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A natural law framework for understanding human action is an alternative to economists’ usual rational choice theory of action and utilitarian moral philosophy for evaluating the consequences of actions. Paul Oslington shows how this framework bridges faith and work’s usual focus on the individual, and economists’ focus on the system.
This paper outlines a natural law framework for understanding human action that is an alternative to economists’ usual rational choice theory of action and utilitarian moral philosophy for evaluating the consequences of actions. It draws on the new natural law theory developed by philosophers John Finnis, Germain Grisez and others over the last thirty years. In this framework, action is oriented to seven fundamental goods, moderated by and moderating stocks of virtue. Moral judgements are made on the basis of impacts of action on fundamental goods, and the formal model becomes a nondeterminative tool to assist such judgements.
For any proposed alternative to rational choice models and utilitarian moral philosophy to engage economists (and hence have an impact on public policy discussion) it must be articulated as a formal model, preferably a mathematical model. The framework proposed in this paper is articulated mathematically, albeit very simply. It is also illustrated through several examples of individual actions and public policy choices.
The paper is relevant to faith, work and economics because it allows theological perspectives on action and valuation to be brought into dialogue economic models, something that is difficult and rarely achieved in practise. It also provides a bridge between questions of individual action that have been the focus of the faith and work literature, and questions about the larger system that are the domain of economists.
Full Title : A Natural Law Framework for Human Action
Paul Oslington joined Alphacrucis College in 2013 as Professor of Economics and Dean of Business. Previously he had a joint appointment as Professor in the Faculties of Business and Theology at Australian Catholic University, Associate Professor of Economics at University of New South Wales, and visiting appointments at University of Oxford, University of British Columbia, Princeton Theological Seminary and Princeton University.
Publications include the books The Theory of International Trade and Unemployment, Economics and Religion, Adam Smith as Theologian, The Oxford Handbook of Christianity and Economics, Political Economy as Natural Theology: Smith Malthus and their Followers, and articles in economics and theology journals. His current major project is a book commissioned by Harvard University Press on the history of economic thinking in the Christian tradition.
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