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In researching the roots of capitalism, the simplest questions can lead to a deeper truth

By Crystal Bennett | Office of Creative Services

Brad Thompson, left.

Political science professor C. Bradley Thompson has spent his academic career trying to answer the question, “What is the good life?”

He spends hours upon hours researching the moral foundations of a free society, which is the basis to answer his overarching life question. He speaks slowly, deliberately; a man who knows his subject matter and believes strongly in its worth.

Questions are always welcome. The simplest ones, he says — often posed by a student — can bring a flood of thought, an angle unforeseen, a deeper truth.

Thompson was recruited to Clemson five years ago to begin the Institute for the Study of Capitalism, a startup funded by BB&T. He spends his days studying the historical aspect and contemporary perspective of capitalism. While most groups study capitalism’s economics, this institute focuses on its moral foundation.

And he continues to ask, “What is the good life?” “What is justice?” and “What are the moral foundations of a free society?” — huge issues not normally discussed around the water cooler.

However, many donors understand and support the group’s research. After its initial pledge for three years, BB&T renewed its commitment for an additional 10 years.

As Thompson says often, “Ideas have consequences.” To understand any society in any point in time, one has to understand its philosophical foundations.

And so he continues to ask questions, to challenge his students and to take their learning beyond the classroom.

Every Friday afternoon he can be found discussing books such as Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged with a group of Clemson undergrads — opening their minds, expanding their worlds.

“For me, it’s what a college education is supposed to be like; it’s the best thing I do,” he said.

Perhaps that’s what we would all call “the good life.”

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