Justice and Taxes: Aristotle and Plato Say Just Enough

Aristotle, Magna Moralia 1194a

“For example, it is fair that one who possesses much should pay a lot in taxes while one who has little should pay little”

οἷον ἀνάλογόν ἐστιν τὸν τὰ πολλὰ κεκτημένον πολλὰ εἰσφέρειν, τὸν δὲ τὰ ὀλίγα κεκτημένον ὀλίγα·

Plato, Republic 8 (568e)

“But, I was saying, we have wandered off topic. Let’s talk again about the tyrant’s camp, how he is going to pay for such a large and strange crew that’s never in the same place.

He said, “it is clear that if there is any money sacred to the state, he will spend it as long as what is left over remains, so that he can demand fewer taxes from the population.”

Ἀλλὰ δή, εἶπον, ἐνταῦθα μὲν ἐξέβημεν· λέγωμεν δὲ πάλιν ἐκεῖνο τὸ τοῦ τυράννου στρατόπεδον, τὸ καλόν τε καὶ πολὺ καὶ | ποικίλον καὶ οὐδέποτε ταὐτόν, πόθεν θρέψεται.

Δῆλον, ἔφη, ὅτι, ἐάν τε ἱερὰ χρήματα ᾖ ἐν τῇ πόλει, ταῦτα ἀναλώσει, ὅποι ποτὲ ἂν ἀεὶ ἐξαρκῇ τὰ τῶν ἀποδομένων, ἐλάττους εἰσφορὰς ἀναγκάζων τὸν δῆμον εἰσφέρειν.

Plato, Republic 1 (343e)

“As matters of state go, whenever there are taxes, the just person pays in more from the same amount on which the unjust man pays less. And when there are refunds, the former takes nothing while the lesser profits a lot.”

ἔπειτα ἐν τοῖς πρὸς τὴν πόλιν, ὅταν τέ τινες εἰσφοραὶ ὦσιν, ὁ μὲν δίκαιος ἀπὸ τῶν ἴσων πλέον εἰσφέρει, ὁ δ’ ἔλαττον, ὅταν τε λήψεις, ὁ μὲν οὐδέν, ὁ δὲ πολλὰ κερδαίνει.


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Plouthugeia: “Wealth and Health”

Some Words:

πλουθυγίεια: “wealth and health”

πλούταξ: “a rich churl”

πλούταρχος: “master of riches”

πλουτογαθής: “delighting in riches”

πλουτοκρατέομαι: “to live in a state governed by the rich”

πλουτοκρατία: “an oligarchy of wealth

πλουτοποιός: “enriching”

πλουτοτραφής: “raised on wealth”

πλουτόχθων: “rich in things of the earth”

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Some Ideas

Xenophon, Memorabilia 4.16.12

“[Socrates] believed that kingship and tyranny were both governments but that they differed from one another. For he believed that kingship was government of a willing people and according to the laws of the city, while tyranny was when people were unwilling and against the laws, but instead according to the wishes of the ruler. Whenever leaders were selected from those who meet the standards of the law, the governement is in aristocracy. When they are chosen from those who have enough property, it is a plutocracy. When they are elected from everyone, it is a democracy.”

Βασιλείαν δὲ καὶ τυραννίδα ἀρχὰς μὲν ἀμφοτέρας ἡγεῖτο εἶναι, διαφέρειν δὲ ἀλλήλων ἐνόμιζε. τὴν μὲν γὰρ ἑκόντων τε τῶν ἀνθρώπων καὶ κατὰ νόμους τῶν πόλεων ἀρχὴν βασιλείαν ἡγεῖτο, τὴν δὲ ἀκόντων τε καὶ μὴ κατὰ νόμους, ἀλλ᾿ ὅπως ὁ ἄρχων βούλοιτο, τυραννίδα. καὶ ὅπου μὲν ἐκ τῶν τὰ νόμιμα ἐπιτελούντων αἱ ἀρχαὶ καθίστανται, ταύτην μὲν τὴν πολιτείαν ἀριστοκρατίαν ἐνόμιζεν εἶναι, ὅπου δ᾿ ἐκ τιμημάτων, πλουτοκρατίαν, ὅπου δ᾿ ἐκ πάντων, δημοκρατίαν.

Sallust, Second Letter to Caesar 4

“Greed, however, is a feral beast, huge and not to be tolerated—wherever it wanders, it lays waste to cities, fields, places of worship and homes. It mixes up the human and the divine. No armies or walls can stand up to it when it pierces with its force. It despoils all portals of repute, shame, children, country and parents.”

Ceterum avaritia belua fera, immanis, intoleranda est; quo intendit, oppida, agros, fana atque domos vastat, divina cum humanis permiscet, neque exercitus neque moenia obstant, quo minus vi sua penetret; fama, pudicitia, liberis, patria atque parentibus cunctos mortalis spoliat

Dicta Catonis, 32

“Greed always loves lies, theft, and rape.”

Semper avarus amat mendacia furta rapinas

(Pseudo-)Aristotle, On Virtues and Vices

“There are three types of injustice: impiety, greed and arrogance. Impiety is offense against the gods and powers or even to those who have died, parents and country, Greed is taken what is against contracts, what is under dispute despite what one deserves. Arrogance is what makes people pursue pleasures for themselves while heaping reproach upon others.”

Ἀδικίας δέ ἐστιν εἴδη τρία, ἀσέβεια πλεονεξία ὕβρις. ἀσέβεια μὲν ἡ περὶ θεοὺς πλημμέλεια καὶ περὶ δαίμονας, ἢ περὶ τοὺς κατοιχομένους καὶ περὶ γονεῖς καὶ πατρίδα· πλεονεξία δὲ ἡ περὶ τὰ συμβόλαια, παρὰ τὴν ἀξίαν αἱρουμένη τὸ διάφορον· ὕβρις δὲ καθ᾿ ἣν τὰς ἡδονὰς αὑτοῖς παρασκευάζουσιν εἰς ὄνειδος ἄγοντες ἑτέρους,

Corpse-Wealth and the Metropolis of Greed: Some Greek and Latin Sayings about the Wealthy

Some useful words:

νεκροφάγος: “corpse-eating”

πλουτοκράτωρ: “plutocrat”

Martial, Epigram 5.81

“You will always be poor, Aemilianus, if you are poor;
nowadays wealth comes to no one but the rich”.

semper pauper eris, si pauper es, Aemiliane;
dantur opes nullis nunc nisi divitibus.

Periander, 1.7 (D.L. 97-97)

“Do nothing for money”

Μηδὲν χρημάτων ἕνεκα πράττειν

These sayings come from the Gnomologium Vaticanum

120 “Aristôn the philosopher used to say that wealthy people who are cheap are like mules who carry gold and silver but eat straw.”

᾿Αρίστων ὁ φιλόσοφος τοὺς πλουσίους καὶ φειδωλοὺς ὁμοίους ἔφησεν εἶναι τοῖς ἡμιόνοις, οἵτινες χρυσὸν καὶ ἄργυρον φέροντες χόρτον ἐσθίουσιν.

265 “Democritus used to say that greed is the mother-city of every wickedness”

Δημόκριτος τὴν φιλαργυρίαν ἔλεγε μητρόπολιν πάσης κακίας.

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Euripides, Fragment 462

“I both know and have experienced the hard way
that all people are the friends of men who have.
No one slinks about where there is no food,
But they go where there is wealth and a gathering.
To be ‘well-born’ is also the property of the rich;
But the poor man does well if he dies.”

᾿Επίσταμαι δὲ καὶ πεπείραμαι λίαν,
ὡς τῶν ἐχόντων πάντες ἄνθρωποι φίλοι.
οὐδεὶς γὰρ ἕρπει πρὸς τὸ μὴ τροφὴν ἔχον,
ἀλλ᾿ εἰς τὸ πλοῦτον καὶ συνουσίαν ἔχον.
καὶ τῶν ἐχόντων ηὑγένεια κρίνεται.
ἀνὴρ δ᾿ ἀχρήμων εἰ θάνοι πράσσει καλῶς.

Demosthenes might do things differently

De Corona, 103

“Right now, I want to take you back through the things I did when in power in order. And you, examine them again, anew, for what was best for the state. When I saw, Athenian men, that your navy was in disarray, and that some of the wealthy citizens were essentially untaxed because of the limited expenditures while other citizens of moderate or little wealth were losing what they had, and that the city was falling behind its opportunities because of these circumstances, I made a law through which I forced the wealthy to do what was right and I prevented the poor from suffering injustice—and this was most useful to the city: I ensured that her preparations happened at the necessary time.”

Βούλομαι τοίνυν ἐπανελθεῖν ἐφ’ ἃ τούτων ἑξῆς ἐπολιτευόμην· καὶ σκοπεῖτ’ ἐν τούτοις πάλιν αὖ, τί τὸ τῇ πόλει βέλτιστον ἦν. ὁρῶν γάρ, ὦ ἄνδρες ᾿Αθηναῖοι, τὸ ναυτικὸν ὑμῶν καταλυόμενον καὶ τοὺς μὲν πλουσίους ἀτελεῖς ἀπὸ μικρῶν ἀναλωμάτων γιγνομένους, τοὺς δὲ μέτρι’ ἢ μικρὰ κεκτημένους τῶν πολιτῶν τὰ ὄντ’ ἀπολλύοντας, ἔτι δ’ ὑστερίζουσαν ἐκ τούτων τὴν πόλιν τῶν καιρῶν, ἔθηκα νόμον καθ’ ὃν τοὺς μὲν τὰ δίκαια ποιεῖν ἠνάγκασα, τοὺς πλουσίους, τοὺς δὲ πένητας ἔπαυσ’ ἀδικουμένους, τῇ πόλει δ’ ὅπερ ἦν χρησιμώτατον, ἐν καιρῷ γίγνεσθαι τὰς παρασκευὰς ἐποίησα.

Some bullshit from Seneca

Seneca, Epistulae ad Lucilium 17.3

“For many, riches have stood in the way of philosophizing; poverty is unimpeded, free from care.”

multis ad philosophandum obstitere divitiae; paupertas expedita est, secura est.

A question of character in Xenophon (Memorabilia 4.2.37)

Socrates: “What are poor people and rich people like?”

Euthydemos: “I think that the former, poor men, don’t have enough to spend on what they need while the latter, rich people, have more than enough.”

Socrates: “And you’ve learned then that there are some who have very little but find it not only sufficient but make more out of it, while there are some for whom even very much is never enough?”

Euthydemos: “Yes, by Zeus, you have reminded me correctly: I know some tyrants too who are compelled by want to commit injustice just as if they had nothing.”

Ποίους δὲ πένητας καὶ ποίους πλουσίους καλεῖς; Τοὺς μέν, οἶμαι, μὴ ἱκανὰ ἔχοντας εἰς ἃ δεῖ τελεῖν πένητας, τοὺς δὲ πλείω τῶν ἱκανῶν πλουσίους. Καταμεμάθηκας οὖν ὅτι ἐνίοις μὲν πάνυ ὀλίγα ἔχουσιν οὐ μόνον ἀρκεῖ ταῦτα, ἀλλὰ καὶ περιποιοῦνται ἀπ’ αὐτῶν, ἐνίοις δὲ πάνυ πολλὰ οὐχ ἱκανά ἐστι;

Καὶ νὴ Δί’, ἔφη ὁ Εὐθύδημος, ὀρθῶς γάρ με ἀναμιμνῄσκεις, οἶδα [γὰρ] καὶ τυράννους τινάς, οἳ δι’ ἔνδειαν ὥσπερ οἱ ἀπορώτατοι ἀναγκάζονται ἀδικεῖν.

Corpse-Wealth and Prisons

On the Wealth of Herodes the Athenian (Philostratus, Lives of the Sophists, 547)

“[Herodes] used his wealth in the best way of all men. We do not, however, believe that this was the easiest thing to do, but instead that it was wholly difficult and unpleasant.  For men who are drunk with wealth usually afflict other people with insults. In addition, they make the specious claim that wealth is blind—but even if wealth appears rightly blind at other times, it looked upon Herodes: it gazed upon his friends, his cities, and whole nations since the man was able to keep a watch over them all and make a storehouse of his riches in the opinions of the men with whom he shared them.

For he used to say indeed that it was necessary for the man who would use wealth correctly to provide it to those who need it so that they may not be in need and also to those who didn’t need it, so that they might not become impoverished. He used to call wealth that was not used and was hoarded up by envy “corpse wealth” and the storehouses of those who hoarded their riches “prisons of wealth. He mocked those who believed it was right to sacrifice to their accumulated riches “Aloadae” because [Otos and Ephialtes] had sacrificed to Ares after they imprisoned him.”*

