Navigation – Plan du site

AccueilNuméros8-2The Concept of Care from an Econo...Rebuilding the Temple of Graces: ...

The Concept of Care from an Economic Philosophy Perspective

Rebuilding the Temple of Graces: Gift-giving as the Foundation of Care

Reconstruire le temple des grâces : Le don au fondement du soin
Germán Scalzo, Antonio Moreno Almárcegui et Maria de los Ángeles Padilla
p. 139-155


Le concept de « soin » a récemment émergé dans l’optique d’étendre la notion de rationalité en économie, introduisant des idées qui ont été traditionnellement restreintes au prétendu troisième secteur (secteur non-lucratif), cela a par conséquent questionné l’économie mainstream. Cet article est basé sur la thèse que le développement et la fonction du marché et de l’Etat sont un produit de quelque chose d’antérieur, i.e., la présence des dons dans les relations sociales. La notion de don est reliée à celle de charis, qui est à la racine du soin et qui est aussi étroitement reliée aux concepts religieux de grâce et de charité.

Afin de montrer que cette notion était présente dans la tradition classique occidentale – depuis Aristote jusqu’à la pensée scholastique – cet article retrace l'origine et l’évolution de la monnaie à travers le prisme des interactions sociales amicale et fraternelle. Finalement, l’article suggère qu’un ordre social basé exclusivement sur les relations d’échanges contractuels est une conséquence d’une interprétation du don comme un geste pur et généreux sans obligation morale de réciprocité. En opposition à cette thèse, les critiques de l’économie moderne, incluant les féministes et les penseurs catholiques, se regroupent pour défendre la supériorité du don sur le contrat, c’est-à-dire, de la justice distributive sur la justice commutative.

Haut de page

Entrées d’index

Mots-clés :

don, charis, monnaie, réciprocité
Haut de page

Texte intégral

1Recently, Hénaff (2003) has returned to an old issue raised by Weber on the connection between Protestantism and capitalism. Hénaff suggests that, Protestantism’s original social vision contained a defense of the contract as the exclusive framework for public social relations, separating it entirely from the logic of gift, which eventually bolstered Protestantism’s economic success. Thus, within the society that emerged from Protestantism, gift and contract logics move in completely separate and independent spheres. This doctrine made the contractual relationship governed by the “do ut des” logic the only social model possible, excluding the gift from social relations. It also presupposed the birth of a new archetypical relationship that is more impersonal, neutral and objective, which is vital to the development of the market and the state.

  • 1 In this regard, the development of the so-called “civil economy”mainly developed by Italians Stefa (...)

2Hénaff argues that the key to the expansion of capitalism in the Protestant world is found in this radical separation between the gift—reduced to the world of private relationships—and the contractwhich became the socially hegemonic form of public social relations—, while the Catholic worldview, which continues to follow an earlier tradition, still defends the superiority of gift over the contract and attempts to overcome the opposition between these two competing logics by integrating them.1

3This earlier tradition has been present in the Western world since Aristotle and was developed all the way up to early modernity with the School of Salamanca. Ethnographic studies call attention on the presence of the gift in Ancient societies (Mauss, 1966), and its evolution since then. In particular, Aristotle first formulated the passage from self-sufficient family economies to the city, and the emergence of money as a symbol of the common need of the city. As a consequence, exchange allows the city to “have in common,” increasing civic friendship. This is why he mentions that exchanges should be taken into account through the “Temple of the Graces,” (NE 1133a) that is to say, the realm of the gift.

4It is true that this position poses a risk (corruption); often in these cases, what is presented as a gift is actually very self-interested behavior, and what is offered as “free” has a tangible price, a powerful counter offer. However, late medieval tradition clearly distinguishes between them: all case-based reasoning about usury—a meeting point of both logics—involves an effort to establish which part corresponds to the contractual relationship (justice) and which one is due to friendship.

1. On the Origin of Money: From the Oikos to the Polis

5Ethnographic studies and cultural anthropology carried out early last century revealed the evolution of the human bond between families and the resulting social structure (Mauss, 1966). In ancient times, human groups underwent an evolution in their relationship to the natural habitat that is closely related to the idea of economics: from hunting and gathering, passing through grazing and agriculture, to the emergence of crafts and trade. In the first two stages, human bonds were founded on the practice of the ceremonial gift, regulated by vindictive justice. The third phase where the city-state (as in the case of Greece) was consolidated and human bonds were based on political authority, regulated by arbitrational justice (Hénaff, 2010), witnessed the emergence of money.

  • 2 Chrematistic is a part of economics that deals with the acquisition of property necessary for the g (...)

6It is widely known that “economics” etymologically comes from “oikos-nomos,” meaning “household management” (Pol. 1253b), and is related to the acquisition and administration of means for a good life. In early stages, this acquisition was made in the realm of the family and Aristotle referred to it as chrematistics2 (Pol. 1256b). Natural chrematistic pursues useful things and has a limit because “the elements of true riches; for the amount of property which is needed for a good life is not unlimited” (Pol. 1256b). However, there is another kind of acquisition that is unlimited: unnatural chrematistics—which includes trade (kapêlikê)—driven by the desire of money. It is precisely because of this possibility that the ancient world had serious concerns about the idea of money; for instance, Plato saw merchants as despicable people whose activities had destructive effects on his ideal city (Plato, Laws 705a, 846d-847b, 915d-920d; Republic 342).

