Burgess Laughlin

Stark's *Victory of Reason*

107 posts in this topic

CAUTIONS FOR CH. 1

MEANING OF REASON AND FAITH? On pp. 5, 6-7, and later, the idea of "reason" is crucial to Prof. Stark's theme, but what does it mean? Likewise, what is "faith"? Does faith as used in the phrase "faith in God" mean the same as faith in "faith in reason"? Prof. Stark not only fails to distinguish reason and rationalism (in the Objectivist meanings of those terms/ideas), but also does not note the role of rationalism in service of rationalization. A clue to his meaning of reason -- actually, rationalism -- appears on p. 8. There he describes one 12th Century medieval mystic, Bernard of Clairvaux (the persecutor of the pro-reason scholastic Peter Abelard), as justifying his mysticism in "elegantly reasoned theology." That means an argument that has an orderly, syllogistically correct flow to it -- but does not start from premises that are based logically in sense-perception.

Another, more explicit example of rationalism appears on p. 11: "These views were entirely consistent with the fundamental Christian premise that God's revelations are always limited to the current capacity of humans to comprehend." Note the emphasis, not on objectivity (basing ideas logically on perceptible facts of reality), but on "consistency," that is, syllogistically structured arrangements of ideas deduced from arbitrary premises (as here, in the "fundamental Christian premise").

TELLING PART OF THE STORY. On p. 6, Prof. Stark tells us that Augustine believed in free will. Prof. Stark doesn't tell us that Augustine also believed in a kind of cognitive determinism: To understand certain "mysteries," one must first hold them on faith, but it is God, through his "grace," who decides who has faith.

PROBLEM OF SELECTION. On pp. 7 and 8: Prof. Stark generally ignores the beliefs of "minor Christian theologians" in favor of the beliefs of "major, authoritative figures" (such as Augustine and Aquinas). Who is minor and who is major? This approach raises a question of methodology for historians: How should you as a historian decide which individuals to quote as representative of the period being described?

PROBLEM OF GENERALIZATION. On p. 10 and elsewhere: One of the pitfalls that can trap even professional historians is the problem of generalization. If a historian asserts, for example, that "Christianity," more than any other religion, values reason, the reader should ask several questions. One is about what kind of generalization the historian is making. Is he claiming that every person who called himself a Christian valued reason as a primary means of gaining knowledge? Or is he saying most Christians (say, 51%) held that value? Or is he saying that the dominant Christians -- the ones who, though perhaps a minority numerically, were the most powerful in their field or in their society -- held that view?

This caution, of course, doesn't apply just to Stark, but note his use of words such as "prevailing," "typical," and "conventional." What do those terms mean? Dominant? Predominant? Common? Essential (in the Objectivist sense of the term)?

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CAUTIONS FOR CH. 1

MEANING OF REASON AND FAITH?

This is a quick note as I am preparing to go to work. To my annoyance, my start page changed for some reason. In place of my web folders was a "Word of the Day" feature. After giving up on trying to locate my folders, I noticed there was also a link to Dictionary.com. I decided to play around with the sight.

There are no entries that could be found for 'faith in reason'. It asked did you mean, 'within reason?' No entries for 'faith in God' either. There are entries for 'leap of faith'. No entries for 'voice of reason.' But there is an entry for 'listen to reason.'

I thought this sight would be interesting to use because it may help determine what Prof. Stark is trying to say when he says, 'faith in reason'. It is fairly easy to use and it provides lots of sources and cross references. I will investigate more when I have some more time.

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Introduction, Chapter 1

In this section Rodney Stark defines theology. He presents a contrasting view by the scholastics that theology is based on “irrationality and dogmatism”. However, he explains that theology is “a formal reasoning about God”.

Professor Stark places emphasis on the discovery of what "God intended".

Pg. 5

“Theology necessitates an image of God as a conscious, rational, supernatural being of unlimited power and scope who cares about humans and imposes moral codes and responsibilities upon them,”

An explanation is given as to why there are not theologians in Eastern religions, such as Taoism and Buddhism. According to these religions, there is no such thing as a "conscious God".

Christians have studied theology for centuries in order to define and interpret God’s will.

St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas are introduced as primary theologians who wrote about Reason and free-will. Professor Stark quotes St. Augustine in order to demonstrate that man has the ability to seek Reason and logic because man possesses the potential to do so.

Franciscans and Cistercians advocated “mysticism and spiritual experiences” above Reason in theology, but Professor Stark explains that Reason continues to be more pertinent.

Christian Faith in Progress

In this section of Chapter 1, Professor Stark explains that Jewish and Muslim religions in general are based on their history, scripture, and religious law. This is opposed to Christian studies of progress.

Professor Stark continues to give more examples by highlighting Summa Theologica written by Thomas Aquinas which includes advocating of the study of logic.

He continues to support the idea of Reason in Christianity as God intends that humans have the “capacity” to learn and understand.

Theology and Science

Professor Stark explains why “science and religion are compatible.” Man has the ability to understand using methodology and “systematic observations.” Real science emerged in Europe because there was a belief in the possibility to do so.

China

The Chinese examined “enlightenment” and did not necessarily pursue science as it did not occur to them. Professor Stark does not discuss the hierarchical culture of China.

Greece

The Greeks on the other hand did spend a great deal of time studying and theorizing but saw the universe as cyclical.

Here Professor Stark provides an example by Aristotle.

Pg. 19

“Aristotle noted that “the same ideas recur to men not once or twice but over and over again,” …”

Prof. Stark notes that there was not much progress in Greece after Plato and Aristotle.

Islam

There is great appreciation for Greek learning in Islam. There is high regard for Aristotle, but rather than understanding and pursuing logic, some Muslim scholars were more literal in their translations.

Moral Innovations

Another aspect of Christian theology is the examination of the self.

Here Professor Stark introduces the full concept of individualism in Christianity. The concept of “the self” is in contrast with other religions where the idea of the self is not recognized or even important because value is placed on the group or community.

The Rise of Individualism

As he explains, Christians are taught that they are responsible for their own salvation. It’s impossible for one being to be responsible for the actions and the soul of another.

The Abolition of Medieval Slavery

Because the concept of individualism and free-will are valued in Christianity, it became increasingly difficult for one being to rationalize ownership of another.

Several examples of progress of Reason via Christianity are provided in this section.

_______________________________

This chapter defines theology and religious progress by use of logic and religious reasoning. According to Professor Stark, free-will and individualism are a relatively unique concept introduced to man-kind via Christianity.

In future chapters I hope to learn more about why the concepts of free-will and individualism are less valued among some Christians around the world. I wonder if these concepts along with other conditions unique to the cultures of the West are more the reason for scientific progress.

In order to comprehend the full context for Rodney Stark’s explanations of Reason in religious studies, it may be wise to learn more about Greek studies.

St. Augustine’s approach to theology was based on his appreciation for Neo-Platonic studies. Thomas Aquinas held a greater appreciation for the works of Aristotle and logic.

I look forward to reading more about Roman innovation as a major influence in European progress in The Victory of Reason in future chapters.

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Some further thoughts on Chapter One and some of the ideas Stark has been presenting. On page 11 and 12 Stark says: "The Christian image of God is that of a rational being who believes in human progress, more fully revealing himself as humans gain the capacity to better understand."

If the Christian God believes in human progress, and expects man to gain capacity to better understand his "creation," then why did the Christian God forbid Adam and Eve to eat of the Tree of Knowledge? It would seem that man's efforts to gain knowledge and understanding are in direct conflict with the Christian God's intentions.