῎Αριστα δὲ ἀνθρώπων πλούτῳ ἐχρήσατο. τουτὶ δὲ μὴ τῶν εὐμεταχειρίστων ἡγώμεθα, ἀλλὰ τῶν παγχαλέπων τε καὶ δυσκόλων, οἱ γὰρ πλούτῳ μεθύοντες  ὕβριν τοῖς ἀνθρώποις ἐπαντλοῦσιν. προσδιαβάλλουσι δὲ ὡς καὶ τυφλὸν τὸν πλοῦτον, ὃς εἰ καὶ τὸν ἄλλον χρόνον ἐδόκει τυφλός, ἀλλ’ ἐπὶ ῾Ηρώδου ἀνέβλεψεν, ἔβλεψε μὲν γὰρ ἐς φίλους, ἔβλεψε δὲ ἐς πόλεις, ἔβλεψε δὲ ἐς ἔθνη, πάντων περιωπὴν ἔχοντος τοῦ ἀνδρὸς καὶ θησαυρίζοντος τὸν πλοῦτον ἐν ταῖς τῶν μετεχόντων αὐτοῦ γνώμαις. ἔλεγε γὰρ δή, ὡς προσήκοι τὸν ὀρθῶς πλούτῳ χρώμενον τοῖς μὲν δεομένοις ἐπαρκεῖν, ἵνα μὴ δέωνται, τοῖς δὲ μὴ δεομένοις, ἵνα μὴ δεηθῶσιν, ἐκάλει τε τὸν μὲν ἀσύμβολον πλοῦτον καὶ φειδοῖ κεκολασμένον νεκρὸν πλοῦτον, τοὺς δὲ θησαυρούς, ἐς οὓς ἀποτίθενται τὰ χρήματαἔνιοι, πλούτου δεσμωτήρια, τοὺς δὲ καὶ θύειν ἀξιοῦντας ἀποθέτοις χρήμασιν ᾿Αλωάδας ἐπωνόμαζε θύοντας ῎Αρει μετὰ τὸ δῆσαι αὐτόν.

*This story is told in the Iliad 5.385 as part of Dione’s catalogue of mortals who caused the gods harm.  Otus and Ephialtes captured Ares and put him in a bronze jar.

Scholion to Pindar, Ol.1.1

“He was rather in the habit of praising riches, and we can say that he was a slave to his own wealth-loving nature.”

ἀλλὰ πολύς ἐστιν ἐγκωμιάζων τὸν πλοῦτον, καί φαμεν ἡττᾶσθαι αὐτὸν τῆς ἑαυτοῦ φύσεως φιλοχρημάτου τυγχανούσης.


Injustice: A Greater Portion of Good; A Lesser Share of Evils

Demosthenes, Against Olympiodorus 46

“This is the greatest sign of all, jurors, by which you will know that this man is an unjust and selfish person.”

ὃ δὲ πάντων μέγιστόν ἐστιν, ὦ ἄνδρες δικασταί, ᾧ καὶ γνώσεσθε ταυτονὶ ὅτι ἄδικός ἐστιν καὶ πλεονέκτης ἄνθρωπος·


Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1129b (Book 5)

“Let us consider now how many ways a man may be called unjust. It is indeed clear that a man who breaks laws is unjust but so is someone who is greedy and inegalitarian—thus it is clear that the just man will be law-abiding and fair. Justice, then, is lawful and fair; injustice is unlawful and unfair.

Since the unjust man someone who is greedy, he will be selfish regarding good things, not everything, but those things upon which good fortune and bad fortune rely—those things which are universally always good but not always for the same person. People pray for these things and pursue them; it is not right, however, that they pray for things which are universally good and good for them, but that they choose things that are just good for them.

The unjust man does not always choose the larger portion;for he will choose the smaller portion of bad things. But even here he is more selfish of the good because he appears to take on less evil, which is a type of good, and for that reason he seems greedy. He should be called unfair. This also embraces the common sense.”

εἰλήφθω δὴ ὁ ἄδικος ποσαχῶς λέγεται. δοκεῖ δὴ ὅ τε παράνομος ἄδικος εἶναι καὶ ὁ πλεονέκτης καὶ ἄνισος, ὥστε δῆλον ὅτι καὶ [ὁ] δίκαιος ἔσται ὅ τε νόμιμος καὶ ὁ ἴσος. τὸ μὲν δίκαιον ἄρα τὸ νόμιμον καὶ τὸ ἴσον, τὸ  δ’ ἄδικον τὸ παράνομον καὶ τὸ ἄνισον. ἐπεὶ δὲ πλεονέκτης ὁ ἄδικος, περὶ τἀγαθὰ ἔσται, οὐ πάντα, ἀλλὰ περὶ ὅσα εὐτυχία καὶ ἀτυχία, ἃ ἐστὶ μὲν ἁπλῶς ἀεὶ ἀγαθά, τινὶ δ’ οὐκ ἀεί. οἱ δ’ ἄνθρωποι ταῦτα εὔχονται καὶ διώκουσιν· δεῖ δ’ οὔ, ἀλλ’ εὔχεσθαι μὲν τὰ ἁπλῶς ἀγαθὰ καὶ αὑτοῖς ἀγαθὰ εἶναι, αἱρεῖσθαι δὲ τὰ αὑτοῖς ἀγαθά. ὁ δ’ ἄδικος οὐκ ἀεὶ τὸ πλέον αἱρεῖται, ἀλλὰ καὶ τὸ ἔλαττον ἐπὶ τῶν ἁπλῶς κακῶν· ἀλλ’ ὅτι δοκεῖ καὶ τὸ μεῖον κακὸν ἀγαθόν πως εἶναι, τοῦ δ’ ἀγαθοῦ ἐστὶν ἡ πλεονεξία, διὰ τοῦτο δοκεῖ πλεονέκτης εἶναι. ἔστι δ’ ἄνισος· τοῦτο γὰρ περιέχει καὶ κοινόν.


