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Introducing an alternative philosophical foundation to the study of economics, this book explains and adopts the perspective of the Italian philosopher Antonio Rosmini (1797-1855), whose interpretation of economic action was fundamentally at odds with the prevailing and all-conquering utilitarianism of modernity. Rosmini, one of the most important Italian and Catholic philosophers of the modern age, eschewed the traditional concepts of subjectivism and individualism at the core of the utilitarian thesis, prefiguring today’s critique of ‘autistic economics’ with his assertion that micro-economic formulae consecrating the ‘maximization of utility’ derive not from scientific principles or even hypotheses, but from uncritically adopted philosophical ideas. It was an assault on the determinism he perceived as the fatal flaw in accepted economic theory. Rosmini’s notion of human and economic action, based on human beings’ ‘personal’ capacities for objective knowledge, truth recognition, moral goodness and happiness, deeply transform the meaning of central economic activities such as labour, wealth creation and consumption, and become crucial factors in any analysis of the operation of the economy. After introducing the fundamentals of Rosmini’s thought, the author details the theoretical and institutional features of utilitarian economics, tracing their influence on social norms. He juxtaposes these with Rosmini’s alternative philosophy which places the concept of social justice at its heart, and which attempts to establish a framework for relations between the public and private realms. The contemporary case is then made for adopting Rosmini’s principles, thus changing an economic paradigm widely held to be unassailable. The fruit of unprecedented and systematic research on Rosmini’s economic ideas, this volume offers a detailed conceptual framework to guide alternative approaches to conventional neoclassical economics.​



Chapter 1. Introduction: From Autism to Recognition

The introduction presents the outlines of the contemporary debate in economics and the relevance of bringing up Rosmini’s economic philosophy to illuminate this debate. In the first place, the main assumptions and current critiques of the neoclassical paradigm in economics are presented. In the second place, the analysis about contemporary economics is put under the light of the crisis of modernity and the shift from the modern rationalist-utilitarian paradigm to a new, although still uncertain, model. Thirdly, a series of philosophical works by authors – inspired mainly by Hegel – who interpret the said shift as a transition from what they call the ‘Machiavellian and Hobbesian’ paradigm of ‘self-conservation’ to a new ‘recognition’ paradigm are also presented. In the fourth place, the possible flaws of Hegelian arguments in order to ground a paradigm of recognition in economics are shown. Finally, some arguments are introduced to show how Rosmini’s conception of recognition based on a personalist idea of the human being can be a far better philosophical foundation for economics than the one held by authors inspired by Hegel.

Carlos Hoevel

Chapter 2. A Philosopher in Search for the Economy

This chapter presents, in the first place, a general view of Rosmini’s economic ideas and main works in the context of his biographical and intellectual itinerary. In the second place, the chapter shows how Rosmini’s economic thought is deeply influenced by the economic thought of his times, represented especially by the classical economists, Italian civil economists and other ‘alternative’ economic thinkers such as Ludwig von Haller, Simonde de Sismondi and the utopian socialists. Finally, the chapter presents three different interpretations of Rosmini’s economic philosophy and proposes a fourth one based on the thesis of Rosmini’s having the project of replacing the utilitarian bases of economic thinking by a personalist conception of human and economic action.

Carlos Hoevel

Chapter 3. The Utilitarian Paradigm

The chapter presents an extensive revision of the utilitarian assumptions that are implicit in economic science – in the socializing and statist version as well as in the liberal and individualist one. According to Rosmini, this implicit utilitarian conception is not due to political economy as a science but to the philosophical influence of utilitarian theories suffered by many economists. The heart of the utilitarian influence in modern economic science lies, according to Rosmini, in the conception of human action as a behavior always oriented towards maximization of utility. The chapter presents Rosmini’s detailed description of three main different versions of utilitarianism – empiricist or sensist, sentimentalist and eudemonist – and also shows the consequences that these different versions of utilitarianism bring to the conception of society, law, politics and economic science.

