Socrates on Management: An Analysis of Xenophon's Oeconomicus

27 Pages Posted: 28 Jun 2007

Date Written: June 2007


Socrates is said to have brought philosophy down from the heavens to the earth and is thereby recognized as the founder of Western moral and political philosophy. But in launching this subject, did the 5th century BC Greek philosopher also inaugurate the study of management and business ethics? Our answer is yes.

Socrates' inquiry into management, featured in Xenophon's Oeconomicus, contains valuable insights still relevant to the contemporary world. In that foundational work of Western economic thought, Socrates is portrayed attempting to expound the science and art of management to an eager student. He develops this topic, in no small part, by actively seeking out a successful practitioner, engaging him in conversation and probing him with questions.

The Socratic perspective brought to light holds that business cannot be separated from social responsibility and ought to be oriented around a conception of profit that goes beyond monetary figures and embraces the satisfaction of rationally grounded human wants. Socrates also insists that management is a respectable calling which both men and women can legitimately pursue. A good manager, too, is defined by a functionally relevant set of virtues with a view to personal flourishing and moral excellence. Ethical conduct comes to sight as a core component of management.

Keywords: business ethics, management, virtue, socrates, xenophon

JEL Classification: A12, A13, B10, B11, B31, I21, M10, M14

Suggested Citation

Bragues, George, Socrates on Management: An Analysis of Xenophon's Oeconomicus (June 2007). Available at SSRN: or

George Bragues (Contact Author)

University of Guelph-Humber ( email )

207 Humber College Boulevard
Toronto, Ontario M9W 5L7
416-798-1331, Ext. 6049 (Phone)
416-798-3293 (Fax)

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