Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Principle of Gratuitousness: Opportunities and Challenges for Business in "Caritas in Veritate"

J Bus Ethics (2011) 100:55–66
DOI 10.1007/s10551-011-1187-0

The Principle of Gratuitousness: Opportunities and Challenges
for Business in «Caritas in Veritate»

Dennis McCann

Professor Emeritus, Department of Religious Studies,
Agnes Scott College, Decatur, GA, USA
e-mail: dmccann@agnesscott.edu

Published online: 19 January 2012

Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Abstract One major theme in Pope Benedict XVI’s
encyclical Caritas in Veritate is the ‘‘Principle of Gratuitousness.’’

The point of this essay is to begin a reflection
on what it actually means and its possible relevance. By
comparing the ‘‘Principle of Gratuitousness’’ and its normative
assumptions about ‘‘the logic of gift’’ with anthropological
studies focused on the same phenomenon, I hope
to show, not only the relevance of the encyclical’s normative
vision but also where and how it needs further
clarification. The findings of empirical anthropology provide
qualified support for the encyclical’s focus on generating
and replenishing ‘‘social capital’’ in order to sustain
both markets and politics in an effort to ‘‘civilize the
economy.’’ In order to put the ‘‘Principle of Gratuitousness’’
into more effective practice, the encyclical highlights
the creative role of ‘‘civil society’’ and calls for the creation
social enterprises whose goals are broader and deeper than
maximizing profits. Assessing the realism of Benedict’s
proposal will require further research and reflection on
innovative entrepreneurial ventures designed to address
social problems on a commercial basis, for example,
Muhammad Yunus’ concept of a ‘‘social business’’ and its
development in a series of joint business ventures involving
the Grameen Bank and related organizations.
Keywords Gratuitousness Reciprocity The logic of
gift exchanges Social capital Social business Intrinsic
and instrumental motivation in business Catholic social
teaching Benedict XVI Muhammad Yunus Caritas in


Expanding upon the theology outlined systematically in his
first encyclical, Deus caritas est (2005), Pope Benedict
XVI in Caritas in Veritate (2009) (CV) proposed to renew
Catholic social teaching (CST) by focusing on a new
theme, ‘‘the principle of gratuitousness’’ (CV 34), and its
practical implications for rethinking the role of ‘‘civil
society’’ in creating and sustaining not only the common
good but also normal economic activity. His thoughts on
this topic might readily be dismissed as so much ‘‘theology’’—
literally as well as figuratively in the sense commonly
used by economists to disparage the theories of their
critics—were it not for the fact that the Pope insists on
regarding changes that could result from the widespread
acceptance of this principle as a crucial ingredient in any
real solution to the global economic crisis (CV 36). Given
the severity and protracted nature of that crisis, this Papal
attempt to ‘‘think outside the box’’ should not be airily
dismissed. Anyone concerned with the performance of the
economy and the health of the global business culture
would do well to give CV a serious reading.

It is the purpose of this article to facilitate, such a
reading by highlighting the meaning of the principle of
gratuitousness, and assessing its concrete implications for
how business is understood both in theory and in practice.
My thesis is that the basic problem to which the principle
of gratuitousness may provide an answer is the evident
failure of either the market economy or government
agencies to generate the basic trust or ‘‘social capital’’1
(CV 32) required to ensure the proper functioning of either
of these or both of them together. Benedict’s solution
involves what he calls ‘‘civilizing the economy’’ (CV 37)
by enabling the principle of gratuitousness to become
dominant in civil society. The social capital generated by
the institutionalization of the principle of gratuitousness is
expected to spill over into all other areas of life. For this to
happen, however, the unsuspected potential that could be
unleashed by cultivating gratuitousness in all sectors of
society must be allowed to transform conventional thinking
about politics and markets.

In order to further discussion of Benedict’s challenge to
economic theory and business practice, I will review some
basic points made in CV and use them to interpret the
principle of gratuitousness. By comparing Benedict’s
theologically informed notion of ‘‘gift’’ with Marcel
Mauss’ pioneering anthropological study of the same
phenomenon, I will clarify ‘‘the logic of gift’’ and why it is
crucial for understanding and participating successfully in
marketplace activity. Finally, I hope to suggest how and
why Benedict’s analysis is relevant to business and business
ethics, by observing briefly how his expectations
regarding ‘‘hybrid forms of commercial behavior’’ (CV 38)
have been realized with the development of social enterprises—
as in the ‘‘social business’’ concept now promoted
by Nobel Prize-winning economist, Muhammad Yunus.
Such social business experiments as described by Yunus
not only confirm the reasonableness of Benedict’s hope for
civilizing the economy but also the challenges that remain
for any business that seeks to contribute to the common
good by following the principle of gratuitousness.
The Principle of Gratuitousness and its Application
in a ‘‘Civil Economy’’

A careful reading of CV suggests that the meaning of the
principle of gratuitousness,2 while clearly grounded theologically,
is far from self-evident. Obviously it is an
abstract noun, related to ‘‘grace’’ and ‘‘gift,’’ and yet it
challenges us to rethink the meaning of ‘‘gift’’ at least in
reference to social relations and economic activities.3
While ‘‘gratuitousness’’ is not a synonym for ‘‘charity’’
classically understood, like charity it does suggest something
freely given and received, a transaction that both
supports and transgresses our normal expectations about
‘‘reciprocity.’’ (Bruni 2009) What it might mean to act
consistently by this principle is hard to determine, for its
practical implications are developed within a triadic model
of social institutions, in which ‘‘civil society’’ is both distinguished
and overlapped with the operations of the
‘‘market’’ and the ‘‘State.’’

To appreciate the innovative potential of the principle of
gratuitousness, we must explore the unsuspected contributions
that a robust civil society might make to the
emergence of a ‘‘civil economy.’’4 Benedict urges us to
recognize that without the ‘‘fraternity’’ that emerges from
1 Caritas in veritate insightfully analyzes the ‘‘progressive erosion of social capital’’ that has occurred as a result of the global economic crisis. While there is no explicit reference to the social science literature that has developed this concept, the encyclical’s description of social capital, that is, ‘‘the network of relationships of trust, dependability, and respect for rules, all of which are indispensable for any form of civil coexistence,’’ is consistent with the literature, which is well reviewed in Paolo Vanin’s article on ‘‘Capitale sociale’’ (2009). It is clear from Benedict XVI’s use of the term that the destruction of social capital is a symptom of certain pathological tendencies operative in the processes of globalization, particularly the increasing trend toward ‘‘social inequality’’ and the ‘‘massive increase in relative poverty’’ that must be corrected if the economic crisis is to be overcome successfully. A similar perspective on the erosion of
social capital is evident in ‘‘Globalization and economic development: impact of social capital and institution building’’ (Cheng and Mittelhammer 2008). 2 Latin: principium gratuitatis, Italian: principio di gratuita`, German: Prinzip der Unentgeltlichkeit. As is often the case with such innovative proposals, the use of this term raises many questions. 

