By Alejandro A. Tagliavini

(XL Thomist Week – International Congress, 2015- Argentine Thomist Society, Faculty of Philosophy and Letters – UCA). Click here for the original paper in Spanish.

Disclaimer: As this presentation has been written for a Catholic university, I rely on pertinent quotes, that is, from Catholic authors, but do not be confused by this, the background is scientific and could well be based on non-Catholic authors.

Resume

Human beings have a natural social vocation that, from the point of view of the production of material goods and services, gives birth to what we call the natural market, which, then, is made up of people who cooperate voluntarily and peacefully to improve themselves and serve society. Now this interaction leads us to find new knowledge, to discover previously unknown truths to improve our products and services in a process that has its origin in that “natural faith” that man has in the good and in the future. Knowledge that is born healthful when our emotions are accurate. Finally, knowing is loving. And in this process of knowing the Infinite is always present, reminding us of Perfection, of God.

Introduction

People have always been naturally related to each other because humans have a natural social “vocation” since, to procreate and survive, they need to relate. Now, it is necessary that these relationships be peaceful to respect the natural order since “Violence is directly opposed to what is voluntary as well as what is natural, since it is common to the voluntary and the natural that one and the other come from an intrinsic principle, while the violent emanates from an extrinsic principle”, according to Saint Thomas of Aquinas [1]. Therefore, Etienne Gilson assures that for Aquinate “The natural and the violent are thus mutually exclusive, and it is not conceivable that something possesses both of these characters simultaneously” [2].

Consequently, also in a natural way, they seek to cooperate peacefully and voluntarily to improve their economic situation. This gathering of people to improve their economic situation is what we call the “natural market” which, I insist, occurs naturally. Such as when whoever produces meat sells what is left after consuming himself to buy bread from those who have a surplus. And so, each improves their situation while serving the other, and in this way provoking economic efficiency.

As another example, if Juan has a food delivery, he will gladly buy a small truck that allows him to improve his route and earn more money and thereby pay the vehicle fees, hire a driver, and thus continue to grow in his business, pushing to increase wages by demanding more labor, as well as by lowering prices by increasing the supply of the services.

Now, if coercively – without Juan wanting to – politicians collect taxes from him, he will no longer have the money for the truck, and his business will be stagnant or disappear depending on the level of the tax burden. It will be said that the money collected in taxes goes to the roads that need to be paved and for welfare of the unemployed. This does not make sense, because Juan may well pay the toll of the roads he travels without the need for the awfully expensive intermediary bureaucracy and there is no better social assistance than the drivers that Juan can hire without the need, again, to go through the expensive bureaucracies.

Ultimately, economic efficiency, both personal and social, will occur as far as the relationships are voluntary, so coercive actions disappear, because the taxes that are extracted from Juan will end up impoverishing the poor who are left jobless, their wages decreased and prices rising.

Now, it could happen that Juan increases his distribution but does not have the necessary clients at the price he charges, which means that he will have to lower the price until he achieves a balance between his production and his clients, in a process of accommodation that is enhanced with knowledge (from customers, methods, distribution, technology, etc.) and creativity to discover new resources that allow to improve the business efficiency.

The Natural Market Process

Thus, this process of accommodation of the different actors of the natural market – basically divided between sellers and buyers – will be oriented to the search for information, knowledge that allows them to improve their economic situation. And this search for truth is a creative process insofar as it supposes – not the creation of truth itself – the maximum creation to which humans can aspire, that is: discovering truths that we did not even know existed before.

The market process has been synthesized through the famous supply and demand (OD) curve, according to which, the higher the price of a good, the more people go out to sell, causing an oversupply that pushes the price towards lowering it. And as more people want to buy a product, the more its price goes up. And the reverse, thus producing a “balance” between supply and demand. But the truth is that equilibrium never occurs – but rather a specific environment with a tendency to equilibrium – because this would mean that the market would remain static and progress, on the contrary, implies movement.

