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PLATO (428–347 B.c.). ECONOMICAL ideas appear in relation to philosophical only when philosophy extends not only to outward nature, but to man, and not only to man, but to society.
We begin therefore neither with Thales, nor with Anaxagoras, nor even with Socrates, but with Plato.
I. The conceptions of Wealth, Production, Distribution, and of the economical functions of State and Society are treated by Plato, some incidentally, others at length, but always in subordination to Ethics, and never as (even in theory) separable from ethical considerations.
This subordination is most evident in the case of the notion of wealth. When Socrates had become the founder of Moral Philosophy by definitely raising the question of man's chief end, the place of wealth among the ends of action could not fail to be discussed by any systematic philosophy proceeding on Socratic lines. Relating as they do to the main business of ordinary active life, the notion of wealth and the various definitions of what we now call economical ideas, offered a peculiarly suitable field for the practice of the Socratic method, in its three features, quest of an end, definition of general ideas, and induction from particular instances. Yet even in the early or Socratic dialogues of Plato he does not take hold of the notion of wealth or any other economical notion and sift it as he would have sifted a metaphysical idea. We are told of its place in relation to man's chief end and among human concerns generally ; but we are left to gather from scattered descriptions and classifications what Plato's definition of it might have been.
1 The Eryxias À Tepi ndoúrov, is not genuine. It brings out at least the distinction of wealth from money.
In the Laws, for example, the Cretan constitution is praised as securing all blessings necessary to human happiness, the divine or spiritual blessings and the human or bodily and material. "Wisdom, temperance, justice, and courage, are the divine; and, if a city possess them, the others are added to it; but wanting them, it will want the rest also. The rest, or human blessings, are health, beauty, strength, and wealth. Elsewhere in the Laws, he says three things are of concern to men-mind, body, and estate (xpriuata), and that is their order of importance. Wealth, therefore, though only in the third rank, is recognised by Plato as an element of real necessity and rationality in human life when it is intelligently and moderately used, and not blindly heaped up, without reference to the chief ends of life.3
The difficulty is that Plato does not directly define it, and therefore we have really to deal with wealth in two senses of the word ; namely, outward goods and an excessive accumulation of them, or, in short, wealth and excessive wealth. The ambiguity is of perennial recurrence in the writings of moralists; but the emphasis on excess is characteristic of the Greek philosopher.
The former kind of wealth Plato recognises to be indispensable ; and an assured competency is in his eyes almost a condition of goodness. He
poverty, ill-health, and wickedness are all evils, though not in the same degree. In the first pages of the Republic, the old man Cephalus says that, if he had been poor instead of rich, he might possibly have lived less good a life, even as Themistocles, if he had not belonged to Athens, might not have become famous. Cephalus no doubt is speaking for the old-fashioned Athenian morality, of which the Platonic Socrates proceeds to show the weak
“ Not only as soon as a man has a livelihood, but even before he has one,” he should practise virtue. Still, even in the first of the two ideal states of the Republic, though plain living and simplicity are at their highest point, the citizens are supposed to have the rude
1 L., I. 631, B, C.
2 L., V. 743, E; cf. IX. 870. 3 In the Euthydemus, 292, it is classed among those outward advantages which are in themselves neither good nor evil.
Gorgias, 477-78. 5 Republ., I. 329-30. 6 Republ., III. 407, A.