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December 8, 2010

The Vice of Pleonexia

Pleonexia, sometimes called pleonexy, originates from the Greek language πλεονεξια and is a philosophical and ethical concept employed both in the New Testament and in writings by Plato and Aristotle. It roughly corresponds to greed, covetousness, or avarice, and is strictly defined as "the insatiable desire to have what rightfully belongs to others", suggesting what Ritenbaugh describes as "ruthless self-seeking and an arrogant assumption that others and things exist for one's own benefit".[1]

Christian concepts of pleonexia

Pleonexia, being mentioned in the New Testament in Colossians 3 verses 1–11 and Luke 12 verses 13–21, has been the subject of commentary by Christian theologians.

William Barclay[2] describes pleonexia as an "accursed love of having", which "will pursue its own interests with complete disregard for the rights of others, and even for the considerations of common humanity". He labels it an aggressive vice that operates in three spheres of life. In the material sphere involves "grasping at money and goods, regardless of honour and honesty". In the ethical sphere it is "the ambition which tramples on others to gain something which is not properly meant for it". In the moral sphere, it is "the unbridled lust which takes its pleasure where it has no right to take".

Christian belief equates pleonexia with idolatry, because it replaces God with self-interest and material interest in things.[1]

Classical Greek concepts of pleonexia

Classical Greek philosophers such as Plato related pleonexia to justice.

Thrasymachus, in Book I of The Republic, presents pleonexia as a natural state, upon which justice is an unnatural restraint.[3]

In discussing the philosophy of Aristotle, who insisted in his Nicomachean Ethics that all specifically unjust actions are motivated by pleonexia, Kraut[4] discusses pleonexia and equates it to epichairekakia, the Greek version of schadenfreude, stating that inherent in pleonexia is the appeal of acting unjustly at the expense of others. Young[5], however argues that the simple involvement of unfairness in the desire for gaining ever more is what defines pleonexia, rather than that the desire itself be for gaining ever more in a manner that is specifically unfair.

See also: The Role of Pleonexia in Polybius


1. John W. Ritenbaugh (January 1998). "Forerunner". The Tenth Commandment.

2. William Barclay. The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed.. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

3. "Important terms: pleonexia". SparkNotes: The Republic. Barnes & Noble.

4. Richard Kraut (2002). Aristotle: Political Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press. xiv, 520.

5. Charles Young (1989). "Aristotle on Justice". The Southern Journal of Philosophy 27 (Supp.): 233–249.