Workshop 7B economy

Teunis Brand – Sovereign or fragile? The Quest for the Legitimacy of the Free Market

According to the founding fathers of reformational philosophy – Abraham Kuyper and Herman Dooyeweerd – society consists of a diversity of sovereign spheres. This paper aims to analyse the meaning of sphere sovereignty in the case of the market. On what rests the legitimacy of the market as a sovereign sphere, and what are the limits of this sovereignty? The idea of sphere sovereignty aims to do justice to the richness and diversity of created reality (associational plurality), and to create room for contextual and directional plurality (Griffioen and Mouw 1993). I will argue that in current modern societies it is more important to stress the interconnectedness between the market, the state, and civil society then its sovereignty. The sovereignty of the market in neoclassical economic theory in relation to civil society (and also in relation to the state) has often been prone to misinterpretation, resulting in a view of the market as an amoral sphere in which actors should pursue their self-interest (within the limits of the law andgeneralmoral norms). This view is based on the idea of the market as an harmonious order, in which pursuing self-interest converges with the common good. History and research has shown that this is not the case. The market ­– like any other human institution – is fragile: the private and the public good often do not converge in the market, and the societal function of the market can be destroyed by the actions of actors (Dubbink 2004). The market as a social institution has strengths but also weaknesses. A lot of preconditions have to be in place for the market to work properly. If it is indeed true that the market is fragile, and that it is (and should be) heavily interconnected with state and civil society, the question is raised what is left of the idea of sovereignty. Can we still speak of a ‘free market’ and how is this to be legitimized? In neoclassical economic theory, the legitimation of the market rests upon its efficiency in producing and allocating goods and services (Heath 2014). Although this account has some value, it is a reductionist account of the legitimacy of the market. I will argue that a legitimation of the market as a relative autonomous sphere will have to make some reference to the capability of human beings of free and responsible exercise and the capability of being useful to one another (Bruni and Sugden 2008). This also provides criteria for evaluating the working of the market mechanism (beside the more common ‘efficiency’ criteria).I will try to draw some implications of this view on markets for business ethics. One of them is that research should focus on the question which circumstances and institutional design foster well-functioning markets(Paine 2000), instead of focussing only on business ethicsat the level of individual firms.


Mouw, R. J., &Griffioen, S. (1993). Pluralisms and horizons: an essay in Christian public philosophy. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans.

Dubbink, W. (2004). The Fragile Structure of Free-Market Society: The Radical Implications of Corporate Social Responsibility. Business Ethics Quarterly, 14(1), 23–46.

Bruni, L., & Sugden, R. (2008). Fraternity: why the market need not be a morally free zone. Economics and Philosophy, 24(01).

Heath, J. (2014). Morality, competition, and the firm: the market failures approach to business ethics. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, USA.

Paine, L. S. (2000). Does Ethics Pay? Business Ethics Quarterly, 10(1), 319.

Dr. Steven van den Heuvel – ‘Hope’ as Essential Capacity for Human Development: Broadening the Capabilities Approach

Recent decades have seen the growth of a new way of measuring human development: the Capabilities Approach (CA). Instead of trying to measure human well-being by means of measuring only the GNP, the CA, rather, measures the freedom human beings have to develop themselves. The pioneer of the CA was Amartya Sen, who stressed that development should focus on empowering people by securing their rights to have, and their possibilities to gain and maintain, a number of central capabilities (such as literacy).

What exactly these capabilities are is a matter of debate within the CA. While Sen refuses to draw up a definite list, Martha C. Nussbaum, who together with Sen is one of the most important advocates of the capabilities approach, has developed a (slightly evolving) list(for the latest version, cf. Nussbaum, 2006, p. 76-78). Specifically focusing on her account, it is remarkable to note that she does not recognize hope as a central capability. It seems that Nussbaum conceives of ‘hope’ to be the outcome or result of the ability of human beings to fully develop their capabilities, rather than it being the motivation to work and fight for the granting of these capabilities.

This lack of motivational ‘push’ in her version of the CA is recognized by others as well. Jayawickreme and Pawelski, for example, argue that the CA in general, and Nussbaum’s version of it in particular, fails to pay sufficient attention to the subjective side of well-being – coming from the background of positive psychology, they argue for including ‘positivity’ as a central capability, because it helps to defines well-being (Jayawickreme & Pawelski, 2013).While their criticism is valid, what is lacking in their proposal for adding ‘positivity’ as a capability is a directedness towards the future (which is implied in the concept of ‘hope’), an emphasis that can be found in the work of other positive psychologists, such as C.R. Snyder (for an overview of the theme of ‘hope’ in positive psychology, cf. Rand & Cheavens, 2009).

