The Political Economy of 19th Century Philosophers (Group 6)

The Political Economy is a complex term that is challenging to define clearly. The term politics rooted in the definition, “of, for, or relating to citizens” whereas the term economy is rooted in “household management”.  Today this term is defined as the study of production and trade in relations with customs, government, and distribution of national income and wealth.  Philosopher John Ruskin’s theory on the origins of political economy is utilized to further our understanding in addition to Karl Marx’s input on this matter.

John Ruskin believed the political economy was a theoretical response to the vast expansion of manufacturing industry in the late eighteenth century and the consequent rise to power of middle-class entrepreneurs. The subsequent product is the oppression of the working class. One that is caused by the division of labor proposed by philosopher Adam Smith. 

Karl Marx takes this concept further by highlighting specific weaknesses in the political economy. For one, it does not factor in the labor that is exerted by the laborer, instead it considers only the capitalist’s labor production needs. This system does not explicitly define the value of labor, of capital, and the connection between capital and land.

Political economy throws no light on the cause of the division between labor and capital, and between capital and land. When, for example, it defines the relationship of wages to profit, it takes the interest of the capitalists to be the ultimate cause, i.e., it takes for granted what it is supposed to explain.”

Secondly, it does not predict the evolution of ideal situations turning harmful. Performing self-actualizing work such as crafting arts will eventually lead to patrons or interested consumers. The artist then becomes a businessperson due to their product’s success. Eventually, he or she will expand their business and prey on smaller ventures. Competition was fair at first, but then it grows into a monopoly. This is all driven by greed in wanting more from our products and to want even more from labor. 

Precisely because political economy does not grasp the way the movement is connected, it was possible to oppose, for instance, the doctrine of competition to the doctrine of monopoly, the doctrine of the freedom of the crafts to the doctrine of the guild, the doctrine of the division of landed property to the doctrine of the big estate – for competition, freedom of the crafts and the division of landed property were explained and comprehended only as accidental, premeditated and violent consequences of monopoly, of the guild system, and of feudal property, not as their necessary, inevitable and natural consequences.”

The Role of Virtue in Pursuit of the Common Good (Group 6)

Drawing upon three moralist philosophers that is John Locke, William Blake, and Pope Francis, we explore the role of good virtues of altruism in the pursuit of common good. We asked ourselves, “what are the roles of mercy, pity, peace, and love in a prosperous society?” to which a few strong answers emerged.

For John Locke, concepts of equality, of justice, and of respect are birthed by our love for one another. He claimed, This equality of men by nature…that he makes it the foundation of that obligation to mutual love amongst men, on which he builds the duties they owe one another, and from whence he derives the great maxims of justice and charity” (Chpt. 2 Sec. 5). He goes on to paraphrase the Golden Rule of Christianity in which, “Do unto others as you would have them done unto you” when he stated, “…so that if I do harm, I must look to suffer, there being no reason that others should shew greater measure of love to me, than they have by me shewed unto them” (Chpt. 2 Sec. 5). This rule reinforces the notion that we are bound to each other by good actions else evil deeds, such as vengeance or wraith, would lead us to ruin. 

Pope Francis is then a believer of Locke’s principles as well. In his Papal Encyclical, he called for “social peace… stability and security” that is found through distributive justice (Chpt. 4, Passage 157). Virtues of mercy, pity peace, and love are contributive to the common good therefore it is quintessential to an equal society. If Locke’s philosophy rings true, then an equal society is a loving society. Furthermore, Pope Francis asks us to think of our climate and environmental problems of which are products of corporate greed and short-term thinking (Chpt. 1, Passage 25). The link we share with nature, ourselves, and with God is the earth we inhabit. Destroying what little we share is harmful to our greater good thus he (Pope Francis) calls on society to unify in said virtues before it is too late.

William Blake is another proponent for said virtues although he perceives love within humanity much differently than Locke. Through Songs of Innocence and Experience, we’re able to witness Blake’s philosophy of humanly love, of which is a spiritual and emotional bond we all share. It is feelings of compassion, and altruism that binds our society as opposed to Locke’s belief in equality. Locke agreed with a monetary system of trading, one that is a result of a surplus in resources, of which inequalities are a by-product. If he is a proponent of such inequalities then he is not a proponent of the love he claimed exists. Blake on the other hand, has humanist principles about him that is found throughout his works in experience. He perceived poverty as a result of greed in which the road to salvation is traveled only by those selfless.

All three philosophers are wise to their own end, but none have the solutions to societal woes because we are complicated creatures with dual complexes. The virtues we mentioned are difficult in practice especially on a large scale, but perhaps we should take a step back. Perhaps our practice of said virtues on a smaller scale, one that is the size of our daily lives, is the first step to finding the common good. 

God’s Expectation of our Stewardship as Discussed by John Locke

HUMN 221-09 Group 6:

Two Treatises of Government, John Locke (Passage 32)

“But the chief matter of property being now not the fruits of the earth, and the beasts that subsist on it, but the earth itself; as that which takes in and carries with it all the rest; I think it is plain, that property in that too is acquired as the former. As much land as a man tills, plants, improves, cultivates, and can use the product of, so much is his property. He by his labour does, as it were, inclose it from the common. Nor will it invalidate his right, to say every body else has an equal title to it; and therefore he cannot appropriate, he cannot inclose, without the consent of all his fellow-commoners, all mankind. God, when he gave the world in common to all mankind, commanded man also to labour, and the penury of his condition required it of him. God and his reason commanded him to subdue the earth, i.e. improve it for the benefit of life, and therein lay out something upon it that was his own, his labour. He that in obedience to this command of God, subdued, tilled and sowed any part of it, thereby annexed to it something that was his property, which another had no title to, nor could without injury take from him.”

In passage 32 of Two Treatises of Government, Locke stated, “God and his reason commanded him to subdue the earth, i.e. improve it for the benefit of life, and therein lay out something upon it that was his own, his labour.” We interpret this statement as God placing onto man the responsibility to till the earth for the betterment of humankind and that he (man) is entitled to the fruits of his labor in the process. The ownership of land however, is for everyone as God has given the whole of mankind the earth to till. In today’s throwaway culture, we have failed to meet the expectation quoted, “improve it for the benefit of life” because we haven’t kept resources bountiful for our future generations.


“These problems are closely linked to a throwaway culture which affects the excluded just as it quickly reduces things to rubbish. To cite one example, most of the paper we produce is thrown away and not recycled. It is hard for us to accept that the way natural ecosystems work is exemplary: plants synthesize nutrients which feed herbivores; these in turn become food for carnivores, which produce significant quantities of organic waste which give rise to new generations of plants. But our industrial system, at the end of its cycle of production and consumption, has not developed the capacity to absorb and reuse waste and by-products. We have not yet managed to adopt a circular model of production capable of preserving resources for present and future generations, while limiting as much as possible the use of non-renewable resources, moderating their consumption, maximizing their efficient use, reusing and recycling them. A serious consideration of this issue would be one way of counteracting the throwaway culture which affects the entire planet, but it must be said that only limited progress has been made in this regard.”

Pope Francis shared this belief in passage 22 of his encyclical because he stated that our culture is one of throwaway by which we’re prone to excess waste as opposed to recycling. This attitude is responsible for destroying our environment through waste pollution, resource depletion, and interrupting the ecosystem of the world. Life, in all its forms whether it be plants or animals, are thus a part of our stewardship. This correlates with John Locke’s belief that we are to till the earth for the improvement of life due to our failure to do so.