Philosophy of money

Philosophy of money
Licence Économie et gestionParcours International economics and management


This course will promote critical reflection on the nature and meaning of money in two domains: the personal and the societal. Philosophers since Antiquity have wondered how money relates to a life well-lived. How did money get started ? Why do people fantasize about it and fear it ? Can meaning and value be defined in monetary terms ? Is there such a thing as a pure gift? What kinds of love can money buy ? In what ways does gold differ from digital currency ? Do market participant misdeeds have rational explanations ? Is money finally important ? We consider classic theory, current policy, and personal dilemmas in light of such questions.

The course will be taught by Prof. Gregory Owcarz, Sciences Po Paris and California State University. It will include the following chapters :

Money - A User’s Manual
Readings: “Economy”- Henry David Thoreau, “Mineral Stones” in Frozen Desire- James Buchan,
“What Is Money?” - Frederic Mishkin
The History of Money
Readings:The Ascent of Money- Niall Ferguson, “The Anthropology of Money” - Bill Maurer,
Primitive Money(review) - Paul Enzig, “How Neolithic Farming Sowed the Seeds of Inequality,”
- James Suzman, “Thirty Pieces of Silver” in Frozen Desire

Money and Religion
Readings: “Exploring Money and Spirit” and “Money and the Meaning of Life” - Jacob Needleman,
“Lack of Money” - David Loy, “Why Don't Churches Pay Taxes?” - Erik Stanley, “Scientology and Tax Exemptions” - Matthew Estes, “The L ong Marriage of Mindfulness and Money” - Michelle Goldberg
Money and Art
Readings: “Art and Money” - Robert Hughes, “Art and Money” - Adam Gopnik, “Art and Taxpayers” - Arthur Danto, “Paradox of Art as Work” - A.O. Scott, “Has Conceptual Art Jumped the Shark Tank?” - Denis Dutton, “False Narrative of Damien Hirst's Rise and Fall” - Felix Salmon
Money and Science
Readings: “Science and Money: Problems and Solutions” - David Resnick, “To He That Hath”
-The EconomistEditorial Board, “Be Afraid, Very Afraid, of the Tech Crisis” - Andre Geim,
“Has Big Money Corrupted Science” - W. Lepkowski, “Conform and Be Funded" - Joshua Nicholson
Money and Politics
Readings: “Didn’t They Notice ?” - David Runciman, “The Spider’s Web” - Michael Oswald,
“We Are the One Percent” - John Kenney, “How to Finance an Emperor's Election” - Amy Davidson, “How One Percent of the One Percent Now Dominate Our Elections” - Andy Kroll,
“Is Lobbying a Moral Choice? ” - Ginger Grant

Status and Conspicuous Consumption
Readings: “What Isn’t For Sale” and “What Money Can’t Buy” - Michael Sandel,
“The Lessons of Bohemia” (article and lecture) - Alain de Botton
Financial Strategies and Money Ways
Readings: “Money and the Modern Mind” - John Bloom, “True Wealth” - Paul Hwoschinsky, “Experience of Prosperity” - Shakti Gawain, “Students and Money: In Their Own Words”
- University Admissions Essays, “About Getting Rich” - Joe McCracken
Money and Social Order
Readings: “Money and Social Responsibility” - Alan Reder, “The Soul of Money” - Lynne Twist,
“Death in Dean Street” in Frozen Desire- James Buchan, “The Social Meaning of Money” a nd “Special Monies” - Viviana Zelizer, “Is Gross National Happiness More Important Than GDP?”
- Josh Clark

Giving Money
Readings: “Forgive Us Our Debts” - Ben Kunkel, The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property- Lewis Hyde, “Gospels of Giving for the New Gilded Age” - Elizabeth Kolbert, The Gift- M. Mauss
Money Ideals
Readings: “Love and Money” - Richard Rorty, “Imagining a Cashless World” - Nathan Heller,
“The Bitcoin Boom” - Maria Bustillos, “Bubble, Bubble, Fraud, and Trouble” - Paul Krugman
Future Money
“The End of the Capitalist Era” - Jeremy Rifkin, “The Future of Money” - Bernard Lietaer, “Tomorrow's Money” - Jacques Lesourne, “Money: A Valediction” - James Buchan
Beyond Money
Readings: “Worlds Without Money” - Michael Phillips, “Money Wisdom” - Joe Dominguez,
“Karl Marx Yesterday and Today” - Louis Menand, “Personal Gain and the Gift of Existence”
- Jacob Needleman

Compétences visées

Learning Outcomes
By the end of the course students will be able to 1) explain the historical and ideological evolution of forms of currency, 2) analyze the philosophical questions that underlie financial market participation through fundamental and technical analysis and throughthe lens of moral philosophy, 3) discuss and write clearly and critically on individual money dilemmas and societal financial policy decisions, and 4) identify and assess relations between monetary practices and philosophical notions of the good life.

Modalités d'organisation et de suivi

Class Format: Course participation constitutes nearly a quarter of the final course grade, determined by class discussion efforts and demonstrated reading comprehension. Some lectures will be given where necessary to introduce new material or to clarify difficult concepts, but critical discussion is crucial in examining the relevant theories, practices, debates in light of one's own preparations and understanding.


  • Sciences économiques
  • Sciences de gestion et du management


Required Readings
Frozen Desire- James Buchan, Money, Money, Money - Michael Toms and Jacob Needleman (eds.),
The Ascent of Money - Niall Ferguson, Money and the Meaning of Life - Jacob Needleman

Supplemental Readings
The Philosophy of Money - G. Simmel, What Is the Meaning of Money ? - R. Droit (ed.),
Money and the Modern Mindby G. Poggi, The Social Meaning of Money - V. Zelizer,
The Morality of Money - A. Walsh,The Communist Manifesto - K. Marx and F. Engels,
The Gift - M. Mauss, Capital in the 21st Century- T. Piketty, Debt: The First 5000 Years - D. Graeber,
The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property- L. Hyde, Primitive Money - P. Einzig,
Money- Y. N. Harari


Responsable(s) de l'enseignement

Référente administrative