II. Values for new
economic relationships in a sustainable society
As a way of moving from the reflection on the
value-assumptions that shape current economic relationships that affect work and human
well-being to the identification of value-assumptions needed in a sustainable society, it
may be helpful to articulate some of the specific questions which the author has had in
mind in developing this section of the paper.
- If the necessary retreat from overconsumption in the richer nations takes place,
will there be enough work to enable people to live in dignity?
- Or, in other words: Can a sustainable focus on improvements in quality of life
rather than economic growth measured in current GDP terms generate enough employment to
provide for human welfare?
- Is the current linkage between work and income sustainable? Are there
- How much inequality is necessary to maintain people's incentive to produce and
take constructive risks?
- Do we have to restrict technological change in order to provide enough work?
- How can transnational employers be held accountable to environmental and
employment goals of nations?
- How should trade be organized to maximize employment opportunities and safeguard
- How will the physically difficult, "menial" tasks get done in the
- Would it be possible for everyone to have personally rewarding work in a
It is out of reflection on these interrelated questions (the
content of which I presume will be dealt with by others) that the author presumes to
propose for discussion by the Consultation participants suggestions for values/moral
presumptions to be given priority in shaping the new economic relationships and making the
new choices for life and work in a sustainable society.
The questions before us call for lifting up neglected portions
of our moral tradition to give them more attention and more force in our individual lives
and in our societies.
II.a Basic Moral
This section relies on the work of ethicist J. Philip Wogamon
who states that the problem of making moral judgments is basically one of translating
one's faith commitment into intelligent decisions. He recommends that this can best be
done by clarifying moral presumptions.
If we understand what are the normal implications of Christian
faith, then we know to place the burden of proof against deviations from those norms.
Thus, our presumption is for peace, so we place the burden of proof against war. Our
presumption is for equality, so we place the burden of proof against inequality. That is
better than the simpler intuitions of situation ethics or an ethic of character because it
provides us with intellectual tools for ethical analysis. [J. Philip
Wogamon, Christian Ethics: A Historical Introduction (Louisville, KY:
Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993), 279. See also his Christian Moral Judgment
(Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1989).]
Wogamon argues that this "principled flexibility" will
be increasingly important as we face ever more complex issues in a world with many
different ethical perspectives being brought into the dialogue.
Wogamon proposes four basic positive moral presumptions of
Christian faith all of which have specific relevance to the questions before the
Consultation [J. Philip Wogamon, Christian Moral Judgment (Louisville, KY:
Westminster/John Knox Press, 1989), 79, 80-85, 89, 91, 95.]
II.a.1. The Goodness of Created Existence : It is not possible for a Christian to base a judgment on the proposition that
God's created physical world really does not, after all matter very much. It matters very
much indeed. It is the material basis of God's covenant with human beings and may have
further, deeper purposes we cannot fathom.
II.a.2. The Value of Individual Life
: Christian faith understands human value as being
established by our relationship with God--a relationship created and given by
God....Christian judgment must insist that no life can be disregarded as unimportant....
Regard for the value of personal life also entails a strong presumption for personal
freedom....Our presumption must be for the worth of all people, even those to whom we are
II.a.3. The Unity of the Human Family in
God : If Christian
faith entails a strong presumption for individual worth, it also implies that life cannot
be lived in isolation. The two presumptions cannot really be separated. That relationship
with God which establishes our value as individuals is at the same time the basis for our
unity, our fellow humanity....To be truly human is to be a 'fellowman,' not a rugged,
selfish individualist. The effect of such an understanding of Christian love is indeed to
make every question of moral judgment a family question.
II.a.4. The Equality of Persons in God
: Equality is implied in the value individual persons have through
their relationship to God...in value we are beyond earthly limitations because our value
is based on the valuing of God, who is infinite....The Christian claim is that
wherever there are people there is that essential humanity, and therefore equality....If
all persons are ultimately equal, a strong presumption exists for equality of treatment in
the concrete relationships and structures of the world....Equality has an immediate
presumption of rightness....If inequalities can be justified morally by the Christian,
they should generally be of the relative rather than the absolute kind...[R]elative
incentives should be required to bear the burden of proof: Are they really necessary for
the sake of some greater social good? Will they not create such great disparities as to
erect formidable barriers to human mutuality?
These basic presumptions are also at the core
of the tradition of Roman Catholic social teachings. The value-assumptions/moral
presumptions of this tradition rooted in the Jewish and Christian scriptures and
articulated in papal social encyclicals since Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum in 1891 can be
summarized as follows below. [ For summaries of the principles of the tradition see:
Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education, "Guidelines for the Study and Teaching
of the Church's Social Doctrine in the Formation of Priests," Origins, XIX
(August 3, 1989), 169-192; National Conference of Catholic Bishops, "Rerum Novarum's
Centenary," Origins, XX (November 24, 1990),394-96; Shaping A New World:
The Catholic Social Justice Tradition, 1891-1991 (Washington, D.C.:NETWORK, A
National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, 1991).]
Social Nature of the Human Person - The human person is social by
nature, not self-sufficient, needs others and society.
Common Good Inseparable from the Good of Persons - Defined as the sum of the
social conditions essential for individuals and groups to fulfill their purposes, the
common good is thus inseparable from the individual good; the purpose of public authority
is the realization of the common good; in an interdependent world people and nations must
also attend to the universal common good.
Solidarity in the Human Family - Solidarity is the moral response to the
reality of interdependence; it calls for a firm and persevering commitment to the common
good, since we are all really responsible for all.
Subsidiarity the Rule of Social Organization - The organic concept of
social life calls for protection of legitimate authority of intermediate structures
between the individual and the state, between the family and larger organizations; social
functions should be carried out at the level closest to the people affected by them.
Participation as a Basic Right and Responsibility - To be human is to be
in community; just, proportionate and responsible participation of all members and sectors
of society in development of socio-economic, political and cultural life should be the
norm; being free and co-responsible in society is God's intent for us.
Universal Purpose of Material Things - The right of private property,
valid and necessary in itself is subordinate to the right of common use, to the fact that
goods are meant for everyone; no one has a right to abundance when others are in need; the
preservation of the earth for future generations is a responsibility of all.
Dignity of Work - All persons have the right to decent and productive
work at a wage which provides support for the worker and dependents, but work is more than
a way to make a living; it is an expression of human dignity and a form of continuing
participation in God's creation; the economy exists for people, not the other way around.
Special Claim of the Poor and Vulnerable - The basic moral test of a
society is how its most vulnerable members are faring; those with greatest needs require
the greatest response from Christians; the basic requirements for life with dignity must
be accessible to all; meeting the needs of the poor has the greatest moral urgency now.
- Dignity of the Human Person - This is the primary principle from which
all the others flow; from this derive the basic human rights, among which is the right to
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