One such is the precise relationship between ‘‘the logic of gift’’ (cited
in paragraphs 34 and 36) and ‘‘the principle of gratuitousness’’ (cited
in the same paragraphs). The logic of gift, it seems, is meant to be
descriptive and open to social scientific analysis, whereas the
principle of gratuitousness is a normative interpretation of this logic
intended to clarify a proper and fully developed understanding of it.
The encyclical thus claims that, while the logic of gift remains open to a variety of interpretations, the full truth to be realized in it must
ultimately include a recognition of the theological or spiritual
principle operative in it.

3 The word, ‘‘gift,’’ appears 22 times in CV which is nearly half again as many as in any other encyclical in the tradition of CST. Previous uses of the term tended to be focus on strictly religious and theological issues, as in the phrase, ‘‘gifts of the Holy Spirit.’’ The only encyclical to use ‘‘gift’’ in terms that anticipate aspects of
Benedict’s reflections on the ‘‘logic of gift’’ is John Paul II’s
Centesimus annus (CA, 1991), which presents a theological perspective on alienation—in contrast to Marxism—in which the ‘‘gift of self’’ features prominently as an alternative (CA 41).
4 CV speaks of both ‘‘civil society’’ and a ‘‘civil economy.’’ While
‘‘civil society’’ is acknowledged in several passages ‘‘as the most
natural setting for an economy of gratuitousness and fraternity,’’ (CV 38), the term ‘‘civil economy’’ occurs only once, and in conjunction with the ‘‘economy of communion’’ (CV 46) both of which are commended as examples of the ‘‘hybrid forms of commercial behavior’’ that Benedict hopes will emerge from the development of an ‘‘economy of gratuitousness.’’ ‘‘Economy of communion,’’ of course, is a direct reference to the Focolare movement founded after World War II by Chiara Lubich and her disciples who sought to create
new forms of social enterprises expressive of their commitment to
love and solidarity. (Cf. Argiolas 2009).

56 D. McCann

developing habits of mind and heart based on this principle,
neither the market nor the State can fulfill their own
distinctive purposes. Thus, though the principle of gratuitousness
is centrally important to the development of the
social order, it does not entail the suspension of the principles
of justice—commutative, distributive, and social—
but their renewal through a deepening recognition of their
theological significance, call it, if you will, the renewed
hope of thinking and acting in ‘‘solidarity’’ with all of
God’s creatures. CV is especially challenging in suggesting,
even in somewhat sketchy terms, how this principle
might transform our thinking and acting in the marketplace,
such that a genuinely civil economy might emerge

In order to understand the normative significance of the
civil economy, one must first appreciate how Benedict’s
interpretation of the principle of gratuitousness and the
logic of gift can challenge conventional thinking about
business and the ways it is usually organized and managed.
Though CV hardly provides a blueprint, it clearly goes
beyond advocating corporate social responsibility or philanthropy,
as conventionally understood, or even the
expansion of not-for-profit organizations, such as producer
and consumer cooperatives, as important as these may be.
When he insists that the principle of gratuitousness is relevant
‘‘even in ‘commercial relationships,’’’ he rests his
case on two points: First, that among the greatest losses
sustained as a result of the recent and ongoing financial
crisis is the massive destruction of social capital required
for an economic system to function at all; and second, that
the only sure way to restore this social capital is to allow
‘‘the principle of gratuitousness and the logic of gift’’ to
‘‘find their place within normal economic activity’’ (CV 36).
Apart from the principle of gratuitousness embodying
the logic of gift, those seeking to overcome the economic
and financial crisis remain in a ‘‘catch-22’’ situation relative
to the problem of restoring basic trust. Though some
business and political leaders may have come to realize the
need for acquiring, preserving, and enhancing our social
capital,5 they cannot obtain it without abandoning the false
theories that stunt and disfigure what they regard as business
as usual. As CV observes, ‘‘Space also needs to be
created within the market for economic activity carried out
by subjects who freely choose to act according to principles
other than those of pure profit, without sacrificing the
production of economic value in the process’’ (CV 37).
Though even sympathetic readers may well wonder how it
is possible to embrace such principles without lowering
one’s profit expectations, Benedict insists, without going
into details, that there are many ‘‘religious and lay initiatives’’—
presumably, for example, the network of Focolareinspired
enterprises identified with the ‘‘Economy of
Communion’’—which ‘‘demonstrate that this is concretely

Generalizing on the basis of such promising signs, Benedict
urges his readers to go beyond conventional assumptions
about business focused exclusively on making a profit.
Nevertheless, we would miss his point entirely if we were to
assume that this is just another priestly sermon protesting
the evils of profit-maximization. ‘‘Without rejecting
profit…charity in truth, requires that shape and structure be
given to those types of economic initiative which…aim at a
higher goal than the mere logic of the exchange of equivalents,
of profit as an end in itself’’ (CV 38). While envisioning
an ‘‘economy of gratuitousness and fraternity’’ is
clearly his attempt to prod us toward that ‘‘higher goal,’’
how are we to understand that goal, let alone create businesses
that would respond affirmatively toward it?

In CV’s perspective, ‘‘civil economy’’ suggests an
interrelated set of entrepreneurial ventures that seek to test
the limits and possibilities of the principle of gratuitousness.
The resulting ‘‘hybrid forms of commercial behavior’’
must be economically viable and yet they must also be
‘‘based on mutualist principles and pursuing social ends’’
(CV 38). To achieve the expected positive impact, they
must outperform conventional businesses oriented toward
profit-maximization, while also fulfilling ‘‘social ends’’
more efficiently than the welfare agencies established by
the government. These higher goals can be achieved,
Benedict insists, if the enterprises are ‘‘based on mutualist
principles,’’ that is, principles that embody ‘‘the logic of
gift.’’ Given the fact that in a genuinely free market—that
is, one that institutionalizes competition under ‘‘conditions
of equal opportunity’’—successful innovations are likely to
be adopted and adapted by one’s competitors, Benedict
believes that our best hope for civilizing the economy rests
on creating such enterprises whose success will lead others
to integrate the principle of gratuitousness into their own

If the problem that prompted CV’s publication is the
abysmal decline in social capital required for the institutions
of both business and government to function effectively,
how can we solve it by developing enterprises
oriented toward the principle of gratuitousness? In order to
see the plausibility of CV’s answer, we must step back for a
moment to consider Benedict’s assumptions regarding how
society operates as a whole. Does CST advance a distinctive
view of the social ecology in which we live our daily
lives? Apparently, it does. Following up on the teachings of
his predecessor, John Paul II, CV understands the social
order as ‘‘a system with three subjects: the market, the
5 Francis Fukuyama’ book, Trust: Prosperity and the Social Virtues
(1995), ought to have been sufficient to persuade all observers just
how important a role basic trust plays in economic and social
development. See also Vanin (2009).