7However, Aristotle was optimistic about the idea of exchange (Ross, 1949, 243; Barker, [1906] 1959, 383). At the beginning of his Politics, he discusses the genesis of exchange, and distinguishes different forms: barter—or exchange without intermediation of money—, the use of money in exchange as a way of getting something that is needed, buying and selling to make money and the lending of money at interest—which is known as usury. Aristotle examines the evolution of exchange relationships over time while also exploring the nature of exchange value and its effects on human behavior. The respective ends (telos) of these forms of exchange are found to be of two types: one natural to the good life of human beings living in community, and the other, damaging thereof.

8Exchange “arose at first from what is natural, from the circumstance that some have too little, others too much” (Pol. 1257a). Aristotle presents the necessity of exchange and its first form, that is, the direct non-monetary exchange of one commodity for another—bartering—, as a natural process:

In the first community, indeed, which is the family, this art is obviously of no use, but it begins to be useful when the society increases. For the members of the family originally had all things in common; later, when the family divided into parts, the parts shared in many things, and different parts in different things, which they had to give in exchange for what they wanted … This sort of barter is not part of the wealth-getting art and is not contrary to nature, but is needed for the satisfaction of men’s natural wants (Pol. 1257a).

9Aristotle then divides economic value into two parts, “use value” and “exchange value”:

of everything which we possess there are two uses: both belong to the thing as such, but not in the same manner, for one is the proper, and the other the improper use of it. For example, a shoe is used for wear, and is used for exchange; both are uses of the shoe. He who gives a shoe in exchange for money or food to him who wants one, does indeed use the shoe as a shoe, but this is not its proper use, for a shoe is not made to be an object of barter (Pol. 1257b).

10Use value refers to the natural properties of a product. However, besides being used, things can be exchanged, thus acquiring exchange value. The nature of a product lies in its natural properties, those by which it is useful and has use-value, however that “which is made is not an end in the unqualified sense (but only relative to something, i.e., of something)—only that which is done is that” (NE 1139b). This is to say that human intention determines a thing’s purpose (use value or exchange value).

The quality of courage, for example, is not intended to make wealth, but to inspire confidence; neither is this the aim of the general’s or of the physician’s art; but the one aims at victory and the other at health. Nevertheless, some men turn every quality or art into a means of getting wealth; this they conceive to be the end, and to the promotion of the end they think all things must contribute (Pol. 1258b).

  • 3 Marx, Ricardo and Smith recognized the impossibility of explaining exchange value in terms of use v (...)

11This distinction is of great importance in the analysis of wealth, exchange and money in Politics.3 At the same time, this internal disposition presents a conceptual connection with his Ethics.

  • 4 According to Finley, Polanyi “was right to insist that failure to distinguish between the two meani (...)

12It is important to highlight that “the underlying thought at this point is that, since it is a quantity, exchange value (and its bodily form of money) has no inherent limit” (Meikle, 1995, 50). This will be so, at least, where money is made the end, for if it were used only as a means, there would be a limit, because “of the means there is a limit, for the end is always the limit” (Pol. 1257b). Just as in the Nicomachean Ethics, the distinction between use value and exchange value is key to understanding the problem of commensurability, in Politics, its correspondence is the distinction between the two types of chrematistic, which basically refer to the problem of human ends.4 This becomes clear in his analysis of the different forms of exchange.

13In the Nicomachean Ethics (Book V), Aristotle distinguishes between universal and particular justice, and within the latter, between distributive and corrective justice. He then refers to justice in exchange as a form of proportionality: “in associations for exchange this sort of justice does hold men together—reciprocity in accordance with a proportion and not on the basis of equality” (NE 1132b).

14Aristotle was fully aware that, in order to make exchange possible, some way of comparing must be established because things in themselves are incommensurable. Moreover, “neither would there have been association if there were not exchange, nor exchange if there were not equality, nor equality if there were not commensurability” (NE 1133b). Thus, commensurability (summetria) becomes his main economic problem; in other words:

the builder, then, must get from the shoemaker the latter’s work, and must himself give him in return his own. If, then, first there is proportionate equality of goods, and then reciprocal action takes place, the result we mention will be effected (NE 1133a).

15In order for that to happen, products must be comparable somehow in order to determine proportion, which is the question posed by commensurability.

16Things can be equated in terms of some kind of property in common, but in order to talk about equality or inequality, that property must be measurable. In exchange, things “are equated,” but establishing the common property according to which these same things “are quantities” is problematic (Crespo, 2006, 36).

  • 5 Marx first used the letters C and M (commodities and money) to represent the circuits by which Aris (...)
  • 6 Although not explicitly stated in the text, Aristotle clearly refers to unnatural chrematistic, in (...)

17The exchange of two commodities unmediated by money is represented by CC’ (commodities)5. He states that, “this sort of barter is not part of the wealth-getting art6 and is not contrary to nature, but is needed for the satisfaction of men’s natural wants” (Pol. 1257a). However, another form of exchange grew out of this one, i.e., the exchange of goods mediated by money:

When the inhabitants of one country became more dependent on those of another, and they imported what they needed, and exported what they had too much of, money necessarily come into use (Pol. 1257a).

