Political Economy and Natural Theology

Smith, Malthus and their Followers

By Paul Oslington

© 2018 – Routledge

200 pages | 20 B/W Illus.

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Hardback: 9780415454810
pub: 2017-08-22
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About the Book

Since the early 20th century, Economics has been the dominant discourse in English-speaking countries, displacing Christian theology from its previous position of authority. This path breaking book is a major contribution to the interdisciplinary dialogue between economics and religion.

Oslington tells the story of natural theology shaping political economy in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, emphasising continuing significance of theological issues for the discipline of economics. Early political economists such as Adam Smith, Josiah Tucker, Edmund Burke, William Paley, T.R. Malthus, Richard Whately, J.B. Sumner, Thomas Chalmers, and William Whewell, extended the British scientific natural theology tradition of Francis Bacon, Robert Boyle, and Isaac Newton to the social world. This extension nourished and shaped political economy as a discipline, influencing its theoretical framework, but perhaps more importantly helping legitimate political economy in the British universities, and public policy circles. Educating the public in the principles of political economy had a central place in this religiously driven program. Natural theology also created tensions (especially reconciling economic suffering with divine goodness and power) that eventually contributed to its demise and the separation of economics from theology in the mid-19th century Britain. This volume highlights aspects of the story that are neglected in standard histories of economics, histories of science, and contemporary theology.

Political Economy and Natural Theology is essential reading for all concerned with the origins of economics, the meaning and purpose of economic activity, the role of religion in contemporary policy debates.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 - Introduction

Chapter 2 - Natural Theology: Philosophical and Historical Issues

1. Introduction

2. Natural theology and scripture

3. Varieties of natural theology

4. The British tradition of scientific natural theology

5. Creation, providence and natural theology

6. Natural theology and theodicy

7. Conclusion

Chapter 3 - Early English Theological Roots of Political Economy

1. Introduction

2. Joseph Butler

3. Josiah Tucker

4. William Paley

5. Edmund Burke

6. Conclusion

Chapter 4 - Adam Smith as Natural Theologian

1. Introduction

2. Adam Smith’s religious background

3. The invisible hand

4. Adam Smith’s theodicy

5. The future hope, nature and justice in Adam Smith’s system.

6. Conclusion

Chapter 5 - Natural Theology and the Emergence of Political Economy: Dugald Stewart, TR Malthus, JB Sumner and Thomas Chalmers

1. Introduction

2. Further Scottish background: Dugald Stewart

3. Malthus Principle of Population and its theodicy

4. Revision of Malthus’ theodicy by JB Sumner

5. Malthus’ Scottish disciple Thomas Chalmers

6. Conclusion

Chapter 6 - Progress and Tension: Richard Whately and William Whewell

1. Introduction

2. Political Economy at Oxford: Nassau Senior and the response of JH Newman

3. Political Economy at Oxford: Richard Whately

4. Political Economy at Cambridge: Richard Jones and William Whewell

5. Conclusion

Chapter 7 - The Demise of Natural Theology and Separation of Economics from Theology

1. Introduction

2. Explaining the separation of economics from theology

3. Explaining the demise of natural theology

4. The demise of natural theology as the separation of economics from theology

5. Evolution as a lost opportunity to renew natural theology.

6. Subsequent developments in Britain, Continental Europe, and America.

7. Conclusion

Chapter 8 - Reflections on the Contemporary Relationship between Economics and Theology

1. Introduction

2. What can we learn from this episode about what promotes fruitful and unfruitful exchange between economists and theologians?

3. Frameworks for contemporary engagement

4. Contribution of the thesis

Appendix - Analysis of Key Terms in English Books

About the Author

Paul Oslington is Professor of Economics and Dean of Business at Alphacrucis College in Sydney, Australia. He previously held a joint appointment as Professor in the Schools of Business and Theology at Australian Catholic University, and before that Associate Professor of Economics at University of New South Wales, along with visiting positions at University of Oxford, University of British Columbia, Regent College Vancouver, and Princeton Theological Seminary and University. He is currently an honorary Research Professor at the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture in Canberra.

About the Series

Routledge Frontiers of Political Economy

In recent years, there has been widespread criticism of mainstream economics. This has taken many forms, from methodological critiques of its excessive formalism, to concern about its failure to connect with many of the most pressing social issues. This series provides a forum for research which is developing alternative forms of economic analysis. Reclaiming the traditional 'political economy' title, it refrains from emphasising any single school of thought, but instead attempts to foster greater diversity within economics.

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