Then Stark writes: "Moreover, because God is a rational being and the universe is his personal creation, it necessarily has a rational, lawful, stable structure . . . " Stable, that is, until God decides to change it, as when he performs some miracle or other.

On the Christian origination of individualism, I find that idea doubtful, the more I think about it. What exactly is Stark's definition of individualism, anyway? Simply knowing that one is an individual? Being responsible for one's own salvation---that's individualism? Not in a rational world, since in a rational world, there is no God, not afterlife, no Judgment Day. Hence no need for "salvation." Individualism, in a rational world, is having regard for one's own life in this world. It is pursuing one's own happiness in life, and not seeking salvation in a mythical afterlife. Being responsible for one's own actions, certainly, as they pertain to living in human society on earth. And Christianity, let us not forget, is the religion of altruism, not egoism. Which ethic is assosiated with individualism? If the men who designed the soaring cathedrals of the Middle Ages were individualists, as Objectivists understand that term, wouldn't they have "signed their name to it," so to speak? Instead, they considered themselves unimportant, and worked only for the "Glory of God," so no one knows who they were. They were miserable sinning worms, as their church taught them, and they knew it.

What kind of individualist is dedicated to altruism and considers himself a sinner from birth?

My point here is that Stark is equivocating on the concept of individualism. He wants us to see the word and associate it with the sort of individualism that led to capitalism, whereas he is referring to the Christian brand of individualism, which would appear to be a counterfeit individualism that stresses self-abasement and service to anyone but oneself.

Stark also stresses Christianity's alleged belief in free will. How does that square with the idea of Original Sin? Which part of free will do all new born infants use to become sinners for the crime of being born? And what of Augustine's belief in predestination? How does that square with free will? That isn't a fatalist doctrine? Clearly, it is. Either you have God's Grace, or you don't---and your free will had nothing to do with it.

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In order to comprehend the full context for Rodney Stark’s explanations of Reason in religious studies, it may be wise to learn more about Greek studies.

St. Augustine’s approach to theology was based on his appreciation for Neo-Platonic studies. Thomas Aquinas held a greater appreciation for the works of Aristotle and logic.

I would also like to add to my post in regard to Chapter 1.

The below is part of my commentary in addition to the need to learn more about Greek studies.

While reading The Victory of Reason, I have found that I am also able to refer to The Aristotle Adventure by Burgess Laughlin in order to better understand the influences of Greek philosophy in Christianity. This has been extremely valuable to me as I have not formally studied Greek history or philosophy.

I think that the difference between Platonism and Aristotelian thinking are crucial, and paying tribute to both schools of thought seems to be philosophically inconsistent.

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[...] the difference between Platonism and Aristotelian [...] paying tribute to both schools of thought seems to be philosophically inconsistent.

It is indeed, generally speaking. You have here highlighted a point that readers of VOR might keep in mind as they continue through the chapters.

Leonard Peikoff, in the Epilogue of Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, notes the duel between the followers of Plato and the followers of Aristotle in the 2400 years since the time of those two philosophers. Prof. Stark, in VOR, repeatedly but briefly mentions two "churches" (subcultures) in the Catholic Church. He refers to a "church of piety" (primarily focused on adhering to other-worldly standards) and a "church of power" (more concerned with getting on with life here on earth, even by adjusting earlier theological principles to fit the reality of this world).

I can find no reference to these two churches in the index, but by skimming my notes in the book I see that he introduces these ideas on pp. 202-203. However, in earlier chapters he leads up to those ideas when he discusses, more informally, contrasts between worldly Churchmen and ascetic Churchmen.

My own study question, for the weeks ahead, is: What relationship is there, if any, between (1) the duel of Plato and Aristotle and (2) the divergence of the two churches -- two streams of somewhat differing values -- within the overall Church?

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Chapter One: Blessings of Rational Theology

I will confine my post this week primarily to one topic, which I considered the most important in the chapter: part of the Christian view of metaphysics being historically essential to Western success.

Context and my use of the term historically in the previous sentence:

Despite Greece's invention of philosophy and Rome's somewhat similar continuation of that trend, Greece and Rome both fell. I personally do not know, historically, whether or not those civilizations could have succeeded in their circumstances or the specific reasons for their fall. While I consider this interesting and plan to study it in the future, I don't wish to currently consider the Greece/Rome vs. Christianity arguments as to which civilization was better for the development of science and individual rights. What I do know is that Greece and Rome did end, and that the Western Civilization once immersed in Christianity got us to where we are today. The role of this book, at least in what I wish to gain from it, is to explain how Christianity may have contributed to modern advancements rather than whether Greece or Rome hypothetically could have.

Part of the Christian view of metaphysics being historically essential to Western success:

...nature exists because it was created by God. In order to love and honor God, it is necessary to fully appreciate the wonders of his handiwork. Because God is perfect, his handiwork functions in accord with immutable principles.

Centuries of meditation will produce no empirical knowledge. But to the extent that religion inspires efforts to comprehend God's handiwork, knowledge will be forthcoming, and because to comprehend something fully it is necessary to explain it, science arises as the "handmaiden" of theology.

These were the crucial ideas that explain why science arose in Christian Europe and nowhere else.

Quote-selection note: The first quote above was directly before the third in the text, but I inserted the middle one from earlier in the chapter because it seemed to fit logically in between those two statements.

There are two important metaphysical principles here:

(1) The universe was created by God

(2) Man can understand the universe, which is ruled by natural laws outside the power of his volition

Consider the Objectivist principles in the field of metaphysics: existence, identity, consciousness, the law of causality, the primacy of existence, and the metaphysically given. Now ignore the first principle Stark claims and focus on the second for a moment. It implies that there is an existence for man's consciousness to understand; that objects in reality have a nature (identity) capable of being understood. The laws describe the interaction among entities (causality). Man cannot change the nature of reality which is absolute (primacy of existence, metaphysically given). The 2nd metaphysical principle (2) can be viewed as a primitive grasp of the Objectivist metaphysics. Combined with the implicit validity of man's senses in being able to understand the universe (which Kant had not yet attacked), this provides a basic form of all the fundamentals needed to fully validate reason.

It makes sense that this would be the context from which reason would flourish. Stark convincingly demonstrates that other civilizations--the East in particular and also Islam--do not have this same view of the immutability of natural laws and thus were philosophically far behind.

Now, keep in mind that I dropped principle (1) which was the basis for (2). There is an obvious contradiction in this argument--that rationality had to come from the irrational (God). The Islamic and Eastern religions did not have this contradiction (or at least to this degree) because they were dedicated to the supernatural and accepted that they couldn't understand the world around them. That this contradiction existed in men's thought process was of course not a good thing--but it was better than not knowing an alternative to mysticism was possible. Contradictions in arguments can be discovered and corrected. Reason, the foundation for which the West alone had, provided the means to correct it.

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Professor Stark defines theology [which etymologically means "God-science"] as the "science of faith," the science that consists of "formal reasoning about God." ["Formal reasoning" here means rationalism, as Objectivists use the term; see “Rationalism vs. Empiricism,” The Ayn Rand Lexicon.]

[...]

...we need faith to initially accept the idea that there is a God, that he has a certain nature, and that he has a certain plan. We can gather information about these issues from Holy Scripture...

I agree with your identification of Stark's concept of theology as rationalism, but I think there is a little more to it that indicates Christianity was in a better state than what rationalism typically represents.