  • 7 According to Roll, with the introduction of money, Aristotle is the first to speak of its role as a (...)

18A commodity is sold (CM) and with that money another is purchased (MC’). This form is represented as CMC’, and money acts as a store of value; it is a means for obtaining the commodity one wants to consume.7 Nevertheless, for Aristotle, there are two sorts of acquisition:

one is a part of household management, the other is retail trade: the former is necessary and honorable, while that which consists in exchange is justly censured; for it is unnatural, and a mode by which men gain from one another (Pol. 1258).

19Aristotle does not reject the form CMC’ because its purpose is consumption, it begins and ends with use values (just as CC’); however, when a trader buys (MC) in order to resell at a higher amount (CM’), building the circuit MCM’, then money is sought for itself, and one’s gain equates to another’s loss, which constitutes a violation of justice. The real problem is that both types (CMC’ and MCM’) overlap because

the source of the confusion is the near connection between the two kinds of wealth-getting; in both, the instrument is the same, although the use is different, and so they pass into one another; for each is a use of the same property, but with a difference: accumulation is the end in the one case, but there is a further end in the other … to increase their money without limit, or at any rate not to lose it (Pol. 1257b).

20According to Meikle, the key is to understand that, “though they appear to be different ways of doing the same thing, they are really similar ways of doing different things” (Meikle, 1995, 88). In CMC’ use value predominates the satisfaction of needs, whereas in MCM’ the aim is the accumulation of money, and exchange value prevails. The difference between C and C’, in the first case, is qualitative (they are incommensurable) and they have different use values. In contrast, the only possible difference between M and M’ is quantity: M’ should necessarily be a greater amount, since there is no difference of quality between two sums of money (money is commensurable). But if M can be advanced to become M’, so too can M’ be advanced to become M’’, and so on, without limit (Pol. 1257b).

21Aristotle’s decision to allow for CMC’ and reject MCM’ seems weaker when the distinction of ends becomes blurred. As Meikle states, it seems then that CMC’ is not as innocent as Aristotle says, and its end cannot simply be characterized as providing use value, because it is compromised by the possibility that those products can also be exchange values (Meikle, 1995, 92). However, Aristotle has to accept that possibility in order to accept money (otherwise, only CC’ would be legitimate). “The course he chooses manages to accommodate two common and entrenched sentiments: the usefulness of money for getting things, and the dislike of traders and money-lenders” (Meikle, 1995, 95).

22The fourth and final form of exchange in Aristotle’s account is the breeding of money from money: MM’, which is known as usury:

The most hated sort, and with the greatest reason, is usury, which makes a gain out of money itself, and not from the natural object of it. For money was intended to be used in exchange, but not to increase at interest … of all modes of getting wealth this is the most unnatural. (Pol. 1258b)

23Among citizens in Athens, lending money was a token of friendship to help cement bonds of philia and it was free of interest (Ritchie, 1984; Millet, 1991; Mulgan, 1977, 49).

2. On the Nature of Money

  • 8 Traditionally, four purposes are usually attributed to money: medium of exchange, measure of value, (...)

24According to Langholm, “some of the confusion over the Aristotelian theory of money is … due to failure to distinguish a metaphysical theory of measurement and a moral theory of storing wealth from an economic theory of exchange” (Langholm, 1983, 39). Whilst these aspects are inherently related, the fact that Aristotle treats them separately (he deals with the first in Book I, Chapters 8 to 10 of the Politics, whereas he deals with the second in Book V, Chapter 5 of the Nicomachean Ethics) provides a compelling reason to respect this analytical scheme, which coincides with the two basic functions of money: to be a medium of exchange and measure of value.8

25Money, on the one hand, is a sign that expresses quantitative value on a numerical scale by which goods can be compared for exchange. On the other hand, it provides a symbol that represents a qualitative reality by belonging to the community in which it is used, augmenting cohesion through its proper use. Ultimately, established to facilitate the exchange of goods, money represents confidence in the social order of the polis, and is aimed at strengthening its unity and serving as the basis for the virtuous life of its members. Aristotle was the first to glimpse the complexity of this phenomenon, and to conclude, after a thorough analysis, that the core of the problem “was not so much a question of the market value of your gold as of what kind of man your gold makes of you” (Langholm, 1983, 66).

26What does Aristotle say about money? He first argues that exchange requires things to be expressed in terms of money since “money, then, acting as a measure, makes goods commensurate and equates them” (NE 1133b). He explicitly states that, “money was intended to be used in exchange” (Pol. 1258b), that is to say, that its very nature is to be an instrument for the circulation of “use values.” It cannot be seen as an end (it does not have any use value) because “money is exchange value. Its job is to express the exchange value of each commodity” (Meikle, 1995, 97; NE 1133b).

  • 9 The term nomos is vague and imprecise, and only accepted as law starting from the fifth century. Se (...)

27Exchange value represents use value in an artificial and conventional way (Moreau, 1969, 362); “Money has become by convention a sort of representative of demand and this is why it is called ‘money’ (nomisma)—because it exists not by nature but by law (nômos)9, and it is in our power to change it and make it useless” (NE 1133a).

