Is Thomas Woods a “Dissenter”?

In case you are losing sleep over this burning question, you can Google a four-part (yes, a four-part) series on this issue over at the website of Chronicles magazine.

The author is Thomas Storck, whom I have tangled with in the past, even before I published The Church and the Market: A Catholic Defense of the Free Economy.  (I also recommend this article by Gerard Casey, head of the department of philosophy at University College, Dublin.)  He and I recently had an exchange in the Catholic Social Science Review.  Here is his article and here is my reply.  You may decide for yourself who was the victor.

One of my points — a pretty obvious one, or so I thought, for anyone who understands the contours of ecclesiastical authority — is that the Church cannot pronounce on the mechanics of the cause-and-effect relationships that exist in the sciences.  Two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen either make water or they do not.  Wages are either increased this way or they are increased that way. These facts may help us form our moral conclusions, but they are, obviously, not themselves subject to moral critique. Something either works a particular way or it doesn’t.

Storck continues to argue that the Church must have the authority in some cases to declare that the sciences are “simply wrong.”  Thus if economics says wages rise by doing X, but the statements of prelates seem to imply that they can rise by doing Y, then so much the worse for economics. If we allow the cause-and-effect relationships in economics to exist autonomously (again, he speaks as if cause-and-effect relationships could be subject to moral rebuke!), he demands, then “where does it end?”  He says a psychologist could then say that promiscuity leads to human flourishing, and that I would be helpless to object.

I trust my readers have already spotted the fallacy, but just in case: even in this situation the proper objection is not to the cause-and-effect relationships.  The psychologist’s research could in fact be unimpeachable: behavior A may well lead to emotional state B.  The question is whether emotional state B in fact constitutes human flourishing.  This is a philosophical/theological question, not a technical question involving the operation of forces in the natural world, and thus falls well within the province of the Church.

I understand the magazine’s irascible editor, Thomas Fleming, is calling people at (and, by extension, me) “ignorant, pseudo-Catholic poseurs.”  Classy, as usual. When Tom has anything like a book whose Spanish translation features a foreword by the Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Worship and the former Primate of Spain, a highly regarded layman’s guide to the old Latin Mass, or a sympathetic study of Progressive Era Catholicism, published by an Ivy League press, that’s been hailed in the major historical and theological journals, he can let me know.  I’ll wait by the phone.

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  • Mrs. Rene O’Riordan

    Thanks Thomas for all you do. I’m posting up your work on Church History – one segment per day on my facebook page. Got it from – Blessings – Rene

  • John

    I love your work, Thomas Woods! I’ve read “How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization” and it’s a truly great read.

    However, I was already a Catholic and so the book simply did a great job of filling in the gaps of my knowledge about Catholicism. The second book that I read by you was the game-changer – “Meltdown”.

    My whole perspective on economics, banking, war, government has changed. It all makes sense now haha

    As someone coming from Britain, it’s a relief to read common sense. Also, to know that the Austrian school of thought is out there and gaining strength is comforting – the world is not necessarily doomed!

    Planning on reading “The Church and the Market” at some point. It’s about time Catholics stopped with the socialism and realised the most Catholic way is political and economic liberty.

    Again, thanks for all you’ve done Tom! :)

  • darren

    As a lifelong Catholic I want to thank you for all that you do!!! Plus your economic writings are right on the mark

  • Mike Gormley

    Overextension. The problem is the overextension of one science’s principles into the area of another science’s principles, causing confusion. Social Sciences and ethics do overlap, but they are still two distinct sciences.

    It reminds me of the horrid philosophy of Peter Abelard. It was horrid because it was an overextension of Aristotelian Logic into metaphysics and moral philosophy. Yes, they overlap, but they are not the same. It corrupted his methods, thus corrupting his conclusions. The same thing happened with Descartes, who overextended the use of Mathematics into Metaphysics.

    Both were Catholics, Descartes even writing to the Bishops at the Council of Trent with his thoughts on the doctrine of Transubstantiation, but that doesn’t mean he is right to use mathematical principles and impose them on metaphysics, or to reduce all of philosophy to mere logic. Check out Etienne Gilson’s “The Unity of Philosophical Experience” for more.