Lesson 8: Critique of Contemporary Technology and Economy

1) Human life in community requires not only political prudence but also the arts or technology, that is, a skilled practical use of human intelligence in the modification of the material environment and even the human body (medicine, physical training) to serve human needs better. God has given us our intelligence for the stewardship or wise conservation and perfection of our material world. God alone is the Creator, but in his work of creation he has made uses of some natural forces that he has already created to complete his work. Thus he uses the chemical elements to produce chemical compounds and living parents to reproduce their species and in this way has brought about the universe in its present state by evolution. He has, however, given us a spiritual intelligence by direct creation (since only he can produce spiritual realities just as he alone could create material realities originally) to use to complete his evolutionary work. This means, however, that we must use technology in a way that respects his plan of creation, not in ways (such as contraception, artificial human reproduction, nuclear warfare, pollution of the environment, destruction of biodiversity) that contradict that plan.

2) The architectonic or guiding technology that coordinates all other technologies is what today is called economics, or the efficient use of natural resources to fulfill human needs. Too often economics is divorced from the virtue of social justice to which it, like every art, ought to be subordinated, since all technologies are subordinated to political prudence and prudence requires the observance of justice. In modern society there has been a controversy between socialism (communism, anarchism) that centralizes economic control in the state or anarchic community, promoted especially by Karl Marx and private initiative (capitalism, free market) that leaves it to free market competition, promoted especially by Adam Smith. The Catholic Church rejects both extremes, since socialism contradicts the right of private property and the principle of subsidiarity and has in practice led to totalitarianism and economic stagnation, while capitalism leaves the interests of the common good to economic "laws" that are supposed to balance supply and demand, but which it fact are used by the rich to exploit the poor for the sake of profit. The profit motive is justified only if it is controlled by concern for the common good and distributive justice. Hence there must be some governmental regulation of the free market to protect the less powerful competitors. Yet private property and free economic initiative (under proper control for the common good) is necessary for our economy to be sufficiently productive that it can overcome the scarcity of material necessities that has always plagued the human community.

3) The preservation of our environment is not only in order that we may have the resources necessary for a productive and just economy but also because the greatest of human needs is for contemplative truth, or meaning. We come to know God first of all through his creation and in doing so to know other created persons. Thus human culture is not merely practical, but above all contemplative. Hence society must promote the intellectual virtues (the pure sciences) and the fine arts, whose purpose is contemplative rather than practical. The fine arts (poetics) present the truth presented by the sciences in forms that appeal to the human imagination, senses, and emotions for a contemplative enjoyment.


Read John Paul II, Encyclicals, "On Human Work" (Laborem Exercens, 1981) and "The Hundredth Year Since Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum" (on the Church's social doctrine, Centesimus annus, 1991).


1) What are the two reasons for preserving and cultivating our material environment?

2) Why is economics the architectonic technology?

3) What is the role of the fine arts in life?

4) Why are both socialism and capitalism inadequate economies to achieve the common good?

5) Why is private property a human right but one subordinated to the common good?


Purchase This Course                               << Previous               Next >>                                   Return to Top