Hellenistic philosophy and the origins of modern economic thought

Phillip Mitsis

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In standard economic histories, Hellenistic philosophy rarely gets mentioned. Yet the doctrines of the Stoics, Epicureans, and Skeptics were not only familiar to early modern economists, but also arguably helped shape both the milieu and details of their arguments. By way of illustration, this paper focuses on Adam Smith’ famous diamond-water paradox and traces just a few of the ancient texts and figures that prefigured Smith’s question about the relation of value and utility. One key figure is Ferdinando Galiani, whose work also exemplifies the role that Stoic conceptions of divine providence played in the economic thought of the period. The larger moral of the paper is that unless the role of Hellenistic philosophy is better charted in early modern economic thought, the accounts given by economic, political, and social historians will miss a key element in the way these economic thinkers themselves came to form their arguments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of Hellenistic Philosophy
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages11
ISBN (Electronic)9781351168113
ISBN (Print)9780815347910
StatePublished - Jun 9 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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