Socrates, Plato and Aristotle on wealth in the polis and the soul

Bilyaminu asked:

What have Socrates, Plato and Aristotle contributed to the idea of a nation’s wealth creation?

Answer by Georgios Tsagdis

Socrates and Plato query wealth in its relation to personal and civic virtue. The former will be canonised as the forefather of Stoicism, a way of living thought in austere abnegation of comfort and luxury, while the latter will expend considerable effort critiquing in many of his dialogues theoretically, but also dramaturgically the function and effects of wealth in the soul as well as in the polis. (It is important to note that the ‘nation’, in all its complexity as a unifying ground among the Greeks, does not form the basis of political organisation and remains uncoupled from territorial sovereignty — therefore one cannot strictu sensu speak of ‘national wealth’ in ancient Greece.)

The principal text is of course the Republic, but if you wish to stay with the notion of the nation and follow the potentially devastating effects of wealth on it, the myth of the Atlantis in the dialogues Timaeus and Critias is most relevant.

Aristotle’s understanding of the significance of wealth for the individual and the polis draws on and nuances further that of Plato. Here the Nichomachean Ethics and the Politics are key. Importantly, wealth cannot be understood in Aristotle outside of the framework of mean (mesotes), which far from being a mere average, designates the perfection and flourishing of virtue.

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