Profligacy Might Be a Better Starting Point: Aristotle Says Cheapness is Incurable

Nichomachean Ethics, 1121b

“Cheapness is incurable—for old age and every type of weakness seems to make men cheap—and it is more natural to people than unselfishness [usually “profligacy”]. For most people are greedy rather than giving. And cheapness is extensive too, with many forms. For there are many manifestations of cheapness, but they all come from two sources: the lack of giving and the surplus of getting. They don’t overlap in all cases, but they often enough occur separately as some men excel at getting and others failing to give.”

ἡ δ’ ἀνελευθερία ἀνίατός τ’ ἐστίν (δοκεῖ γὰρ τὸ γῆρας καὶ πᾶσα ἀδυναμία ἀνελευθέρους ποιεῖν), καὶ συμφυέστερον τοῖς ἀνθρώποις τῆς ἀσωτίας· οἱ γὰρ πολλοὶ φιλοχρήματοι μᾶλλον ἢ δοτικοί. καὶ διατείνει δ’ ἐπὶ πολύ, καὶ πολυειδές ἐστιν· πολλοὶ γὰρ τρόποι δοκοῦσι τῆς ἀνελευθερίας εἶναι. πολλοὶ γὰρ τρόποι δοκοῦσι τῆς ἀνελευθερίας εἶναι. ἐν δυσὶ γὰρ οὖσα, τῇ τ’ ἐλλείψει τῆς δόσεως καὶ τῇ ὑπερβολῇ τῆς λήψεως, οὐ πᾶσιν ὁλόκληρος παραγίνεται

Aristotle on Pirates: Two Different Perspectives

Our good friend and erstwhile classical historian asked me about Aristotle and pirates this morning:


I couldn’t answer. So now I try.

Nicomachean Ethics, 1122a

“Shameful profiteering is common in [most occupations]. For everyone [in the baser pursuits] endures reproach for the sake of gain, no matter how small. Those men who make great profits by illegitimate means—for example, tyrants who defraud cities and despoil temples—we don’t call them mean or stingy [aneleutheuros, lit. “unfree”], but instead we consider them wretched, sacrilegious, and unjust. The gambler, the petty-thief, and the pirate are only ‘mean’ [the lesser evil] because they gain profit in a shameful manner insofar as they do whatever they can for profit; they endure reproaches, as some endure the greatest dangers for the sake of gain and others profit from their friends, the very people they should be giving to. Both categories are shameful because they wish to profit from the wrong places.”

κοινὸν δ’ ἐπ’ αὐτοῖς ἡ αἰσχροκέρδεια φαίνεται• πάντες γὰρ ἕνεκα κέρδους, καὶ τούτου μικροῦ, ὀνείδη ὑπομένουσιν. τοὺς γὰρ τὰ μεγάλα μὴ ὅθεν δὲ δεῖ λαμβάνοντας, μηδὲ ἃ δεῖ, οὐ λέγομεν ἀνελευθέρους, οἷον τοὺς τυράννους πόλεις πορθοῦντας καὶ ἱερὰ συλῶντας, ἀλλὰ πονηροὺς μᾶλλον καὶ ἀσεβεῖς καὶ ἀδίκους. ὁ μέντοι κυβευτὴς καὶ ὁ λωποδύτης καὶ ὁ λῃστὴς ὁ μέντοι κυβευτὴς καὶ ὁ λωποδύτης καὶ ὁ λῃστὴς τῶν ἀνελευθέρων εἰσίν• αἰσχροκερδεῖς γάρ. κέρδους γὰρ ἕνε-κα ἀμφότεροι πραγματεύονται καὶ ὀνείδη ὑπομένουσιν, καὶ οἳ μὲν κινδύνους τοὺς μεγίστους ἕνεκα τοῦ λήμματος, οἳ δ’ ἀπὸ τῶν φίλων κερδαίνουσιν, οἷς δεῖ διδόναι. ἀμφότεροι δὴ ὅθεν οὐ δεῖ κερδαίνειν βουλόμενοι αἰσχροκερδεῖς•

Politics, 1245a

“Some men survive by hunting; and different people hunt different things. For example, some men survive by piracy, others from fishing—and these are both men who live along the banks and shores of rivers or some kind of sea—and others hunt birds or wild animals. But the greatest portion of men live off the land and cultivated crops.”

γεωργοῦντες)• οἱ δ’ ἀπὸ θήρας ζῶσι, καὶ θήρας ἕτεροι ἑτέρας, οἷον οἱ μὲν ἀπὸ λῃστείας, οἱ δ’ ἀφ’ ἁλιείας, ὅσοι λίμνας καὶ ἕλη καὶ ποταμοὺς ἢ θάλατταν τοιαύτην προσοικοῦσιν, οἱ δ’ ἀπ’ ὀρνίθων ἢ θηρίων ἀγρίων• τὸ δὲ πλεῖστον γένος τῶν ἀνθρώπων ἀπὸ τῆς γῆς ζῇ καὶ τῶν ἡμέρων καρπῶν.