The Principle of Gratuitousness 57

State, and civil society.’’ (CV 38) As we have seen, while
civil society is identified as ‘‘the most natural setting for an
economy of gratuitousness and fraternity,’’ it is not governed
by the logic of either the market or the State. Instead,
it has its own logic—what Benedict describes as ‘‘the logic
of gift’’—which as such generates, refines, and renews the
values that constitute our social capital, resulting in ‘‘the
network of relationships of trust, dependability, and respect
for rules, all of which are indispensable for any form of
civil coexistence’’ (CV 32). 

The ‘‘logic of gift,’’ then, contrasts with ‘‘the logic of
exchange’’ that governs market morality and ‘‘the logic of
public obligation, imposed by State law’’ (CV 39). While
both of these can be understood as involving some form of
giving—market transactions as forms of ‘‘giving in order to
acquire’’ and government mandates as forms of ‘‘giving
through duty’’—the form of giving specific to ‘‘the logic of
gift’’ operative in the institutions of civil society, embodies
the principle of ‘‘gratuitousness and communion’’ without
which social solidarity and participation at best remain
anemic and at worst disappear altogether. The devaluation
of social capital that has occurred is not simply a practical
problem. It is also the result of a grave theoretical error.
Conventional thinking adheres to an ‘‘exclusively binary
model of market-plus-State [that] is corrosive of society’’
(CV 39). Here is Benedict’s perspective on the impoverishing
effect this error has on the way society views
business and business people view themselves:
The continuing hegemony of the binary model of
market-plus-State has accustomed us to think only in
terms of the private business leader of a capitalistic
bent on the one hand, and the State director on the
other. In reality, business has to be understood in an
articulated way. There are a number of reasons, of a
meta-economic kind, for saying this. Business activity
has a human significance, prior to its professional
one. It is present in all work, understood as a personal
action, an ‘‘actus personae,’’ which is why every
worker should have the chance to make his contribution
knowing that in some way ‘‘he is working ‘for
himself’.’’ With good reason, Paul VI taught that
‘‘everyone who works is a creator.’’ It is in response
to the needs and the dignity of the worker, as well as
the needs of society, that there exist various types of
business enterprise, over and above the simple distinction
between ‘‘private’’ and ‘‘public.’’ Each of
them requires and expresses a specific business
capacity. (CV 41)

The binary model of private and public, either for-profit
businesses or not-for-profit charities and government
agencies, dissolves in the face of economic and social
developments that exhibit a far greater diversity of forms
than the model allows. While Benedict’s triadic model, by
the same token, may also turn out to be insufficiently
diverse, it does highlight the fact that institutional pluralism—
even and especially within the marketplace—affords
greater scope to the creativity of entrepreneurs, some of
whom may wish to try developing enterprises oriented
toward values and goals higher and other than profitmaximization.
The question remains, however, as to why
and how encouraging the spread of such ‘‘hybrid forms of
commercial behavior’’ might actually be the key to
overcoming both our deficit in social capital and the global
economic crisis that has ensued from it.
An ‘‘Anthropological Turn’’ in Catholic Social

While Benedict is not the first theorist either to note the
inadequacies of the binary model or to offer an alternative,
the triadic model that he proposes is of interest here insofar
as it identifies an institutional ‘‘subject’’ in which the
principle of gratuitousness can and ought to flourish. It is
the inner logic of action within this sphere of civil society
that begs for further development. It requires us to address
what Stefano Zamagni has described as an ‘‘anthropological
turn’’ in CST,6 one that, if taken seriously, might
contribute to a paradigm shift away from utilitarianism as
the conventional explanation for why and how people think
and act in the marketplace. Recovering the economic significance
of the logic of gift, in short, allows us to dissolve
yet another binary model, namely, the modernist dichotomy
of self-interest and altruism, in favor of an anthropology
that is both social and pluralistic in its interpretation
of human motivation and choice.7

6 Prof. Stefano Zamagni (2010), was first to use this term to describe the specific contribution that Caritas in veritate makes to Catholic social teaching. Based on his intimate knowledge of the encyclical’s drafting process, he persuasively detailed Benedict’s ‘‘anthropological turn’’ in a presentation made to the conference on ‘‘Civilizing the Economy’’ sponsored and organized by the Faith and Work Initiative of Princeton University, April 8–9, 2010. An ‘‘anthropological turn’’ involves shifting the discussion from questions of social policy to a deeper consideration of the philosophical assumptions about human nature—for example, the validity of the model of ‘‘homo economicus’’
and conceptions of self-interest based upon it, including
marginal utility theory—for explaining economic behavior. The
principle of gratuitousness thus is not simply a moral exhortation but
a reflection of an account of human nature that diverges significantly
from what has been assumed by most economists about how and why
people act the ways they do in the marketplace.

7 Benedict is not alone in seeking to break the conceptual tyranny of
utilitarian thinking in economics, as in the works of Amartya Sen. My
own attempt to assess the relevance of Sen’s work for CST is
available in McCann (2005).

58 D. McCann

So what, then, are the anthropological assumptions
informing Benedict’s interpretation of the logic of gift?
CV’s description of the principle of gratuitousness is theologically
grounded, since it is an expression of ‘‘God’s love
in human relationships.’’ Nevertheless, these relationships
are characteristic of ‘‘the earthly city’’ (‘‘earthly’’ in the
sense classically defined by Augustine of Hippo (2008) in
De civitate Dei), where ‘‘gratuitousness, mercy, and communion’’
are just as constitutive as are ‘‘relationships of
rights and duties’’ (CV 6), and one might add, relationships
based on utility. Benedict’s appeal to Augustine is meant to
warrant his claim to the practical relevance of God’s love in
this world. If ‘‘gratuitousness, mercy, and communion’’ are
already operative in ‘‘the earthly city,’’ then this world is not
totally depraved or closed to the transformative power of
love. Cynicism about this world and its ordinary affairs—
including those of the market and the State—is an all-toohuman
error, a self-fulfilling prophecy that diminishes our
capacity for achieving the common good and whatever
justice is realizable in this world.

