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By Lionel Robbins

Those lectures, introduced on the London college of Economics among 1979 and 1981 and tape-recorded via Robbins's grandson, exhibit his mastery of the highbrow background of economics and his enthusiasm for the topic. They disguise a extensive chronological diversity, starting with Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas, focusing largely on Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus and the classicals, and completing with a dialogue of moderns and marginalists from Marx to Alfred Marshall. Robbins takes a diverse and inclusive method of intellectural background and the lectures are united through his conviction that it truly is most unlikely to appreciate appropriately modern associations and social sciences with no realizing the guidelines at the back of their improvement.

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Now, it’s very difficult to overestimate the importance of Aristotle in the history of economic thought, as I hope to have convinced you by the end of this lecture. But I can’t promise you the same delectation that you would enjoy if you were to read Plato, whether you agreed with him or not, because Plato was one of the most marvelous writers that ever lived. He incidentally was a poet of some standing, and, as I say, whether you agree with him or not Plato is a delight to read. Whereas, we don’t possess the origin of Aristotle’s lectures; we only possess student notes, and student notes are not always as veracious an account of what has been said, and they are not necessarily so enjoyable to read.

Saint Thomas’ disquisition on the sins which arise in the course of exchange is rather wooden and slightly pedantic, and it is very difficult to put an exact interpretation on what he is getting at at different times. From time to time, if you read the extracts in the Summa, he seems to be talking about isolated exchange, and this point is taken up by Ashley among the apologists for the view which de Roover poses, and of course isolated exchange does raise moral problems of quite a different order from a more organised social exchange.

But today and next time I want to devote most attention to the Greeks, and nearly exclusive attention to Plato and Aristotle. Now, both Plato and Aristotle were more famous as general philosophers, moral philosophers and as philosophers concerned with metaphysics, the nature of the world, epistemology and so on and so forth. And their anticipations of economics—and in the case of Aristotle it is extremely important and in the case of Plato it is outstanding but not so influential— their concern as moral philosophers with questions of an economic nature arose essentially with their concern with the good State.

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