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Greed: Possessed by Love of Possession

Publilius Syrus, 560

“Greed considers what it wants not what is right”

Quod vult cupiditas cogitat, non quod decet

Dicta Catonis 31

“Greed always loves lies, secrets, and stealing”

Semper avarus amat mendacia furta rapinas

Seneca De Beneficiis 2.27

“Greed does not allow anyone to be grateful”

Non patitur aviditas quemquam esse gratum

De Beneficiis 2.27

“Greed always reaches beyond itself and one cannot sense his own happiness because he looks not at where he came from but instead to where he reaches.”

Ultra se cupiditas porrigit et felicitatem suam non intellegit, quia non, unde venerit, respicit, sed quo tendat.

Pliny the Younger, Letters 30.4

“Such a greed for possession has overtaken people that they seem to be owned by things rather than possess them”

Ea invasit homines habendi cupido, ut possideri magis quam possidere videantur

Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.8

“One is a slave to lust, another to greed, or ambition: all are slaves to hope, to fear. Certainly, no servitude is fouler than a voluntary one.”

alius libidini servit, alius avaritiae, alius ambitioni, omnes spei, omnes timori: et certe nulla servitus turpior quam voluntaria.

Publilius Syrus 438

“Greed loves nothing more than what is not permitted”

Nihil magis amat cupiditas quam quod non licet

Yates Thompson MS 36, f. 2r

Money, Wealth and Greed

These sayings come from the Gnomologium Vaticanum


29 “He [Aristippos] said it was right to learn to live with a little so that we might do nothing shameful for money”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἔφη δεῖν ἐθίζειν ἀπὸ ὀλίγων ζῆν, ἵνα μηδὲν αἰσχρὸν χρημάτων ἕνεκεν πράττωμεν.


120 “Aristôn the philosopher used to say that wealthy people who are cheap are like mules who carry gold and silver but eat straw.”

᾿Αρίστων ὁ φιλόσοφος τοὺς πλουσίους καὶ φειδωλοὺς ὁμοίους ἔφησεν εἶναι τοῖς ἡμιόνοις, οἵτινες χρυσὸν καὶ ἄργυρον φέροντες χόρτον ἐσθίουσιν.


265 “Democritus used to say that greed is the mother-city of every wickedness”

Δημόκριτος τὴν φιλαργυρίαν ἔλεγε μητρόπολιν πάσης κακίας.

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The Dog and His Treasure: A Fable about Priorities

Phaedrus, 1.27

“This tale has something to say to the greedy
And  those who want to be called rich, though born needy.
A dog was digging up human bones when he found
A treasure and, because he offended the gods in the ground,
He was struck by a love of riches he couldn’t forget
To pay sacred religion back this debt.
And so, the dog thought not of food as he guarded his gold
And he died from hunger, and a vulture took hold
And reportedly said, “Dog, you deserve it—
To lie there when you wanted royal wealth
After you were born in a gutter and raised on shit!”



I.27. Canis et Thesaurus

Haec res avaris esse conveniens potest,
et qui, humiles nati, dici locupletes student.
Humana effodiens ossa thesaurum canis
invenit, et, violarat quia Manes deos,
iniecta est illi divitiarum cupiditas,
poenas ut sanctae religioni penderet.
Itaque, aurum dum custodit oblitus cibi,
fame est consumptus. Quem stans vulturius super
fertur locutus “O canis, merito iaces,
qui concupisti subito regales opes,
trivio conceptus, educatus stercore”.