Money — Love it or Hate it

Philosophy of Money

Whatever its raison-d’etre may be, there is a need for more, and an unquenchable greed. And paradoxically, if you want to try to quench a bit of your greed, the best way to do it is to fan the greed in others. This is why the email scams (you know, the Nigerian banker requesting your help in moving $25 million of unclaimed inheritance, or the Spanish lottery eager to give you 67 million Euros) still hold a fascination for us, even when we know that we will never fall for it.

There is only a thin blurry line between the schemes that thrive on other people’s greed and confidence jobs. If you can come up with a scheme that makes money for others, and stay legal (if not moral), then you will make yourself very rich. We see it most directly in the finance and investment industry, but it is much more widespread than that. We can see that even education, traditionally considered a higher pursuit, is indeed an investment against future earnings. Viewed in that light, you will understand the correlation between the tuition fees at various schools and the salaries their graduates command.

When I started writing this column, I thought I was making up this new field called the Philosophy of Money (which, hopefully, somebody would name after me), but then I read up something on the philosophy of mind by John Searle. It turned out that there was nothing patentable in this idea, nor any cash to be made, sadly. Money comes under the umbrella of objective social realities that are quite unreal. In his exposition of the construction of social reality, Searle points out that when they give us a piece of paper and say that it is legal tender, they are actually constructing money by that statement. It is not a statement about its attribute or characteristics (like “This is a glass of water”) so much as a statement of intentionality that makes something what it is (like “You are my hero”). The difference between my being a hero (perhaps only to my six-year-old) and money being money is that the latter is socially accepted, and it is as objective a reality as any.

I conclude this article with the nagging suspicion that I may not have argued my point well enough. I started it with the premise that money is an unreal meta-thing, and wound up asserting its objective reality. This ambivalence of mine may be a reflection of our collective love-hate relationship with money – perhaps not such a bad way to end this column after all.

Photo by 401(K) 2013