Carlos Hoevel

Chapter 4. Recognizing the Truth: Human Action Beyond Utilitarianism

After having made explicit and analyzed the utilitarian assumptions present in economic science,

Chap. 4

presents Rosmini’s critical arguments on the former and, at the same time, tries to show the author’s own positive formulation of human action. Rosmini’s main criticism aims at the anthropological core of utilitarianism, which conceives human action as a behavior always oriented towards some kind of ‘maximization of utility.’ According to our author, the problem of this utilitarian formulation lies on it being based on a partial and distorted observation of human condition. In order to refute it, Rosmini adopts a fundamentally phenomenological point of view that leads him to carry out a meticulous observation of the phenomena observable in the different stages of human development from childhood to adulthood. The chapter presents part of this phenomenological description and the different arguments raised by Rosmini to support his conviction of the existence in human beings of ‘personal’ capacities for free objective value judgments, moral recognition and happiness different from ‘natural’ capacities limited to satisfy physical or psychical subjective and utilitarian needs or pleasures.

Carlos Hoevel

Chapter 5. Economic Action, Happiness and Personalized Self-Interest

This chapter shows how, according to Rosmini, any economic satisfaction or ‘utility’ is always enlightened or obscured by the personal faculties of reasoning and freedom, which include the former in a wider framework constituted by ‘human desire or capacity.’ Eventually, this can be explained by the predominance of the personal principle that governs human beings and integrates the subjective faculties, without them losing their nature, to the personal faculties, which results in the economic action being a type of complex action both natural and personal. The chapter describes how economic goods, which are primarily subjective and relative, turn into objective and moral goods through the dynamics of contentment or happiness. Rosmini maintains that the central problem of the economy is not technical or political but ethical. In fact, it is in the personal spirit where valuation and economic action originate because the presence or absence of internal happiness or contentment is the driving force behind the different types of valuations, dispositions or uses of goods.

Carlos Hoevel

Chapter 6. Rethinking Labor, Wealth and Consumption

This chapter presents the application of Rosmini’s conception of a personalized economic action to three basic economic activities: labor, wealth-creation and consumption. In the first place, the chapter shows how, according to Rosmini, the entire structure of labor and business collapses if the motivation to work falls outside the scope of moral contentment and ethics, and if it is based on pure subjective utility as its only principle. In the second place, the chapter presents some Rosminian arguments in favor of labor as the proximate means for wealth-creation and against the idea that any use of an object, provided it can offer a subjective utility, necessarily implies the creation of economic value or wealth increase. Finally, in the third place, Rosmini’s basic ‘grammar of consumption’ is presented. According to Rosmini, the concept of economic need is always relative to the valuation of the person, who is constantly changing and evolving as time goes by and different circumstances emerge, just like his or her needs. The problem is not the complexity and spring of new needs, but rather their quality and their relationship to the parallel evolution of moral and economic capacities to satisfy them.

Carlos Hoevel

Chapter 7. Recognizing the Other: Rights and Ethics in Market Relations

While under the utilitarian paradigm the economy is seen as an aggregate of utility maximizer subjects, the recognition paradigm held by Rosmini conceives it as formed by subjects capable of recognizing each other and establishing free and reciprocal bonds among them. The first level of economic relationships that this chapter tackles from this new perspective has to do with juridical relationships amongst the individuals involved in a market. Rosmini will attempt to show a first aspect of the juridical dimension of market, especially through the analysis of the natural rights of the individuals – or ‘rational rights’ as he prefers to call them. Rosmini discards founding economic rights on a purely subjective or utilitarian basis. Against utilitarians, Rosmini states that neither rights in general nor economic rights in particular, may be rooted in utility alone, this being either social or individual; instead, they should be based on that superior reason which he calls ‘the idea of justice.’ Besides, his conception of economic rights implies that they must always be the result of the personal activity of the rights’ holder. In effect, Rosmini argues that there can be no rights as a result of merely material or physical activities. For a right to exist, the subject of right must be a person, endowed with intelligence and free will. In addition, the chapter presents Rosmini’s arguments in favor of a personalist conception of the right of ownership, the right of economic freedom and contracts, in controversy especially with utilitarians and socialists. Finally, apart from this analysis of individual rights, the chapter considers other non-juridical moral duties and moral virtues not strictly obligatory but essential for the functioning of markets.

