Theory Of Aristotle and Plato (Riches)

Theory Of Aristotle and Plato


In their attitude toward riches these Greek thinkers are notable for their poise. Great stores of wealth were decried by them; as was also poverty. Clearly recognizing the usefulness of an abundance of material things as a means, they yet sought the happy medium. Riches in excess were disfavored on two grounds. As a matter of economy, it was argued that they decreased efficiency in production. In a celebrated bit of dialogue Plato develops the idea thus: —
"There seem to be two causes of the deterioration of the arts.
"What are they?
"Wealth, I said, and poverty.
"How do they act?
"The process is as follows: When a potter becomes rich, will he, think you, any longer take the same pains with his art?
"Certainly not.
"He will grow more and more indolent and careless?
"Very true.
"And the result will be that he becomes a worse potter?
"Yes; he greatly deteriorates.
"But, on the other hand, if he has no money, and cannot provide himself with tools or instruments, he will not work equally well himself, nor will he teach his sons or apprentices to work equally well."
A second reason for opposing extreme riches was ethical. Plato argues that great riches and happiness are incompatible; for a rich man cannot be a perfectly good man, as part of his wealth must necessarily be acquired and expended unjustly. The reasoning is of much interest in connection with present-day ethics of wealth, and must be quoted to be appreciated.

"The citizen must indeed be happy and good, and the legislator will seek to make him so; but very rich and very good at the same time he cannot be, not, at least, in the sense in which the many speak of riches. For they mean by 'the rich' the few who have the most valuable possessions, although the owner of them may quite well be a rogue. And if this is true, I can never assent to the doctrine that the rich man will be happy — he must be good as well as rich. And good in a high degree, and rich in a high degree at the same time, he cannot be. Some one will ask, why not? And we shall answer — Because acquisitions which come from sources which are just and unjust indifferently are more than double those which come from just sources only; and the sums which are expended neither honour­ably nor disgracefully, are only half as great as those which are expended honourably and on honourable purposes. Thus, if the one acquires double and spends half, the other who is in the opposite case and is a good man cannot possibly be wealthier than he. The first — I am speaking of the saver and not of the spender — is not always bad; he may indeed in some cases be utterly bad, but, as I was saying, a good man he never is. For he who receives money unjustly as well as justly, and spends neither justly nor unjustly, will be a rich man if he be also thrifty. On the other hand, the utterly bad is in general profligate, and therefore, very poor; while he who spends on noble objects, and acquires wealth by just means only, can hardly be remarkable for riches, any more than he can be very poor. Our statement, then, is true, that the very rich are not good, and, if they are not good, they are not happy."

Aristotle also opposed extremes, though, quite consistently with his views as to communism, he was not opposed to reason­able inequalities. He dreaded more the encroachments of the rich than those of the people. "Many . . . make a mistake," he says, "not only in giving too much power to the rich, but in attempting to overreach the people. There comes a time when out of a false good there arises a true evil, since the encroach­ments of the rich are more destructive to the State than those of the people." On the other hand he remarks, "Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime."