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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Aristotle the Utopian

Having assigned my students a paper on Aristotle's economic thought, I was shocked to see how many of them characterized the Philosopher as "utopian" and "an idealist." I puzzled over this until I realized the cause: Any check, moral or legal, on acquisitiveness is seen by young people today as utopian! They cannot conceive that acquiring a certain amount of wealth, while often necessary to living a good life, is not sufficient; for them the good life simply is getting lots of stuff.

Markets are wonderful tools that promote allocative efficiency. But this is what happens when markets are allowed to run untrammeled over society: instead of being properly understood as tools, the tools are worshipped as ends in and of themselves. The moneychangers don't just have a booth in the temple; they are now the priests running it.

4 comments:

  1. I haven't seen the essays, Gene, but I very much doubt your students are all capitalist ideologues. Instead of them saying, "Aristotle thought the good life consisted in something besides wealth acquisition, therefore he was utopian," I imagine they were more likely saying, "Aristotle thinks people are motivated by things other than money, and therefore he is an idealist."

    I realize we can't settle this without quotes, which you shouldn't do.

    To make sure I'm being clear: It sounds like you are continuing your running vendetta against certain types of libertarian. But I doubt very much that your students are all Rothbardians.

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  2. I think you tried to say "They cannot conceive that acquiring a certain amount of wealth, while often necessary to living a good life, is ** sufficient; for them the good life simply is getting lots of stuff." (the ** marks the mistake).

    Maybe that's utopian. Maybe our nature is to maximize power.

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  3. Thank you for yet another illustration of my point, El Obseso.

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  4. "El Obseso Maniaco"--Please translate into Italian. Thank youse.

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