The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd


  • M. I. Finley
Reference work entry


A Greek word occasionally taken over into English (and some other western European languages) to mean ‘money-getting’, often but not always with pejorative overtones. After a great flurry in the fifth and fourth centuries BC in the original Greek, the word became uncommon and would not be worth noticing here were it not that the major debates among Greek thinkers, chiefly ethical, were revived in the thirteenth century by the scholastic philosophers though without actually using the term ‘chrematistic’. The earliest English example given by the Oxford English Dictionary dates from the mid-eighteenth century, in Henry Fielding’s last novel, Amelia (1752): ‘I am not the least versed in the chrematistic art …. I know not how to get a shilling, or how to keep it in my pocket if I had it’ (Book IX, ch. 5). This pedantry implied no familiarity by readers, for Fielding promptly gave them the sense of it. Nor is there much to be drawn from the unimportant nineteenth-century terminological disagreement over the propriety of the term ‘political economy’, for which Gladstone and a few others preferred ‘chrematistics’.

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  • M. I. Finley
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