A drawing of a man standing up, with one hand holding a cane and the other pointing at a book

Adam Smith

How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it. Of this kind is pity or compassion, the emotion which we feel for the misery of others, when we either see it, or are made to conceive it in a very lively manner. That we often derive sorrow from the sorrow of others, is a matter of fact too obvious to require any instances to prove it; for this sentiment, like all the other original passions of human nature, is by no means confined to the virtuous and humane, though they perhaps may feel it with the most exquisite sensibility. The greatest ruffian, the most hardened violator of the laws of society, is not altogether without it. (The Theory of Moral Sentiments, I.I.1)

When the general rules which determine the merit and demerit of actions, come thus to be regarded as the laws of an All-powerful Being, who watches over our conduct, and who, in a life to come, will reward the observance, and punish the breach of them; they necessarily acquire a new sacredness from this consideration. That our regard to the will of the Deity ought to be the supreme rule of our conduct, can be doubted of by nobody who believes his existence. The very thought of disobedience appears to involve in it the most shocking impropriety. How vain, how absurd would it be for man, either to oppose or to neglect the commands that were laid upon him by Infinite Wisdom, and Infinite Power! How unnatural, how impiously ungrateful not to reverence the precepts that were prescribed to him by the infinite goodness of his Creator, even though no punishment was to follow their violation. The sense of propriety too is here well supported by the strongest motives of self-interest. The idea that, however we may escape the observation of man, or be placed above the reach of human punishment, yet we are always acting under the eye, and exposed to the punishment of God, the great avenger of injustice, is a motive capable of restraining the most headstrong passions, with those at least who, by constant reflection, have rendered it familiar to them. (Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, III.I.111)

As every individual, therefore, endeavours as much as he can both to employ his capital in the support of domestic industry, and so to direct that industry that its produce may be of the greatest value; every individual necessarily labours to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can. He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good. It is an affectation, indeed, not very common among merchants, and very few words need be employed in dissuading them from it. (The Wealth of Nations IV.II)

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James Madison

The belief in a God All Powerful wise and good, is so essential to the moral order of the world and to the happiness of man, that arguments which enforce it cannot be drawn from too many sources nor adapted with too much solicitude to the different characters and capacities to be impressed with it. (James Madison to Frederick Beasley, 20 November 1825)

The man who is possessed of wealth, who lolls on his sofa or rolls in his carriage, cannot judge the wants or feelings of the day-laborer. The government we mean to erect is intended to last for ages. The landed interest, at present, is prevalent; but in process of time, when we approximate to the states and kingdoms of Europe, — when the number of landholders shall be comparatively small, through the various means of trade and manufactures, will not the landed interest be overbalanced in future elections, and unless wisely provided against, what will become of your government? In England, at this day, if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of landed proprietors would be insecure. An agrarian law would soon take place. If these observations be just, our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation. Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests, and to balance and check the other. They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority. The senate, therefore, ought to be this body; and to answer these purposes, they ought to have permanency and stability. (Statement on 26 Jun 1787, as quoted in Robert Yates’ Notes of the Secret Debates of the Federal Convention of 1787)

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Abigail Adams

. . . A patriot without religion in my estimation is as great a paradox, as an honest Man without the fear of God. Is it possible that he whom no moral obligations bind, can have any real Good Will towards Man, can he be a patriot who by an openly vicious conduct is undermineing the very bonds of Society, corrupting the Morals of Youth, and by his bad example injuring that very Country he professess to patrionize more than he can possibly compensate by his intrepidity, Generosity and honour? The Scriptures tell us righteousness exaltheth a Nation.  (Abigail Adams to Mercy Otis Warren, 5 November 1775)

Daniel Webster

We live under the only government that ever existed, which was formed by the deliberate consultations of the people. Miracles do not cluster. That which has happened but once in six thousand years, cannot be expected to happen often. Such a government, once destroyed, would have a void to be filled, perhaps for centuries, with evolution and tumult, riot and despotism. (Daniel Webster (1802), quoted in A.F. Lewis, The Illustrated Fryeburg Webster Memorial [A.F. & C.W. Lewis, Fryeburg, ME, 1882])

Edith Stein (Saint Teresa Bendicta of the Cross)

Despite this fleeing of being, I am; from moment to moment I am being held in being and in my fleeting being I am fastened to an enduring Being. I know that I am being held and therein I find calm and security. (Endliches und ewiges Sein, from Antonio Calcagno, The Philosophy of Edith Stein, p. v)

Everything abstract is ultimately part of the concrete. Everything inanimate finally serves the living. That is why every activity dealing in abstraction stands in ultimate service to a living whole. (“The Ethos of Woman’s Professions” in Essays on Woman)


Karol Józef Wojtyła (Pope John Paul II)

Returning now to the initial question: can it perhaps be said that, after the failure of Communism, capitalism is the victorious social system, and that capitalism should be the goal of the countries now making efforts to rebuild their economy and society? Is this the model which ought to be proposed to the countries of the Third World which are searching for the path to true economic and civil progress?

