Phaenomenology of Money

Money is much more than a means of purchase: it is a social phenomenon, can create relationships between people, level inequalities between people - or reinforce them. In this course, philosopher and business ethicist Karl-Heinz Brodbeck elaborates on the nature of money and its role in society. This course is in German.



"Society" is a basic concept. It gives rise to many forms which are interpreted as social. To what extent such a justification is possible, especially with the phenomenon of money, is to be shown here. A hint in advance; this thought is developed in detail in my book "Die Herrschaft des Geldes" and other texts.

  • A philosophy of money is at the same time a theory of society.
  • There is no entity "society" "out there, only people. And people think, act, speak and thus produce society anew every day.
  • The "substance" of money is a social, collectively generated and therein circular illusion of validity.
  • The striking phenomenon is that the use of money ceaselessly produces a moneylessness.
  • "Money is a thing whose use is possible only by it being spent." (Immanuel Kant)

What can I learn from this course?

The phenomenology of money is an important part of philosophical and sociological theory that can teach us a lot about the nature of money and its role in society. Here are some things that we can learn from the phenomenology of money:

  • Money is not simply a thing, but a social phenomenon: Money has no inherent meaning or value but acquires its meaning through the social and cultural significance given to it by society. It is important to understand that money is only valuable because we consider it to be valuable.

  • Money is a medium of relationships: Money is not just a means of exchange but also represents a medium through which social relationships between people can be maintained and structured. Money influences how we perceive ourselves as individuals and as part of groups.

  • Money can generate alienation: Money can contribute to people becoming alienated from their work, from other people, and even from themselves. Through the abstraction and commodification of work and other social relationships, money can cause us to become estranged from the real world.

  • Money can reinforce power and inequality: Money can contribute to some people having more power and influence than others. People with a lot of money often have more opportunities and can afford more things than people with less money. This can result in certain social groups being disadvantaged in society.

Overall, the phenomenology of money can help us become more aware of how we shape our relationships with money and with other people. It can help us understand the social and cultural meanings of money and how these meanings influence our relationships and our society.

Who is the author?

Karl-Heinz Brodbeck is a German philosopher, creativity researcher, economist, and business ethicist. He is professor emeritus of economics, statistics, and creativity techniques at the Würzburg-Schweinfurt University of Applied Sciences and a faculty member at the Munich School of Politics. He advocates an economic ethics based on Buddhist ethics, formulated his own alternative theory of creativity and developed a new theory of money against the background of his critique of traditional economics.

The MoneyMuseum Zurich has edited the text and produced videos. The basis remains the text "Phenomenology of Money".

  • Lesson 1: What is Phenomenology?
  • Lesson 2: Money as socialization
  • Lesson 3: Money as a form of thinking
  • Lesson 4: Money properties
  • Lesson 5: Money greed

What is phenomenology?

Phenomenology is a school that does not adhere to a predefined method, but rather allows itself to be guided by the phenomena themselves. In contrast to science, which treats objects methodically, philosophy brings thinking processes into consciousness. Human society always organizes itself through the consciousness of many individuals, which causes the scientific method, which separates theory and reality, to fail when it comes to money. Phenomenology puts consciousness back at the center and regards human society as a collection of individual states of consciousness.

Objects that are perceived or thought always presuppose a subject or consciousness. Kant argued that things in themselves cannot be known apart from the knowledge relation between subject and object. Phenomenology does not pose this question because society always organizes itself only through consciousness. There is no entity of society "out there," only people who think, act, speak, and create society anew every day.

Phenomenology considers things themselves - such as money - and initially sets aside all theoretical pre-interpretations. It looks at things from a new perspective and becomes aware of the accompanying thinking process. This makes it possible to gain new insights and break through prejudices and models that have crept into our familiar, everyday dealings with things.

Money as socialization

The text deals with how money connects people in society. It discusses the importance of understanding the concept of "socialization" in order to better understand the crises of the present. For the author Brodbeck, "society" is a fundamental concept and means the unity of the many. Socialization does not happen objectively, but depends on the thinking of people and is realized through language and money. A philosophy of money is therefore always a theory of society. Phenomenology, a method of philosophizing, was introduced by Georg Friedrich Hegel in 1807. The text also explains that money, as a concept in human society, has novel properties and cannot be explained by previous forms, which is why archaeological investigations alone are not sufficient to understand money as money.

