Chapter 3 Friendship after Money: The Case of Classical Greece

In: Conceptualizing Friendship in Time and Place
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The invention and spread of coin money in the Greek world, in the sixth century bce, had far-reaching consequences for the Greek conceptualization of friendship (philia). From the Dark Ages onwards, long-term interpersonal bonds are predominantly conceived in terms of the reciprocal exchange of favors and benefits—exchanges that create lasting ties of gratitude and obligation.

However, the increasing monetization of the Greek economy and Greek thought at large, produces a new notion of mutuality that rapidly becomes more and more prevalent in popular thought: the commercial transaction, i.e., the simultaneous exchange of equivalent goods that does not necessarily yield a lasting relationship between the participants. Reciprocal exchanges become potentially ambivalent, allowing for multiple, sometimes conflicting interpretations of the same exchanges.

The demarcation problems caused by this ambiguity provoke new cultural constructions of reciprocity in friendship as distinct from, opposed to, compatible with or reducible to monetary transaction.

Introduction1

In European and Anglo-American culture, everyday language is imbued with ‘money talk.’ Economic images, the idea of money, and metaphors of banks and markets are frequently used to express ideas and norms about interpersonal relationships. Friendships require personal ‘investments,’ for ‘time is money,’ but there is a ‘payoff’ and it will ‘cost you’ if you do not; you may feel deeply ‘indebted’ to some of your friends. But when it is ‘payback time,’ you will ‘square your account’ with a friend who has lost all ‘credit’ with you: he has turned out to be a ‘counterfeit’ friend.

Of course, these are only metaphors. But metaphors create realities, as they are among our main vehicles for comprehending abstract concepts and performing abstract reasoning.2 They organize a world of unstructured experiences into concepts we can deal with and make us capable of dealing with them, incorporating them in our world-view and drawing inferences from them.3 In this particular cultural setting, money provides a powerful system of metaphors that enable us to shape abstract concepts such as value, to comprehend obligations and to approach the world around us as instrumental to our goals.4

At the same time, most economic metaphors have a negative ring when applied to personal relationships. They usually refer to problematic relationships, and when applied to healthy relations they may strike us as ‘cynical’ in that they appear to violate the ‘friendly’ nature of the relationship in question. In modern Anglo-American and European culture, there is a tension between economic paradigms and the notion that anything ‘personal’ is ‘not for sale,’ for that would be ‘pricing the invaluable.’

Psychological research suggests that in Anglo-American culture, merely activating the concept of money suffices to change interpersonal behavior. Test subjects primed with bank notes typically switch to an ‘every man for himself’-attitude: not only are they less helpful and generous towards others; they are also less inclined to ask for help from others.5 Representations of money trigger a sense of autonomy and self-sufficiency—revealing for the place of money in the conceptual architecture of modern Western culture: there seems to be a tension between other-regarding behavior or sentiments and the set of ideas and norms evoked by the concept of money.

At first sight, this tension between the conceptual domain of money and the domain of other-regarding sentiments seems to fit into a series of oppositions that figure prominently in Western ideologies of friendship and other relations. We tend to distinguish between instrumental relationships and elective affinities, and accordingly call some ‘formal’ and others ‘personal’: we think we enter some relations predominantly because of ulterior ends (with colleagues, doctors, cleaning ladies, up to the end of the scale where we may hesitate to speak of ‘relations’ at all, such as nameless shopkeepers), and enter other relations because we are committed to the unique and irreplaceable person that the other is (our friends, lovers and life-long partners).6 Correspondingly, we feel that within instrumental relationships it is acceptable to be overtly motivated by self-interest (we make deals to negotiate and harmonize our respective interests), whereas in other relations we are expected to be motivated by a regard for the interest of the other (we help friends and care for our loved ones because of them, not because of ourselves).7 We also tend to think that some relations revolve around objective obligations towards one another and others around subjective favors and the sincere intention to benefit the other: we ‘legally’ or ‘contractually’ owe a fee to doctors and cleaning ladies, whereas we ‘feel’ that we should help a friend in need.

