Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement

Research Article

Needs and Ethics in Ancient Philosophy

Christopher Rowe

What I propose to do in this short paper is to outline two different approaches to needs in Greek philosophy. The first is the reasonably familiar approach used by Aristotle, and, in some moods, by Plato; the second is a rather less well-known approach which can with some justice be associated with Socrates, and/or Plato when he is not in an Aristotelian mood (if I may so put it)—and also the Stoics, who seem to have picked up some distinctly Socratic ways of thinking. The Aristotelian line, if not necessarily familiar as Aristotle’s, will be familiar just insofar as it gives some degree of that recognition to needs that most moderns would suppose the idea should be given. What I am calling the Socratic line, by contrast, appears to leave no room for the idea of needs at all (or at least, that will be my way of putting it for now; I shall need a rather different formulation later on). It is this second, ‘Socratic’, approach that primarily interests me, not least because it is non-standard.

(Online publication July 27 2006)