A Short History of Ethics and Economics

A Short History of Ethics and Economics

The Greeks

James E. Alvey

Arising from a disenchantment with mainstream economics – a dissatisfaction that is widespread today – A Short History of Ethics and Economics sketches the emergence and decline of the ethical tradition of economics and the crisis of modern economics. In doing so, James Alvey focuses on four of the leading ancient Greek thinkers: Socrates, Xenophon, Plato and Aristotle.

Chapter 5: Plato Part II: The ‘Late’ Dialogues

James E. Alvey

Subjects: economics and finance, economic psychology, history of economic thought


This chapter, focusing on the ‘late’ dialogues, completes the study of Plato. These dialogues elaborate on or modify the views presented in Plato’s ‘early’ and ‘middle’ dialogues. In the ‘late’ dialogues, a more ‘down-to-earth’ understanding of human beings emerges. First, while ethical standards are still promoted, the demands are considerably modified. Second, Plato’s lists of human functionings and human goods are dramatically lengthened. A more egalitarian definition of eudaimonia emerges. Third, and somewhat associated with the second point, Plato adopts a much wider notion of social achievement. Fourth, Plato provides some insights into his view of the methodology of economics. Fifth, he provides some sketchy remarks about the just price. This chapter is made up of three sections. The first section briefly considers some relevant themes in the Philebus, the Sophist, and the Statesman. The second section discusses, at length, the Laws. Finally, some concluding remarks on Chapters 4 and 5 are offered. 1. THE PHILEBUS, THE SOPHIST, AND THE STATESMAN The main topics discussed in this section are human nature (a species view of human beings), hedonism, the classification of the arts (including the political art, the art of ruling), and the best practical regime. While the focus is on the Philebus, some additional remarks will be made on the Sophist and the Statesman. In the Philebus, Socrates and his protagonist Protarchus agree that the good life embodies several features of ‘the good’: it must be complete, sufficient, and choiceworthy (Phil 20c–d; 1925b [1939], pp. 233–5; Nussbaum...

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