The good thing about the market is that it has a natural balancing inertia (when the price of a product increases, leaving a lot of profit margin, everyone wants to sell, until the price drops due to so much supply) but, at the same time, given the infinite variables (endogenous and exogenous) that influence the process, equilibrium will never be achieved by making it clear that there is movement in the direction of progress: for example, if a given product had reached a static price, entrepreneurs, in their desire for profit, will try to displace the competition that is, they will produce technological advances or improve their organization in order to lower costs and be able to offer the product at a lower price.

In this process, precisely, contrary to what rationalism tells us, the fact of not being able to anticipate the future is what causes progress. Because, the business function, technological development and, finally, the process of the natural order is based, precisely, on the possibility of finding new unknown information and coordinating it with the different social forces. If the unknown does not exist, if we could plan everything with our minds, anticipate everything (“surpassing” God), there could be neither technological development, nor business function nor any progress.

God’s love (the idea of perfection) is manifested precisely in the fact that he “has left everything to be known” so that we can participate personally, at every minute, at every moment of our lives, in Creation. If a State bureaucrat tells me “You have to manufacture screws of this size, with this material and sell at this price and, in the meantime, through customs, I guarantee that you will not have to innovate and improve with respect to external competition”, then the only creation that I will participate in is the “reason” of the bureaucrat.

Says Israel M. Kirzner that: “The central feature of the market process… refers to the role that ignorance and discovery play in it. It is central because disequilibrium consists of ignorance … Therefore, the market process consists of those changes that express the sequence of discoveries arising from the initial ignorance that constitutes the state of disequilibrium. We describe this sequence of discoveries as constitutive of a balancing process … We undoubtedly recognize that human beings are motivated to find out what is convenient for them … (so it is) the systematic discovery process, which is the basis of the coordinating properties of the market “[3].

These “coordinating properties of the market”, which are themselves in the natural social order, are precisely those that make society possible and necessary (by the principle of survival). In other words, to the extent that human beings “coordinate” themselves, they make possible, and benefit, from society (which, by the way, they need). Note that coordination implies the voluntary (cooperation and service), because it means that the parties understand each other and put their wills in agreement. And here there is, incidentally, an insurmountable inconsistency with individualism that denies precisely that intrinsic property of the market: “social coordination”, which is necessary for progress and advancement, personal and societal.

By the way, it is important to note that the most important “disinformation”, and so the one is more urgent to eliminate, is the one that takes us further away from life, since the natural order is in favor of life. And, consequently, the market process will try to eliminate the most important misinformation more quickly, encouraged and guided by the possibility of greater profit. For example, if a person is about to die, the most urgent thing he needs is to eliminate the misinformation that exists regarding his illness and treatment for his recovery, and he will be willing to pay for this information his entire fortune.

According to all we have discussed so far, true justice arises from the “creative act that out of nowhere” brings something new for the benefit of the “creator” and his fellow men, and not in the distribution of what already exists. In this way, humans participate in the Creation. In fact, only God can create from nothing, and so humans only participate in this creation: just discovering truths that we did not even know they existed before. The inventor of the e-mail, for example, produced an event that did not exist before, even in the best of dreams: sending a letter thousands of miles away immediately, winning him and the whole of society. The agricultural producer makes wheat grow where before there was only land, winning he and all of society.

According to Israel M. Kirzner, “… that systematic tendency that manifests itself in a successive series of surprises and that is reflected in the balancing process that occurs in the market, is not a more or less improbable series of lucky accidents, but that natural insight to discover potential opportunities of profit (or to avoid the danger of possible losses) and that is an inherent characteristic of every human being. In the real world, full of uncertainty, this natural insight manifests itself in imagination and daring…” [4].

Note the importance of “natural insight … inherent characteristic of every human being, (which) manifests itself in imagination and daring”. I believe that this has a lot to do with natural faith, which translates into knowledge of the natural order and its creative capacity, and the security of being led by Providence (the search of perfection) to the good as an end.