These oppositions reflect categorizations that are good for us to work with. However, we need to be aware that these oppositions may not be universal or self-evident. When making cross-cultural comparisons between the ways people conceptualize relationships, most of these oppositions are not so much useful analytical tools, but rather are themselves objects of inquiry: under what circumstances are these oppositions created, in what contexts are they used, how are they manipulated?8

Each historical period with its own particular cultural circumstances produces a particular interpretation of personal relationships. This chapter addresses classical Greek conceptualizations of relationships that were formulated in response to the increasing monetization of the Athenian economy.9 I will argue that the monetization of the Mediterranean in the fifth century bce created the circumstances in Greek culture to articulate a realm of the personal that is irreducible to the commercial. The battleground for this process of redefining friendship is the concept of reciprocity: what types of reciprocal exchange constitute formal relations and under what circumstances does reciprocity provide the preconditions for informal relations such as friendship?

The Monetization of Greek Culture and the Coin of Friendship

Coinage was invented in Lydia (present-day Turkey) during the sixth century.10 During the last quarter of the sixth century, coinage spread from the colonies in the Aegean to the Greek mainland where it spread extraordinarily rapidly: by the beginning of the fifth century there were nearly one hundred mints operative on the mainland.11 From the mid-fifth century onwards we find signs of a thoroughly moneyed economy in Athens.12

The spread of coinage was intertwined with the evolution of retail trade.13 The early fifth century witnessed a revolutionary transformation of the Athenian economy, catalyzed by the spread of coinage that stimulated the processes of commodification, division of labor, rationalization of agriculture, the institution of paid labor, the monetization of politics and warfare, the development of credit systems and banking practice, and the simplification of retail trade.14 Within a short time span after its invention, coinage was used not as a specialist currency, but as a widespread form of money in everyday retail trade.15 In short, the Athenian economy underwent a transformation that can be described as a process of disembedding.16 Disembedded transactions are economic phenomena that are not embedded in social, religious and political relations.17 For instance, the instantaneous exchange of equivalent goods that takes place in a market economy (we would call these ‘commercial’) does not have repercussions for the social or political status of either partner, the relation between them or the religious order in which they participate: the transactors may have been strangers before the exchange and may revert to being so once they each have got what they wanted out of the transaction.

Although the exact mechanisms of causation are very complex (the spread of coinage being both an agent and an effect in the economic, social and political changes in Athens),18 to the fifth- and fourth-century Athenian, money was one of the most visible symptoms, and one of the most powerful symbols, of these rapid and pervasive changes in political and socio-economic life. Hence, the monetization of Athens not only affected the economy, but also had profound effects on intellectual life, popular culture and morality.19 In all segments of society, the rapid transformation of the economy catalyzed a cultural debate ranging from conservative reactions on increased social mobility,20 the ethical concern about the way coinage facilitates an unlimited desire for wealth,21 the metaphysical question to what extent money as a measure is capable of quantifying everything,22 to the more everyday concern with advancing commodification (‘is everything for sale?’; ‘can we value art, physical health, patriotism, and love in the same way as we can value shoes and cheese?’).23

The idea of money came to represent a cluster of concepts related to disembedded economic transactions and events. As such, monetization had implications for the conceptualization of friendship (philia, φιλία) in the Greek world.24

From the Dark Ages onwards, long-term interpersonal bonds had been predominantly conceived in terms of reciprocity.25 Events such as the return of favors and the exchange of benefits were believed to create lasting ties of gratitude and obligation. However, the increasing monetization of Greek society articulated a new notion of reciprocity that became increasingly prevalent in popular thought: the commercial transaction, i.e., the simultaneous exchange of equivalent goods that does not necessarily yield a lasting relationship between the participants. This disembedded type of exchange became potentially isomorphous with the reciprocal exchange of care, favors and gifts in the contexts of philia-relations. Hence, reciprocal exchanges became potentially ambivalent, allowing for multiple interpretations and yielding conflicting understandings of the relationships based on these.26

An example of an ambiguous exchange can be found in Xenophon’s Memorabilia,27 a collection of philosophical dialogues featuring the figure of Socrates, where Socrates is reproached by his colleague Antiphon for being stupid for not charging a fee:

