Ancient Economic Thought - Vol. 1

By B. B. Price | Go to book overview

6

GREEK ECONOMIC THOUGHT

Initiators of a Mediterranean tradition

Louis Baeck


THE TRAJECTORY OF GREEK THOUGHT

About five thousand years ago, the Mediterranean region became the cradle of a number of civilizations. Egypt, Mesopotamia, Syria and Persia figure in the history books as creative incubators of our cultural heritage. Their palace and temple complexes were of an unparalleled grandeur and arouse our awe even today. Their civilizations had relatively developed economies, with surplus production efficiently mobilized and redistributed for the administrarive and religious establishment. Their scribal schools produced a great number of manuals with detailed instructions for the running of the complex system. But, in their compact world-view there was no space for the emergence of an autonomous body of political thought and still less for one of economic thought.

Classical Greece made a quantum leap in the humanization of arts and philosophy. Its rationalism came as a challenge to the mythical world-view and to the religious legends and liturgies. Greek thinkers produced an "intellectual" ferment, spinning cloth for the secularization of myths and gods. The lonic philosopher Democritus even coined a new myth, illustrating the Promethean thrust of man as founder of concepts and as finder and developer of techniques. The progressive differentiation of the compact world-view into separate domains like religion, philosophy, ethics and political science came in the wake of this moral and intellectual revolution. Athens played the role of academic eminence for the Aegean region, and its orators praised its democratic constitution as a model.

The Greek rhetoricians and scholars were also the first to write extensively on problems of practical philosophy like ethics, politics and economics. They opened the economic agenda with the so-called "peri oikonomias". In the post-Socratic demarcation of disciplines, ethics was the study of personal and inter-individual behaviour; politics was the discourse on the ordering of the public sphere; and the term oikonomia referred to the material organization of the household and of the estate, and to supplementary discourses on the financial affairs of the city-state

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