A History of Economic Thought by Lionel Robbins

By Lionel Robbins

Those lectures, added on the London institution of Economics among 1979 and 1981 and tape-recorded through Robbins's grandson, show his mastery of the highbrow background of economics and his enthusiasm for the topic. They disguise a large chronological variety, starting with Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas, focusing generally 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 different and inclusive method of intellectural heritage and the lectures are united by means of his conviction that it truly is very unlikely to appreciate effectively modern associations and social sciences with out knowing the information at the back of their improvement.

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Later on you get the Scholastics and you get other philosophers influenced by Aristotle. 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.

But there can equally be no doubt at all that Ricardo’s thought was stimulated by the monetary disorders of his time, the inflation after the inflation phase of the bullionist controversy and the dispute with regard to whether the Corn Laws should be restored at the end of the Napoleonic Wars or not. No doubt at all that he was influenced that way. Equally no doubt that once he had been forced by his friends into writing a principles of economics, logical thought took charge and carried him far away from these local circumstances.

True, he said. Now we get to the economics. And it is in the belief that it is for his own good, that one man gives to another or receives from him in exchange. Very true. • I N T R O D U C T I O N — P L A T O • 13 Then, I said, let us construct a State in theory from the beginning; and yet the true creator, it seems, will be necessity —who is the mother of our invention. Of course, he replied. Now, the first and greatest of necessities is food, which is the condition of life and existence. Certainly.

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