Now, as perfection is infinitely far away, the necessary knowledge (information) is infinite, this implies that ‘there is’ information (knowledge) of which we still do not even suspect its ‘existence’. That is, in the future we will know things that today we do not even imagine. It is precisely on this “surprisingly” and “surprising” discovery process that the market process is based. It is this type of knowledge that allows the entrepreneur to advance in self and social improvement, because advancing on already known knowledge (for example, that established by a government planner) does not imply advance but, on the contrary, stagnation in a supposed ‘equilibrium’.

Pope John Paul II assures that “Moved by the desire to discover the ultimate truth about existence, man tries to acquire universal knowledge that allows him to better understand himself and progress in the realization of himself. The fundamental knowledge derives from the ‘amazement’ aroused in him by the contemplation of creation: the human being is surprised to discover himself immersed in the world, in relation to his fellow men with whom he shares his destiny. From here begins the path that will lead you to the discovery of ever new horizons of knowledge. Without astonishment, man would fall into repetition and, little by little, he would be unable to live a deeply personal existence” [5].

Knowledge

On the other hand, an interesting topic is that of “Emotional Intelligence” [6] which would be even more important than the IQ and which would form the basis of intelligence (“the new basis of our intelligence”). In other words, our emotions induce us to act in certain ways. If these are mature enough, our reactions will be healthy and, consequently, they will strongly induce us to participate in the process of creation, encouraging, promoting, strengthening, and clarifying the results of our reason. A real example: she was drowning and, no one knows how, the parents managed to save their daughter. In other words, people would be, in fact, smarter if they had their ‘Emotional Intelligence’ well developed. Emotions would be the initiators of our participation in the process of creation and the sustainers of such process.

On the other hand, from a ‘psychological’ point of view, it is important to emphasize that love is seeking one’s own spiritual growth or that of another person. Even if it were our own spiritual growth, this would imply knowledge of the external, because, if the idea is to ‘surpass ourselves’, we must ‘know’, ‘imitate’ something superior that will necessarily be external (if it were internal, it would be the same to our ego, never higher). If we remember that true knowledge is what, leads us to good (it serves for life, perfects us), here the circle is closed with what we reviewed about ‘emotional intelligence’: true knowledge implies overcoming one’s own ego and, in itself, implies a spiritual growth, consequently, it implies loving. In other words, true knowledge, when it is healthy and well oriented, begins and is translated into an act of love.

“In the object of the supreme wisdom, intelligibility is identified with the supreme desire – prima veritas with summum bonum – here is the source of the union of wisdom with love … In the gift of wisdom, the formal light of intellectual experience is affective … Wisdom … cannot be separated from its affective dimension. This is the basis for the personal commitment implied by wisdom, evidence of its profound realism … sapientis est ordinare … the wise man … orders human acts to their proper end … finally … infused wisdom results in the order of tranquility that we know as peace … the world of wisdom, paradoxically, is that of the ultimate ignorance … Even so, the ignorance of the wise man is preferable to all other knowledge…” wrote Kieran Conley, OSB [7].

From a psychological point of view, the best definition of love that I have been able to find is probably the one given by M. Scott Peck in ‘The New Psychology of Love’ [8]: “the will to extend one’s self with in order to promote one’s own spiritual growth or that of another person “, and later “… the process of extending one’s own being is a process of evolution … so that the act of loving is an act of self-evolution even when the act is the growth of another person…” and then “…the act of extending one’s limits implies efforts … our love is demonstrated only through our works … it involves efforts … it is an act of the will, it is intention and action… it implies choice… we decide to love”.

On the other hand, Saint Thomas affirms that “To love is to wish someone good” [9]. Without a doubt, the following paragraph from the controversial Erich Fromm is suggestive: “That desire for interpersonal fusion (love) is the most powerful impulse that exists in humans: It constitutes his most fundamental passion, the force that sustains human race, the clan, the family and society. The inability to achieve it means insanity or destruction – of yourself or others. Without love, humanity could not exist another day” [10].

