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Review: Luis De Molina’s De Iustitia et Iure: Justice as Virtue in an Economic Context

11 June 2013

Well, it has been a while since there has been a book review on The Molinist. I hadn’t given up on them; I just wasn’t reading anything to review. The reviews that have featured on The Molinist have been mostly from the reading I was doing to familiarise myself with my topic and period in intellectual history. Since they vanished my research-related readings have consisted principally of reading the back-catalogues of my areas, getting up to date with the research. Now I can happily say that I am at that point where I am reading recent publications and engaging with them beyond the taking in of information. Hopefully as I continue to engage with on-going scholarship more book reviews will be featured. With that in mind, I present you this review of the most recent book currently sitting on my desk with a notebook sticking out of it.

justice-as-virtueLuis de Molina’s De Iustitia et Iure: Justice as Virtue in an Economic Context is a monograph, published by Brill under their ‘Studies in the History of Christian Traditions’ imprint, of Diego Alonso-Lasheras’ (now Associate Professor in the Faculty of Theology at the Gregorianum) doctoral dissertation at Weston Jesuit School of Theology. As one of three major publications on Luis de Molina in English in the past half-century (and one of two of the good ones [now there’s a topic for a book review]) you can bet this was at the top of my reading list, though its economic focus is somewhat out of line with my current focus on consent theory. Alonso-Lasheras presents Molina’s economic theory in the context of his larger socio-political ethics and its influences, ranging from the natural jurisprudence of Aquinas, Vitoria, and de Soto to the spirituality of the Society of Jesus (or Company of Jesus, as it was known at the time). The result is readable work that serves both as a general introduction to Luis de Molina’s social and political thought, as well as a detailed exploration of an aspect of his economic theory.

The actual study of justice as a virtue was an extremely interesting one but sadly brief. Perhaps a third of the entire length of the monograph was devoted to the putative question at hand. While I understand the need to thoroughly lay out the larger position of a lesser-known figure such as Molina, it seemed a shame that more space could not be devoted to the specifically economic and aretaic questions. That said, Alonso-Lasheras succeeds in raising a number of fascinating questions even over the course of this very short study. Of particular interest to me was the question of genre. The work under discussion, De Iustitia et Iure, was of a new genre of scholastic writing which had developed in response to new social and intellectual contexts. Alonso-Lasheras’ exploration of the particular forms and content of this genre, as well the questions of why and how it emerged to replace the older model of scholastic discourse of justice, wherein these questions would be treated, in considerably less depth, as headings of a Summa, was extremely enlightening. So too was his discussion of the nuance and praxis-centeredness of Molinas moral and economic thinking. He presents Molinas economic theory as derived not simply from reading Aquinas but from walking to the docks of Coimbra and talking to the merchants about how business was done and why. This nuance is especially evident when Alonso-Lasheras presents Molinas position on slavery. Molina held slavery to be sinful and in violation of the natural law but made allowances for the salvation of the slave traders out of deference to the economic realities of his times. While this hardly a position we today would be happy to hear, it does speak a thinker who drew his positions from a variety of sources.

Alonso-Lasheras’ tone throughout is largely one of praise for Molina. Others whose research centres heavily on the Society of Jesus, most of whose historians have historically been other Jesuits, may also have noted the tendency of Jesuit historians to regard their historically important forebears in a sometimes uncritically positive light. Alonso-Lasheras does not embody this rule but neither does he break it. Though hardly hagiographical, Alonso-Lasheras’ presentation of Molina is quite laudatory. His positive attitude towards his subject never gets in the way of Alonso-Lasheras’ critical analysis, however, and the engagement with Molina’s context and the content of his ideas is measured throughout.

Luis de Molina’s De Iustitia et Iure: Justice as Virtue in an Economic Context is definitely worthy of a read by anyone interested in early modern economic thought, early modern Jesuit thought, early modern Iberian thought, or the works of Molina specifically. Both the subject and the discipline, Molina and economic theory, are under-published on and that one of the few works available is so worthwhile certainly nice. ‘Mine’ is a library copy and, being a monograph, a personal copy is extremely expensive for a book of such size (€102.00 on the Brill website). Hopefully your local and/or university library can order a copy if one is not on hand.

Edition reviewed: Alonso-Lasheras, Diego, Luis de Molina’s De Iustitia et Iure: Justice as Virtue in an Economic Context, Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2011.

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