Theology of Money – 6. Metaphysics & Credit

This chapter is guided by two related questions. The first one is philosophical: “What is the true nature of wealth?” The second one is theological: “What is the source of the value of values?” (201)

In Jesus’s opposition of God to wealth, the former holding that true wealth is modelled on the self-emptying service of Christ and the latter being built on its active participation in systematic exploitation, Goodchild focuses on the power inherent to our systems of evaluation. These systems of evaluation are in league with perspectives borne of our metaphysical commitments.

One forms a perspective expressed in a metaphysics. If one does not turn attention to God, the source of the value of values, then one’s evaluations will be shaped by the world. True power consists here in a perspective. (203)

Goodchild suggests in this chapter that a more thorough reflection of credit problematizes the deeply-set dichotomies that govern our notions of evaluation. When faced with the question of how we spend time, attention, and devotion, the habitus from which our perspectives continually emerge, the modern partitioning of subjective freedom (thought) from its objective actualization (existence), or of value from being from value, is revealed as based in the very illusion it professes to dispel. (I.e., the illusion that it is not a product of its own piety, but rather that of a knowledge underwritten by truth. [206-07]

Goodchild is quick to point out, however, that Christian theology has also been subject to “the bad conscience of metaphysics” (204). Traditionally, it has invoked the principle of divine simplicity to bypass the problems that adhere to the philosophical consideration of “being is” (whereby, following Parmenides, philosophers have made their livings, such as this is possible, toiling over the identification of subject and predicate, of transcendence and immanence, in which “the same thing is for thinking and for being”). Christian theology posits as a solution the God who is both “his own essence and his own existence,” and as such is the “ultimate criterion and eminent instance” of the True, the Good, etc.  This is, of course, well and good for God,  but for us even conceptualizing such a God, in the form of belief, inevitably causes us to limp back to the metaphysical constraints that bind thought from reality.

In lieu of a metaphysics that bridges the divide between subject, object, and knowledge, the world opted for an “interim measure for the supreme form and criterion of being and value” (207)–namely, the contractual form of money.

For if money is essentially credit–a promise or a contract–then its essence is its existence. It does not exist outside of its concept. Jut as the metaphysics of one singular being, God, was imported to resolve the problems of metaphyiscs as a whole, so the metaphysics of another singular being, money, may come to our aid. If the metaphysics of God may fail to empower thought insofar as God can never become an object to be handled and thought, then the metaphysics of money may prove more profitable. (208)

It is perhaps most profitable because its its metaphysical form “occludes the work of metaphysics itself” (209).  Money is, the textbooks tell us, a tool, and thus in the service of representing reality in the form of capital: an instrument of exchange, a measure of value, and a store of value. The metaphysics of money, however, is not content with the dichotomies of modern metaphysics. Rather than being merely a passive instrument of exchange, an intermediary between subject and predicate, money makes exchange possible. It does not simply store or measure value, it is, rather, (a) the condition for the production of value, (b) the promise of value that has not yet been produced, and (c) the spiritual source of value. Goodchild’s suspension of the Parmenidean tautology in light of this is insightful and worthy of reflection: “To be real is to be not yet real; it is not yet to have become what one is.”

Inasmuch as “money fails to disclose the nature of money itself,” it is a “constitutive illusion” (214-15). This speaks profoundly to money’s role in the absence of belief–or, more precisely, the absence of an explicit commitment to its power. I found the most insightful part of the chapter to be his discussion of money’s “power of evocation” (213-14). Belief in metaphysics, be it God, truth, or money, for example, is not the result of a subjective decision or choice. The use of money, rather, evokes a metaphysics whereby all things are objects of exchange. Furthermore, the use of money evokes a politics, whereby aggressive defenses of private property and individual sovereignty become paradigmatic of democracy and justice. The use of money also evokes an ethics, which provokes and ultimately answers the question “What do I desire?” And, of course, the use of money evokes a theology, which among other things values self-discipline and responsibility and the honoring of contracts.

The crucial element to the power of money is the way in which the promise of money counts as money itself. Indeed, “it actually advances he sum promised but advances it in the form of money. So while money promises to satisfy demands, the actual demand it satisfies first of al lis the demand for money” (217). In this way, money introduces an evaluative perspective in which money itself is the the only true standard of comparison. Here, “money is the supreme object of credit at the same time that it is the vehicle for the transmission of credit.” In this way, money achieves now what Christian theology could only problematically ascribe to God–it “is what it says and says what it is” (218).

Religious devotion is widely regarded as being compatible with the creation of financial wealth. What money discloses, however, is the power of credit itself. If traditional religions have found themselves impotent in the face of money, whether they endorse it or condemn it, this is because money has a superior power of attracting credit. Money surpasses other religions through the power of effectiveness itself. (220)

Importantly, however, for all its promises, money can only deliver itself. That’s all it can offer. Everything, from the authority of other social formations to ecological relations of production, is subject to its corrosive effects.

Goodchild closes the chapter by reflecting on the necessity for us not simply to reject the theology of money, though certainly we are not to merely to roll over for it either. Rather, if an alternative is to be conceived, it must be similarly evocative, in terms of its metaphysics, politics, ethics, and theology. Moreover, Goodchild insists that it must draw draw from the theology of money to “revise and deepen our understanding of theology, of politics, and even of reason itself, for in somewhat diverse ways, modern theology, politics, and reason have been dependent on a notion of power that is now called into question” (221). (He continues: “Indeed, in a strange way, m oney is not only in opposition to God; it also discloses the significance and role of a source of the value of values. Perhaps one may reach a more complete understanding of what theology is and can be after considering a theology of money” [222]).

The metaphysics of money must, either before its too late, or perhaps simply in response to the catastrophe it has ushered in, be replaced by a metaphysics of credit. Here, the ecological dimension of Being is more fully taken into account, whereby the maintenance of exterior relations is crucial to sustaining its temporal orientation. Most importantly perhaps, in contrast to money, credit “does not have its power within itself; credit granted is only as valuable as the credit that is invested in the source of credit” (223).

Question: We’ve already spoken a bit about pessimism, but are you at all optimistic about the institutionalization of a metaphysics of credit? More will be said about this in a couple of posts, but I do wonder whether “optimism” is even the proper word. Are you satisfied with Goodchild’s depiction of modern philosophy? What of the contribution of hermeneutics — particularly that of the early Heidegger or Benjamin — where the correspondence theory of truth Goodchild is targeting was secondary to that of, respectively, coherence and production?

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4 Responses to “Theology of Money – 6. Metaphysics & Credit”

  1. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I wonder if something like the GNU General Public Lisence could provide a model for a concrete structure reflecting a “metaphysics of credit.”

  2. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Here’s the Wikipedia entry, if you’re not familiar with the idea, but basically it’s a way of attempting to mobilize copyright against itself (“copyleft”) in order to ensure that computer programs using this license can never become proprietary — their source code must be freely accessible and modifiable for all. As far as I can tell, it has been definitively proven to be enforceable in Germany; it’s not as clear to me (I just scanned the relevant section today) whether it’s been directly tested in the US or other countries (i.e., there have been settlements in which GPL-defending people won, but they were out of court settlements, not official verdicts).

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