Why Aquinas Would Agree That Human Economic Behaviour Is Largely Predictable [chapter]

Richard Conrad, Peter Hunter
2019 Virtues and Economics  
Many people, from retailers and advertisers to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, work on the assumption that human economic behaviour is to a fair degree predictable, at least statistically. This paper asks how far the thirteenthcentury Thomas Aquinas would agree that human behaviour (including economic behaviour) is predictable, both the behaviour of individuals and the behaviour of groups, and on what grounds. In doing so it also asks how any elements of predictability would square with
more » ... square with Aquinas' conviction that human beings enjoy liberum arbitrium, "free decision". In the context of the present volume, exploring Aquinas' position may promote a nuanced and multivalent approach to the question of what causes human behaviour, and liberate us from the fear that if human behaviour is caused, it cannot be free. Aquinas was aware of the extreme complexity of the human psyche and of the organic interactions among its components. In particular, liberum arbitrium is achieved in interaction between intellect and will. The human will is the rational appetite, the ability to be attracted by the good perceived by reason. Any predictability of behaviour is therefore not a statistical result of intrinsic arbitrary randomness, as if acts of will were a kind of mental coin-flipping. Truly free behaviour is rationally explicable in terms of the goals it is right for human beings to pursue; final causality operates, in a way appropriate to responsible agents. In an ideal world, not marred by sin, this would make human nature predictable to a limited degree. People would behave sensibly, as individuals and as communities, avoiding anything harmful. But people naturally differ in talents and temperament; geographical and historical circumstances vary; and human thinking is open-ended -within the time available, we can examine a situation from different points of view. In an unfallen world, people would happily adopt different social roles, and leaders' decisions about how to apply the Natural Law to particular
doi:10.1007/978-3-030-26114-6_6 fatcat:sfmwud7v5neytf5wkm4q5o4chq