Also economists recognize the importance of ‘hope’, especially in the context of development economics (which is the same field towards which the CA was developed). Lybbert and Wydick, for instance, develop a model of hope which, according to them, illustrates “the potential power of hope to influence actions, effort, and outcomes” (Lybbert & Wydick, forthcoming, p. 2).

Furthermore, also in philosophy and theology ‘hope’ is recognized to be of fundamental importance for human functioning. In philosophy,the Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch spoke about ‘the principle of hope’ – his thought was, in turn, important for theology: it strongly influenced Jürgen Moltmann, the ‘theologian of hope’ in the 20th century, who recently re-iterated his proposal for a ‘transformative eschatology’ in which ‘hope’ is essential in helping to spur people on to work for a better future (Moltmann, 2010, pp. 53-60).

On the basis of this rather broad overview of the importance of ‘hope’ as a theme in positive psychology, economics, philosophy and theology, in this paper I will make a specific proposal for the inclusion of ‘hope’ as a fundamental capability in the CA.


Jayawickreme, Eranda, and James O. Pawelski. “Positivity and the Capabilities Approach.” Philosophical Psychology 26, no. 3 (2013): 383-400.

Nussbaum, Martha C.Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2006.

Duflo, “Hope as Capability.” Tanner Lectures, May 2012.

Lybbert, Travis J., and Bruce Wydick. “Poverty, Aspirations, and the Economics of Hope.” Economic Development and Cultural Change, forthcoming.

Moltmann, Jürgen. “Transformative Eschatologie.” In Ethik der Hoffnung, 53-60. Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2010.

Rand, Kevin L., and Jennifer S. Cheavens. “Hope Theory.” In Shane J. Lopez and C. R. Snyder, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology, 323-333. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Dr. Theodros Assefa Teklu – A Milieu of Scarcity and Divine Fecundity

Scarcity – which refers to the ‘fact’ or belief that there is not enough for everyone – has been regarded as something that conditions our human (co-)existence. Whether as a descriptive fact (that there are finite resources in the world) or as a normative concept (as a precondition for economic exchange), economic scarcity seems to be inevitably and intricately linked to our human condition. Of course, scarcity cannot be divorced from how we conceive, imagine or construe ourselves. For this reason it wouldn’t be inappropriate to describe scarcity as an imagination,or even as a regime, that constitutes and shapes our modern subjectivity. If one should consider Jean-Paul Sartre’s phenomenological analysis of scarcity seriously, we live in a “milieu of scarcity” that modifies our reciprocity or inter-subjectivity. Implied in this conception is the reality of violence – not necessarily spectacular violence but what may be labelled as “the violence of things”(à la Engels)that remainsoverlooked by modern economic theories(echoing Louis Althusser and Étienne Balibar).

In this paper, I aim to enquire the role scarcity plays in social determination and how this could be addressed in the philosophy of economy. To this end, this paper will proceed in three stages. First, I shall start with arehearsal of Sartre’s epistemic privilegingof scarcity insofar as I shall demonstrate that scarcity constitutes the milieu in which we live. This goes against current intellectual trends that undermine the concept of scarcity as a 19th century (Malthussian) sensibility manifested in a situation that can be defined as the war of all against all. While Sartre offers an analysis of scarcity that promotesreflective sobriety, he nevertheless conceives humans as constituted by an original, or primordial, lack – thereby, creating a condition of negativity that can never be overcome.This will lead to the second stage in which I seek to offer a response to Sartre’s account of negativity by drawing mainly onSergiusBulgakov’sPhilosophy of Economy that generates a Christian ontology of economic agencyrooted in participation in divine life, which is characterised by fecundity. It will be argued that human creative activity synthesises freedom and necessity and that necessity should permit freedom to prevail within a milieu of scarcity. Finally, I shall conclude byaccentuating the resultant topology of politics andby reflecting on the critical capacity of Christianity in society.

Key References:

Althusser, Louis and Étienne Balibar. Reading Capital. London: Verso, 1979.

Bulgakov, Sergius. Philosophy of Economy: The World as Household. Translated and edited by Catherine Evtuhov. New Haven: Yale University, 2000.

Catalano, Joseph. A Commentary on Jean-Paul Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason, Vol.1, Theory of Practical Ensembles. Chicago and London: Chicago University Press, 1986.

Desmond, William. Ethics and the Between. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2001.

Milbank, John. Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason. Oxford: Blackwell, 2006.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Critique of Dialectical Reason, Vol.1, Theory of Practical Ensembles. trans. Alan Sheridan-Smith. London and New York: Verso, 1985.