Caritas in Veritate
Social Encyclicals are not written by social scientists,
nor firstly addressed to social scientists. They are, rather,
theological discourses occasioned by particular social issues. As such,
Papal social Encyclicals may legitimately be subject to critique by
social scientists from the perspectives of their expertise. That,
however, is not the core purpose of this essay. My main purpose is to
highlight the methodology that Pope Benedict XVI espouses in Caritas
in Veritate. As may be expected, his methodology is theological, but
it displays an approach and a manner of proceeding that has a wider
relevance to other areas of investigation, and, not least, to
investigation and applications that fall under the wide-ranging heading
of "social sciences".
Areas comprehended by "social sciences" include:
economics, politics, sociology, public policy, organisational behaviour,
corporate governance —
to name but a few. The methods for these areas of
investigation and ensuing applications may seem remote from "theology".
At least this is so when theology is viewed as treating the data of
God's self-revelation and action: how do we know the nature of the
unknowable God? —
because God reveals his nature; how do we know the
purposes of God? —
because God manifests these in his acts. In this
sense, theology treats what God makes known —
what we call "revelation".
And in this sense, theological method is mainly "deductive": that is,
theology mainly makes inferential deductions from the data of revelation
of God's nature and acts (particularly in "sacred history" and in
"salvation", and, supremely, in the Person of Jesus Christ).
The deductive perspective is central for the present
Holy Father (and for his predecessors). An example in Caritas in
Veritate is his appeal at n. 45 to the 'datum' of revelation.
Although fundamental for Pope Benedict XVI, this perspective does not,
however, fully encapsulate his method (nor that of his predecessors).
The present Holy Father also emphasises the "inductive" method. The
strength of this emphasis is seen in his strategic use of the term
"discover" (or "re-discover") (nn. 2 1 , 27). He does not use these
terms simply inductively —
because for him, contemporary "discovery" in
de-Christianised societies may be to hear for the first time the
proclamation of the Gospel, or in the cultural decay of contemporary
society for it to re-discover the roots of its cultural vitality. But
the Pope's language of "discovery" also comprehends inductive method as
used in modern social sciences —
it comprehends objective investigation
of an experiential world.
Yet this last aspect of "discovery" espoused by the Pope
nevertheless remains "theological" (although "philosophical theology" in
its method). This is so because it is predicated upon a classical
Catholic understanding of "natural law": that is, the observance of
natural processes that allows one to infer a lawfulness that is inherent
in the natural order (nn. 35, 52, 59). The Pope at
one point embodies this "natural law" approach in a contemporary
metaphor, moving from the expression "environmental ecology" to appeal
to a "human ecology" (n. 51). That is, just as we can observe
degradation of physical ecological environments, we can also observe the
degrading of human environments, where the human actors do not observe
and respect the inherent conditions for human ecological health and
vigour (what he calls "integral human development", nn. 30, 51)
The distinction between "deductive" and "inductive"
methods may be taken as a starting point for observing that the Holy
Father comprehends an the inductive method, but really has an
integrative method. As an example, I refer to the Holy Father's
commentary on the wondrous manifestations of human nobility and dignity
found across all cultures and all ages —
as a manifestation of the
Nature that created this human nature (n. 52). But human folly provides
such strong contrary evidence that this manifestation may well not be
"discovered", and the understanding of a loving Creator not be
induced. The robustness of the Christian understanding is reinforced by
"induction", but is really founded upon "deduction", by revelation (eg,
"God created man ... in the image of God ...; male and female he created
them", Genesis 1: 27 ) .
In a sense, this interplay between "induction" and
"deduction" is true of the social sciences. The methodology typically is to start with a hypothesis (perhaps partly
"induced") and to subject this to empirical investigation, so that the
hypothesis ("theory") and the testing of the hypothesis ("empirics" or
inductive method) interact to build a robust understanding that provides
a basis for applications (policy implications, praxis). Some
examples of the methodology at work are stronger than others and I would
argue that, in general, what I call "ideologies" represent weaker
applications. One example is Communism: Marx's Manifesto is not a
sound piece of social science, but a diatribe and a tract —
application gave rise to much human suffering. Even philosophically, the
Manifesto was (is) crude; it gave a "war cry", a "banner", an
"ideology"; but it did not give viable applications because it was
defective both in deductive and inductive method.
The "ideology" presented as the "occasion" of Caritas
in Veritate is that markets (in this case, financial markets) are
self-regulating. Crucial to the emergence of recent and present
international financial disruptions was the weakness of public policy
formulation and governance of financial markets in the USA (particularly
of higher-risk housing finance in the so-called "sub-prime mortgage
market"). But this break-down in financial markets was not a failure of
"social science" as such. The application of soundly-based
understandings of economics, corporate governance, public policy, etc.,
could arguably have averted the worst aspect of this major disruption
and its ensuing human hardships. It was "ideology"
belief that markets always "work" and always work to achieve socially
desirable outcomes —
that was the causal influence, the "driver". This is
not to gainsay human greed and folly, but to emphasise instances where
"economics" can be blamed or "corporate governance" can be blamed, when
it is really expedient recourse to "ideology" that is to be blamed.