Carlos Hoevel

Chapter 8. A Critique of Political Utilitarianism

Once presented the Rosminian conception of interpersonal economic relationships governed by ethics and rational right, the book arrives at the crucial issue of the social and political dimension of the economy. After showing the main characteristics of Rosmini’s ethical conception of society as a ‘moral person,’ this chapter presents Rosmini’s arguments against three versions of political utilitarianism such as conservative patrimonialism, extreme liberalism and totalitarian socialism. With respect to the first, the chapter shows how it neglects the right of all citizens to compete for the access to ownership and leads to a moral degradation of society. In relation to the second, the chapter presents Rosmini’s critiques of the reduction of society to market relationships and the negative effects of excessive competition. Finally, in the third place, the chapter shows Rosmini’s objections against statism, utopian socialism and social utilitarianism based on the ideas that social rights can never reach the point of being maintained at the cost of the rights of the individuals (‘extra-social rights’), top-down leveling and irrational planning.

Carlos Hoevel

Chapter 9. Paths Towards Social Recognition

This chapter presents a description of the main principles that, according to Rosmini, should regulate the social organization of the economy. In the first place, it presents the principle of social justice that, together with Luigi Taparelli D’Azeglio, was proposed for the first time by Rosmini in Europe as the main road through which political economy should run in order to break with the different forms of social utilitarianism and create an economy of recognition. In the second place, the Rosminian conception of the common good and its relation with private and public goods is presented. In addition, the chapter includes the criteria for the social regulation of ownership and freedom, the Rosminian conception of distributive justice, economic equity and equal opportunities and the role of other factors such as population, culture and happiness in economic policy-making. Finally, the chapter proposes Rosmini’s version of the subsidiarity principle as the main basis to organize a personalist economic public policy.

Carlos Hoevel

Chapter 10. Instruments of Economic Policy Under the Light

This chapter is focused on the detailed description of concrete economic instruments in the areas of production (industrial policies), labor (work flexibility, subsidies, education), taxes (kinds of taxes, ways of collection) social assistance (legitimacy and limits of the Welfare State) and commercial policies (regulations for a gradual opening up of the economy) that Rosmini proposes as practical applications of his recognition paradigm for economic science. Rosmini is indeed a harsh critic of economic policies based on regimes of privilege, monopolies, special subsidies and of a statist conception of the economy. However, and despite the clear definitions that bring Rosmini close to liberal economic thought, his recommendations of public economic policies also point to a clear subsidiary role of the State in all those economic activities that private individuals cannot undertake, a gradual and never sudden opening up of the economy, an impulse to education and the help of the needy by the State, civil society and religious associations.

Carlos Hoevel

Chapter 11. State Institutions, Civil Society, Family and Religion

This chapter presents Rosmini’s proposal of the set of institutions that are necessary in order to build an economy where all interests and rights are recognized, expressed and openly discussed. In the first place, the economic functions of the Parliament, the Political Tribunal and other political institutions of the State are presented. Secondly, the chapter describes the Rosminian conception and appreciation of the economic importance of civil society, the role of regional and central government and the civil dimension of businesses. In the third place, the chapter takes into account Rosmini’s conception of the role of the family in the economy. In the fourth place, the role of religion and of the Catholic Church is analyzed with respect to the evolution of economic ideas and the possibilities of a sustainable global economy and society.

Carlos Hoevel

Chapter 12. Conclusion: Towards a New Economic Science

The conclusion of the book is mainly epistemological. It presents Rosmini’s description of the problems of fragmentation, excess of abstraction, rationalist reductionism and utilitarianism as typical of modern sciences that should also be taken into account when analyzing the problems of economic science. Besides, as it is shown throughout the book, the conclusion presents the two risks of isolating economics, mainly due to the obsession with the creation and accumulation of wealth, but also of wrongly integrating it with ethics and with ‘eudemonological’ sciences. Besides, the conclusion stresses the importance of Rosmini’s epistemological distinctions in order to differentiate economics from ethics in a proper way, subordinating the former to the latter but, at the same time, allowing their mutual influence. Finally, the conclusion shows the importance of the empirical and practical dimension, as well as the need for a higher wisdom in order to build a non-rationalist, realist and personalist economic science.

Carlos Hoevel


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