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The Aristotelian and Biblical Critiques

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Abstract

No one was much surprised to find that the social and psychological effects of usury were pernicious. This was entirely predictable from the perspective of the Western moral and rational traditions, of which usury was an obvious and flagrant violation. Greek philosophy and Judeo-Christian religion both explicitly condemn it. The rational, Hellenic case against usury is based on Aristotle, who describes usury as “most justly hated” because it is unnatural.1 It is unnatural because it makes money breed: Aristotle describes usury as an artificial tokos, or birth:

Usury is most reasonably hated because its gain comes from money itself and not from that for the sake of which money was invented. For money was brought into existence for the purpose of exchange, but interest increases the amount of money itself and this is the actual origin of the Greek word: offspring resembles parent, and interest is money born of money; consequently this form of the getting of wealth is of all forms the most contrary to nature.2

Keywords

Seventeenth Century Hellenic Case Aristotelian Theory Biblical Critique Good Cheape 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Aristotle, Politics trans. Benjamin Jowett (Dover Publications, 2000) 1258b.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Aristotle, Politics, Book I, Chapter 3 (H. Rackham, Loeb Classical Library, 1950, 1998, p. 51).Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Odd Langholm, The Aristotelian Analysis of Usury (Universitetsforlaget AS: Bergen, 1984), i.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    See Raymond de Roover, “The Scholastics, Usury and Foreign Exchange,” Business History Review 41.3 (Autumn 1967): 257–71,CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. and M.T. Boyer-Xambeu, G. Deleplace, and L. Gillard, Private Money and Public Currencies: The 16th Century Challenge, trans. Amonk Azizeh Azodi (New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1994).Google Scholar
  6. 10.
    John Donne, Complete English Poems ed. C.A. Patrides (London: J.M. Dent, 1985).Google Scholar
  7. 24.
    Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews (Orion Books: London, 1987), 7.Google Scholar
  8. 25.
    Don Wolfe (ed.), The Complete Prose Works of John Milton (Yale UP, 1957), 5:77. Future reference to Milton will be to this edition.Google Scholar
  9. 29.
    Cit. David W. Jones, Reforming the Morality of Usury (Lanham, MD: UP of America, 2004), 33–34.Google Scholar
  10. 31.
    See Joyce Oldham Appleby, Economic Thought and Ideology in Seventeenth-century England (Princeton UP, 1978).Google Scholar
  11. 32.
    See Ellen Meiksins Wood, The Origins of Capitalism: A Longer View (New York: Verso, 2002).Google Scholar
  12. 33.
    Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations I.ii.2; ed. Edwin Canaan (London: Random House, 1937).Google Scholar

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© David Hawkes 2010

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