The premises being reasoned from come from the Holy Scripture, which is a collection of very many faith-based "facts." Rationalism, at least when I've encountered it, seemed to be a process consisting of deducing many things from a simple starting point (see Descartes). To the extent that religious rationalists were deducing things from multiple premises/stories found in scripture, it has more the form of induction than deduction. This does not in any way imply that it is not rationalistic--I certainly agree with that since all the premises are accepted on faith. The form of the rationalism, however, seems better suited for leading to an inductive view of reason than the archetypical examples of rationalism that I'm familiar with.

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To the extent that religious rationalists were deducing things from multiple premises/stories found in scripture, it has more the form of induction than deduction.

I am preparing a reply to the main poiint of your post. First, though, we need to straighten out another point, in bold, quoted above. You seem to be saying an induction is a deduction. That doesn't make sense. Perhaps what you meant was: "To the extent that religious rationalists were inferring things from multiple premises/stories found in scripture, the inference process has more the form of induction that deduction." Right?

"Inference" is the general idea, and induction and deduction are instances of it. In fact, "inference" is a concept one can infer inductively from seeing a wide range of inductions and deductions.

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The premises being reasoned from come from the Holy Scripture, which is a collection of very many faith-based "facts." [...] To the extent that religious rationalists were deducing things from multiple premises/stories found in scripture, it has more the form of induction than deduction.

I think you have an interesting speculation here. It deserves further exploration. I am not prepared to debate this subject, but I would like to discuss it.

Because our topic is primarily historical, I would like to ask for particular historical examples. What faith-based "facts" found in the Bible do Christians usually accept as a starting point for their theological or other inferences, whether by deduction of induction? If we are dealing with this issue historically, we need to point to particular facts -- which here means particular ideas or statements in the Old or New Testament.

To start the discussion, I will suggest two "facts" Bible readers are usually asked to accept on faith. First is the existence of God. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," as Genesis, Chapter 1, Verse 1, tells us. Without accepting the existence of God and without accepting some understanding of God's nature, the rest of the Bible would be nonsense, even to religionists. A second example "fact" that Christians generally take on faith (at some point in their "thinking") is any incident such as the burning bush which Moses said he saw. Exodus, Chapter 3, Verses 1-4, tells readers that Moses saw, on Mount Ho'reb, a bush which was burning but not turning to ash. (The bush also spoke to him.) The inductive inference that Christians (and Jews) can draw from such "facts" is that God can, has, and may again interrupt the ordinary course of nature. That is what a miracle is, an intervention by God in the natural flow of events.

So, jedymaster, I do agree that intellectual Christians do form inductive inferences as well as deductive ones -- both from starting points based in faith (or, what amounts to the same thing, in tradition or special authority). I am using "inductive" here in the loosest sense of inference from particulars.

However, I hold rationalism to be deductivist because (1) that is the general, characteristic form of inference rationalists use; and, more importantly, (2) they claim to start with axiomatic ideas and deduce other context-setting ideas from the axioms. No, rationalists don't claim, in my experience, that they get all the "stuff" of knowledge from deduction -- only the fundamental, most context-setting ideas which provide a framework and foundation onto which they can place other ideas they get from looking around.

I have read only a little of Descartes, so please correct me. However, my understanding is that he sought an indubitable principle, one which would provide a foundation, a justifying context, in which he could "logically" deduce other principles. He didn't claim to deduce everything from that, only the most important, foundational ideas. But, because of the very importance of that process, and because the process was ostensibly deductive, I would characterize his approach as deductivist.

However, if your point is that even rationalists use inductive inference too, then I would agree. The particular question here, though, is which form of inference is characteristic of rationalists?

Of course, most importantly, the question should be: How do they get their starting points in the first place, whether for inductive or deductive inferences? From sense-perception -- or from holy scripture, tradition, or institutional authority? The former is objective. The latter three are ultimately arbitrary -- a key characteristic of rationalism.

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I am preparing a reply to the main poiint of your post. First, though, we need to straighten out another point, in bold, quoted above. You seem to be saying an induction is a deduction. That doesn't make sense. Perhaps what you meant was: "To the extent that religious rationalists were inferring things from multiple premises/stories found in scripture, the inference process has more the form of induction that deduction." Right?

"Inference" is the general idea, and induction and deduction are instances of it. In fact, "inference" is a concept one can infer inductively from seeing a wide range of inductions and deductions.

Absolutely. That was a terribly careless mistake on my part and I apologize. Thank you for catching it, being understanding, and clarifying the issue.

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Week 3: Ch. 2, “Medieval Progress”

Good morning, today is Monday, April 3, the first day of Week 3 of VORSISG. The assignment this week is to post about Ch. 2. Following are my notes summarizing the key points.

Part I. “Foundations”

Ch. 2. “Medieval Progress: Technical, Cultural, and Religious.”

Untitled Introduction. Prof. Stark’s theme in this chapter is that “soon after the fall of Rome,” presumably c. 400, “Christian commitment to reason and progress … encouraged an era of extraordinary invention and innovation.” He offers the next four sections as proof. First, however, Prof. Stark addresses “an incredible lie,” the contention that Western Europe, presumably in the period c. 400 to c. 1400, was dominated by superstition, misery, and ignorance, and then suddenly, at the end of the period, reason, prosperity, and knowledge returned (as the Renaissance). (P. 35)

Prof. Stark offers a substitute view: The collapse of the centralized, highly oppressive Roman Empire freed the former victims of imperial Roman taxation and control. Freed them to do what? To innovate and to borrow from other cultures, and thus to make life better for most people than it had been during the preceding three centuries of the Empire.

On pp. 36-37, Prof. Stark rightly raises an issue of methodology. He notes that the population of the city of Rome (the center of the massive imperial bureaucracy) declined enormously at the end of the Empire. That is true, Prof. Stark says, but that decline began under the Empire and it continued into the Dark Age. Some historians, he says, have seen that decline as representative of decline everywhere in W. Europe. However, other towns -- especially those created from the bottom up by rising local trade rather than from the top down by imperial fiat -- actually grew during the same Dark Age (“so called,” Prof. Stark would say). The towns that grew during this Dark Age, being primarily commercial, did not leave great stone monuments (built by bureaucrats). A question arises: Have these commercial towns attracted less attention from historians easily impressed by monument-builders? (For students of history, the issue here is what kind of evidence is appropriate, to make sure it doesn’t skew the conclusions drawn about events in history.)

Technical Progress. Prof. Stark holds that despotism discourages innovation (as well as the widespread application of innovation). As a corollary, reducing oppression (such as the reduction of imperial oppression following the fragmentation of the Roman Empire) allows innovation to appear. For the Dark Ages/Middle Ages (the timing is vague in his account), Prof. Stark cites such innovations as: overshot water mills (and the dams they require); mechanization of production; water and wind mills; better horse-collars for greater “horsepower” and therefore higher agricultural productivity; three-field rotation; wide-scale fish-farming; organized fishing fleets at sea; advances in mechanization of cloth-making; chimneys; eyeglasses; clocks; innovations in war (giving the West military superiority); and improved land transportation from horseshoes, swiveling front axles and brakes on wagons, and tandem-harnessing.

Progress in High Culture Prof. Stark cites advances such as: polyphony in music; improved musical notation; Romanesque and Gothic art and architecture; use of oil paint on stretched canvass; the spread of education, including higher education, and especially the unique Western invention, the university.

