. “Home is in this manner the center,”[25] and continues, “around which the capitals of the inhabitants of every country are continually circulating, and toward which they are always tending, though by particular causes they may sometimes be driven off and repelled from it toward more distant employments.”[26] He concludes, “[Every] individual who employs his capital in the support of domestic industry necessarily endeavors so to direct that industry that its produce may be of the greatest possible value.”[27]

In Adam Smith, Radical and Egalitarian: An Interpretation for the 21st Century, Iain McLean says that in his lifetime, Smith had “seen his economic doctrines adopted by leading politicians of both parties. His ethical doctrines, probably more important to Smith himself, percolated into public life in more devious ways; then, after his death, his economic doctrines came to be presented in a very partial way.”[28] When a worker quits his post, nature does nothing to support him or her. Like nature, a functioning economy, an ethical economy, will work with you, but not for you. For Smith, prudence is one of superior of personal qualifications of the mind along with justice and fortitude. “The qualifications of the mind can alone give very great authority.”[29] Hard work and determination pay off. Often times, with hard work, there is a surplus of abundance which the worker is able to exchange for goods—ideally for the greater good. This fact along should encourage and empower the individual to apply himself or herself “to cultivate and bring to perfection whatever talent or genius he may possess for that particular species of business.”[30]

[1] Mullady, Christian Social Order, 15.

[2] Adam Smith, “Wealth of Nations,” in Princeton Readings in Political Thought, ed. Mitchell Cohen and Nicole Fermon (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), 321.

[3] Smith, “Wealth of Nations,” 319.

[4] Smith, “Wealth of Nations,” 320.

[5] Mullady, Christian Social Order, 9.

[6] Mullady, Christian Social Order, 12.

[7] Mullady, Christian Social Order, 44.

[8] Mullady, Christian Social Order, 95.

[9] Mullady, Christian Social Order, 99.

[10] Mullady, Christian Social Order, 176.

[11] Mullady, Christian Social Order, 173.

[12] Mullady, Christian Social Order, 173.

[13] Smith, “Wealth of Nations,” 318.

[14] Samuel Enoch Stumpf and James Fieser, Philosophy: History and Problems (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003), 181.

[15] Smith, “Wealth of Nations,” 318.

[16] Mike Hill and Warren Montag, The Other Adam Smith (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2014), 24.

[17] Fricke, Christel, and Dagfinn Føllesdal. Intersubjectivity and Objectivity in Adam Smith and Edmund Husserl (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2012), 5.

[18] Smith, “Wealth of Nations,” 317.

[19] Robert P. George, “Business and Family in a Decent and Dynamic Society.” in Profit, Prudence and Virtue: Essays in Ethics, Business and Management, ed. James Stoner and Samuel Gregg (Exeter: Imprint Academic, 2009), 50.

[20] George, “Business and Family in a Decent and Dynamic Society,” 55.

[21] George, “Business and Family in a Decent and Dynamic Society,” 57.

[22] Smith, “Wealth of Nations,” 326.

[23] Scruton, “Virtue and Profit,” 18.

[24] Smith, “Wealth of Nations,” 325.

[25] Smith, “Wealth of Nations,” 326.

[26] Smith, “Wealth of Nations,” 326.

[27] Smith, “Wealth of Nations,” 326.

[28] Iain McLean, Adam Smith, Radical and Egalitarian: An Interpretation for the 21st Century (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006), 24.

[29] Smith, “Wealth of Nations,” 329.

[30] Smith, “Wealth of Nations,” 319.