28The possibility of measurement itself does not solve the problem of commensurability. Things must be commensurate with respect to any property, or there would be nothing to be measured, that is, measurement does not create property. As Meikle says, “there is no logical difference between 5 beds = 1 house and 5 beds = x amount of silver. The second equation is just as problematical as the first, and in just the same way” (Meikle, 1995, 22).

  • 10 The word chreia (need) is usually translated as demand, leading many to assert that the subjective (...)
  • 11 Rackham, uses “for practical purposes” instead of “sufficiently” (hykânos). See Rackham (1926, 287)

29Aristotle presents an alternative solution with the idea that need or demand (chreia)10 holds things together: “Now in truth it is impossible that things differing so much should become commensurate, but with reference to demand they may become so sufficiently” (NE 1133b). However, demand is a precondition for exchange, not a property of things: “That demand holds things together as a single unit is shown by the fact that when men do not need one another, i.e. when neither needs the other or one does not need the other, they do not exchange” (NE 1133b). From a strict point of view, he recognizes that demand does not resolve the problem of commensurability, although it does seem acceptable from a practical standpoint, since it seems to refer to the use of the term “sufficiently.11

30So, for Aristotle, money is a conventional representation of chreia or common need, which is the necessary basis of commensurability. That is why he gives crucial importance to the idea of justice in exchange. Proportional justice does not exactly correspond to either distributive justice or to corrective justice, but rather is related to both. Distributive justice deals with the distribution of honor and public goods. Corrective justice, instead, applies to human relations and private property, and its object is to rectify an imbalance as a result of a private matter, i.e. when someone makes a profit at the expense of another’s loss. Aristotle is aware of the potential danger that money can posit:

Aristotle is concerned not only about exchange value compromising the single activity of chrêmatistikê, but about its invasion of the whole of ethical and political life. The activity of pursuing money has a capacity to attach itself to other activities, to infiltrate its aim into theirs, and to subordinate their ends to its own (Meikle, 1995, 74).

31In order to avoid that, he refers to the temple of the Graces:

This is why they give a prominent place to the temple of Graces—to promote the requital of services; for this is characteristic of grace—we should serve in return one who has shown grace to us, and should another time take the initiative in showing it (NE 1133a).

  • 12 For a deeper study of this evolution, see Scalzo (2016).
  • 13 For the different meanings of charis in the ancient world, see MacLachlan (2016).

32This idea of reciprocity, known as the “logic of gift,” was very present in Ancient cultures. The gift is “any provision of goods and services without obligation, guarantee or certainty of return, undertaken with the intent to create, maintain or regenerate a social relationship” (Caillé, 2000, 124). Hénaff studied its evolution based on Mauss’s seminal study of ceremonial gift (Hénaff, 2010),12 showing how the gift shifts from its ceremonial form—as a gesture of reciprocal recognitionto a gesture of mutual assistance (Hénaff, 2010, 251). After showing that this evolution represents a shift in a social conception to a moral one, he relates it to the Greek idea of charis, i.e., “an entire model of gift-giving as favor developed around the Greek notion of kharis [sic] (Hénaff, 2010, 246).13

3. Money vs. Gift: From Fraternal to Contractual Reciprocity

  • 14 Spuybroek states that this is possible thanks to beauty, which he considers to be the “spatializati (...)

33The shifting from agricultural tribes to the city-state (polis) signified a change in the idea of gift exchange, from a horizontal (between the exchangers) to a vertical scheme (in relationship with the polis itself). According to Spuybroek, “what functioned as charis in actual—temporal—exchanges during ceremonies and rituals started to function as beauty under primarily spatial conditions” (Spuybroek, 2014, 126). In the polis, “a gift must be collectively granted to all and recognized by everyone (Hénaff, 2010, 243), which is why it is granted by a central authority, while it rests on the notion of charis14.

Kharis [sic] designates, above all, the pleasure provided by something and then the charm or beauty of this thing (object or action). Later, by extension, kharis also comes to mean ‘pleasure [as basis for making a decision]’ and ends up indicating favor, kind deed, or gift. As a consequence, kharis can mean gratitude (Hénaff, 2010, 245).

  • 15 Later, Seneca relates Aglaia with gift giving, Euphrosyne with its acceptance, and Thalia with its (...)
  • 16 There is additional symbolism in this representationas young maidens, their memory is fresh; their (...)

34Moreover, according to Hénaff, this semantic shift represents the first meaning of the Latin word gratia (Hénaff, 2010, 245). “In the realm of grace and beauty, things present themselves to us—and to other things—as gifts” (Spuybroek, 2014, 132). When Aristotle mentions that exchange should be made with reference to the Temple of the Graces (NE 1133a) he refers to the Three Graces, also known as the Three Charities, who were three dancing female divinities representing natural fertility and growth; their name are Aglaia, Euphrosyne and Thalia.15 They should be “understood as the personification and circulation of effects involving charis (Spuybroek, 2014, 139). The fact that they are three dancing women highlights that they represent a dynamic cycle:16

The passage in the cycle from Aglaia to Euphrosyne is instigated by generosity, and from Euphrosyne to Thalia by gratitude, and from Thalia back to Aglaia by enrichment. How different the triadist model of the Graces is from the dualist models of beauty! Dualisms can at best be reconciled, while the circle merely has to be closed … It is not enough for beauty to be internalized; it needs to be transformative to be reciprocated … While in the gift exchange one returns the actual gift or an equivalent, in beauty exchange we offer ourselves as counter-gift (Spuybroek, 2014, 143).