Prof. Stark also speaks of advances in science in the Dark Age/Middle Ages. He is vague about what those advances were. He mentions no scientist until Jean Buriden, who died only a generation or so before the usually cited beginning of the Renaissance, c. 1400. This is one of the two weakest areas of Stark’s argument. The other area is philosophy, about which Stark has little to say. That is puzzling, because there was a long, steady increase in philosophical sophistication – especially in the study of logic -- from the pit-years of the Dark Age, c. 550-650, right up into the Renaissance. But Prof. Stark does not acknowledge that rise. In fact, Prof. Stark speaks hardly at all about philosophy, though he says, in effect, that ideas cause history.

Two other areas that Prof. Stark skips over -- areas in which the Classical Greeks (c. 500 – c. 300 BCE) made great advances -- are math and art. (Advances in math continued for centuries beyond the classical period, for example in the work of Archimedes, who died in 212 BCE.) However, Prof. Stark does note mathematics as an exception, earlier in the book.

Inventing Capitalism Prof. Stark’s thesis here is that (1) capitalism, as he defines it on p. 56, began in the early 800s, on monastic estates; and (2) the monastics' positive experiences with production and trade led some Christian theologians to revise their previously negative ideas about the value of business.

ON CAPITALISM. Prof. Stark defines capitalism as “an economic system wherein privately owned, relatively well organized, and stable firms pursue complex commercial activities within a relatively free (unregulated) market, taking a systematic, long-term approach to investing and reinvesting wealth (directly and indirectly) in productive activities involving a hired workforce, and guided by anticipated and actual returns.” (P. 56)

THE RISE OF RELIGIOUS CAPITALISM. Prof. Stark holds that the Bible condemns greed and wealth but it does not “directly condemn commerce or merchants.” [He does not explain the connection between the two – e.g., is it okay to engage in commerce as long as you aren’t profitable?]

Professor Stark notes that ancient pagans, at least the leading intellectuals, also disdained business as degrading. However, Prof. Stark says, among later Christians, only some – the ascetics -- had negative attitudes toward the creation of wealth. They had little power, at least in certain periods of Church history, he says. Later in the book, Prof. Stark will say that there are two streams of Christians: (1) the Church of Piety, the ascetics, and (2) the Church of Power, the Christians who want to live prosperously in this world. Prof. Stark says the Church of Power, apparently beginning in the 800s [what happened to the previous 400 years, usually considered the Dark Age?], acquired great wealth not only through donations, but also through productive activities such as expansion of monastic farms into areas that today would be called “wetlands.”

THE VIRTUES OF WORK AND FRUGALITY. Prof. Stark says a distinguishing characteristic of Western Christian monks (presumably compared to pagan, Muslim, or Buddhist monks) was their belief that productive work is a virtue. This Christian ethic is one root of the rise of capitalism, he says. Christian theologians, after seeing the results of this virtue, continued revising their views of business, leading them to accept it, if not enthusiastically. Thus, this is an example of one element of Prof. Stark’s theme: The Christian idea of progress (evolution toward better conditions) is one root of the good things that have emerged in W. Civilization.

Capitalism and Theological Progress Here Prof. Stark sketches the evolution of changing attitudes of (Western) Christian theologians toward business, particularly the progressively more positive and more permissive attitudes toward market-pricing and the charging of interest on loans.

Islam and Interest Islam’s relentless opposition to interest on loans (though not to trade) stifled any early attempts to develop capitalism, Prof. Stark holds. Western Christianity’s ability to “rationally” change its theology [he means philosophy, as part of the religious package], to encourage followers of Christianity to strive for prosperity, was another characteristic that distinguishes Christianity from more tradition-bound religions.

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Chapter Two

Medieval Progress: Technical, Cultural, and Religious

In this chapter Stark attempts to prove that the Dark Ages were not actually dark, that it was in fact an era of tremendous progress. "An extraordinary outburst of innovation in both technology and culture," he called it, on p. 37.

In proof, Stark lists 20 or so inventions from the Middle Ages. This is hardly impressive, given that he is casting his net over more than a thousand years of history to find these inventions. Then he asserts, as usual, that "All of these remarkable developments can be traced to the unique Christian conviction that progress was a God-given obligation . . . " (p. 48). But that is not proven at all, merely asserted. That someone invented the iron horseshoe or the chimney during the Middle Ages does not prove that it had anything to do with Christianity. To make this assumption is to commit the fallacy of post hoc, ergo propter hoc: after this, therefore because of this. Something happened after Christianity became dominant in Europe, therefore it was because of Christianity. One does not necessarily follow from the other, yet Stark constantly assumes that it does.

A particularly weak attempt to revise the view that the Dark Ages were not very literate appears on p. 52. Stark mentions "medieval" giants like Dante and Chaucer as examples. Of course, neither of these men were from the Dark Ages. Dante lived from 1265 to 1321; Chaucer was born around 1340---both near the end of the Middle Ages, and well out of the Dark Ages. Then Stark mentions the French chansons de geste, and "the monks who, beginning in the ninth century, devoted themselves to writing lives of saints in French . . . So much for Dark Age illiteracy and ignorance." (Emphasis added.) That Stark can come to the conclusion of that last sentence, after the pathetic "evidence" that preceded it, is incredible. He obviously has little respect for the intelligence of his readers. He claims to have proved something without even coming close to proving it. That does not inspire confidence in his other claims, to put it mildly.

Next, Stark embarks on a description of how he believes capitalism arose in Europe during the later Middle Ages. He claims it began on monastic estates, because these estates used hired labor, specialized in certain goods (such as wine, or wheat, or horses, or sheep, etc.) were based on a cash economy rather than barter, and served as lenders, at interest, to kings, nobility, and bishops. It requires a person better versed in the history of capitalism than me to verify whether these monastic estates were the first to combine these elements of capitalism.

Finally, after spending several paragraphs trying to prove that the Church did not condemn the lending of money for interest, or "usury," Stark is forced to admit that "Thus, while the sin of usury remained on the books, so to speak, 'usury' had become essentially an empty term," (p. 66). Any crime that is still "on the books" can still be used against you. Bankers were forced to evade the prohibitions on usury by resorting to various expedients, such as "trading notes, bills of exchange, or even currencies in ways that seemed adventuresome . . . " (p. 66).

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CAUTIONS for Ch. 2, “Medieval Progress: Technical, Cultural, and Religious.”

A LIE AND A HOAX? Prof. Stark says “antireligious, and bitterly anti-Catholic, eighteenth-century intellectuals” and “some writers” (p. 35) have presented a lie and a hoax about the period (presumably 400–1400) between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance. With two exceptions, Voltaire and Edward Gibbon, Stark does not here identify these liars and hoaxers or the writings in which they make their charges.

Stark’s charges raise another question that deserves consideration: How should an objective historian assess the quality of life of a whole era and then compare it to the quality of life of an earlier or later era? In his brief introduction, pp. 35-37, Stark focuses on only a few elements that might be used to judge the condition of a society and then compare it to another society: level of taxation; appearance of new technologies; and growth of population driven by growth of commerce. He does not consider, for example, the quality of the system of justice; the level of philosophical discussion; or the ease of pirate-free, long-distance travel. Nevertheless, his charge against the liars and hoaxers, if substantiated by some evidence, should alert objective readers to check their premises. That is one of the benefits of studying authors we don’t like.