Benedict’s invocation of God’s love in human relationships
is not the cry of an otherworldly ascetic who has
given up on ‘‘the earthly city,’’ but a sign of hope. The
association with ‘‘mercy’’ and ‘‘communion’’ establishes a
semantic field for ‘‘gratuitousness’’ in which it is identified
with ‘‘fraternity’’ (CV 34), as well as ‘‘solidarity and
responsibility for justice and the common good’’ (CV 38).
Gratuitousness, then, is intended as a realistic possibility
for engagement with this world and its affairs and not as an
escape or exit strategy from them. This is clear throughout
CV whenever Benedict invokes gratuitousness as a practical
principle for guiding social policy. For example, in his
discussion of economic and social ‘‘underdevelopment,’’
along with ‘‘improving exchange-based transactions and
implanting public welfare,’’ he advocates ‘‘above all…
gradually increasing openness, in a world context, to forms
of economic activity marked by quotas of gratuitousness
and communion’’ (CV 39). To be sure, there are some
instances where his perspective appears to be less realistic
than utopian, such as when he identifies gratuitousness with
‘‘a specific and profound form of economic democracy’’
(CV 38).8 But even in such passages, his point is that
gratuitousness is not to be understood as an alternative to
economic and social justice, but in our day and age as the
most promising path to it.

Benedict’s attempt to defend the realism of the principle
of gratuitousness, however, is bound to meet with
considerable resistance. For in conventional English usage,
as in Italian, gratuitousness carries a certain ambiguity. On
the one hand, it can refer to something ‘‘given without an
equivalent recompense; conferred without valuable consideration;
granted without pay, or without claim or merit;
not required by justice.’’ On the other hand, gratuitousness
may mean ‘‘not called for by the circumstances; without
reason, cause, or proof; adopted or asserted without any
good ground; as, a gratuitous assumption.’’9 Thus, to
describe an action as gratuitous may not be to praise it, but
to mark its apparent randomness. Obviously, the latter
associations are hardly what Benedict meant to convey.
The ambiguity inherent in gratuitousness may be
resolved by tracking another crucial concept with which it
is related, namely, ‘‘reciprocity.’’ While it is found only
four times in CV (as opposed to the dozen times in which
‘‘gratuitousness’’ appears), reciprocity serves to define both
a presupposition as well as a consequence of gratuitousness
in human social relationships. Charity, once again, ‘‘illumined
by the light of reason and faith,’’ enables the
‘‘sharing of goods and resources, from which authentic
development proceeds.’’ One of the consequences of such
development is an ‘‘opening up the path toward reciprocity
of consciences and liberties’’ (CV 9). Here, reciprocity
seems to be a disposition to interact in an open and
mutually respectful way, more or less synonymous with
recognizing ‘‘a more humane and humanizing value.’’
Further on, in the core paragraphs devoted to the civil
economy, reciprocity is listed along with friendship and
solidarity among the ‘‘authentically social relationships’’
that can and must unfold within economic activity and not
fall ‘‘outside it or ‘after’ it’’ (CV 36). One further indication
of the importance of reciprocity comes in Benedict’s
invocation of CST’s principle of subsidiarity as the most
effective ‘‘guiding criterion’’ for ‘‘managing globalization’’
and ‘‘directing it toward authentic human development’’10
(CV 57).

8 The term, ‘‘economic democracy,’’ is used twice in CV (38 and 66).
In both instances Benedict seems to be advocating the development of
producer and consumer cooperatives, private voluntary organizations
whose efforts are consistent with his hope of civilizing the economy.
Obviously, this is not what most readers will assume when they see
the term, ‘‘economic democracy.’’

9 These are the meanings of gratuitousness given in the 1913 Edition
of Webster’s Dictionary, accessible online at http://onlinedictionary.
datasegment.com/word/gratuitousness. In Italian, ‘‘gratuita’’ appears
to have the same range of meanings, with an emphasis either on
something ‘‘free’’ as in a ‘‘free clinic’’ (‘‘clinica gratuita’’), or
something without justification. The use of ‘‘gratuita’’ as an abstract
noun as in CV’s ‘‘principio di gratuita`,’’ appears to be as innovative
and challenging in Italian as it is in English.Cf. the Italian meanings
available online at http://www.wordreference.com/iten/gratuita.

10 CST’s ‘‘principle of subsidiarity’’ is widely invoked but often
misunderstood. It was first invoked in Pius XI’s Quadragesimo anno
(QA, 1931) in order to define the moral conditions under which State
intervention in the other primary and secondary institutions of society
was both possible and necessary. At issue in 1931 was the Church’s
struggle to preserve its own role in educating the youth of Italy. The
State was not to usurp the functions of other institutions under the
pretense of assisting them. Benedict’s thoughts on subsidiarity echo
QA, while also grounding the principle in his anthropological

The Principle of Gratuitousness 59

If authentic human development—which surely
involves civilizing the economy—is premised on recognizing
the centrality of reciprocity in human social relationships,
the crucial question is how is reciprocity itself
established? Benedict’s answer asserts the claim of a specifically
Christian view of what stands at ‘‘the heart of what
it is to be a human being.’’ His claim is that reciprocity is
not well established—it remains unstable or precarious,
even when we succeed in achieving it—apart from faithful
acceptance of the unmerited gift of God’s love for
humanity. The problem is that the basic trust that enables
us to enter into relationships of reciprocity is not selfsustaining.
Someone or something is needed to initiate the
virtuous circle by which the gift offered by the one party
can be accepted and returned by his or her partner. The
process of reciprocity, once initiated, may be rational, as in
a game of ‘‘Tit for Tat,’’ but as the so-called ‘‘Prisoners’
Dilemma’’ discussed in Games Theory makes clear, making
that first move toward cooperation is hard to justify on
the basis of rational self-interest, narrowly construed (see,
e.g., Zarri 2009; Ross 2010). On what basis, then, can one
respond cooperatively to that first move? How can a virtuous
circle of reciprocity be initiated? Benedict’s response
to the Prisoner’s Dilemma is simply to trust in God, who
has already made the first move, in creating and sustaining
all possible participants, as it were, in the great game of
life. This is the truth that must be recognized, if human
attempts to love one another are to achieve their end. By
recognizing this truth as indispensable to a proper understanding
of economic life and its own authentic morality,
Benedict is placing theological anthropology in the foreground
of CST.11 But note well, the ‘‘anthropology’’
operative in Benedict’s truth is robustly theological and
specifically Christian. As such, it may not readily be
embraced by those who have not already committed
themselves to it.

