By Lionel Robbins
Those lectures, introduced on the London tuition of Economics among 1979 and 1981 and tape-recorded via Robbins's grandson, show his mastery of the highbrow background of economics and his enthusiasm for the topic. They conceal a vast chronological diversity, starting with Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas, focusing widely 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 assorted and inclusive method of intellectural background and the lectures are united via his conviction that it really is most unlikely to appreciate appropriately modern associations and social sciences with no realizing the information at the back of their improvement.
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Up to the sixteenth-century and into the seventeenth-century he dominated philosophical thought, moral philosophy and so on. Then came a reaction. The poet Dryden echoed the reaction in very memorable terms. ” Dryden says: The longest Tyranny that ever sway’d, Was that wherein our Ancestors betray’d Their free-born Reason to the Stagirite, And made his Torch their universal Light. [Dryden, 1663/1961, p. 43] Well, his torch—although I should hate for you to think that I follow Aristotle in all that he had to say—was no mean torch, especially at that time of history.
But our business is really with his remarks on value and on money, and this comes into his discussion on household management because he perceives that, while very humble households in primitive conditions can perhaps manage with barter and without money, the probability is that, as soon as things become at all complicated, barter will give rise to indirect exchange—exchanging commodities for money which in turn is exchanged for other commodities which the original chap wanted more than the commodities that he possessed.
And in the first community, which is the family, this art is obviously of no use, but only begins to be useful when the society increases. For the members of the family originally had all things in common; in a more divided state of society they still shared in many things, but they were different things which they had to give in exchange for what they wanted, • P L A T O A N D A R I S T O T L E • 21 a kind of barter which is still practised among barbarous nations who exchange with one another the necessaries of life and nothing more; giving and receiving wine, for example, in exchange for corn and the like.
A History of Economic Thought by Lionel Robbins