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Sun Jul 26 15:10:43 CEST 2015

Thanks to Richard Norgaard for an insightful and provocative essay.

I would just like to add a reference of likely interest to others, and to
raise a question regarding the puzzling quote from Frank Knight.

It is becoming more usual nowadays to analyze various fields of thought =E2=
a religion.=E2=80=9D Sometimes this is just a rhetorical ploy to discredit =
a field
of thought in the eyes of secular post-modernists who consider all religion
as fantasy or lunacy. But other scholars develop logically well-founded and
instructive parallels, as is the case with Norgaard=E2=80=99s essay.

Another economist who has cogently and extensively developed this line of
thought regarding economics is my former colleague, Robert H. Nelson (see
his Economics as Religion, and The New Holy Wars (Economic Religion vs.
Environmental Religion). Also, I recently learned that there is an emerging
field devoted to this kind of study, with its own Journal of Implicit
Religion. The occurrence of implicit religion is by no means limited to
economics, but can equally be found in other fields, including biology and

Regarding the puzzling quote from Knight:

=E2=80=9CTo inquire into the ultimates behind accepted group values is obsc=
ene and
sacrilegious: objective inquiry is an attempt to uncover the nakedness of
man, his soul as well as his body, his deeds, his culture, and his very

Certainly the large general [economics] courses should be prevented from
raising any question about objectivity, but should assume the objectivity
of the slogans they inculcate, as a sacred feature of the system.=E2=80=9D

I found this obscure and submit for discussion my attempt to interpret it:
namely that Knight has assumed that =E2=80=9Cultimates=E2=80=9D are either =
unreal or
destructive, and therefore any objective inquiry into their nature would
only undercut, the =E2=80=9C=E2=80=9Cprinciples=E2=80=9D by which a society=
 or a group lives in
tolerable harmony.=E2=80=9D This, of course, is implicit religion from Knig=
metaphysical proposition that there probably are no objective values, and
even if there are, we are better off not inquiring about them. The social
goal of =E2=80=9Ctolerable harmony=E2=80=9D justifies our conventional econ=
omic ideology,
which cannot withstand objective questioning.

Alternatively, Nelson suggests that Knight was less a cynical pragmatist
than a secular Calvinist who believed that original sin renders natural man
incapable of achieving objective goodness even if it exists. However, that
original sin would not also preclude attainment of pseudo-ultimate free
market values seems to have been assumed as well by Knight. Perhaps
Knight=E2=80=99s hope was that market principles, although flawed as he rec=
would allow a society in which people, though unable to perceive or agree
on the objective authority of the ultimate good, could nevertheless exist
in =E2=80=9Ctolerable harmony=E2=80=9D.

The =E2=80=9Cexplicit religion=E2=80=9D of Christianity (including Calvinis=
m) affirms that
ultimate value really does exist, and that by divine grace man may, albeit
with error, recognize it, and respond to its lure. However, in fairness to
Knight, who was not a Christian, one must admit that, from the perspective
of today=E2=80=99s politics, =E2=80=9Ctolerable harmony=E2=80=9D looks pret=
ty good.

--Herman Daly


Friday, October 30, 2015

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