Aristotle's liberality.


Access rights

Worldwide access
Access changed 8/24/22

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



My dissertation argues that Aristotle intends his account of unnatural economic arts in Book I of the Politics to emphasize the moral danger posed by the pursuit of wealth and reveal the importance of the household—and the family within it— as the natural association where human acquisition primarily takes place and should be moderated. My analysis shows how the problem of acquisition reflects tension between the limits and possibilities of human nature: human beings have the ingenuity to invent and use money to provide for their needs, but money has immense flexibility and readily tempts human beings to neglect their authentic good. However, nature also provides human beings with a strong grounding in the family to resist these temptations through education of desire and cultivation of virtue. I show that Aristotle expands upon these considerations in the Nicomachean Ethics in his account of the virtue concerned with the use of money—liberality. Here he emphasizes the widespread danger that stinginess—the vice of excessive concern for money—poses to human life, arguing that common human preoccupation with money stems from the experience of need, but also identifying grounds for optimism about the prospects of redirecting self-destructive spending into virtue. I show that liberality is a crucial virtue for Aristotle: on one hand it serves as a model for the education of “nonnecessary” desires, and on the other, it pursues a peculiarly promising version of nobility insofar as it is tied to the salutary recognition of the human constraints that unite virtuous actors with those towards whom they act. Thus it avoids the frequent risk for noble actors to ignore their human limits in their pursuit of greatness and thereby allows for more coherent virtuous action. Finally, I turn back to the Politics where Aristotle reveals that civil faction and tyranny are frequently the high political costs of human preoccupation with money. This confirms the importance of both the household and liberality, insofar as they together provide human beings with critical means to resist the threat of greed and better navigate the relationship between their natural limits and orientation towards ennobling freedom.



Aristotle. Political theory. Liberality. Household.