Could Benedict’s anthropological turn in Catholic social
teaching be enriched by a consideration of other anthropologies?
Theological anthropologies, by definition, have a
normative intent. They start from an acknowledgement of
the reality of God, in this instance, the God disclosed
throughout the Bible, who is manifest definitively in the
person, mission, and ministry of Jesus Christ. This Biblical
theology becomes an anthropology as soon as it is interpreted
as signifying the patterns of human interaction, the
dynamics of personal and social transformation, that open
the way toward human fulfillment or, if you will, ‘‘salvation.’’
The substance of this Christian anthropology
involves faith, or personal identification with the Biblical
narrative that enables believers to discern the ‘‘image of
God’’ in humanity, how it has been obscured though hardly
obliterated by sin, and how it has been restored through
Jesus Christ, who as ‘‘the Way, the Truth, and the Life’’
(The Holy Bible (2007), John 14:6) is accepted as the
ultimate installment in God’s great gift to us all. Faith in
the Biblical narrative transforms the believers’ self-understanding,
thus restoring basic trust in ourselves as well as
others, while also providing a normative guide to human
existence, both personal and social. Obviously, this is
anthropology, but from the top down. From God’s own gift
of love, it develops a normative understanding of who we
are—where we come from and where we are going—and
what we are here to do. There is nothing inherently wrong
or wrong-headed about projecting a normative anthropology.
Such a project is implicit in virtually every worldview,
religion, and/or comprehensive philosophy of life.
But what if the normative Christian anthropology—such
as Benedict, and all Christian theologians who have
labored in the shadow of Augustine—were enriched by a
descriptive or, if you will, an empirical anthropology? If
theological anthropology is usefully understood as
anthropology from the top down, empirical anthropology—
the kind of inquiry done by our colleagues in academic
departments of anthropology and the social sciences—may
be characterized as proceeding from the bottom up. Would
the logic of gift invoked by Benedict to establish his
principle of gratuitousness look any different when viewed
from the top down as well as from the bottom up? Based on
my reading of pioneering anthropologists like Marcel
Footnote 10 continued
assumptions about reciprocity: ‘‘Subsidiarity respects personal dignity
by recognizing in the person a subject who is always capable of
giving something to others. By considering reciprocity as the heart of
what it is to be a human being, subsidiarity is the most effective
antidote against any form of all-encompassing welfare state’’. (CV
57) Lest libertarians and neoconservatives mistake the Pope’s
meaning here, let me point out that he is not repudiating the State’s
responsibility for public welfare as such, or endorsing their mistaken
ideas about a minimalist or ‘‘watchman’’ state, but drawing a line
against totalitarian forms of ‘‘Statism,’’ because of its fundamental
error concerning human nature. Any assistance must seek to empower
persons and groups so that they, too, can fully participate in the work
of human development; it must not preempt or usurp their opportunities
or capacities for reciprocity, regardless of how weak or corrupt
these may have become under the corrosive pressures of modernity.
11 The importance of the underlying ‘‘anthropological vision’’ in
CST, for Benedict, can hardly be underestimated. It involves an
assertion of ‘‘the unconditional value of the human person and the
meaning of his growth’’ (CV 18), an interpretation of the positive
dynamics of ‘‘globalization’’ (CV 42), the continuing relevance of
‘‘duties’’ as well as ‘‘rights’’ in public morality (CV 43), the proper
role of social communications media (CV 73), and the urgent
relevance of bioethical issues ranging from abortion to euthanasia to
Footnote 11 continued
the ‘‘social question’’ perennially addressed by CST. While all of
these issues have been discussed at various points in the history of
CST in various ways, Benedict’s ‘‘anthropological turn’’ relates them
to one another in a normative vision of ‘‘integral human development’’
that is systematic, profound, and difficult to gerrymander.

60 D. McCann

Mauss (1990[1925]), Mary Douglas and Baron Isherwood
(1996[1979]), and Mayfair Mei-hui Yang (1994), I’d have
to answer unequivocally yes.

What one learns in such studies is how precisely reciprocity
is established through the practice of gift-giving.
The logic of gift, in their perspective, is hardly gratuitous,
at least not in the sense of something that is either unmotivated,
or impossible for human beings to realize. The
logic of gift involves social practices that serve to create
moral community among people, groups, as well as individuals,
who are not already established in a relationship
with one another. Usually, they involve elaborate rituals of
exchange of goods—including people—and services, the
effect of which is to expand the circle of mutually recognized
obligations, particularly, the obligation to help others
in the expectation that they will help you when you need
help. The rituals of gift-giving in so-called ‘‘primitive’’
societies, as described and analyzed by Mauss, for example,
are like Roman Catholic sacraments: they effect what
they signify. The rituals of gift exchange establish a reciprocity
without which further exchanges would be nearly
impossible. Failure to reciprocate, not only as prescribed in
the ritual itself, but also as expected in the future, results in
a breach in the social relationship, which itself is a prelude
to violence and chaos.

Viewed from the bottom up, the logic of gift is intimately
related to the logic of exchange and the development
of market institutions. Indeed, apart from the rituals
of gift-giving, market exchanges are relatively trivial and
marginal to the life of the so-called ‘‘primitive’’ communities
observed by anthropologists. The logic of exchange
relationships, in most of the societies analyzed by Mauss, is
derivative from the logic of gift, for it is clear that ritualized
gift-giving is usually the indispensable precondition
for market-like exchanges of goods and services where
bargaining over price, quality and quantity is based on
what modern observers may regard as economic considerations.
What primarily motivates gift-giving in the societies
analyzed by Mauss is a community’s fear of its own
vulnerabilities or impoverishing isolation, and a desire to
achieve a greater degree of security by expanding the circle
of social relationships in which reciprocity not only is
expected but actually relied upon for mutual support.
While the analysis offered by Mauss asserts no necessary
connection between the logic of gift and any particular
set of religious doctrines—such as those informing Benedict’s
theological anthropology—it does indicate that the
exchange of gifts that establishes an expectation of reciprocity,
thus enabling economic and other social relationships,
is rooted in certain basic assumptions about the
sacredness of the moral obligations enacted as well as the
rituals in which they are enacted. The exchange of gifts is
usually premised upon a prior recognition of the obligatory
nature of generosity and the sheer irrationality of refusing
to be generous—which among other things is uncannily
similar to the practical outcome of Benedict’s theological
anthropology. If one refuses to enter wholeheartedly into
the exchange one risks the wrath of one’s own ancestors or
gods, as well as those of the others with whom you are
relating, however, their sacred power is specifically
understood. On this assumption, one has no choice but to
reciprocate, and often must do so asymmetrically, as the
gift exchange becomes a contest to see which group can
outdo the other in generosity. Mauss also observes the
logical priority of making a ‘‘contract with the spirits of
both the dead and the gods.’’ For, ‘‘indeed, it is they who
are the true owners of the things and possessions of this
world’’ (1990[1925], p. 16). Rituals of ‘‘sacrifice’’ in which
the gifts offered to the spirits are deliberately destroyed
thus make sense in this context, insofar as such destruction
confirms that the spirits have truly received them, and thus
the participants are assured that their act of giving will be
reciprocated (Ibid.). Unless the spirits become favorably
disposed, they will not complete the gift exchange, and the
people and groups seeking their favor will continue to lack
the things and possessions that they need in order to live.12
Just as the gift exchange between the spirits and the
people seeking their favor is an attempt to create an
obligatory framework of reciprocity, so must be the logic
of gift exchange among different groups of people. Just as
gift exchanges with the spirits are expected to yield far
more than what is given, so in gift exchanges with other
people generosity is expected to yield a return far greater
than what is given in order to get it. Nevertheless, in light
of Mauss’ pioneering work, Benedict’s principle of gratuitousness
receives only partial support for its assumptions
regarding the underlying logic of gift. On the one hand, the
unconditionality of Divine love that Benedict makes the
major premise of his theological anthropology appears here
as something of an anomaly. Biblical faith in a God beyond
gods and ancestral spirits whose transcendence is so
incalculably great as to escape the constraints imposed by
the logic of gift, with the resulting paradigm of God’s
incomparable generosity—a Divine love which can never
be fully reciprocated—may not be the most appropriate
12 Mauss is explicit in making a direct connection between religious
ritual and economic exchange in his discussion of the phenomenon of
‘‘contract sacrifice’’: ‘‘Contract sacrifice supposes institutions of the
kind we have described and, conversely, contract sacrifice realizes
them to the full, because those gods who give and return gifts are
there to give a considerable thing in the place of a small one…It is
perhaps not a result of pure chance that the two solemn formulas of
the contract—in Latin, do ut des, in Sanskrit, dadami se, dehi me—
also have been preserved in religious texts.’’ (1990[1925], p. 17)
‘‘Contract sacrifice’’ and its constitutive role in establishing exchange
relationships finds an uncanny echo in what is conveyed by
Benedict’s principle of gratuitousness.