The beginning and the end of knowledge

By the way, to finish, it is not unimportant to analyze what is the beginning and the end of all this. Note that the search for knowledge is not only infinite but that infinity is immersed in the entire process of knowledge. When I was a university student of Engineering, I had the opportunity to carry out some relatively deep research within Mathematical analysis. My first surprise was to find the definitive and total dependence that advanced mathematics had on infinites and infinitesimals (which is the inverse, but not the negation or opposite of infinity).

These constituted ‘the beginning (the infinitesimals) and the end (the infinites)’. I was more surprised when I discovered that infinity (and infinitesimal) was the ‘perfect number’ (the only perfect number), it was also absolute and was, in every sense, the mysterious beginning and end of all mathematical knowledge. The corollary is that mathematics is not an exact science (only infinity), in fact, there is no exact science as rationalists would have us believe. Related to infinity for real numbers, some programming languages ​​admit a special value called infinity: a value that can be obtained as a result of certain unrealizable mathematical operations, or operations that are theoretically possible, but too complex for the job in the computer/language in question. In other languages ​​it would just fail.

For Aristotle infinity is being in potentiality, and it is being as power and being as act. It is the Being, therefore. Precisely the essential characteristic of infinity is that of being non-finite and therefore constantly unfinished. Therefore, for infinity, going from power (the possibility of realizing as infinity, infinite as power) to act (when this possibility was realized, infinite as act) does not entail any real transformation or acquisition of characteristics that previously did not have, as commonly happens in the passage from potency to act. In fact, infinity was before (being as power) and infinity is after (being as act).

What has no limits is that of which nothing can be denied, and therefore that which contains everything, that outside of which there is nothing; and this idea of ​​the Infinite, which is thus the most affirmative of all, since it comprises or involves all particular affirmations, whatever they may be, is not expressed by a term negatively (in-finite) but in the very reason of its absolute indeterminacy.

NOTES

[1] S.Th., I-II, q. 6, a. 5. On the other hand, “Violence is also found in inanimate beings… With more reason it is possible to violate an animate being: for example, a horse can be forced to separate from the straight line where it runs, making it change direction and go back the way you came. And so, whenever outside of beings there is a cause that forces them to execute what is contrary to their nature or their will, it is said that these beings do by force what they do … This, then, will be the definition of violence for us and of coercion: there is violence whenever the cause that forces beings to do what they do is external to them; and there is no violence from the moment that the cause is internal and that it is in the very beings that act”, La Gran Moral, I, XIII (in Aristóteles, Moral, Espasa-Calpe Argentina SA, Buenos Aires 1945, p. 46) .

[2] El Tomismo, Parte Segunda, Capítulo VIII, EUNSA, Pamplona 1989, p. 438.

[3] El significado del proceso de mercado, Libertas, no. 27, ESEADE, Buenos Aires, Octubre de 1997, pp. 128-9.

[4] El Descubrimiento Empresarial y el Proceso Competitivo de Mercado: el punto de vista Austriaco, en Competencia y Empresarialidad, Unión Editorial, Madrid 1998, p. 275.

[5] Encyclical ‘Fides et Ratio’, Rome 1998, n. 4.

[6] See, for example, ‘Emotional Intelligence’, Daniel Goleman, Bantam Books, New York, 1995.

[7] A Theology of Wisdom, Ed. The Priory Press, USA, 1963, p. 142-143. Regarding ignorance “And it is that, like sound over silence, science settles and lives on living ignorance. On living ignorance, because the principle of wisdom is knowing how to ignore”, said Miguel de Unamuno, En torno al casticismo, Espasa Calpe, Madrid 1991, p. 42.

[8] Emecé Editores, Buenos Aires 1989, pp. 83-4-5.

[9] S. Th., I-II, q. 26, a. 4.

[10] EL arte de amar, Editorial Paidós, Buenos Aires, 1966, pp. 30-31.