Aristotle on wealth-acquisition: ethical, economic and political issues
Aristotle’s virtue theory is considered the main depository of prominent pro-business/ market and anti-business/market approaches to business and economic ethics. However, Aristotle’s ethical and economic thought is not clearly in favor or against business and other market institutions. Hence, most writers assume what they should prove independently. The former tend to overlook his anti-business claims as these appear mostly in his writings about the art of wealth acquisition (chrematistics or χρηματιστική; Politics I.8-11). The latter make a superficial reading of Aristotle’s writings on chrematistics, commercial justice and economics and downplay the pro-business implications of these writings. My thesis is a study of Aristotle’s account of chrematistics in relation to his ethical, political and economic thinking because, currently, there is no book-length reconstruction and interpretation of it. My exegetical task is to reconstruct and interpret his writings in chrematistics and my critical task is to answer whether he was a friend or foe of business and other market institutions. While I examine all modes of chrematistics, my main research question is concerned with the ethical status of business. In the first chapter I present how the question about chrematistics arises in the Politics, and how it relates to Aristotle’s concerns in the Nicomachean Ethics and the Politics. In the second chapter I present Aristotle’s quasi-historical and ethical account of chrematistics as these appear in Pol. I.8-11. In the third chapter I examine further in the Politics why Aristotle censures the lower occupations, including commerce, and I argue that his critique is not ideological as most scholars contend; his objections rest on his perfectionist view of constitutions and citizenship. In the fourth chapter I present and examine Aristotle’s theory of just price as this appears in NE V.5. I argue that the market price of a product is just when the utility of exchangers is equally satisfied and approximates the ‘natural’ price of the product. In the fifth chapter I examine the reading that business is an unjust way of wealth-acquisition. I argue that Aristotle mainly objects to business qua the principle of unlimited wealth-acquisition and to parasitic forms of business. Instead he seems to approve of business that closes gaps in self-sufficiency and generates profit within the bounds of the natural prices of goods. The sixth chapter examines the reading that the institutions of commercial economies are inimical to virtue and necessitate greed and injustice. I suggest that, for Aristotle, money and business are neutral devices; greed and acquisitiveness are natural propensities that arise independently from the institutions of money and business. However, Aristotle is wary of the mercantile life and commercial economies, and thinks that the cities which rank wealth higher than virtue are less conducive to happiness (εὐδαιμονία).