1.3 — Ancient Writers (Mostly Greek) — Readings
We begin our first look at some of the earliest writings about economics. None of these writers was self-consciously “an economist” or saw themselves as writing “about econonomics,”We won’t see anything like this until the 19th century.
but it is pretty clear they occasionally touch on economic subjects.
While I have not assigned any Plato to youMainly because it is not in our Reader!
, you should familiarize yourself briefly with Plato’s more famous claims and view of “the ideal State.”
A note of caution in reading Plato: Plato was the student of the famous Socrates (who did not write anything down), and he writes in dialogues, often between his Socrates character and other famous Greek contemporaries.
Aristotle - who was Plato’s greatest student - writes often in opposition to Plato’s views. Thus, it is useful to know what Aristotle is referring to.
- Part I (Pre-classical Thought) Introduction, Aristotle, Politics & Nicomachean Ethics in Medema & Samuels (Reader)
- Ch.2 (Early Preclassical Economic Thought) in Landreth & Colander
Blaug unfortunately does not cover anything before mercantilism & the physiocrats.
The following Wikipedia entries can also provide more background on these writers and their famous works:
- Liberty of Ancients Compared with that of Moderns
- Plato’s Republic
- Aristotle’s Politics
Questions to Help Your Reading
- How much of these writings are meant to be normative vs. positive?
- What economic concepts or principles can you find in these writings?
- What can we glean of Aristotle’s method or methodology? How does he approach the subjects he writes about and get us to learn something from them?
- What is the State, according to Aristotle? What are its origins and purpose? What is the relationship between the State and an individual?
- What does Aristotle have to say about property? What about property held “in common” versus “private” property?
- What the role of “equality” or “reciprocality” in exchange?
- What is the purpose, origin, and nature of money?
- What aspects of “the art of wealth-getting” are “natural” and what are “unnatural?”