ANONYMITY OF INNOVATORS. On p. 37, Prof. Stark says -- echoing historian of the Middle Ages, R. W. Southern -- that the early medieval period was a time of “secret revolution,” that is, a time when discoverers and inventors were anonymous and often not tied to any particular time or place. Stark mentions this as a way of dampening expectations about details in his later discussions of innovations in the Dark Age. However, I suggest there is more to be considered: Stark should ask why anonymity for innovators was so common during this period. The answer may reveal an essential characteristic of the period that Stark does not discuss. Two possible answers, worth further research, are: (1) Early medieval culture generally discouraged individualism, especially among the “productive classes”; and (2) absence of a system of justice that would have protected inventors and their inventions led them to keep their inventions secret.

TIMING. Chronology continues to be a problem, especially in the “Technical Progress” section, pp. 37-50. Note the absence of dates in some cases. In other cases, note the wide range of dates offered in proof statements (such as, on p. 46, the Battle of Lepanto, in 1571, nearly two centuries after the Renaissance began!).

A further timing problem arises when Prof. Stark speaks of “Roman times.” What does he mean by that? In a broad sense, “Rome” lasted 1000 years. To which segment of that time is he referring? (This problem is analogous to the error that lovers of Classical Greek culture make when they speak of “Greek culture,” as if the two were the same.)

EVIDENCE? Prof. Stark says, “Not only did most Europeans eat far better during the Dark Ages than in Roman times but they were healthier, more energetic, and probably more intelligent” (p. 42, end of second full paragraph). Where is the evidence for this broad statement? Further, how would an objective historian even go about forming such an induction? Through much of his book (which is written for a broad audience), Prof. Stark frequently cites sources, and does so in this paragraph up to but not including this statement. Why not here too? (Perhaps Prof. Stark has in fact referenced a source here, but his cryptic bibliographic style does not present an obvious lead.)

DEFINITION OF CAPITALISM. Prof. Stark’s definition of capitalism, on p. 56, is a mixture of philosophical and historical elements, as well as a mixture of essential characteristics and nonessential characteristics. What he is defining is primarily a historical phenomenon – an economic movement, rather than a political system (as Ayn Rand defines “capitalism”). Also notice Prof. Stark’s conservative position: He opposes “highly regulated” economies, but he is not an advocate of laissez-faire.

CHURCH AS LANDOWNER. Prof. Stark says, on pp. 58-59, the Church was W. Europe’s largest landowner. He suggests reasons: Believers gave their wealth to the Church in hopes of saving their souls from damnation; the Church invested donations into land and productive enterprises; and Church land managers expanded their ownership on the inner frontier, by taming wild lands. What he doesn’t explain is why there weren’t other organizations growing economically, outside of Church and State. Could it be because there was little freedom to do so? Part of Prof. Stark’s thesis – that W. Europe was relatively free compared to other cultures around the world -- would still stand, but this issue needs to be explored.

MONKS AND FRIARS. On p. 62, Prof. Stark says “… medieval Christian monastics lived by their own labor.” That is partly true. Labor, of one sort or another, was part of what many monks were expected to do to keep their souls pure. Prof. Stark does not mention, however, that while individual monks usually didn’t beg, their monasteries (as corporations) often did receive donations of money, land, and usufruct. Prof. Stark does not mention that friars (whose organizations began appearing c. 1200) were often “mendicants,” that is, beggars. The difference between a monk and a friar is important for any history of the transmission of a philosophy of reason through W. Christendom. Thomas Aquinas and Albertus Magnus, both champions of many aspects of Aristotle’s philosophy, were friars, not monks.

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Prof. Stark does not mention that friars (whose organizations began appearing c. 1200) were often “mendicants,” that is, beggars. The difference between a monk and a friar is important for any history of the transmission of a philosophy of reason through W. Christendom. Thomas Aquinas and Albertus Magnus, both champions of many aspects of Aristotle’s philosophy, were friars, not monks.

That's an interesting point. I did not know the difference between friars and monks. In perusing the book A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, by Andrew D. White, there is a chapter on some of the epidemics that swept through Europe during the Middle Ages. It shows that the clergy were among the most filthy humans on the planet---deliberately. This is a quality of life issue. While Greece and Rome might not have been as sanitary as they might have been, I am not aware that they were deliberately filthy.

The religious world was far indeed from the inspired utterance attributed to John Wesley, that "cleanliness is near akin to godliness." For century after century the idea prevailed that filthiness was akin to holiness; and, while we may well believe that the devotion of the clergy to the sick was one cause why, during the greater plagues, they lost so large a proportion of their numbers, we can not escape the conclusion that their want of cleanliness had much to do with it. In France, during the fourteenth century, Guy de Chauliac, the great physician of his time, noted particularly that certain Carmelite monks suffered especially from pestilence, and that they were especially filthy. During the Black Death no less than nine hundred Carthusian monks fell victims in one group of buildings.

Naturally, such an example set by the venerated leaders of thought exercised great influence throughout society, and all the more because it justified the carelessness and sloth to which ordinary humanity is prone. (pp. 69-70, History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom)

The Church attributed these plagues to the wrath of God, and the Church suggested the way to avert such wrath was devotion to the Church:

. . . the dominant theology throughout Europe, which was constantly developing a great body of thought regarding the agencies by which the Divine wrath might be averted.

First among these agencies, naturally, were evidences of devotion, especially gifts of land, money, or privileges to churches, monasteries, and shrines---the seats of fetiches which it was supposed had wrought cures or might work them. The whole evolution of modern history, not only ecclesiastical but civil, has been largely affected by the wealth transferred to the clergy at such periods. It was noted that in the fourteenth century. after the great plague, the Black Death, had passed, an immensely increased proportion of the landed and personal property of every European country was in the hands of the Church. Well did a great ecclesiastic remark that "pestilences are the harvests of the ministers of God." (pp. 70-71, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom)

So here we have Christianity contributing, by their example, to the filthiness and unsanitariness of the age, and hence of the breeding ground for pestilence, throughout the Middle Ages---and then profiting from it by suggesting donations to the Church will help avert God's wrath. Just a few more significant facts Stark omits in his account of how Christianity affected the rise of the West.

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So here we have Christianity contributing, by their example, to the filthiness and unsanitariness of the age, and hence of the breeding ground for pestilence, throughout the Middle Ages [...]

What do you mean by "Christianity"?

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What do you mean by "Christianity"?

That should have been "So here we have the Church, by the example of its representatives, the monks, contributing . . . " And I might add by the example of many of the Church's saints, who were gluttons for filth, as noted by author Andrew White:

St. Jerome and the Breviary of the Roman Church dwell with unction on the fact that St. Hilarion lived his whole life long in utter physical uncleanliness; St. Athanasius glorifies St. Anthony because he had never washed his feet; St. Abraham's most striking evidence of holiness was that for fifty years he washed neither his hands nor his feet; St. Sylvia never washed any part of her body save her fingers; St. Euphraxia belonged to a convent in which the nuns religiously abstained from bathing; St. Mary of Egypt was eminent for filthiness; St. Simon Stylites was in this respect unspeakable---the least that can be said is, that he lived in ordure and stench intolerable to his visitors. (p. 69, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom)

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Kitty Hawk's point about (some) saints glorifying poor hygiene is well taken. But I know of no evidence showing that all members of the church or the larger medieval society acted according to or advocated that standard. Saints such as Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas, for example, were admired for their theological and other thinking, not for poor hygiene.

The issue of the baths points up the existence of two cultures in medieval society: this-worldly and other-worldly. Both elements appear even in the Church itself, as an institution in that society. The task of the historian is to disentangle the two threads, and then identify both the roots and the effects of each.

I certainly haven't made a special study of the history of baths and bathing. Following are a couple of items about baths in certain locations at certain times in the Middle Ages, according to a secondary source who cites medieval documents. I offer the two items, unverified, as a possible and partial counterpoint to those offered by White.

