Why the Acton Institute? Philosophy’s Good Beyond Philosophy

June 15, 2011
Posted by Joe Gorra

When it comes to the question, “why do I enjoy studying philosophy?” or, if you will, “what motivates me to ‘do philosophy?’” I suppose that I have a simple answer: I want to become a more resourceful person to the people that I serve through whatever spheres of influence that I might have. In that regard, my view is that philosophy is not merely a handmaiden to theology and nor is it just an indispensable second-order discipline to serve other disciplines. But, really, philosophy is a handmaiden to life, a handmaiden to my life in service to others.
This view of philosophy’s practicality helps me decide how to think about my intellectual, moral, and spiritual appetites, their diet, their growth, philosophy’s place in my diet, and a course of action concerning how to get fed in order to feed others. I philosophize, therefore to serve others. At least that’s my goal.
Why is this important? For me, it means that philosophy’s good is far more than just merely “doing philosophy” for the sake of the health of philosophy as a discipline or philosophy for the good of the professional guild. As such, it means that I need to regularly fill my diet, especially my intellectual one, with more than just philosophical work for the sake of philosophical work. I want to know how philosophy has a touch-point with real life, actions, choices, routines, and relationships.
In my estimation, typical “philosophy conferences” are often inhospitable to reaching beyond the discipline and profession of philosophy with the good of philosophy (part of the reason why I intentionally self-discipline myself from attending most philosophy conferences in any given year). So, if I want to attend a conference, I ask, “How will this make me a more resourceful person?” Specifically, “will this help me recognize and utilize philosophy’s good as a handmaiden to life, especially the lives that I serve?” That’s my primary intention.
The work of the Acton Institute (www.acton.org), and especially their annual Acton University conference, is highly hospitable to this sort endeavor. Over the last several years, I have attended Acton University (second time this year, and happening now!), their Toward a Free and Virtuous Society events, and also co-sponsored Liberty Fund and Acton Institute events.
Honestly, I don’t know of any other conference or organization that intentionally affords the Christian philosopher the unique opportunity to engage in such interdisciplinary work at the intersection of theology, economics, and social policy. As a matter of enrichment (personally and professionally), I “come alive” at their gathering, my imagination is cultivated by the possibilities of how the theoretical and practical  goods of philosophy can converge and collaborate with other bodies of knowledge.
Acton’s intellectual architecture is intelligently designed to permit – no, encourage! – the good of philosophy to be utilized in this way.
The Mission of the Acton Institute is to promote a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles.

How could Christian philosophers not be stakeholders of such a mission?
If you are a Christian philosopher that is bored or maybe burnt-out with doing philosophy just for the sake of professional philosophy, connect with the Acton Institute! Subscribe to their stimulating, cutting-edge, and historically-mindful peer-review publication, the Journal of Markets and Morality.
If you are a Christian philosopher that longs for deep, abiding, rewarding interdisciplinary work that appreciates the convergence between a theology of human personhood and an economics of human action, come to Acton University! Regardless if you are an undergrad, grad, PhD, post-grad or professor of philosophy, come and belong.
Over the years, various EPS members have taught at Acton events (e.g., Scott Rae, Jay Richards, and Craig Mitchell immediately come to mind), they have collaborated with others to help create helpful content, and many more have attended numerous Acton-sponsored events.
For Christian philosophers, the work of the Acton Institute is for more than just the self-identified ethics professors (although, if you are a Christian ethics professor and you’ve never attended Acton University, may I simply say with all charity intended, shame on you!).
Briefly and rather quickly, here are some possible projects that EPS members could develop under the inspiration of the Acton Institute’s mission and endeavor:
  • Ontology of money, wealth, business, corruption, rights, civic order, freedom, virtue, public good, markets, social institutions and order, culture, power, law, human flourishing, envy, greed, wealth accumulation vs. divestment, work and play,  etc.
  • Philosophical anthropology of human persons and actions that’s most conducive to accounting for ordered freedom, human dignity, distinctiveness of humans as economic actors; our concept of human embodiment and the work that such a concept can do in light
  • Epistemological factors, ranging from which sources of knowledge and epistemic traditions are helpful to understanding the economics of human action; the epistemic status of “common grace” and natural moral law as a witness to human responsibilities and duties toward our neighbor.
  • In philosophy of religion, how our conceptions of the original sin, evil, and corruption have philosophical pay-off for a theology of economics; how our philosophical conceptions of creation, the created order, materiality have implication for understanding the nature of material culture and a theology of work.