The Principle of Gratuitousness 61

model for the gift exchanges that can and must occur
among people, if we are to go on living together. On the
other hand, in a world where the opportunities as well as
the sheer necessity of establishing reciprocities with
strangers have been so dramatically expanded, only faith in
the initiative of such a transcendent God, perhaps, is sufficient
to overcome the instability and precariousness of
such reciprocities under conditions of globalization.
In any case, the logic of gift as understood through
anthropology from the bottom up should not be interpreted
as a complete repudiation of Benedict’s theological
anthropology from the top down. But it does challenge
anyone interested in the principle of gratuitousness to
attempt more precisely to determine where and how the
trajectories from the bottom up and the top down might
intersect and mutually support each other. Where Benedict
and the empirical anthropologists are deeply in agreement
is on the necessity of creating and enhancing social capital.
Call it basic trust or—as in Benedict’s own words—call it
‘‘fraternity’’ or ‘‘solidarity,’’ without such social capital
neither markets nor government can function effectively. It
is also clear that the empirical anthropologists generally
share Benedict’s assumption that social capital, in this
world, remains unstable and precarious, and must be generated
and replenished through social practices oriented
toward the logic of gift, in short, in the rituals operative in
the institutions of a civil society. Such rituals, establishing
a sacred context that is trustworthy and supportive of
human social interaction, channel our social impulses into
mutually acknowledged obligations that allow us to enter
with confidence into stable and ongoing relationships of
trust with one another. Given Mauss’ own expectations for
an expansion of civil society broadly resonant with the
logic of gift (1990[1925], p. 82), there seems to be agreement
as to the end in view, but lingering disagreement
perhaps about the means to get there.

Benedict’s theological anthropology, if you will, begins
with the Word and not with the deed. This is perhaps the
point where his differences with the anthropologists cited
here is most dramatically revealed.13 Mauss and the others
certainly would agree with Benedict’s assessment of the
damage done by ‘‘a purely consumerist and utilitarian view
of life,’’ and probably would not quibble over ‘‘the astonishing
experience of gift.’’ After all, if it were not astonishing,
they would not have devoted a significant portion of
their careers studying it. But the astonishment that Mauss
recognizes seems linked irrevocably to rituals of gift
exchange and their performance. A postmodern society
may hope to civilize its economy, if it recovers the
meaning of such rituals and finds ways to institutionalize
them anew. Paradoxically, as the Pontifex Maximus of a
church that still insists upon the efficacy of its own rituals
for grace and salvation, Benedict implies that rituals of gift
exchange cannot be made efficacious simply by performing
them. The performance must be suffused with awareness of
their ultimate meaning and value. This is what he seeks to
convey with his innovative interpretation of the principle of
gratuitousness. This principle contains the Word without
which the deed remains inefficacious. We are thus confronted
with a truth claim that cannot be evaded: If the
logic of gift is to be restored to its rightful place in the
system of social logics by which integral human development
proceeds, it must be informed by the principle of
gratuitousness. The empirical anthropology from ‘‘the
bottom up’’ so brilliantly explored by Mauss and others
will not fulfill its promise of social transformation unless it
is anchored in a theological anthropology from ‘‘the top

Naming and Building the Civil Economy

So where are we with the principle of gratuitousness and
the prospect of a ‘‘civil economy’’? What’s in it for our
understanding of business and society? The analysis presented
here confirms the importance of CV’s conceptual
breakthrough, but it also shows that the principle of gratuitousness
needs further development. One promising
place to begin that development is theoretical, the other is
13 The differences between the two perspectives could be reduced
considerably were Benedict and his advisors to focus, as particularly
the Reformed tradition of Protestant Christianity has, on the
significance of covenantal institutions inspired by the Biblical
narratives of history of Ancient Israel. G. Mendenhall’s pioneering
study, ‘‘Law and Covenant in Israel and the Ancient Near East’’
(1954), an interpretation of the rituals through which covenants were
established, tracks very well with Mauss’ general analysis of the logic
of gift exchange. Mendenhall’s work has the additional merit of
providing a model for understanding the development of such a bond
when the parties are so grossly unequal, as in the relationship of God
and Israel, namely, the suzerainty treaties of the Ancient Near East.
Insofar as religious institutions, like the Church, carry out crucially
important functions within civil society, with a direct bearing on the
formation and renewal of social capital, we thus have access to the
Footnote 13 continued
rituals that provide the basis for the doctrines informing CST’s
principle of gratuitousness. The theme of covenant, while common in
contemporary Christian social ethics in the Reformed tradition,
recently has been making an impact on CST, which is strikingly
evident in the American Catholic bishops pastoral letter, ‘‘Economic
Justice for All: Catholic Social Teaching and the US Economy’’
(N.C.C.B. 1986). There are several essays exploring the meaning of
covenant for business ethics in the anthology edited by Stackhouse
et al. (1995). More detailed expositions which provide concrete recommendations
for developing the covenantal model have been given
by Herman (1998) and Nash (1990).