35Gift exchange (even if ceremonial) is more than the sharing of a good; “it is the granting of a pledge that commits the giver as a substitute of himself and that stands for the conclusion of a pact” (Hénaff, 2010, 133), which is to say, it creates a relationship.

36It is striking that Hénaff’s work traces this development in great detail during Ancient and Modern times, but does not go deeper into the Medieval world, quoting secondary sources and relying exclusively on a Protestant view of Christianity. This narrative jump is also present in Max Weber, who shaped Hénaff’s own work:

Weber’s study The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is probably his most often—and sometimes most bitterly—discussed work. The reason is simply: the relation Weber establishes between a religious movement and an economic process has been and still is fascinating in as far as he is able to connect two worlds that a priori seem far removed from each other … No matter how stimulating Weber’s study may be, it leaves unresolved a problem that might seem purely theological: how are we to consider the concept of grace that is at the core of the debate? … It is essential to understand that the doctrine of grace itself was the theological version of the concept of gift-giving (Hénaff, 2010, 269).

  • 17 This conception traces back to the spiritualistic tradition that remains nuanced in St. Augustine, (...)

37According to Hénaff, Weber’s thesis does not show a causal relationship between faith and an economic phenomenon, but rather between certain ethics (the Protestant ethos) and a “spirit” that consists in the systematic and rational search for profitability (Hénaff, 2003, 298). In Luther’s beruf (meaning calling as well as profession), a professional job becomes an end in itself, leading to a mindset that “accomplishing professional tasks is more important than charitable works (…) [rethinking] the whole question of the social relations within the tradition of the primacy of charitable relations” (Hénaff, 2003, 300). We find here a new conception of gift,17 which becomes unilateral, breaking its inner circularity.

Luther wants to eliminate the practice of charity as “good deeds” guaranteeing salvation. It is easy to understand how challenging that practice would conform to a theological notion of faith as an act of unconditional trust in the divine word … the break created by the Reformation … concerns the devalorization of the generous act supposedly essential to salvation and finally its presentation as an economically irrational act. What is involved here is the form of social relations itself. If the latter are supposed to be generated by the complementary of tasks instead of the reciprocity of gifts, then the transformation mentioned by Weber is even more radical (Hénaff, 2010, 300).

38Given that in the Western world, the notion of gift was the archetype of social relationships, this cultural shift has had serious long-term consequences. Since then, Modernity has recognized, on the one hand, the emergence of a social order founded on relations of contractual exchanges and, on the other hand, the emergence of the “modern” notion of gift: an unconditional moral gift, as a pure and generous gift without reciprocity, which Hénaff did not so explicitly support. These worlds move in totally separate and independent spheres, a dualism that Calvin instituted; for him, grace can only be a unilateral gift from God; whereas relationships between men are governed by exchange (commutative justice). In a letter written in 1545, “Calvin concludes ‘that usury must be judged, not by any particular passage of Scripture, but simply by the rules of equity’” (Hyde, 2007, 171).

39As a consequence, fraternity is removed from the public sphere, and gift becomes a private moral gesture. In modern economics, the autonomous market has tended to increasingly expand, and definitively move beyond covering mere subsistence needs. Moreover, in contemporary societies, the market has extended to the world of services in general—leisure and culture are its most dynamic exponents, and, above all, personal services, which were traditionally entrusted to the family and friends, including nurseries, nursing homes, school canteens, etc. At its root, this shift proposes that actions that were previously developed within the framework of institutions organized according to the logic of the gift can be entrusted to institutions that are governed by a contractual and mercantile relationship.

4. Antidora: Money as a Gift

40According to Hénaff, this separation between the contractual world (market-state) and that of the gift allowed for the emergence of modern economic institutions and capitalist development. Following Weber’s thesis, this would explain the successful development of modern capitalism in Protestant countries, while in Catholic countries, confusion still exists between these “logics” because of the primacy of the gift over the contract, that is to say, of charity over justice. This is Clavero’s main thesis in Antidora, a work that explains the structure of Catholic caritas.

41The Catholic idea of the gift takes on a different hue with the notion of person, which introduces radical innovations in the way of understanding the relationship between God and men, and also between men themselves (Scalzo, 2016). Aquinas, following Aristotle, highlights two points that were present throughout classical philosophy on the gift: gratuity and love (Thomas Aquinas, I, q.38, a. 2). This was the dominant paradigm in the Scholastic tradition; however, it presented a real challenge for the School of Salamanca, which ultimately connected ancient and modern thought.

42The relevance that the School of Salamanca gave to the logic of the gift—and its primacy over the contract—is striking. The urban and commercial growth in sixteenth-century Spain was really challenging, forcing them to rethink the moral boundaries of progress. When speaking of the gift, they describe a social process that founds strong relationships (of friendship) based on the idea of reciprocity according to gratitude. Following the Aristotelian tradition, they placed the gift in the realm of justice, but it continued to be informed by charity.

