Saturday, June 14, 2008

Acton U. -- A Brief Summary (and Table of Future Contents)

Today I have returned from the Acton Institute's Acton University. It was a lot of fun, I learned a lot, clarified some thoughts, and met some interesting people. On Tuesday, the day we all arrived, we heard the welcome address by the president of Acton, Rev. Robert Sirico, titled, "Thoughts on Human Dignity," where he introduced many of the ideas that would be developed in the conference sessions we would take. Keep in mind that the Acton Institute is primarily interested in the moral foundations of the free market, Christian morality especially, and Catholic moral teachings most especially. Truth, morality, and economy were emphasized -- but I will go into more details later. I plan to post something on each of the sessions I attended and then to give an overview when I'm done. That being said, let me list everything I attended:

Session 1: Christian Anthropology: Freedom and Virtue by Dr. Samuel Gregg

Session 2: Christianity and the Idea of LImited Government by Mr. Michael Miller (don't let the "Mr." fool you -- he has a M.A. in International Development, a M.A. in Philosophy, and a MBA in International Management)

Session 3: Economic Way of Thinking by Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse

Session 4: Myths About the Market (well, we got 3 out of 8, anyway) by Dr. Jay Wesley Richards

These were all required for those who were attending for the first time, and were all on the first full day, at the end of which everyone watched the Acton-produced documentary "The Birth of Freedom." The next two days were sessions of my choice.

Session 5: Economics and Human Action by Dr. Carlos Hoevel

Session 6: The Catholic Social Encyclical Tradition by Mr. Kishore Jayabalan

Session 7: Private Property: Scriptural, Moral and Economic Foundations by Mr. Michael Miller

We then had discussion groups, where we could go to talk about various topics. I was invited to go to the "Globalization: Africa" discussion group, where there was lively discussion about the relationships among Africa, the West, and globalization. After dinner we heard Lord Brian Griffiths, who was a special advisor for Margaret Thatcher (and who knew Frederick Hayek), give a talk on the Theology of Capitalism in a Fallen World. He was brilliant and funny.

Session 8: The Ethics of Capital and Interest by Mr. Jeffery Tucker (you will hear much more about this talk, since it dealt with peoples' time preferences, and I'm very interested in time. In fact, I'm very interested in pursing some of the ideas he talked about further, and combining them with other things I have read about children's time preferences in relation to education)

Session 9: Business as a Moral Enterprise by Mr. John Beckett (he's a corporate chairman)

Session 10: Economic Liberty in Catholic Social Teaching by Mr. Kishore Jayabalan

That night we had the final dinner lecture, Piety and Technique, give by Rev. Robert Sirico. I unfortunately didn't have my notebook handy, so I couldn't take notes. But the gist of the talk was that we should not replace good intentions (piety) with good technique and truth. A lot of people have a pious interest in helping people, and think that their piety is good enough. But the real question is: is what you are doing actually going to have the results you are after? Piety is no replacement for technique. While piety may help you decide to do good things for people, it is equally important that what you do will have the desired results. Thus, is and ought are deeply connected. To have true moral action, one must both have good intentions and good results.

I met many, many, many wonderful people. Who could list them all? Even if the sessions weren't as great as they were, it would have been worth going just to meet all the people I met.

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