Schools of Thought in Economics
Edited by Gilbert Faccarello and Heinz D. Kurz
Medieval economic views can be reconstructed only indirectly, through the works of theologians, moralists, lawyers, and philosophers for whom such issues did not constitute a field that deserved to be considered separately. Even texts that are directly related to specific economic problems, such as money lending, only make sense as part of a more general perspective. In general, economic views are restricted to certain paragraphs in the Summa, the commentaries on Aristotle’s works on ethics or politics, or comments on contracts in canon or civil law. These economic ideas therefore appear as a kind of projection from theological, philosophical, moral, political or legal concepts to the economic aspects of social life, especially as they concern human behaviour. In this respect, the economic reasoning of the Middle Ages could not be considered an economic theory in the modern sense. Characterized by a comparative approach, it consists of two procedures. First, within the framework of general conceptions of society, a norm for economic activity is formed. Secondly, economic behaviour and, further, economic intentions, are analysed and assessed for whether they conform to that norm. Understanding this duality is particularly important since it permits an explanation of certain apparent contradictions between the various judgements of the schoolmen. Moreover, it helps prevent the erroneous though widespread tendency to read medieval economic analysis through exclusively normative glasses: whatever the norm is (a just price, for instance), the existence of a possible gap between this norm and actual transactions requires an explanation to support the judgement of the moralist, whether priest or judge. The elements of medieval economic analysis lie in this explanation.
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