1. In 1167, the monks of the Cathedral Priory (a form of monastery) of Canterbury, England built a water-supply system bringing water from a nearby spring into the grounds of the priory. (The plan for the system has survived.) An underground pipe carried water from the spring and then branched into other pipes passing into the priory -- one each for the infirmary, the dining hall, the kitchen, the baker's house, the brewery, the priory bathhouse, and the prior's own private bath. The wastewater from the bathhouse drained down another pipe to flush the latrine. (From: Jean Gimpel, The Medieval Machine, p. 87.)

2. "The standards of hygiene in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were relatively high, but progressively the authorities worried about the 'permissiveness' they discovered in the many public baths .... In the thirteenth century there were ... thirty-two public baths in Paris, for men and women." At least some private houses had baths made of wood. At first the commercial bathhouses were set up for men and women mixing. (A painting from the 1100s shows several young, fit couples sitting in raised baths standing next to dinner tables, and served by waitresses pouring wine.) Later, local laws required bathhouse owners to offer the baths to one or the other, but not both sexes. By the early 1300s, local Church authorities were denouncing licentious behavior in commercial bathhouses and began pressuring city governments into closing the baths. They succeeded in large measure. (From: Jean Gimpel, The Medieval Machine, pp. 91-92.)

P. S. -- One fascinating aspect of history, as a science, is that a student can pick what seems to be a narrow object of study -- such as baths -- and become a specialist, but one who understands how that object fits into the wider society and culture. For example, performing philosophical detection on claims made throughout history for or against baths might be edifying as well as amusing

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[...] many of the Church's saints, who were gluttons for filth [...]

As far as I can tell from memory, all of the saints named in the quotation from White were early Christians living in the late ancient world, under the rule of the Roman Empire. Further, weren't they eastern Christians living in the earliest Christian centuries? They were not medieval -- that is, they were not Latin-Christians living in western Europe after the disintegration of the Roman Empire in the 400s.

However, if the point is that these saints, among hundreds of others, were held up by some leaders of the medieval Church as moral examples, then it is certainly true that the Church, in part, was sometimes sanctioning poor hygiene.

An additional measure of the position(s) of the Church on hygiene is religious art. What does medieval art -- from a variety of times and places in the Middle Ages -- show about the hygiene of saints? Do paintings and sculpture typically show the saints as filthy? If not, I wonder, then why not?

P. S. -- I hope everyone in this study group realizes that part of my job in conducting this study group is to encourage discussion by offering counter-examples and contrary arguments.

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However, if the point is that these saints, among hundreds of others, were held up by some leaders of the medieval Church as moral examples, then it is certainly true that the Church, in part, was sometimes sanctioning poor hygiene.

That was the main point I was trying to make. And clearly many---but not all---of the medieval monks in Europe followed their example of unsanitariness.

An additional measure of the position(s) of the Church on hygiene is religious art. What does medieval art -- from a variety of times and places in the Middle Ages -- show about the hygiene of saints? Do paintings and sculpture typically show the saints as filthy? If not, I wonder, then why not?

I don't have any specific knowledge of medieval religious art. If, however, it portrays saints as living a clean and sanitary life, I would say the religious artists are more this-worldly than the saints they were portraying. Most saints, to my knowledge, are of the church of piety, the artists more of the church of power. When the general population looks to the Church for guidance and examples of how to live, I think they admire the more devoted church of piety types than the church of power types. And that is why I believe the medieval monks who lived unsanitary lives influenced the general population in the wrong direction.

P. S. -- I hope everyone in this study group realizes that part of my job in conducting this study group is to encourage discussion by offering counter-examples and contrary arguments.

Certainly, no offense is taken to counterarguments.

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Summary of Chapter 2, Medieval Progress: Technical, Cultural, and Religious

Technical Progress

Medieval Europe overcame the negatives of Roman tyranny by using religious reasoning.

Innovations in Production

After Rome fell, water power was developed. The creation of water powered mills in rivers and dams were used to saw lumber, create cloth, gave man the ability to more easily pound metal for metal works and even to create paper.

Windmills also spread quickly over Europe to help provide power to areas not near water and to help remove water where it was not desired.

A more modern horse harness and horseshoes were invented, as well as pivoting wagon wheels enabling faster, better ability to move more cargo, more quickly.

Agriculture became much more efficient due to better plows. Professor Stark describes the unique soil conditions in Europe which made plowing near impossible prior to better equipment and agricultural techniques. In the 8th century the three field farm method was developed. Farmlands were divided in to three plots, winter, spring and one to lie unplanted each season. This enabled the farmers to rotate their crops year to year.

Fish farms became popular, partly due to the Christian rule of not eating meat on Friday.

Innovations of War

Horses were given more sturdy saddles and stirrups. Also stronger armor was introduced for soldiers. Professor Stark notes that the Franks used heavy armor in the year 732.

Explosive powder was created in China; however it was the Europeans who used the powder for artillery. This was first done in Europe with the creation of the cannon, first used around 1325.

Sea power became more advanced after the stern rudder was invented making steering by oar a way of the past.

Ship building changed dramatically. The frame was built first, then the outer walls/planks were added, strengthening joints with pegs, and sealed with caulk.

Ships became wider and cannons were mounted. It was now possible to use explosive powder from ships with cannons, enabling them to sink the ship of the enemy from a distance.

The compass was invented which enabled ships to venture further to sea and unlocking them to landmarks.

Innovations in Land Transportation

Professor Stark explains that Roman roads were narrow and slick, which made them somewhat useless in medieval times. As the harness was created for horses, better steered wagons with brakes and were used with teams of horses or oxen and carried more cargo, faster.

Progress in High Culture

Music - Europeans created polyphony around the year 900.

Art - Gothic architecture, oil paints on stretched canvas. See Van Eycks.

Literature - Dante and Chaucer

Education - the first universities were created around the 12th century.

Science -

pg. 53

“…Jean Buriden (1300-58) rector of the University of Paris, anticipated Newton’s First Law of Motion by proposing space is a vacuum,”

Other scientific discoveries were made because the church believed in progress.

Inventing Capitalism

On Capitalism

Christians had to “reformulate fundamental doctrines to make their faith compatible with their economic progress.”

Capitalism evolved in the 900’s by monks and their development of monastic estates.

Professor Stark explains that the term capitalism has been used with various definitions and implications. He offers his own definition of capitalism, essentials, and free markets. See Pg. 56

Pg. 57

“… it rests upon free markets, secure property rights, and free (uncoerced) labor.”

The Rise of Capitalism

This portion describes how the church had to change in order to accept commerce and making profits.

See: Ascetics

Monastic estates came to function in such a profitable, self sufficient manner, that cities were created around them. Money was used to pay for goods rather than bartering goods. Monks and bishops managed estates and came to live as comfortable as some nobles.

The Virtues of Work and Frugality

The Christian work ethic began long before the Reformation. Labor was considered a virtue. Beginning the in 9th or 10th century monastic estates became organized, productive and profitable.

Capitalism and Theological Progress

Pg. 63

“… If God intends that scripture will be more adequately grasped as humans gain greater knowledge and experience, this warrants continuing reappraisal of doctrines and interpretations. …”

Initial Christian Opposition to Interest and Profits

Professor Stark explains how Christians came to accept that is was okay to make profits and charge interest for loans. Oftentimes the church made loans to nobles.

See: Usury

Theology of Just Price and Legitimate Interest

St. Albertus Magnus is quoted in regard to the ability of the seller to sell his goods for a “just price”, according to the estimated value of the product at that time.

