The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Oresme, Nicholas (1325–1382)

  • Barry Gordon
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-349-95189-5_1838

Abstract

A noted mathematician and physicist and Bishop of Lisieux (1377–82), Oresme was a close friend and adviser of Charles V of France. Because of the frequent currency debasements of his era, he contributed a most influential treatise on money, Tractatus de origine natura jure, et mutationibus monetarum (c1360). Other works by Oresme of interest to economists are his commentaries on Aristotle’s politics, economics, and ethics.

JEL Classifications

B31 

Keywords

Aquinas, St. Thomas Biel, G. Buridan de Bethune, J. Debasement Langenstein, H. von Money as standard of value Oresme, N. William of Ockham 

A noted mathematician and physicist and Bishop of Lisieux (1377–82), Oresme was a close friend and adviser of Charles V of France. Because of the frequent currency debasements of his era, he contributed a most influential treatise on money, Tractatus de origine natura jure, et mutationibus monetarum (c1360). Other works by Oresme of interest to economists are his commentaries on Aristotle’s politics, economics, and ethics.

Oresme’s tract on money owes much to the ideas of Jean Buridan de Bethune, who was Rector of the University of Paris (c1327) and may have taught Oresme. Another to take up Buridan’s line of monetary thought was Heinrich von Langenstein (1325–97), a German theologian who taught at both Paris and Vienna. In the next century, the doctrines of Buridan and Oresme were developed by Gabriel Biel (1430–95), a founder of the University of Tübingen and its first professor of theology (from 1484). Biel wrote the outstanding Tractatus de Potentate et Utilate Monetarum.

Each of the foregoing Schoolmen wrote in the nominalist tradition deriving from the Oxford philosopher William of Ockham (1285–1347), a tradition that stands in opposition to St Thomas Aquinas on money as on much else. The nominalists question the Thomistic understanding of money as a standard of value established by the Prince (that is, by the ruler of the state). In their view, the Prince’s right with respect to setting the standard is a limited right.

According to Oresme and the other nominalists, who are reacting against the princely practice of debasement, a particular currency is likely to be an effective medium of exchange only if the nominated values of the units of that currency are acceptable to the citizens who are the users of the medium. They add that the users of the money are the real owners of it, and so have the right to be consulted by the Prince concerning appropriate arrangements.

Such ideas were revolutionary in terms of much earlier Western thought. One notable aspect of the revolution is the shifting of the grounds for thinking about money. Earlier scholastic discussion had concentrated on the morality of individual transactions but here the operation of a monetary system as a whole begins to come into view.

Selected Works

  • 1956. The De Moneta of Nicholas Oresme and English Mint documents. Introduction and translation by C. Johnson. London/New York: Nelson.

Bibliography

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  4. Langholm, O. 1983. Wealth and money in the Aristotelian tradition. Bergen: Universitetsforlaget.Google Scholar
  5. Menut, A.D. 1957. Introduction and English translation to ‘Maistre Nicole Oresme: Le Livre de Yconomique d’Aristotle’. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, N.S. 47: 783–853.Google Scholar
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  7. Noonan, J.T. 1957. The scholastic analysis of Usury. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Barry Gordon
    • 1
  1. 1.