It is here that the present
Encyclical is at its weakest (and earlier Encyclicals also) — because a
Pope cannot be presumed to be conversant with complex social science
understandings. As a Bishop and as a theologian, a Pope may have acute
theological understanding of human conditions (as is well manifest by
our present Pope and recent Popes), but may have secondhand and
not-well-informed nor up-to-date understandings of what is known to
social scientists. An example of this in Caritas in Veritate is
where the Holy Father at n. 37 implies his understanding that the
generation of goods and services is compartmentalised in the market
order and the distribution of goods and services in the political order.
At n. 41 he refers to this as a "binary model" of the market and the
state. In fact, however, economic, political and social orders are
institutionally integrated. The kind of compartmentalisation or
dichotomisation to which the Holy Father alludes is not really a
sustainable perspective from an informed social sciences perspective.
Certainly it is common at
introductory levels to use a "binary model" —
because working in
two-dimensions allows a simplified diagrammatic presentation of complex
analysis. For example, "wage employment" may be scaled on a vertical
axis and "income distribution" scaled on a horizontal axis in order to
expound a point of principle. The principle is of the assignment or
tying of means and ends, of instruments and purposes. One of the
"discoveries" of the Economics of Public Policy is that multiple policy
ends (multiple public policy objectives) typically require multiple
policy instruments (multiple means of addressing objectives). And where
a single instrument is used for multiple objectives, its effectiveness
is diminished — especially if an instrument is tied to an objective in
respect of which it is weakly instrumental. This is demonstrated time
and again where wages policy is used as an instrument of income
distribution, with the result that queues for wage employment lengthen
and those with lesser labour market skills are deprived of labour market
access — and with an attendant diminution in labour market mobility and
increases in poverty and criminal activity.
understanding between theologians and social scientists may arise from
philosophical differences. It is, for example, not uncommon for
theologians implicitly to draw upon a simplistic "labour theory of
value". But the greater differences are in induced or empirical
understandings. At a level of praxis, social scientists usually
have more informed understandings of social processes than theologians
and, thus, are usually more accurate in relevant policy formulation.
Yet it is here, where the
Holy Father may seem weakest, that he in fact is strongest: because his
Encyclical is predicated upon an approach (a method) of discovery.
Essentially, the Holy Father shows himself and the Church as
searching for and open to the truth. In this search the
Encyclical displays a fine interplay between what is "received" (in the
sense of revelation, of tradition, and retrieval of tradition [of
"gift"]) and what is "induced" in the sense of empirical observation and
implementation, of "praxis". And, further, the Encyclical displays a
fine appreciation of what is proper to what the Pope at points refers to
as different "spheres" (he particularly speaks of economic, political,
and social) and of the inter-penetration of these "spheres" — so
that they are not segmented in understanding and in action. And this
approach is cast in a re-statement of the principles of "subsidiarity"
and of "solidarity" (nn. 41, 47, 49, 57, 58, 67), which has
strong resonance with contemporary approaches in areas such as
organisational behaviour and corporate governance (see L'Osservatore
Romano English edition, 16 September 2009, p. 9).
But, further, the Pope's
profound appreciation of the inherent ordering of things (of "natural
law") becomes a strong urging that inherent "lawfulness" be discovered
in all human "spheres" — whether economic, political, or social. And,
moreover, the process of "discovery" is not simply predicated on what is
"from man" — it is not simply subjective. It is predicated also on what
is "from above", from God. God's self-revelation of love and truth is
both the foundation and the thrust of this long and complex Encyclical.
The Encyclical is an appeal both to professional competence of the kind
outlined in this essay and to moral consistency as understood
objectively (n. 71, 45).
It is the discovery of love
in truth that is the motive and the end in authentic human endeavour.
The Encyclical displays a largeness of mind and of heart, and a great
endeavour for action, for praxis, of love in truth as the path
and as the means for "integral human development". As such, it is an
eloquent call for institutional development to be engaged by persons as
actors with God in bringing about God's purposes in his world and in
ours (nn. 37, 71, 72). And the Encyclical provides an articulate and
cogent paradigm for this discovery and implementation, for action.
Pope Benedict XVI
powerfully outlines in this Encyclical the fundamental method, the means
and the inspiration for addressing the malaises of our era. As such, his
Encyclical is a great and salutary service to the Church and to the
world of today.