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POLITICAL ECONOMY, or the study of the relation of human society to its material wealth, and PHILOSOPHY, or the study of first principles and ultimate issues, have at various times exerted an influence on one another which the history of economics and philosophy makes very evident.
Economical facts and practice, the actual condition of national industries, wealth, and trade, as distinguished from theories about them, have, no doubt, had a still * greater influence, both on economists and philosophers ; and to estimate this effect of practice on theory would be a larger and perhaps a more important inquiry. Some writers have regarded this second inquiry as almost superseding the other, on the ground that the supreme force in human history is economical. It is clear that we may at least go as far as Erdmann, who begins his chapters on Greek Philosophy with the remark that philosophy arises when the struggle for existence has given place to a life of leisure.
But it is only the former question that can be considered here, namely, how far men's thoughts about the world, and human life in general, have affected their thoughts about the economical element of human life in particular, and how far this influence of thoughts upon thoughts may have been mutual. The subject cannot, in the limits of a single volume, be treated in full detail; but by the aid of the references the reader may supply this defect if he will.
As a separate study, Economics comes very late; and
1 See below, Book V.
in our historical retrospect we shall be looking for answers to questions which have not always been consciously present to the authors embraced in our scrutiny. From the vantage ground of the comparatively complete and systematic economic doctrine of modern times, we shall be seeking in past philosophies for materials out of which to construct their answers to our questions.
In one sense, of course, no study is separate ; no single study can deal exclusively and exhaustively with every aspect of a selected subject. Least of all can any claim to exhaustiveness and exclusiveness be made by a science dealing with so concrete a subject as the material wealth of human society. Modern writers, who pursue economics as a separate study, accept such data and such help from other special studies as they cannot refuse without lapsing into unreality; and the extent of this necessary debt is very considerable. At the same time they are not merely borrowers ; they are giving special consideration to subjects and aspects not specially considered by the studies that give the data and the help, and they make a contribution of their own to human knowledge.
The economist looks at the phenomena of human wants and the material means of satisfying them simply as given causes, while to Psychology, Physiology, and Physics, the said phenomena are effects to be traced to remoter causes. He considers, for example, that the conditions of distribution or the causes of a particular system of property in land, or in movable goods, are subjects for History to investigate. More especially at the two ends of economical inquiry,—at the beginning when dealing with wants and the means of satisfying them, and at the end when dealing with the economical aspects of the body politic, and of even larger groups of men, economic science becomes conscious of its shortcomings. Its students are forced to remember from how much, when merely economists, they have abstracted; and they are compelled to seek light from other and complementary branches of the study of human society. Not only at the end and the beginning, but even in the centre of their inquiries, they may well feel this need. Perhaps the most striking phenomenon observed by all economists, is the apparently spontaneous organization of
bodies of men for industrial work, an organization resulting without the deliberate intention of the separate members, at the bidding of economical motives. The presumably close kinship of the social sciences with one another may be expected to lead economists to gain light on such a phenomenon from biology, psychology, ethics, and political philosophy
Such a phenomenon, in fact, has a much deeper meaning than economics can interpret; and parallel cases present themselves which show the need for a philosophical rather than a merely economical treatment of this part of the subject. Even writers like Plato, who have noticed that division of labour seems to lead spontaneously to an organized society, have found it impossible to suppose that society is a purely economical body. When economical ideas were presented by Plato in the course of his ethical and political speculation, it soon appeared that society and social growth were neither purely political nor purely economical. Though Plato (with a purely ethical object) gives to the State a purely economical origin, the result is by no means a purely economical organization; and yet it was as little (at least in the Laws) the deliberate contrivance of a governing body. Society must be distinguished from State.
Historically it is true that the economical element is in Greek Philosophy subordinated to the political, and still more to the ethical. Such economical doctrine as is traceable in the writings of the Greek philosophers grows out of their moral and political philosophy.
In mediæval and modern times (if we pass over the time when economical arrangements were forced into the rules of Canon Law), political economy grows out of political philosophy. The mercantile theory was essentially political. The theory of property, in which, as treated by Hobbes and Locke, economical considerations played a great part, was coloured by the politics of the day; and the question of origin was not sufficiently distinguished from the question of justification ; still less were the two questions discussed with the calm indifference of science. Economical subjects were first brought prominently into ethical controversy by Mandeville ; and the discussion of them in this connection by Hutcheson, Hume, and Adam Smith himself, has given countenance to the impression that modern political economy grew out of moral philosophy. But it was hardly ethical so much as political in the hands of their contemporaries the French Economists, who embodied it in their grandiose system of political and social philosophy, as a feature of first importance; and it was largely on the foundation of the physiocratic system that Adam Smith constructed his own. We owe to the physiocrats also the continuance of the discussion begun long before their time by Grotius, Hobbes, and Locke, about natural rights; and this abstract question of political philosophy has had a connection with political economy, which only the rigidly abstract student of the latter study can ever wish to ignore. The persistence of this question in conjunction with the comparatively new question of the rights of man has been a feature, not only of political, but of economical writings down to our own day; and modern socialism does no more than frankly combine what had in other quarters been tacitly combined, the economical and the philosophical problems.
1 For the distinction see below, pp. 24, 30, etc.
The psychological element in economics has had less notice alike from philosophers and economists. For reasons given amply in other volumes of this series, psychology has come late in the history of philosophy. We shall find, however, even in ancient philosophy, that the materials for answering our questions under this head are not entirely absent.
As the subject considered is the historical relations of philosophy and political economy, no attempt has been made either to narrate the history of philosophy as a whole or to deal with the writings of authors who have happily not yet passed into history.
Debts to previous writers have, as far as possible, been acknowledged in the notes. There have been monographs on various parts of the subject, especially by German writers. Professor Hasbach's two books on Adam Smith - cover part of the ground much more fully
happebes tooed in
i See below, Book II., ch, vii. Notes.
than the present author could hope to cover the whole. Professor Espinas, in his Histoire des doctrines économiques (1892), has kept the connection of philosophy and economics in view ; but the scope of his little volume is described by its title. The idea of the present book was suggested by a note of Professor Adolph Wagner, of Berlin.
So far as the author knows, this is the first attempt to present a view of the relations of philosophy and economics through the whole of their history, and the absence of guiding models must be to some extent his excuse for the shortcomings of his work.
1 Volkswirthschaftslehre, jster Theil, Grundlegung, 2nd ed., 1879, p. 413.