The answer is obviously complex. If by “capitalism” is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a “business economy”, “market economy” or simply “free economy”. But if by “capitalism” is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative. (Centesimus Annus, 42)

Eric Voegelin

Philosophy springs from the love of being; it is man’s loving endeavor to perceive the order of being and attune himself to it. Gnosis desires dominion over being; in order to seize control of being the Gnostic constructs his system. The building of systems is a gnostic form of reasoning, not a philosophical one. (Science, Politics, and Gnosticism)

The use of method as the criterion of science abolishes theoretical relevance. As a consequence, all propositions concerning facts will be promoted to the dignity of science, regardless of their relevance, as long as they result from a correct use of method. Since the ocean of facts is infinite, a prodigious expansion of science in the sociological sense becomes possible, giving employment to scientistic technicians and leading to the fantastic accumulation of irrelevant knowledge through huge “research projects” whose most interesting features is the quantifiable expense that has gone into their production  (The New Science of Politics: An Introduction)

When somebody wants me to be a Catholic or a Protestant, I tell him that I am a “pre-Reformation Christian.” If he wants to nail me down as a Thomist or Augustinian, I tell him I am a “pre-Nicene Christian.” And if he wants to nail me down earlier, I tell him that Mary the Virgin was not a member of the Catholic Church. I have quite a number of such stock answers. (Letter to John East, 18 July 1977)

Thomas Hill Green

The claim of the slave to be free, his right implicit to have rights explicit, i.e. to membership of a society of which each member is treated by the rest as entitled to seek his own good in his own way on supposition that he so seeks it as not to interfere with the like freedom of quest on the part of others, rests, as we have seen, on the fact that the slave is determined by conceptions of a common good to himself with others, as shown by the actual social relations in which he lives. No state law can neutralise this right. The state may refuse him family rights and rights of property, but it cannot help his living as a member of a family — acting and being treated as a father, husband, son, or brother — and therefore cannot extinguish the rights which are necessarily involved in his so acting and being so treated. Nor can I prevent him from appropriating things and from associating with others on the understanding that they respect each other’s appropriations, and thus possessing and exercising rights of property. He has thus rights which the state neither gives nor can take away, and they amount to or constitute a right to freedom in the sense explained. (Principles of Political Obligation, 115)

That countless generations should have passed during which a transmitted organism was progressively modified by reaction on its surroundings, by struggle for existence, or otherwise, till its functions became such that an eternal consciousness could realise or reproduce itself through them — this might add to the wonder with which the consideration of what we do and are must always fill us, but it could not alter the results of that consideration. (Prolegomena to Ethics, 94)

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Albert North Whitehead

When we consider what religion is for mankind, and what science is, it is no exaggeration to say that the future course of history depends upon the decision of this generation as to the relations between them. [“Religion and Science”, The Atlantic (August 1925), quoted in Roy Clouser, The Myth of Religious Neutrality: An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories]


Roger Scruton

It is not the truth of Marxism that explains the willingness of intellectuals to believe it, but the power that it confers on intellectuals, in their attempts to control the world. And since, as Swift says, it is futile to reason someone out of a thing that he was not reasoned into, we can conclude that Marxism owes its remarkable power to survive every criticism to the fact that it is not a truth-directed but a power-directed system of thought. (Political Philosophy: Arguments for Conservatism)

Edward Feser

No great philosopher, no matter how brilliant and systematic, ever uncovers all the implications of his position, foresees every possible objection, or imagines what rival systems might come into being centuries in the future. His work is never finished, and if it is worth finishing, others will come along to do the job. Since their work is, naturally, never finished either, a tradition of thought develops, committed to working out the implications of the founder’s system, applying it to new circumstances and challenges, and so forth. Thus Plato had Plotinus, Aristotle had Aquinas, and Aquinas had Cajetan – to name just three famous representatives of Platonism, Aristotelianism, and Thomism, respectively. And thus you cannot fully understand Plato unless you understand Platonism, you cannot fully understand Aristotle unless you understand Aristotelianism, you cannot fully understand Thomas unless you understand Thomism, and so on. True, writers in the traditions in question often disagree with one another and sometimes simply get things wrong. But that is all the more reason to study them if one wants to understand the founders of these traditions; for the tensions and unanswered questions in a tradition reflect the richness of the system of thought originated by its founder. (Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction, pp. 7 – 8)

The only way for a philosopher to avoid both sterile historicism and ahistorical arrogance – both fossils and Frankenstein monsters – is to strive to understand the history of his subject while always keeping in mind that this historical knowledge is not an end in itself, but a means of approaching philosophical truth. In particular, it requires understanding the ongoing traditions of thought to which many of the great thinkers of the past contributed. To understand not just Thomas, Plato, or Aristotle, but Thomism, Platonism, or Aristotelianism, as living systems, is simultaneously to situate these thinkers within their proper intellectual context and to understand their contemporary relevance. (“Fossils and Frankenstein Monsters“)