62 D. McCann

practical: We need both a more detailed map of how the
logic of gift is already operative in business and society,
and we need concrete case studies of how businesses animated
by ‘‘the spirit of gift’’ have actually performed as

One promising case study for showing the potential of
‘‘hybrid forms of commercial behavior’’ for civilizing the
economy stems not from Catholic circles that may have
been influenced by CST, but from the work of a Bangladeshi
Muslim, the Nobel prize-winning economist,
Muhammad Yunus, whose development of the Grameen
Bank and related enterprises seems tailor-made for testing
the principle of gratuitousness. Based on over 35 years
experience in microbanking intended to help the poor
overcome poverty through enterprise development, Yunus
has recently proposed the ideal of a ‘‘social business’’ as
the most effective way to address social problems caused
or at least exacerbated by the poor’s lack of access to
finance capital. In an appendix to his book, Banker to the
Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle against World Poverty,
Yunus defines a social business as ‘‘a non-loss, nondividend
enterprise, created with the intention to do good
to people, to bring positive changes to the world, without
any short-term expectation of making money out of it’’
(2007, pp. 265–266). Such a business clearly qualifies as a
hybrid form because it can only grow and develop as a
commercial enterprise, that is, though it is not intended to
make a profit for its investors, it must be generate sufficient
income to cover its expenses, including adequate compensation
to its managers and employees. Yunus explains:
In its organizational structure, this new business is
basically the same as the existing PMB [profit-maximizing
business]. But it differs in its objectives. Like
other businesses, it employs workers, creates goods
or services, and provides these to customers for a
price consistent with its objective. But its underlying
objective—and the criterion by which it should be
evaluated—is to create social benefits for those
whose lives it touches.

[Yanus and The Grameen Bank]

The means by which a social business achieves this
objective is just as important as the objective itself.
Profits—in the sense of generating a surplus of revenues
over expenses—are expected; but these are not returned to
investors in the form of dividends. Yunus further explains:
The company itself may earn a profit, but the investors
who support it do not take any profits out of the
company, except recouping an amount equivalent to
their original investment, over a period of time. A
social business is a company that is cause-driven
rather than profit-driven, with the potential to act as a
change agent for the world. (2007, pp. 266–267)
Besides the Grameen Bank14 itself, which has been selfsustaining
for the past fifteen years, Yunus and his
associates have diversified into other social businesses,
partnering with companies like Groupe Danone, the makers
of Dannon yogurt products, to market a fortified yogurt
snack designed to address the nutritional deficiencies of
poor children, at a price they and their families can afford.
Yunus (2010, pp. 33–56) used the Grameen Bank’s
expertise in social networking among the rural poor, to
develop Grameen-Danone, an independent social business.
With the social business concept Yunus has demonstrated
how it is possible to go beyond conventional
thinking about both corporate philanthropy and corporate
social responsibility (CSR). Groupe Danone is not a donor,
nor is Grameen-Danone simply a CSR dimension of the
Groupe. The new company is independent and autonomous,
but with significant investment as well as expertise
provided by Groupe Danone. The partnership is possible
because Yunus persuaded Group Danone’s management
that they cannot participate in solving social problems
effectively within the framework of a conventional PMB.
As an economist, Yunus argues for a ‘‘total delinking from
the old framework’’ of profit-maximization, for ‘‘in a time
of stress, profit will always trump all other ‘bottom lines’’’
(Yunus 2010, p. 14). Anyone conversant with the difficulties
of doing any CSR projects with potentially negative
impacts on a given PMB’s bottom line has to admit the
truth of Yunus’ observation.

What Yunus offers potential investors, who may recoup
the funds invested while foregoing any ROI, is an opportunity
to participate in what Benedict describes as ‘‘the
astonishing experience of gift.’’ Yunus believes, and now
has considerable evidence to support the belief, that people
who are interested in becoming part of the solution to
social problems (rather than remaining part of the problem
itself), that is, people who otherwise would be donors to
various charities or supporters of CSR policies, will be
attracted to the prospect of investing in a social business,
provided that it is sufficiently well designed and managed
to produce and distribute social benefits more efficiently
than conventional alternatives. In order to appreciate the
significance of Yunus’ practical success, we need to return
once more to the logic of gift and draw a more detailed
map of its economic dimensions.

14 The Grameen Bank, though it returns dividends to its members—
that is, to the poor who qualify for loans through its programs, which
include various requirements for maintaining savings accounts—
remains the model for Yunus’ understanding of social businesses. The
Bank’s objective is clearly social, and the ‘‘hybrid’’ structure for
distributing the surplus or ‘‘profits’’ generated by its business
activities, clearly illustrate the concept of social business, as well as
it potentially diverse applications in other settings.

The Principle of Gratuitousness 63

Pieropaolo Donati has outlined such a map. Building
upon Mauss’ insights, Donati (2009) recognizes the
diversity of meanings and motivations that may be
involved in contemporary gift-giving practices. In each of
the major ‘‘systems’’ of society, gifts are routinely given
and received: Even in ‘‘the economic system,’’ conventional
businesses use gifts to attract customers with the
intent of maximizing profits. While there may be nothing
wrong with such practices, they do define a strictly
instrumental relationship: Gifts are used as a means to
other ends (Donati 2009, p. 282). The other extreme of the
spectrum analyzed by Donati is evident in the practices of
‘‘voluntary associations of private social [organizations] or
the third sector’’ system. In these, ‘‘gift is the prime mover
(primum movens) of action,’’ which arises ‘‘from disinterested

This sphere, of course, is virtually coextensive with CV’s
‘‘civil society.’’ Donati’s identification of ‘‘gift’’ with
‘‘disinterested motives’’ appears to confirm Benedict’s
understanding of the principle of gratuitousness. The logic
of gift is fully realized in personal acts of self-donation that
create a relationship in which further exchanges of various
kinds become possible. For example, many people regularly
participate in blood drives organized by the Red Cross,
where the donation not only is intimately personal, but also
given with no other object than to help the Red Cross help
others in need. Others may send a check to Caritas Internationalis
or Misereor in order to assist victims of, say, an
earthquake in Haiti. Common experiences like these not
only are channeled through initiatives emerging from the
institutions of the civil society, but they may also help
create a cultural climate in which ventures like Grameen-
Danone will be generally appreciated and supported.
Such examples may suggest just how abundant are
opportunities to have ‘‘the astonishing experience of gift’’
to which the principle of gratuitousness invites us. Our
challenge, here, however, is to probe more deeply into how
such activities can civilize the economy. Luigino Bruni
(2009) offers still further insight into what is involved in
creating a social business. Although disinterested—in
Bruni’s terminology, ‘‘intrinsic’’—motivation is necessary,
it is not sufficient. In addition, there must be a basic orientation
toward the good. It is only when both characteristics
are present that we can verify gratuitousness (Bruni
2009, p. 485). With these dual criteria in mind, one can
readily see why Donati (2009, p. 283) locates gift giving in
its pure form primarily in ‘‘the system of voluntary associations
of private social [organizations] or the third sector.’’
Nevertheless, Bruni also gives us reason to expect
that gratuitousness may often be found outside the sphere
of civil society.

