The Economic Analysis of Aristotle


Aristotle’s performance is quite different. It is not only that in his works Platonic glamour is conspicuous by its absence, and that instead we find (if such a thing may be said without offense of so great a figure) decorous, pedestrian, slightly mediocre, and more than slightly pompous common sense. Nor is it only that Aristotle much more than Plato —in any case, much more frankly than Plato—co-ordinated and discussed preexisting opinions that prevailed in what must have been a copious literature. The essential difference is that an analytic intention, which may be said (in a sense) to have been absent from Plato’s mind, was the prime mover of Aristotle’s. This is clear from the logical structure of his arguments…

…His main work as well as his main interest, so far as social phenomena are concerned, was in the field we have decided to call economic sociology or rather it was in the field of political sociology to which he subordinated both economic sociology and technical economics. It is as a treatise or textbook on state and society that his Politics must be appraised. And his Nicomachean Ethics—a comprehensive treatise on human behavior presented from the normative angle—also deals so preponderantly with political man, with man in the city-state, that it should be considered as a companion volume to the Politics, making up together with the latter the first known systematic presentation of a unitary Social Science. The reader presumably knows that up to, say, the times of Hobbes, all that went under the name of political science and political philosophy fed upon the Aristotelian stock. For our purpose, it must suffice to note: (1) that not only was Aristotle, like a good analyst, very careful about his concepts but that he also coordinated his concepts into a conceptual apparatus, that is, into a system of tools of analysis that were related to one another and were meant to be used together, a priceless boon to later ages (2) that, as is indeed implied in his ‘inductive’ approach alluded to above, he investigated processes of change as well as states; (3) that he tried to distinguish between features of social organisms or of behavior that exist by virtue of universal or inherent necessity and others that are instituted by legislative decision or custom (νóµω); (4) that he discussed social institutions in terms of purposes and of the advantages and disadvantages they seemed to him to present, and that he himself thus gave in, and led followers to give in, to a particular form of the rationalist error, namely, the teleological error.


1. Schumpeter, Joseph A. History of Economic Analysis. New York: Oxford UP, 1954. Print. 57 – 58.



Filed under History of Economic Analysis

2 responses to “The Economic Analysis of Aristotle

  1. Pingback: History of Economics Analysis | Irrepressible Thought

  2. Pingback: History of Economics Analysis | Gedanken zur Geschichte

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