Thomas Aquinas also discussed “just price” in much the same manner.

Toward the end of Chapter 2, Professor Stark also explains that some positions of power were purchased within the church and that there were some bishops, even cardinals who did not work their way up through proper channels in the church and did not value the virtue of work.

Islam and Interest

Muslim bankers have had to adapt some of their banking practices in order to conform to their religious law.

____________________

In this chapter, Professor Stark only vaguely hints that there was corruption in the Church in regard to Church property. The Church itself became somewhat feudal.

Based on the hierarchy of the Church, the rule of celibacy was intended for all priests and above the grade of deacon. This rule was ignored for many years.

Inheritance laws became instrumental in order that church property remain with the Church rather than willed to descendants of priests, bishops and so on.

The rule of celibacy began to be enforced around the 10th century.

Professor Stark does not discuss what influence the (Holy) Roman Empire had on cultural development in Western Europe.

Professor Stark is general in regard to European culture and arts in medieval times, below are a couple of tidbits that I have always found interesting:

*William IX of Aquitaine

*What was a troubadour?

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That was the main point I was trying to make. And clearly many---but not all---of the medieval monks in Europe followed their example of unsanitariness.

I've always had the impression that the Romans were more hygienic than Europeans during the Middle Ages. Is that so?

Last Sunday the History Channel had a couple of programs about The Plague and The Little Ice Age of Europe. Unfortunately I was unable to watch the entirety of either program. I'm unable to find anything about the programs on their site at this time, as I was hoping they would show them again in the near future.

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VORSISG: Week 3, Letting Reality Crack Through a Shaky Foundation

Prof. Stark presents an interesting point on p. 41.

The Romans had done a bit of fish farming too, but the industry exploded in the eighth century, when the church prohibited the eating of meat on Fridays and other fast days(which added up to 150 days at the time).

One hundred and fifty days of fasting? That’s 41% of the year. People still have to eat, so they chose the next best thing after meat.

He admits to another interesting point on p. 55.

Capitalism was not invented... It was evolved, beginning early in the ninth century, by Catholic monks who, despite having put aside worldly things, were seeking to ensure the economic security of their monastic estates.

Once again reality saves the day. In order for the monasteries to survive, they have to engage in activities that are of this world.

Prof. Stark than admits the following.

Even more remarkable is the fact that as they developed capitalism, these devout Christians found it necessary to reformulate fundamental doctrines to make their faith compatible with their economic progress. (p. 55)

All three admissions reveal the fact that you can not cheat reality. People have to eat, organizations have to adapt to survive. Prof. Stark is correct when he says the monasteries had to evolve and reexamine their doctrines when they contradicted reality. This is an interesting admission before he attempts to define capitalism. Reality is taking primacy over faith.

Prof. Stark makes another admission on p. 56.

Although I am fully aware that it might be good strategy to let readers supply their own meaning of "capitalism," it seems irresponsible to base extended analysis on an undefined term.

This was the conclusion I reached after reading Chapter 1. I thought it irresponsible to create a package deal using 'pedantic and dogmatic' to define scholastic. His admission that leaving terms undefined as 'good strategy' is reprehensible.

His definition for capitalism is

Capitalism is an economic system wherein privately owned, relatively well organized, and

stable firms pursue complex, commercial activities within a relatively free(unregulated)

market, taking a systematic, long-term approach to investing and reinvesting wealth

(directly or indirectly) in productive activities involving a hired work force, and guided by

anticipated and actual returns.(VOR. p. 56)

Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines capitalism as

an economic system characteriazed by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision rather than by state control, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market. (p. 204)

Prof. Stark tries to present an argument in support of his definition; however, the conclusions he draws are more in support of the Webster's definition or laissez-faire. My focus in my remaining posts will be to identify how Prof. Stark's arguments support laissez-faire and not his definition of capitalism.

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WEEK 4: Ch. 3, “Tyranny and the ‘Rebirth’ of Freedom.”

Good morning, today is Monday, April 10, the first day of Week 4 of VORSISG. The assignment this week is to write about Ch. 3, “Tyranny and the ‘Rebirth’ of Freedom.” Following is my summary of major points in the chapter.

COMMAND ECONOMIES. Prof. Stark offers the rise of a great iron industry in Northern China, in the 1000s, as a fascinating example of what an initially free people will do. Then around 1100, the rulers of China declared production of iron to be a state monopoly and the industry collapsed. In command economies such as this one, the state violates property rights. Those who continue to produce will hide their profits and won’t reinvest in additional productive enterprises. Thus, command economies “neglect the most basic economic fact of life: all wealth derives from production.” (p. 73)

On p. 74, Prof. Stark presents the theme of this subsection: the fall of the Roman Empire created a better environment for productive people, at least in some localities, because in those areas the local rulers were more responsive to allowing productive people to work and do business with little interference and taxation.

THEOLOGICAL FOUNDATIONS OF MORAL EQUALITY. Prof. Stark holds that Christianity supplied the idea of the equal worth of all individuals, which was the foundation of the idea of equal rights. This is another example of Prof. Stark’s hierarchical approach: ethics first and then politics. (He does not always use hierarchical explanations.)

PROPERTY RIGHTS. Prof. Stark offers examples of late ancient and medieval Western Christians, who – at least implicitly – valued property rights, or at least held private property to be socially useful. On p. 79, Prof. Stark says Thomas Aquinas showed that the idea of property rights does not come directly from God, but from natural law, that is, principles created by man using reason in the observation of nature, here on earth. [but note that Thomas’ justification is pragmatic or altruistic or both.]

Prof. Stark does acknowledge the ambivalence of the Church toward property -- with some of the monastic and fraternal orders (such as the Benedictine monks, not named by Stark) and the Franciscan friars (named by Stark) opposing private property, but with the Church “seculars” usually supporting it. (In Catholic terms, a pope, bishop, or deacon is a “secular” clergyman because he is out in the world rather than living in a monastery.)

LIMITING STATES AND KINGS. In contrast to Christianity, Islam began with a tight union of “Church” (mosque) and State: Muhammad himself held the reins of both. Western Christians rejected the idea of “divine rights” of kings, says Prof. Stark. Thus in Christian countries, there was philosophical room for the idea of the people limiting or replacing their ruler.

EUROPEAN DISUNITY. Prof. Stark says the existence of many geographic compartments in W. Europe led to the formation of many cultural groups which, in turn, at the fall of the Roman Empire, led to many tiny governments. Having many tiny governments meant (1) few of them had much power outside their own areas; (2) these “statelets” tended to compete with each other (presumably an example would be in attracting skill workers); and (3) refugees fled oppression in one area to some other area where there was relatively more freedom. The consequence of those three intermediate effects was that some of the tiny states became “highly responsive governments.” Apparently, by that last phrase, Prof. Stark means governments which are willing to either (1) allow more freedom to businesses and their employees, or (2) actively aid them (for example, by building a marketplace for them, in the center of town), as happens today under the guise of “public-private partnership.”

COMMERCE AND THE CREATION OF RESPONSIVE ITALIAN REGIMES. Some city-states created “responsive” (business-friendly, partly pro-freedom) regimes by creating two balance-of-power situations:

1. A macro balance of power: the emerging Holy Roman Empire (the Germanic, central-European empire that expanded and contracted repeatedly, from c. 800 to c. 1800, covering the area from Denmark to the city of Rome) versus the papacy versus the Byzantine Empire (centered in Constantinople, now Istanbul).

