Political Economics Meets Philosophy


Plato and Aristotle believed that knowing how to design a good society was the foundation of ethical knowledge. Economics was just a matter of common sense: avoiding extremes of rich and poor (Plato); avoiding a landless class by exporting surplus population (Aristotle).

After the collapse of classical ethics, the search for values that could be justified robbed humanism of its rich content. We go from thinkers who justify the good society (Plato and Aristotle) to thinkers who justify a set of moral rules (Locke) to thinkers who justify one universal maxim (Mill and James). For Mill, the maxim is the greatest happiness of the greatest number. By William James, it degenerates into satisfying the most pressing demands of the greatest number. Examining the progression traces the degeneration of moral philosophy and the rise of the market economy.

The rise of the market economy leaves two options: that it should be abolished; that it must be understood and humanized. Marx takes the first option, plus showing how the market alienates people from self-realization. Tawney takes the second, plus showing that the classical treatment of the good is still relevant. Tawney can be singled out as a thinker who saw the need to tame the market rather than abolish it. Flynn tries to clarify the nature of the market and why it cannot regulate itself. He argues that we must integrate humane ideals and political prudence and economics if we want to do good in the modern world.

Thinkers who cannot argue economics cannot face the greatest challenge of the modern world, namely, how to humanize market capitalism.

[This class owes much to James Flynn, an emeritus professor at Otago University. James Flynn is one of New Zealand’s most renowned social scientists. His work ranges widely, but he’s particularly noted for his research on intelligence. ‘The Flynn Effect’, the finding that intelligence test scores showed significant and sustained increases over the 20th century is named after him.] 

Polyhistoria classes emphasize critical thinking, analyzing, evaluating, and creating. We believe that students learn social sciences best by doing what professional historians do.

(Read more about our approach to history.)


  • Knowledge of what humane ideals imply about perfecting society
  • A basic grasp of the market economics needed to evaluate how the economy must be “regulated” to humanize it
  • Specialist knowledge about certain great thinkers and the challenges of the present – for example, climate change

This course is designed to increase effective observation and critical thinking skills and to encourage learner interaction. We encourage rigorous (but not ad hominem) discourse, questioning textbooks and teachers alike, and tirelessly trying to improve what we do. We believe in creating a truly welcoming space, where learners can come together with understanding, dignity, and compassion, and where diverse backgrounds and life experiences are embraced.

Learning is not a spectator sport. Interaction and intellectual exchanges involving all students and the instructor enrich learning for all. Studying history involves an accumulation of knowledge about the past. But it also requires that we communicate that knowledge to others. You must be ready to share your views in class. A worthwhile course depends upon active participation by all students in class discussions.

The goal here is to advance an intelligent conversation from which we all learn. The most obvious way to do that is to say smart things and say them clearly. But that is not the only meaningful way to participate. Asking a question, connecting something already on the table to another thing, clarifying something that someone else has said, and offering evidence from the text under discussion are also all valuable. Bonus points are awarded for contributions that draw on what others have said. Other things to keep in mind: aim for clarity, keep in mind the value of an amicable classroom environment, and try not to monopolize the conversation.

1) Students’ cameras and microphones must be turned on during the class.
2) This class requires the continuous use of logical thinking & hypothetical reasoning skills to critically and creatively analyze the topics covered in the class. These cognitive functions are generally not sufficiently developed until a student is 13+ years old. Students must have the ability to think critically and logically to analyze the topics covered in the class.

1 hour per week in class, and an estimated 1 – 2 hours per week outside of class.

Meets once a week for 8 weeks
4 – 9 learners, ages 13-17

Course Outline:




JAN 15
Plato and Aristotle


JAN 22
Mill & James

JAN 29


Rejection: Marx

FEB 12
Assessing: Tawney

FEB 19
Understanding: Basic Economics

FEB 26
Taming: Politics and Ourselves

Thrilled by the opportunity to teach cutting-edge social science scholarship to teenagers, I leapt at the opportunity to teach classes online. I enjoy old, rare books and gardening in Colorado, where even the incompetent can have beautiful roses. In addition to teaching and gardening, I remain actively involved in competitive sports, and you are cautioned not to wager against me at the ping-pong table.

I teach ancient languages, human & political world geography, history, philosophy, economics, political science …and anything else that catches my interest.


Feel free to send me an email at crystal@polyhistoria.com


Come hang out with me on Twitter for more tidbits of interesting research, linguistic curiosities, and forgotten history.