VILLANOVA, Pa. – Economists and theologians would seem to inhabit different intellectual worlds. Mary Hirschfeld, PhD, associate professor of Economics and Theology in the Department of Humanities in Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, successfully bridges the two in her book, Aquinas and the Market: Toward a Humane Economy (Harvard University Press, 2018). At a special Vatican ceremony on May 29, the book was awarded the Centesimus Annus—Pro Pontifice Foundation’s “Economy and Society” International Prize, given every two years to individuals who are making significant contributions to implementing the social doctrine of the Catholic Church.
The award was presented by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, and Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising. In the press release announcing the award, the Centesimus Annus Foundation said that Dr. Hirschfeld’s book “offers a fascinating dialogue between the world of economics and the world of faith.”
The key argument of the book is that material wealth is an instrumental good, valuable only to the extent that it allows people to flourish. Dr. Hirschfeld uses that insight to develop an account of a genuinely humane economy in which pragmatic and material concerns matter but the pursuit of wealth for its own sake is not the ultimate goal.
“We cannot think well about economic life, of the challenges to economic justice and the environment if we do not first think hard about the shape of human happiness and the proper role of wealth,” Dr. Hirschfeld noted as she accepted the award.
Dr. Hirschfeld, who was a professor of economics for 15 years before training as a theologian, specializes in the boundary between economics and theology, specifically by developing an approach to economics that is grounded in the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas. According to Dr. Hirschfeld, an economics rooted in the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas integrates many of the insights of economists with a larger view of the good life, offering a critical view on the ethical shortcomings of modern capitalism. Thomistic economics, she argues, can deal with our culture as it is, while still offering direction about how we might make the economy better serve the human good.
Dr. Hirschfeld’s scholarship has applications to consumption economics, economic justice, the common good, the nature of practical reason and economic methodology. She received her PhD in Economics from Harvard University and PhD in Theology from the University of Notre Dame.
About Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Since its founding in 1842, Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has cultivated knowledge, understanding and intellectual courage for a purposeful life in a challenging and changing world. With more than 40 majors across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, it is the oldest and largest of Villanova’s colleges, serving more than 4,500 undergraduate and graduate students each year. The College is committed to a teacher-scholar model, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate research opportunities and a rigorous core curriculum that prepares students to become critical thinkers, strong communicators and ethical leaders with a truly global perspective.