A Short History of Ethics and Economics
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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.
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Chapter 2: An Introduction to Ancient Greek Political Economy

James E. Alvey


This chapter provides some historical, institutional, and intellectual context for the rest of the book. With respect to the intellectual context, it limns a range of ancient contributors to political economy and the way in which they contribute to the linkage between ethics and economics. In focusing on the latter, attention has been paid to the ancient Greeks as early progenitors of later schools of economic thought, especially Sen’s Capabilities school. It also serves as an introduction to the pre-Socratics and the Socratics. An understanding of the pre-Socratics is essential for what follows in later chapters that concentrate on the Socratics. The structure of this chapter is as follows. The first section provides some historical context on ancient Greek society, economy, and institutions. The second section focuses on the pre-Socratics (especially the Sophists). 1. THE SOCIAL, ECONOMIC, POLITICAL, AND INSTITUTIONAL CONTEXT The peak period of the ancient Greek civilizations was from the eighth to the third century BC. In several of the Greek city-states (poleis; singular polis) there were tremendous developments in various branches of the arts and learning. Some understanding of the institutional framework in which the ancient Greeks wrote is essential for the second section of this chapter and the remainder of the book. Two fundamental Greek institutions are the household (oikos; plural oikoi) and the polis. These will be discussed first. Afterwards, brief comments will be made on a range of themes: inequality, the ancient economy, the good life, gender, and the family. The Oikos The oikos...

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