On the one hand, within Donati’s ‘‘system of family and
informal networks,’’ one may observe the free play of
infants, whose interactions seem unmotivated by any aim
other than the sheer joy of playing. Such playfulness is
Bruni’s example of the ‘‘necessary’’ condition of gratuitousness.
The ‘‘sufficient’’ condition—that is, a basic orientation
toward the good as such—in their innocence, may
yet lie beyond the infants’ reach. The coincidence of both
dimensions can be seen even in the economic activities of
adults who have grown up without losing some of their
childlike playfulness. We all admire professional artists
and athletes, as Bruni does, who are intrinsically motivated,
that is, who make art for art’s sake (‘‘ars gratia artis’’) or
participate in sport simply because of their love of the
game. Their orientation toward the good is confirmed in
their loyalty as well as in their refusal to cheat when
opportunities present themselves.

Given the ways in which both art and sports, in our
world, have become professionalized—such that movie
stars, celebrated painters, and world-class football players
can become not only famous but fabulously wealthy—the
question remains whether the astonishing experience of gift
that they represent to us and for us rightly can and ought to
be commercialized. Is sport somehow cheapened as soon as
the athletes turn professional? Would my daughter—a
struggling young singer/songwriter—cease to exhibit the
principle of gratuitousness were she to land a major
recording contract with Sony or one of its global competitors?
Is there an essential incompatibility between instrumental
and intrinsic forms of motivation, such that trying
to honor both of these inevitably corrupts them both?15 If
such is inevitably the case, then not only is Yunus’ theory
and practice of social business a fraud, but Benedict’s
principle of gratuitousness at best is wishful thinking, and
at worst a betrayal of CST’s longstanding commitment to
integral human development. Bruni, for one, thinks they
can be integrated, but he is well aware of the risks involved
in doing so.

The risk that Bruni identifies is what he and others
describe as ‘‘the paradox of business ethics.’’ ‘‘Ethics in
business functions, that is, produces good results, on condition
that it be adhered to as a value in itself and not for
the good results that it may bring’’ (Bruni 2009, p. 487). He
cites as evidence the example of a door-to-door encyclopedia
salesman, who tries to create a sale by feigning
concern for his prospective customer and her children’s
education. The economic value of his projected sincerity
diminishes considerably as soon as his customer realizes
that he really cares only for the commission he’ll make on
the sale. This paradox, however, is not unique to marketing
15 One attempt to address the relationship between intrinsic and
instrumental motivations in business is the essay by Brownsberger
and McCann (1990, reprinted in 1995). MacIntyre’s skepticism about
business ethics is addressed by interpreting Peter Drucker’s thinking
on the purpose of a business.

64 D. McCann

and selling. People whose businesses involve giving professional
services, ranging from financial advisors to flight
attendants to one’s personal physician, all know—or learn
through trial and error—the perils involved in allowing a
relationship that customers and clients regard as having
intrinsic value to deteriorate into something merely
instrumental. In relating the history of the Grameen Bank
and the Grameen-Danone yogurt business, Yunus is
acutely aware of this paradox. His renunciation of profitmaximization
while also managing an enterprise that must
cover its own costs in order to survive is an attempt to
resolve or at least mitigate it.

Does this mean that the only way to practice the principle
of gratuitousness is to follow Yunus in strictly foregoing
profit when commercializing one’s products and
services in a social business? Not even Yunus would recommend
that all firms must be organized in this way (2007,
p. 266). But his warnings about the seductive power of
profit-making, once it is included among the firm’s goals,
does reinforce Bruni’s advice about how easy it is to upset
the balance of mixed motives that otherwise might inform
social enterprises. He emphasizes the ever-present risk of
corruption in which the instrumental, left unchecked, is
likely to ‘‘colonize’’ the intrinsic motivation that animated
the project in the first place and hollow out its meaning.
Although Yunus would advise us to avoid the risk altogether,
Bruni thinks becoming aware of it and its potentially
disastrous consequences may also be an effective
‘‘antidote.’’ Better yet, Bruni urges anyone serious about
the principle of gratuitousness to allow one’s commitment
to deepen into a sense of ‘‘vocation.’’ Indeed, lacking a
sense of one’s vocation, there is no genuine gratuitousness
(2009, p. 488).

The principle of gratuitousness, then, may contribute to
Benedict’s hope of civilizing the economy, but only if its
cultivation becomes habitual as well as reflective, thus
creating a social ecology that is supportive of the growth of
such ventures. As Bruni observes, in today’s marketplace,
people are demanding ‘‘relational goods’’ like ‘‘authenticity
and sincerity,’’ and are willing to pay a premium for
them, so long as they are genuine. Businesses that practice
the difficult art of gratuitousness come to realize that
people will trust those who consistently prove themselves
trustworthy. This simple truth is the key to restoring the
social capital without which our economy remains precarious
and unstable.


The preceding reflections are meant to help render accessible
the insights and proposals of Benedict XVI’s recent
social encyclical, Caritas in veritate, to theorists and
practitioners concerned primarily with business ethics. The
Pope has proposed a ‘‘principle of gratuitousness’’ that may
suggest the relevance of Catholic social teaching particularly
for entrepreneurs interested in exploring new and
unconventional ways that businesses might contribute to
the common good. Making such a contribution today may
require efforts to direct the processes of globalization in
ways that can mitigate, if not eliminate, the problems of
poverty that are rendered even more intractable by the
global economic crisis. That crisis, in Benedict’s view, is
both a symptom and cause of disastrous erosion in social
capital that cannot be overcome by conventional approaches
to economic development narrowly focused on the
interactions between politics and markets. Along with
many other analysts, Benedict believes that the best hope
for regenerating the social capital required for integral
human development lies in strengthening the institutions of
civil society, including especially innovative forms of
business that embody what Caritas in veritate invokes as
the principle of gratuitousness. In this article, I have tried to
open a critical discussion of the principle of gratuitousness,
a notion all too easily dismissed as pious rhetoric, unless its
anthropological assumptions are identified and subject to
constructive criticism. In light of these assumptions, I have
tried to suggest the practical relevance of his distinctive
proposals for ‘‘civilizing the economy’’ by citing a range of
examples, such as the Grameen Bank and related social
businesses, whose practices seem consistent with the
principle of gratuitousness. Benedict’s effort should not be
ignored, as if Catholic social teaching offered only a faint
echo of socialist or other doctrinaire schemes for achieving
utopia. A fair minded exploration of the principle of gratuitousness
should invite readers to a hopeful yet realistic
engagement with both the challenges and the opportunities
that entrepreneurs face in seeking to make a positive contribution
in today’s global business environment. Caritas in
veritate is hardly the last word in any dialog about civilizing
the economy, but it may serve as one important
attempt to open the discussion.


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