2. A micro balance of power within each city-state, balancing the interests of nobles versus merchants, and merchants versus guild workers.

Prof. Stark then describes the general process by which four northern Italian city-states – Venice, Genoa, Florence, and Milan – developed semi-republican (“democratic”) forms of government that were preconditions for the rise of capitalism.

[Note to anyone considering a career in the field of history: Urban history (“city history”) is a fascinating subfield, a subfield in which a student might eventually pick a particular city and then spend a lifetime studying its history, from its archaeological beginnings to modern times. This career choice would be especially suitable for anyone who wants to be, not only a historian, but an intellectual activist participating in the debates of his own time, especially for local politics.]

REPRESSION IN SO. ITALY: AMALFI. Repression by central rulers, Prof. Stark says, crushed southern Italian cities that wanted independence. He uses Amalfi as an example. Around 1000, it was the largest city in Italy but is almost unknown today. It thrived on trade, without interference from landed nobles outside the city. Its prosperity continued under the first two generations of Norman rulers of Sicily and southern Italy. The third-generation Norman ruler, William the Bad, destroyed Amalfi with taxation and economic controls.

NORTHERN FREEDOM. In northern Italy, individual towns won a degree of freedom from the largely rural feudal nobles who owned them. Some of these cities played the local nobles against the distant rulers (higher nobles or kings), and bargained for more freedom for themselves. In some northern cities, town councils were elected, first by a small group of voters, and then by larger and larger groups as the governments tried to increase their base of support.

Prof. Stark (p. 99) summarizes the three causes of an emerging freedom in “some parts of Europe.” They are: (1) The Christian idea of equality of worth; (2) the presence of many small political units that competed to create a better environment for business and workers; and (3) a balance of “interest groups” that brought independence and greater individual freedom.

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CAUTIONS: Ch. 3

COMMAND ECONOMIES. On p. 73, Prof. Stark warns against the production-killing effect of “devastating taxes.” This is another example of his conservative, moderate statism. He believes taxes are bad for pragmatic reasons, not moral reasons.

Prof. Stark, on p. 74, rightly derides the generally disdainful attitude of classical (and later) philosophizers towards trade and business. Prof. Stark fails to note here that prominent Christians, later in the ancient world, shared that attitude. Contrary to some of Prof. Starks statements, Augustine (354-430) is an example. Augustine was in constant pursuit of “wisdom.” That is not knowledge of this world and how to prosper in it materially as well as spiritually, but instead consists vaguely of awareness of insights into eternal (divine) ideas. I have seen this Platonist attitude in Augustine while recently reading his Soliloquies and now his Against the Academics. Augustine, however, does not so much explicitly deride business as he exalts spiritualism and ignores material pursuits (except of course the handouts he receives from his own wealthy patron, Romanianus). Further confusing the issue is the fact that Augustine, in other texts, makes statements showing his admiration for the use of man's God-given reason to solve problems here on earth, for example, in agriculture and in marvelous mechanical devices. Augustine often takes both sides of an issue. Another example is free will versus determinism. He supports both.

Citing classicist M. I. Finley, Prof. Stark points out that “there is absolutely no mention in any of the original Greek sources of any investment … for improvements in land or for manufacturing ….” I doubt it, but it is possible this observation may be another example of “surviving-source distortion” (my term). In this kind of situation, evidence that in itself is valid nevertheless leads to a false conclusion because of the absence of other, relevant evidence from other kinds of sources. Surviving writings from the Classical Greek period are usually the writings of intellectuals and similar people; their writings survived, in part, because they dealt with issues of universal interest, generation after generation. Business people of the time had little reason to write anything worthy of preservation for more than a few years. Whatever records they may have kept of their investments in, for example, large-scale pottery manufacture, have long been lost. The same situation applies especially to the Dark Ages, a time in which the people who were most set against life in this world were the very people – such as priests, monks, and bishops -- mostly likely to write and preserve their writings for hundreds of years, writings that were later used as sources for modern historians. Businessmen of the time would have written little and not preserved any of it for more than a generation or two. So, some modern historians’ conclusions may be based on a built-in slant in the surviving evidence. A student of history should always keep this phenomenon in mind. For some kinds of historical issues, a partial remedy might be looking at archaeological evidence in addition to written evidence.

On p. 74, last partial paragraph, is another example of puzzling chronology. Prof. Stark speaks first of the would-be Roman emperor Constantius (lived 250-306), a military leader. Next, he speaks of Plutarch (c. 50-120), primarily an intellectual, who lived 200 years earlier. Finally he speaks of Cicero (106-43 BCE), a philosophizer who lived more than 300 years earlier than Constantius – all without giving the novice reader a clue of that reverse-chronological order.

THEOLOGICAL FOUNDATIONS OF MORAL EQUALITY. For historians, a common pitfall on the road to objectivity is the fallacy of post hoc, ergo propter hoc, “after this, therefore because of this.” Consider this sequence of events: ABCD. In the history of ideas, simply because idea D follows idea C does not mean idea C caused idea D. Instead, idea D might come from some other, earlier idea (A or B), or idea D might be a result of some mixture of earlier ideas. Prof. Stark holds that the idea of political equality (in rights) comes from the idea of equal worth (in ethics) and that the latter comes from Christ. Prof. Stark should at least consider whether the idea of equal worth might have come from some other source, such as the Stoics, instead of or in addition to Christ.

PROPERTY RIGHTS. Prof. Stark traces the idea of property rights to the Bible, at least as an implication there. The careful reader needs to watch for anachronism. If the idea of “rights” (whose history I have not studied) began, for example, in the Enlightenment, then claiming any earlier reference to it (for example in the 11th Century writer Norman Anonymous) is anachronistic, unless Prof. Stark is referring to implicit ideas. If he is relying on implications, he should say so, at least in a footnote. However, tracing the history of implicit ideas is even more difficult than tracing the history of explicit ideas.

LIMITING STATES AND KINGS. On p. 81, Prof. Stark says the “church fathers” (a term not yet defined here) “were generally content to leave political power to secular rulers ….” But why? Was it because, as Prof. Stark implies, the church fathers supported separation of Church and State – or was it because the church fathers were satisfied that the state was working coercively in the interests of the Church?

EUROPEAN DISUNITY. Prof. Stark has still not defined “western Europe.” An objective reader should also keep in mind that Prof. Stark has nothing to say about the role of Roman culture overall in transmitting Greek or even Latin ideas and practices to the Middle Ages. A society's political structure (and the ideas that back it up) are only part of the society's culture. Prof. Stark tends to think of “Rome” only in a political way.

On p. 83 Prof. Stark once again skips over the period 500-1000, the period that others would call the Dark Age. (Definitions of “Dark Age” vary widely, even among those who use the term). He speaks of the Roman Empire and then of the 1300s. What happened in between?

Prof. Stark repeatedly uses the phrase “responsive governments.” What does it mean? I have not seen a definition or even a general characterization, so far. Judging from the context, I would say a “responsive government” is one that allows productive special-interests to act freely for their own benefit (sometimes with the financial or other support of the state). This is a pro-prosperity mixed economy, but it is not laissez-faire capitalism in the philosophical sense of that term.

COMMERCE AND THE CREATION OF RESPONSIVE ITALIAN REGIMES. Beware of the 900-year jump (mentioned at the bottom of p. 83) between his comment about the Roman Republic and his discussion of the reappearance of “responsive governments” in Italy in the Middle Ages. I don’t see any explicit cultural link between them, in Prof. Stark’s text.

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