  • 18 According to him, “caritas est amicitia,” that is “mutua benevolentia.” Moreover, there is a relati (...)
  • 19 Gratis accepistis, gratis date.” See Clavero (1991, 90-91).
  • 20 According to Francisco de Vitoria, “si gratis do, non est iustum.” See Clavero (1991, 62).
  • 21 This was also present in ancient gift: “Mauss speaks of how Maori tribesmen insist that the hau of (...)

43Francisco de Vitoria, the School’s founder, considered charity the most precious gift. In the social realm, he related charity with friendship, with a predisposition to want the good of others.18 The logic of gift is expressed principally in gratuitousness,19 but also in reciprocity, which is the foundation of social recognition as a sign of gratitude. Gift and reciprocity are closely intertwined, however it does not exclude freedom of response. Gift and counter-gift (antidora) belongs to the realm of freedom.20 Antidora allows the benefit to be obligatory in terms of friendship and liberality, instead of legal justice (contractual relationship): “antidora ex liberalitate, la obligatio antidorales” (Clavero, 1991, 100). The difference between the contract and the gift is in the gratuitousness of the answer, from which friendship emerges. Reciprocity of the gift aims to establish or maintain a friendly relationship; usury is therein prohibited because of the fact that friendship is priceless.21

44The Spanish authors of the Modern Age, especially during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, formulated a conception of the logic of the gift very close to that found in current anthropological and sociological literature on this topic. Moreover, they saw exchange as a sign of friendship and as aiming to reinforce friendly relationships inspired by the logic of the gift, which they saw as the model or archetype that gives cohesion to the social body, both religious and political. However, they maintained a clear distinction between that which corresponds to the gift and to the contract.

45The gift belongs to the realm of distributive justice, where there is a natural obligation to correspond, but it cannot be the subject of a contract because it cannot be objectified nor quantified. The contract, on the contrary, as Aristotle stated, belongs to the realm of commutative justice, where there is a legal obligation to correspond that can be made explicit and objectified in the notion of just price (iustum pretium) (Clavero, 1991, 65). These two types of justice help us to better understand the medieval prohibition of usury.

46The School of Salamanca maintained the Aristotelian rejection of usury, especially in money lending. This did not mean that money borrowed did not have to be repaid; commutative justice obliges returning the amount received on time, and can even include something extra as a sign of gratitude. However, they argued that such gratitude cannot be part of the contract, quantified or legally enforced since it belongs to the realm of distributive justice. To consider money as a gift is to affirm the primacy of the logic of fraternity over the logic of contractual exchange, that is to say, of politics over economics. In other words, money cannot be a commodity; it is furthermore bound to ethical concerns because it expresses “common need,” that is, the political community.

  • 22 Irene Staveren mentions three different domains: of freedom, of justice, and of care, being the lat (...)

47The shifting conception of money expressed in Part 3 excluded the logic of gift in the social realm, relegating it to the private sphere. The progressive social legitimation of usury broke this balance between distributive and commutative justice that was present in the Western classical tradition from Aristotle to the School of Salamanca. Since then, the world of “care” cannot but be private.22 Moreover, the idea of gratuity in human relationships has become difficult to understand, as well as problematic. As a corollary, and since care has traditionally been seen as women’s work, contemporary theories of moral development based on modernist ethical systems (Smith, Kant) have been subject to criticism by the feminist ethics movement starting in the early 1980s (Held, 1995). Feminist ethics movements have become one source of criticism of the dualism found in the ethics of justice versus the ethics of care. Any attempt to integrate them, however, must start from a bigger attempt to recover the long-standing debate on the foundation of society and its historic shifts. Specifying the foundations of economics, money and the gift, and their current understanding, get us closer to repairing a misstep that mistakenly assigned care a contractual role and stripped it of the gratuity that long characterized it.

We thank the anonymous referees for their useful suggestions and the editors of the journal for their dedication to furthering economic thought.

Haut de page


Ackrill, John Lloyd. 1997. Essays on Plato and Aristotle. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Aquinas, Thomas. 2006. Summa Theologiae. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Aristotle. 1995. The Complete Works of Aristotle. The Revised Oxford Translation, Jonathan Barnes (ed.), Princeton: Princeton University Press. (Abbreviations : Metaphysics : Met, Nicomachean Ethics : NE, Politics : Pol.)

Austin, Michel and Pierre Vidal-Naquet. 1986. Economía y Sociedad en la Antigua Grecia. Barcelona: Paidós.

Barnes, Jonathan. 1984. The Complete Works of Aristotle. The revised Oxford Translation. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Barker, Ernest. [1906] 1959. The Political Thought of Plato and Aristotle. New York: Dover Publications.

Berthoud, Arnaud. 2002. Essais de Philosophie Économique. Platon, Aristote, Hobbes, A. Smith, Marx. Arras, Lille: Presses Universitaires du Septentrion.

Bruni, Luigino. 2006. Il prezzo della gratuità. Roma: Città Nuova.

Bruni, Luigino and Robert Sudgen. 2008. Fraternity: Why the Market Need Not Be a Morality Free Zone? Economics and Philosophy, 24: 36-64.

