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Natural Law In Pre-Classical Economics

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The idea of natural law appears often in the pre-classical thought. The three main proponents of this idea are: Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas and Francois Quesnay.

Aristotle viewed humans as having needs and wants. Needs were limited while wants were unlimited. Therefore according to the natural order it is right to produce according to the needs because they can be satisfied. Wants on the other hand, being unlimited cannot be satisfied and trying to meet them is therefore impossible and against the natural order. In this same line of thought we get his justification for barter exchanges which because it does not lead to wealth accumulation it helps meet the needs of people, which follows the natural order. However, once money is bought into the question the goal of the exchange is monetary gain, which, because money is barren, should be condemned as being against the natural order. The other main issue that he addresses with regards to the natural law is the idea that the taking of interest was against it. Indeed because money is barren it is wrong to take any type of interest off of it.

St. Thomas Aquinas had to deal with the issue of whether or not private property was in accordance with natural law. He argued that private property was an addition to natural law that did not contradict it, much like clothing which is an addition to the natural law. He still held to the ideal that communal property was the natural order, but private property was not incompatible. He also believed that natural law was inscribed on the heart of man and that man could become aware of it by reason.

Francois Quesnay and with him the physiocrats also believed in a concept of natural law. They coined the idea that there were natural laws that governed the economy and that humans could discover them, like any law in science. This idea stuck with the rest of economic thinking since then.

Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas are similar in their view



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