1st Edition

Political Economy as Natural Theology Smith, Malthus and Their Followers

By Paul Oslington Copyright 2018
    172 Pages
    by Routledge

    172 Pages 20 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    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, TR Malthus, Richard Whately, JB 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 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 as Natural Theology is essential reading for all concerned with the origins of economics, the meaning and purpose of economic activity and the role of religion in contemporary policy debates.

    1 Introduction

    2 Natural Theology: Philosophical and Historical Issues


    Natural theology and scripture

    Varieties of natural theology

    The British tradition of scientific natural theology

    Natural theology, creation and providence

    Natural theology and theodicy


    3 Early English Theological Roots of Political Economy


    Joseph Butler (1692–1752)

    Josiah Tucker (1713–99)

    William Paley (1743–1805)

    Edmund Burke (1729–97)


    4 Adam Smith as Natural Theologian


    Adam Smith’s religious background

    Adam Smith's invisible hand

    Adam Smith’s theodicy

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


    5 Natural Theology and the Emergence of Political Economy: Stewart, Malthus, Sumner and Chalmers


    Further Scottish background: Dugald Stewart

    Malthus' Principle of Population and its theodicy

    Development of Malthus’ theodicy by JB Sumner

    Malthus’ Scottish disciple Thomas Chalmers


    6 Progress and Tension: Richard Whately and William Whewell


    Political Economy at Oxford: Nassau Senior and the responses by Richard Whately and JH Newman

    Richard Whately

    Political Economy at Cambridge: Richard Jones and William Whewell


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


    Explaining the separation of economics from theology

    Explaining the demise of natural theology

    The demise of natural theolog


    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 the University of New South Wales, along with visiting positions at the University of Oxford, University of British Columbia, Regent College Vancouver and Princeton Theological Seminary and University. He is also an honorary Research Professor at the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture in Canberra.