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 6: Aristotle Part I: Ethics

James E. Alvey

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


Aristotle (384–322 BC)1 was born in Stageira, Chalcidice (which bordered on Macedonia) but was raised as part of the Macedonian aristocracy (Nagle 2006, pp. 12–13). He came to Athens to study under Plato in 367 BC. For almost 20 years he remained at Plato’s Academy. He is regarded as the third leading writer in the Socratic school. For some time, he was the head of the Royal Academy of Macedon, and during this he served as the tutor to the royal household of King Philip II, including Alexander (later called Alexander the Great). Shortly after the assassination of Philip, and the ascent of Alexander to the kingship, Aristotle returned to Athens (in 335 BC), where he established his own school, the Lyceum. Immediately after the death of Alexander (323 BC), fearing that he would suffer the same fate as Socrates, Aristotle fled from Athens and died shortly afterwards. This chapter is the first of three concerning Aristotle. After introducing his ethics in this chapter, the following two deal with Aristotle’s politics and economics respectively. In Chapters 3–5 individual works by Xenophon and Plato were discussed separately. In the current and the following two chapters, there will be a significant weaving together from different works. The reason for this is that Aristotle himself deals with ethics, politics, and economics in various works and, in a commentary focusing on these three themes, the separation of his works is more difficult to achieve. In this chapter and the next...

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