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 3: An Introduction to the Socratics: Socrates and Xenophon

James E. Alvey


This chapter has three main goals. First, we begin the detailed study of the Socratic School and the ways in which its members contribute to the linkage between ethics and economics. We will keep in mind how the Socratics fit into the two grand narratives of economics and ethics, especially Sen’s narrative. Second, we will also try to indicate some similarities and contrasts between the ancient Greeks and later schools of economic thought, especially Sen’s Capabilities school. Third, the chapter serves as an introduction to Plato (Chapters 4 and 5) and Aristotle (Chapters 6–8). The structure of the chapter is as follows. The first section provides a brief introduction to Socrates and the Socratic school. The second section discusses Xenophon. The third section gives a brief conclusion. 1. AN INTRODUCTION TO SOCRATES AND THE SOCRATIC SCHOOL The Socratic School (Socrates, Xenophon,1 Plato, and Aristotle) arose in opposition to the Sophists (many of whom adopted a type of proto-mercantilist political economy).2 Although Socrates wrote nothing that has come down to us (see Plato Phaedr 274c–275d; 1998b, pp. 85–6; Nussbaum 1986 [2001], p. 125), two of his followers (Plato and Xenophon) wrote extensively. This section briefly discusses Socrates and gives some insight into the school that he created. Socrates achieved fame during his lifetime and was a model for his followers; his philosophic way of life was regarded by some of them as the best way ¯ of life.3 One of Socrates’ most important doctrines was that virtue...

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