Five days ago, Robert Gallagher, a philosopher who teaches at the American University in Beirut, Lebanon, sent me an email to which he attached a paper he has published on Aristotle's economic theories. [Incommensurability in Aristotle's Theory of Reciprocal Justice, in The British Journal for the History of Philosophy, 20(4), 2012, pp. 667-701]. It would be a wild overstatement to say that this is not my area of expertise. Prior to reading his article, I knew absolutely nothing about it at all. A good deal of Gallagher's discussion focuses on the Nichomachean Ethics, and a quick look at my copy shows that at some point I read the relevant passages pretty closely [if marginalia are any indication], but that was maybe sixty years ago, and I haven't been back since. So Gallagher's discussion was terra nova to me.
At first, I found the essay somewhat impenetrable, but after a while I realized that it was actually extremely suggestive, in at least several different ways. First of all, Aristotle is struggling to understand economic exchange from the perspective of a slave-owning utterly non-capitalist society, and what emerges from his discussion, and Gallagher's analysis of it, is that economic exchange, for Aristotle, is necessarily an exchange of unequal and incommensurable things between socially unequal individuals. This makes it difficult to understand how such exchange can exist and be justified. Aristotle's answer, to put it as simply as I can, is that the stronger and higher status individual loses materially in the exchange but is compensated by receiving honor in return. Second, Gallagher makes it clear that Aristotle thinks the purpose of society is to supply the wants of those in need. All of which leads Gallagher to conclude in deliberately dramatic and anachronistic fashion: "For Aristotle, reciprocity is established through meeting the needs of all parties: of the lesser for goods, of the superior for honour. The result is his own, peculiar form of the proposition: from each according to his ability, to each according to his need."
As you can imagine, that made me sit up and take notice. This is not quite as titillating as the latest tidbits about Anthony Wiener's rampant narcissism, to be sure, but I recommend the article to you nonetheless.