On Debt, Death, and Darwin

Money and Morality as Biological Phenomena


  • Adam Scarfe University of Winnipeg


Money as a “Social Debt-Credit Relation”, Metaphysical Credit-Debt Tallies, Aristotle’s Account of the Character of “Sound” Money, the “Double Coincidence of Wants” Problem, Metallism, Chartalism, John McMurtry, Value Programs, the Life-Code of Value, the Money-Code of Value, Private Banks Having the “Normative Leeway” to Create Money ex nihilo, Mark Carney, Darwin’s Account of the Origin of Morality in Group / Community / Social / Kin Selection and Nietzsche’s Critique, the Global Ecological Crisis, Biophilosophy, Holistic Organicism, Biological Wisdom, Ecological Wisdom, Critical Pan-Selectionism


Central to the operation of the global economic system today is the normative leeway that private banks have to create money ex nihilo on the basis of a person’s “taking out of a loan” and their making a pledge to “repay” it.[1] However, especially in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, the inflationary concerns emerging out of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as in view of increasing awareness of the onset of global climate change, questions have been raised as regard to the fairness, the sustainability, and the ecological impact of the current global monetary system. This is given the overarching capacity of financial systems to drive the trajectory of human development as well as to shape the structure of societies and the general way that people live. Starting with a stipulative definition of money as a “social debt-credit relation,” this essay carries out a critical analysis pertaining to the meaning of money, money creation, and the use of money, doing so from a biophilosophical perspective, and specifically, from a holistic organicist lens. It examines Aristotle’s outline of the properties belonging (putatively) to “sound” money and the enduring debate between Metallism and Chartalism. It unpacks John McMurtry’s critique of the value program of the global economy that, as he expresses, is grounded in the “money-code of value” rather than in the “life-code of value.” And it examines Nietzsche’s critique of Darwin’s account of the origin of morality in group / community / social / kin selection, pointing to the liberation of life from rigid conformity to value programs that are based in (largely) arbitrary metaphysical credit-debt tallies. Overall, in light of the contemporary need to address the global ecological crisis, here, I argue for the cultivation of “ecological-” and/or “biological-” wisdom[2] in relation to money, money creation, money systems, and banking, as well as by the average person orienting themselves toward money and using it as a medium of exchange.

[1] See Tobin 1963; Nichols and Gonczy 1994; Grignon 2009; McLeay, Radia, and Thomas 2014; Werner 2014a, 2014b, and 2016; Kumhof and Jakab 2016; Etzrodt 2018; Carney 2019; and Hook 2022.

[2] See Devall and Sessions 1985 and Waddington 1960, respectively.


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How to Cite

Scarfe, A. (2022). On Debt, Death, and Darwin: Money and Morality as Biological Phenomena. Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, 18(2), 48–111. Retrieved from https://www.cosmosandhistory.org/index.php/journal/article/view/1049