Aristotle and Plato Economics

Aristotle and Plato Economics

A Social Point of View Taken. — In emphasizing the advan­tage of division of labor, the state was thought of primarily rather than the individual, and the conclusion may be drawn that, in general, Athenian thinkers stressed the political solidar­ity of society. They by no means overlooked the interests of the individual, but always the individual was primarily the citizen, a citizen who, on the one hand, depended upon the state for his highest development, and who, on the other hand, by his de­velopment promoted the highest good of the whole. They exalted the state above the man; civilized man, they reasoned, is not to be thought of outside the state; without the state one is either more or less than a man. Aristotle's reasoning is in point: "Thus the state is by nature clearly prior to the family and to the individual, since the whole is of necessity prior to the part; for example, if the whole body be destroyed, there will be no foot or hand, except in an equivocal sense, as we might speak of a stone hand. . . . The proof that the state is a creation of nature and prior to the individual is that the individual, when isolated, is not self-sufficing; and therefore he is like a part in relation to the whole."

Plato, in accord with his highly idealistic and communistic beliefs, puts the case more forcefully: You are to regard your­self and possessions "not as belonging to yourselves, but as belonging to your whole family, both past and future, and yet more do I regard both family and possessions as belonging to the state; wherefore ... I will legislate with a view to the whole, considering what is best both for the state and for the family, esteeming as I ought the feelings of an individual at a lower rate. . . ."

Indeed, regulations similar to those found among more eastern peoples were not lacking in Athens. For example, there were inspectors of weights and measures, inspectors of goods placed on sale, harbor overseers, etc. The price of salt was regulated; the exportation of wheat was forbidden; and the slaughter of sheep and goats during lambing time was not allowed. The state also pensioned those crippled in war, and in some cases gave alms to the destitute.

After all has been said, however, it must be observed that little evidence of a concept of society as distinct from the state is to be found in Greek writings. The broad and deep biological and psychological bases of social life were not understood or emphasized, but rather the Greek state was a sort of mechanical combination of individuals or families.

Inheritance. — As further evidence of this conception of society, and as an indication of the static character of the ideal, Plato's plan for regulating inheritance and population is of interest. In his ideal state each was to have an inalienable allot­ment of land. Each was to choose a single heir, adopting a son if he had no children, or choosing a husband for his daughter, if male issue were lacking. Other property might be distributed among his remaining children. Clearly one object was to keep the family intact and to preserve its property to it; and these measures remind one of those adopted by the Hebrew lawgivers.

Plato charges ancient legislators with being too good-natured in allowing a man to dispose of his property by will: ". . . they were afraid of the testator's reproaches, and so they passed a law to the effect that a man should be allowed to dispose of his property in all respects as he liked; but you and I, if I am not mistaken, will have something better to say to our departing citizens," and he goes on to express his belief that the interest of the state should predominate.

All this is surely suggestive as to present-day questions of regulating inheritances.