Aristotle on Democracy and the Marketplace

  • Fred D. MillerJr.Email author
Part of the Philosophical Studies Series book series (PSSP, volume 132)


Aristotle includes democracy among the deviant constitutions. Democracy, as he understands it is, is not merely rule by the many but rule by a multitude lacking in virtue. Democracy takes different forms, but among the worst, he contends, is one like the Athenian democracy which numbers merchants among the citizens. For occupations such as commerce and banking are inherently vicious. Consequently, the democracies in which the mercantile class is prominent are especially unjust, corrupt, and unstable. In this essay I examine and evaluate Aristotle’s indictment of commercial democracy. Since his argument ultimately rests on his theory of moral virtue, I set forth the basic principles of Aristotle’s theory of virtue and consider how he applies them to common commercial practices. I then reflect on whether Aristotle would have arrived at similar conclusions about these practices if he had been acquainted with the basic principles of microeconomics. Finally, I consider the implication of this assessment for Aristotle’s critique of Athenian democracy.


Constitutions Commerce Democracy Exchange Justice 


  1. Baldwin, J.W. 1959. The medieval theories of the just price: Romanists, canonists, and theologians in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 49 (4): 5–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Barnes, J., ed. 1984. The complete works of Aristotle: The Revised Oxford Translation. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Blaug, M. 1991. Aristotle (383–211 BC). Brookfield: Elgar.Google Scholar
  4. Cohen, E.E. 1992. Athenian economy and society: A banking perspective. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  5. ———. 2000. The Athenian nation. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Collins, D. 1987. Aristotle and business. Journal of Business Ethics 6: 567–572.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. de Roover, R. 1958. The concept of the just price: Theory and economic policy. Journal of Economic History 18: 418–434.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dover, K.J. 1994. Greek popular morality in the time of Plato and Aristotle. Indianapolis: Hackett.Google Scholar
  9. Finley, M.I. 1982. Economy and society in ancient Greece. New York: Viking.Google Scholar
  10. Hadreas, P. 2002. Aristotle on the vices and virtue of wealth. Journal of Business Ethics 39: 361–376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Hasebroek, J. 1978. Trade and politics in ancient Greece. Chicago: Ares. Original work published 1933.Google Scholar
  12. Hayek, F.A. 1945. The use of knowledge in society. American Economic Review 35 (4): 519–530.Google Scholar
  13. Knight, F.H. 1921. Risk, uncertainty, and profit. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar
  14. Mei, T.S. 2009. The preeminence of use: Reevaluating the relation between use and exchange in Aristotle’s economic thought. Journal of the History of Philosophy 47 (4): 523–548.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Meikle, S. 1995. Aristotle’s economic thought. Oxford: Clarendon.Google Scholar
  16. ———. 1996. Aristotle on business. The Classical Quarterly 46 (New Series): 138–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Miller, F.D., Jr. 1995. Nature, justice, and rights in Aristotle’s politics. Oxford: Clarendon.Google Scholar
  18. ———. 1998. Was Aristotle the first economist? Apeiron 31 (4): 387–398.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Newman, W.L. 1887. The Politics of Aristotle. Vol. 1. Oxford: Clarendon.Google Scholar
  20. Noonan, J.T., Jr. 1957. The scholastic analysis of usury. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Pangle, T.L. 1980. The Laws of Plato. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  22. Reeve, C.D.C. 1998. Aristotle Politics. Indianapolis: Hackett.Google Scholar
  23. Rothbard, M.N. 1987. Time preference. In The new Palgrave: A dictionary of economics, ed. J. Eatwell, M. White, and P. Newman, vol. 4, 644–666. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  24. Sowell, T. 1980. Knowledge and decision. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  25. Turgot, A.R.J. 1977. The Economics of A. R. J. Turgot. Trans. P.D. Groenewegen. Hague: Martinus Nijhoff. (Original work published 1769)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of ArizonaTucsonUSA

Personalised recommendations