Economics And Ethics -- By: John Bascom

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 062:246 (Apr 1905)
Article: Economics And Ethics
Author: John Bascom

Economics And Ethics

John Bascom

We are always inclined to magnify new causes under consideration and to minimize the familiar ones to which we are opposing them. Discovery is rarely a clean-cut affair in which we assign to all the elements involved their due influence. It is rather made up of counter-exaggerations which slowly correct each other. Thought at length settles, like an exhausted pendulum, at the point of equilibrium.

Ethical impulses, just or unjust, are likely to occupy a first position in human philosophy, and when they are partially displaced by the physical causes which accompany them, these last begin to rapidly occupy the entire ground. This they do the more readily as they exclude much extravagant and fanciful reasoning by fixed connections. We feel sure that we are making progress in substituting the real for the imaginary.

While this tendency is to be accepted, it has its own dangers. When the process is complete, we have put a dry and mechanical movement in place of a vital and spiritual one. Satisfactory as our explanatory method may seem to have been, it has not touched the very nature of that to which it has been applied. We have dissolved out of the leaf that which alone made it a living product, and are left with the mere skeleton on which the green tissue was stretched.

To trace the conditions under which ethical activity is developed is interesting and instructive, but we have not thereby

reached the very substance of the phenomena involved. Some speak as if Ethics grew out of Economics, and was simply a ripe development of commercial relations; as if there were an “economic interpretation of history “which reaches to its central forces. Economics and Ethics are undoubtedly closely interlocked, but neither of them explains the other. The two sets of causes, in their independent qualities and constant interaction, are necessary to the growth of society, and to the interpretation of human life. An economic rendering of history is no more complete in itself than an ethical rendering. The two sustain and expound each other.

We wish to define somewhat carefully this interdependence of the two departments of activity: and we do it not only in correction of the theory of social life, but because there is growing up among us the feeling that business has its own rights and liberties, and that those in the pursuit of wealth are limited only by the obligations which current economic opinion and maxims of trade lay upon them. This notion of the nature and authority of economic law has become a stumbling-block in the development of higher social relations and spiritual life. Our safety even as a people must turn on o...

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