Bruni, Luigino. 2008. Reciprocity, Altruism, and Civil Society. London: Routledge.

Bruni, Luigino and Stefano Zamagni. 2004. Economia civile. Efficienza, equità, felicità pubblica. Bologna: Il Mulino.

Caillé, Alain. 2000. Anthropologie du don. Le tiers paradigme [Anthropology of gift : The third paradigm]. París : Desclée de Brouwer.

Clavero, Bartolomé. 1991. Antidora. Antropología Católica de la Economía Moderna. Milan: Giuffrè Editore.

Crespo, Ricardo. 2006. The ontology of the ‘Economic’: An Aristotelian Analysis. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 30: 767-781.

Crespo, Ricardo. 2008. The Economic’ according to Aristotle: Ethical, Political and Epistemological Implications. Foundations of Science. 13, 3-4.

Finley, Moses. 1973. The Ancient Economy. London: Chatto & Windus.

Finley, Moses. 1970. Aristotle and Economic Analysis. Past and Present, 47: 3-25.

Held, Virginia 1995. Justice and Care. Essential Readings in Feminist Ethics. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press.

Hénaff, Marcel. 2003. Religious ethics, Gift Exchange and Capitalism. European Journal of Sociology 44(3): 293-324.

Hénaff, Marcel. 2010. The Price of Truth: Gift, Money and Philosophy. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Hyde, Lewis. 2007. The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World. New York: Random House Inc.

Langholm, Odd. 1979. Price and Value in the Aristotelian Tradition, Bergen-Oslo-Troms: Univ.

Langholm, Odd. 1983. Wealth and Money in the Aristotelian Tradition, Norway: Universitetsforlaget.

Langholm, Odd. 1984. The Aristotelian Analysis of Usury. Bergen: Universitetsforlaget.

MacLachlan, Bonnie. 2016. The Age of Grace: Charis in Early Greek Poetry. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Marx, Karl. 1906. The Process of Capitalist Production. 1867. Vol 1 of Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Chicago: Charles H. Kerr and Co.

Mauss, Marcel. 1966. The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies. 1925. London: Cohen & West Ltd.

Meikle, Scott. 1995. Aristotle’s Economic Thought. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Millet, Paul. 1991. Lending and Borrowing in Ancient Athens. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Moreau, Joseph. 1969. Aristote et la monnaie. Revue des Etudes Grecques: 349-364.

Mulgan, Richard 1977. Aristotle’s Political Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Murphy, James B. 1993, The Moral Economy of Labor. Aristotelian Themes in Economic Theory, New Heaven and London: Yale University Press.

Plato. 1928. Las Leyes. Madrid: Espasa Calpe.

Plato. 1997. La República. Madrid: Alianza.

Polanyi, Karl. 1957. Aristotle Discovers the Economy, In G. Dalton (ed.), Primitive Archaic, and Modern Economies: Essays of Karl Polanyi, 1968, New York: Beacon Press, 78-115.

Ritchie, David. 1984. Aristotle’s Subdivisions of Particular Justice. Classical Review, 7.

Roll, Erich. 1950. A History of Economic Thought. London: Faber and Faber Ltd.

Scalzo, Germán. 2016. A Genealogy of the Gift. In Jacob Dahl Rendtorff (ed.), Perspectives on Philosophy of Management and Business Ethics. vol. 51 of Ethical Economy, Alexander Brink and Jacob Dahl Rendtorff (eds). Springer Nature, 31-45.

Schumpeter, Joseph. 1954. History of Economic Analysis. New York: Oxford University Press.

Spuybroek, Lars. 2014. Charis and Radiance. In Joke Brouwer.and Sjoerd van Tuinen. (eds) Giving and Taking. Antidotes to a Culture of Greed, Rotterdam: V2_Publishing.

Staveren, Irene van. 2005. The Values of Economics: An Aristotelian Perspective. New York and London: Routledge.

Weber, Max. 1956. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. 1905. London: George Allen & Unwin.

Zamagni, Stefano. 2008. Reciprocity, Civil Economy, Common Good. In Archer, M. et al. (eds), Pursuing the Common Good, Vatican City: The Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, 467-502.

Zamagni, Stefano and Luigino Bruni. 2013. Handbook on the Economics of Reciprocity and Social Enterprise. UK Northampton and Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

Haut de page


1 In this regard, the development of the so-called “civil economy”mainly developed by Italians Stefano Zamagni and Luigino Bruniis noteworthy. See, for example, Zamagni (2008); Zamagni and Bruni (2013); Bruni (2006); Bruni (2008); Bruni and Sudgen (2008).

2 Chrematistic is a part of economics that deals with the acquisition of property necessary for the good life, that is, its purpose is provision, unlike an economics that promotes consumption or use. Indeed, Aristotle distinguishes between natural chrematistic, which is by nature a part of the management of a household, and unnatural chrematistic, which has no limit.

3 Marx, Ricardo and Smith recognized the impossibility of explaining exchange value in terms of use value. In Marxist terms, a “market economy” (tauschwertwirtschaft) is also an “economy of use” (gebrauchswertwirtschaft). However, neoclassical thinkers like Jevons, Gossen, Walras and Menger, find a conceptual connection between them in utility, perhaps under the influence of Hume, who rejects the notion of substance. Cfr. (Schumpeter 1954, 911).

