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Thriftography: Barter and the Holistic Money Philosophy of Aristotle

Updated on January 27, 2011

Aristotle Had his Own Thinking About Barter

Aristotle was one of the greatest thinkers, without compare, we have come to know. He shared his philosophical intellect about many topics of life from the study of reality to the arts and sciences. His contributions left a lasting influence on the ideas of almost every aspect of life from politics to economics of the time of these great philosphers through today's current day. He had a lot to say about barter, money and exchanges of goods.

Aristotle lived from 384-322 B.C. and was a student of Plato. Aristotle’s thinking about mostly everything was based on his own theories that came about using the data of his time that he could gather , his form of empirical studies. In his thinking about economics, Aristotle believed the money was merely another means of exchanging different products. He believed barter became more difficult with the inequality of some products in comparison to others. Money came about, he thought as a way to accumulate it to buy things in the future, as it doesn’t spoil and is transportable. He knew the importance of trading with each other, but discouraged the attainment of only gaining wealth by trading. Aristotle had a holistic view about money. Property derived from things from nature, and so it was a limited resource. These resources could satisfy the needs of a family and give a true feeling of abundance. Money had no limits. Money did not fill the needs of family life. He believed it was “unnatural” to accumulate wealth for the sake of having more. He wanted money to be used as an exchange, and thought loans were a way of making money from those who were disadvantaged and in great need.

Barter was Natural According to Aristotle

His philosophy about all things, including money involved justice and goodness and morality. Owning your own property, he believed was natural because people want to have and take interest in something that is their own. Property back then, included slaves. Private property, he felt encouraged productivity and self sufficiency, which were moral pursuits of man. He also believed people should share their property. Through his observations, he saw that having their own property brought a sense of pleasure to people because it is “natural” to love your property.

He had specific thinking that the more desirable and useful an item is, that product would naturally have a higher value. When Aristotle spoke about exchanging goods and services he conceptualized a difference between what he deemed natural and unnatural. Natural acquisitions would lead man to satisfaction in life as the person needs are met from the limited accumulations.  How many shoes does a person need to acquire? At the point man is satisfied, he would not look to continue acquiring more shoes than he could wear.  People who look to gain great accumulations of money will never stop accumulating because there is no limit like there is for material products.  He believed accumulating money without a purpose was immoral, as this didn’t include the use of natural goods.    

Money replaced Bartering

Aristotle believed barter was very natural. For someone to use the surplus of products they had to attain other products they could use was moral and wasn’t used for the purpose of monetary gains. He believed money was unnatural because it didn’t help fill needs of people right away. He accepted it when bartering wasn’t a practical way to exchange goods. He believed money was not true prosperity because it didn’t fill the needs of the household. Actual products “naturally” filled these needs.

Aristotle believed seeking money for its own sake was a source of wars and it interfered with the real exchange of goods between people. A real economy would naturally develop when people would look to acquire products for their basic needs and their family needs. This he believed would create a meaningful life.

Currency evolved to replace barter and enhance the ability to exchange goods and services. Money transformed the way people measured their wealth. Aristotle believed people should lead a good life. Money, being indefinite he felt would lead people to an unsatisfying life. This perhaps could be the cause of stock market bubbles, and the source of many economic woes from over extended credit. With no natural boundaries, people push demands to irrational heights. Natural limitations can’t put the brakes on what is happening and so everything collapses because there really is no economic support to keep it going.

Looking Back in Time Can Help Us Make Our Future Better

Aristotle made a distinction between exchanging through barter and barter as a means of accumulating money. Aristotle believed man sets the value of money, its intrinsic value is set by the agreement of people in society. Aristotle believed people who seek to stockpile their money without an end do not live a truly prosperous life. If their days, he believed, are filled with making all things subordinate to attaining money, they are missing out on the good life.

Aristotle lived nearly 2300 years ago, he writings were based on observations and the study of human nature. He applied the facts of his time to gain an understanding about bartering and economic reasoning. His thoughts give us much to reflect on today. He was a great thinker, and brilliant minds have debated about his correctness about all the things he wrote about. No matter what you think about Aristotle’s philosophy of money, bartering for what we need, and the ability to keep us satisfied by simpler means, gives us all something to think about. Perhaps we need to look back in time and learn something from people who knew much more than we do, in order to truly make our future better.


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    • Daniella Lopez profile image

      Danielle Lopez 5 years ago from Arkansas

      Very interesting hub. Thanks for sharing! Voted up.

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 6 years ago from Illinois

      I'm in a bartering agreement right now, working a reception desk at a yoga/massage center 1 day a week in exchange for yoga classes. Doesn't pay my other bills but at least I get to keep my yoga!

      Interesting hub

    • chspublish profile image

      chspublish 6 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks for bringing back Aristotle into the question of our world focussed obsessively on acquiring wealth for all the wrong reasons. He's a breath of fresh air, though a blast from the past.

    • meteoboy profile image

      meteoboy 6 years ago from GREECE

      Excellent hub !!! I am very happy to learn from the Greek philosophers. Aristotle is the best . Thank you for this article !!!!

    • profile image

      Wooded 6 years ago

      This was very interesting. Could you imagine what he would say in these times? Thanks for the great information!

    • Nick Malizia profile image

      Nick Malizia 6 years ago from USA

      Gave a useful, awesome, beautiful and vote up :-)

      This is a truly great hub that's right up my alley. Unfortunately I don't have a lot of time now... but I'll be back to intellectualize on it later. :-) Great stuff!

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

      Wow- Aristotle and bartering... I hadn't remembered that! Very cool :D