Erasmus, Luther and the free will debate: influencing the philosophy of management 500 Years on –whether we realise it or not!
Costello, Gabriel J.
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Almost exactly 500 years ago, Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, an action that changed the course of world history. The greatest debate of that era was between Desiderius Erasmus, the leading Renaissance Humanist of his generation, and Martin Luther, instigator of the Reformation. Erasmus had published a tract De libero arbitrio (On Free Will) in 1524 and Luther published his riposte De Servo Arbitrio (On the bondage of the Will) in 1525. The question at the heart of their disagreement was the dilemma of the nature of free will (or un-free will) in relation to salvation. This paper makes the claim that the current polarisation in management philosophy, and in particular the paradigm of Positivism, has its roots in this pivotal debate between Erasmus and Luther. What philosophers call the “Free-will problem” is alive and thriving in mainstream philosophical debates and is one of the oldest and hardest problems in philosophy. Furthermore, as Marx points out, we are not able to shed our history the way a snake sheds its skin. Drawing on Gadamer’s hermeneutic of trust, I propose that this historical realisation and an ensuing balanced debate can enable much needed dialogue between philosophy, religion and the social sciences.