4 According to Finley, Polanyi “was right to insist that failure to distinguish between the two meanings of chrêmatistikê is fatal to an understanding of this section of the Politics.” See (Finley 1970, 16).

5 Marx first used the letters C and M (commodities and money) to represent the circuits by which Aristotle describes the various exchange forms. See Capital (I, 3 and II, 4).

6 Although not explicitly stated in the text, Aristotle clearly refers to unnatural chrematistic, in the sense of “making money.

7 According to Roll, with the introduction of money, Aristotle is the first to speak of its role as a store of value. See Roll (1950, 37).

8 Traditionally, four purposes are usually attributed to money: medium of exchange, measure of value, store of value and means of deferred payment. Deferred payment was not mentioned in the ancient world, and store of value, at least in the short term, could be considered implicit in the process of exchange. See, for example Polanyi (1994, 177-200)

9 The term nomos is vague and imprecise, and only accepted as law starting from the fifth century. See Murphy (1993, 136-140).

10 The word chreia (need) is usually translated as demand, leading many to assert that the subjective theory of utility, or neoclassical theory of value, can be attributed to Aristotle. See Blaug (1991).

11 Rackham, uses “for practical purposes” instead of “sufficiently” (hykânos). See Rackham (1926, 287).

12 For a deeper study of this evolution, see Scalzo (2016).

13 For the different meanings of charis in the ancient world, see MacLachlan (2016).

14 Spuybroek states that this is possible thanks to beauty, which he considers to be the “spatialization of charis,” its “democratization.” “Beauty allowed charis to disseminate itself, to be distributed at any time and place, instead of only during feasts and ceremonies … [as a consequence] the gift would be returned not only trough pleasure but through people’s being good citizens, lover or good friends” (Spuybroek, 2014, 126-127).

15 Later, Seneca relates Aglaia with gift giving, Euphrosyne with its acceptance, and Thalia with its return. See Seneca On benefits I, 3: “there is one who bestows a benefit, one who receives it, and a third who returns it … [Hesiod] named the eldest Aglaia, the middle one Euphrosyne, the third Thalia” (Quote in Spuybroek, 2014, note 52).

16 There is additional symbolism in this representationas young maidens, their memory is fresh; their nakedness represents sincerity in giving, without expecting a reward and they hold hands as a symbol of friendship. See (Clavero, 1991, 91).

17 This conception traces back to the spiritualistic tradition that remains nuanced in St. Augustine, but becomes radicalized in Calvin, for whom there is an abyss between God and men. According to his doctrine of predestination, human deeds are useless, since a divine arbitrariness determines eternal salvation. “While the term grace in the Protestant context invariably evokes the doctrine of predestination, in the Catholic context it implies first of all the idea of charity, but also the idea of relations based on personal favors” (Hénaff, 2003, 321).

18 According to him, “caritas est amicitia,” that is “mutua benevolentia.” Moreover, there is a relationship between social fraternity and divine love: “una est caritas qua Deum et proximum diligimus.” See Clavero (1991).

19 Gratis accepistis, gratis date.” See Clavero (1991, 90-91).

20 According to Francisco de Vitoria, “si gratis do, non est iustum.” See Clavero (1991, 62).

21 This was also present in ancient gift: “Mauss speaks of how Maori tribesmen insist that the hau of gift ‘constrains a series of users’ to make a return gift, ‘some property or merchandise or labor, by means of feasts, entertainments or gifts of equivalent or superior value.’ The superior value that the ‘users’ of a gift return or pass along is the ‘use-ance’ or ‘use-ury’ of the gift. In this sense, ancient usury is synonymous with the increase that comes to the gift when it is used up, eaten, and consumed, and by the ethics of a gift society this usance is neither reckoned nor charged, it is passed along as a gift … If both sides of the Exchange are gifts, the usura is the expression of gratitude” (Hyde, 2007, 143-144).

22 Irene Staveren mentions three different domains: of freedom, of justice, and of care, being the later the realm of interpersonal values, and corresponding to an “economic of care,” that includes sharing and giving (Staveren, 2005, 57). The domains of freedom (market), and justice (state) are integrated in what we referred as the “contractual logic.”

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Germán Scalzo, Antonio Moreno Almárcegui et Maria de los Ángeles Padilla, « Rebuilding the Temple of Graces: Gift-giving as the Foundation of Care »Œconomia, 8-2 | 2018, 139-155.

Référence électronique

Germán Scalzo, Antonio Moreno Almárcegui et Maria de los Ángeles Padilla, « Rebuilding the Temple of Graces: Gift-giving as the Foundation of Care »Œconomia [En ligne], 8-2 | 2018, mis en ligne le 01 juin 2018, consulté le 27 septembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

Haut de page


Germán Scalzo

Professor at Universidad Panamericana, Mexico,

Antonio Moreno Almárcegui

Professor at Universidad de Navarra, Spain,

Maria de los Ángeles Padilla

Provost at Universidad Panamericana, Mexico,

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur


Creative Commons - Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International - CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Haut de page
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search