Democritus and his Influence on Classical Political Economy

Panayotis Michaelides, National Technical University of Athens
Ourania Kardassi, Athens University of Economics and Business
John Milios, National Technical University of Athens /  free ebook

The significant influence of ancient Greek thought on the writings of Classical economists is hard to be gainsaid. Adam Smith, for example, obtained considerable data from ancient Greek literature, not only in his major philosophical work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, but also in his Wealth of Nations, the fundamental work of Classical Political Economy (Scott 1940; Lowry 1987). Also, many economic problems have been treated in ancient Greek literature: e.g. Aristotle’s approach to the exchange process and private property (The Nicomachean Ethics, Politics, etc.), Xenophon’s comments on the division of labour (Cyropaedia), as well as Plato’s remarks on the same subject (Republic, Laws, etc.) are considered by many authors (e.g. Milios and Karasmanis 1988) to be some of the most famous ancient Greek contributions to economic thought.
The ideas of the so-called Socratic philosophers, i.e. Xenophon, Plato and Aristotle on atomistic behaviour, division of labour, foreign trade, exchange, value, interest, etc. have been often treated as the forerunners of modern views on these subjects (Lowry 1987, 1979; Petrochilos 1999, 2002). As a consequence, most of the research that has been conducted on the economic ideas of ancient Greek philosophers focuses on the Socratic philosophers, as well as on Hesiod, Aristophanes and Thucydides and, as a result, very few references have been made to the works of other ancient Greek philosophers, and more specifically of Democritus, who is mainly known as the “father” of atomic theory. /  free ebook