Money as a form of thought

Money is a form of thinking, and its existence depends on being recognized as such. Although we often think in our daily lives that money exists "out there" and can be present or absent, its functionality depends on a thought process. It only becomes money when we recognize it as such and assign it a meaning.

The recognition by the many creates the being of money as money. Only when it is generally recognized that something is money, can it be used as such. However, if recognition diminishes, it can lead to economic and currency crises, as money only fulfills its function when it is recognized as a general medium of exchange.

Therefore, the "substance" of money is a collectively produced, social and circular illusion based on the recognition of the many.

On Value, Calculation and the Movement Function of Money

In this text, the focus is on how we assign value to things and how money plays an important role as an abstract unit in this process. The value of an object does not come from the object itself but is determined by us as observers. The separation of external fact and value has been made into a methodological principle, meaning that in science, the focus should be on objective description and explanation of facts. However, even a "value-neutral" theory cannot be selected without a value judgment.

Value arises through the relationship to money, meaning that the price of a good or service reflects a value judgment. People are put on a level with means of production, and their connection to each other is objectified. The place of money exchange, the market, is therefore also a place of value competition. Through accounting in money, all things are measured in an abstract unit. Thus, money is the abstraction of one in counting and part of our language and socialization.

Accounting in money leads to us seeing ourselves as isolated egos, separated from natural and specifically human properties. Money is repeatedly spent, and its function lies in its movement. Each act of purchase involves an agreement to property rights, and indebtedness is an inseparable part of money use. The socialization in a monetary economy takes place through indebtedness and the dissolution of indebtedness. Money is a market entry barrier, and the use of money leads inexorably to moneylessness.

Greed for money

Brodbeck emphasizes that greed for money is not a private, purely psychological attribute. Greed for money is the subjective equivalent of the objective barrier to market entry (i.e. money). Why? Anyone who wants or needs to participate in a money economy, in the market, needs money as an entry ticket in sufficient amount. We strive for this entry ticket into a money economy, which must be constantly renewed. This is initially a purely objective reason. A money economy without this striving for money does not exist. This is not a psychological defect. However, the repetition of this necessary striving shapes consciousness as a striving one, as one that "lusts" after money.

The surest way to ensure ongoing market entry is to have a high amount of money. We are not inclined to give up our money, and when we trustingly hand it over (from the Latin word "credere"), we demand either an appropriate product or, if it is only about money, a price for the credit, i.e. interest. Those who accumulated a large amount of money early on as a result of their mediation activities, i.e. the merchants of the Middle Ages, used the intermediate state of money ownership to control deliveries through credit. Later on, dependent governments or needy individuals were added, whose weaker position in terms of money could be exploited through credit. Interest has always been the expression of this power relationship.

In the pure pursuit of money, the original motive of gaining market access is preserved. This is also the rational aspect of greed for money. When money is accumulated (accumulated) and used instrumentally (as capital and credit), the original function is autonomized in the aforementioned way of exercising power through credit. That is precisely why the churches have condemned or prohibited taking interest. The original form of greed for money - the pure pursuit of money after spending it and seeking market participation again - should be distinguished from the developed greed based on an autonomous accumulation of money. The latter form has long since become a kind of popular prejudice ("growth is good"). It is easy to forget the question of how someone came into the advantageous position of being able to accumulate money beyond their own needs. This would then be - as a follow-up question - the question of distributional justice in general.

When stock market computers are allowed to trade securities completely automatically ("algo trading"), it is greed for money, a mechanical passion, because it only wants more and more of the same. This abuse is a characteristic of what neoliberalism as a political expression demands - the idea that as many mediating and productive activities as possible should be conducted through markets, through money. Only private initiative is efficient, which is why privatization of public goods is also demanded: trade in pollution permits, privatization of water and electricity supply, transportation routes, even the military and the prison system. Here, a development that began with the abuse of money for private purposes by early usurers reaches its climax.

Videos by Karl-Heinz Brodbeck

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