On another occasion, when Antiphon was talking to Socrates, he said, “You know, Socrates, I think that you are an honest man, but not at all a wise one. And it seems to me that you realize this yourself; at any rate, you don’t charge anyone for your company. But if you thought that your cloak or your house or any other item of your property was worth money, so far from giving it away, you wouldn’t even accept a price lower than its value. So obviously, if you thought that your company was worth anything, you would charge a fee for it no less than its value. Therefore, honest you may be, since you don’t deceive with a view to your own advantage; but wise you cannot be, if your knowledge is worthless.”28

The discussion about the exchange in question, the notorious ‘Socratic conversation,’ serves to dramatize two conflicting world-views. Antiphon’s world is imbued with money, value monism,29 and commodification of education.30 Within this commercial framework that only allows for short-lived discrete transactions, goods are valued irrespective of the relationship in which they figure: education is a commodity.
This monetized model is contrasted with another world-view. Socrates points out that Antiphon’s commercial discourse is not the right framework for interpreting his conversations with friends:

To this Socrates replied: “In our society, Antiphon, the same rules with regard to what is creditable and what is not are thought to apply equally to the disposal of physical attractions and of wisdom. A man who sells his favors for a price to anyone who wants them is called a prostitute; but if anyone forms a love-attachment with someone whom he knows to be truly good, we regard him as perfectly respectable. In just the same way, those who sell wisdom at a price to anyone who wants it are called sophists; but if anyone, by imparting any edifying knowledge that he possesses, makes a friend of one whom he knows to be naturally gifted, we consider that he is behaving as a truly good citizen should behave. As for myself, Antiphon,…if I have anything good to teach [my friends], I teach it, and I introduce them to any others from whom I think they will get help in the quest for goodness. And in company with my friends, I open and read from beginning to end the books in which the wise men of past times have written down and bequeathed to us their treasures; and when we see anything good, we take it for ourselves; and we regard our mutual friendship as great gain.”31

In order to reframe the situation, Socrates uses the distinction between lovers and prostitutes as analogous to the distinction between ‘real teachers of wisdom’ and sophists. This analogy paves the way to the idea that friendship, beauty and wisdom have a distinct value structure, not based on a zero-sum model, but on election, and on the sharing of intrinsic goods arising out of a process of friends sharing virtues and sharing friends becoming virtuous. But the salient point is that in fourth-century literature one and the same exchange event (Socrates conversing with young Athenians) can be framed in two radically opposed ways, presenting us with a confrontation of two competing world-views. This reflects a ‘cultural fuss’32 caused by the transformation of the Athenian economy and by changes in the conceptual idiom available in Greek popular morality.

The Debtor Paradigm of Obligation

Just as often, we find the isomorphism between ‘commercial’ transactions and exchanges premised on philia-relationships being exploited for purposes of modeling. Especially in didactic contexts, the unambiguous terminology of banking and commerce may serve to articulate and objectify the more implicit and vague obligations within long-term philia-relationships, the stock example being the relationship between parents and children:33

…next, [after the shrines dedicated to the gods and ancestral deities] come honors paid to living parents. For to these duty enjoins that the debtor should pay back (apotinein, ἀποτίνειν) the first and greatest of debts (opheilêmata, ὀφειλήματα), the most primary of all dues (khreos, χρέος), and that he should acknowledge that all that he owns and has belongs to those who begot and reared him, so that he ought to give them service to the utmost of his power—with substance, with body, and with soul, all three—thus making returns (apotinein, ἀποτίνειν) for the loans (daneismata, δανείσματα) of care and pain spent on the children by those who suffered on their behalf in bygone years, and recompensing the old in their old age, when they need help most.34

In this text, the duty to respect one’s parents is motivated by the use of a cluster of monetary metaphors, according to a so-called Debtor Paradigm of Obligation. The child–parent bond is framed as a debtor–creditor relationship, in which parental care is reduced to a loan, while the filial obligation to care for one’s parents is formulated in terms of a debt and of ‘repaying what is owed.’35 The most binding of all family obligations is “expressed as a loan transaction, complete with security and repayment.”36

On the Debtor Paradigm, fulfilling obligations is a matter of settling accounts, and ethics becomes a matter of moral bookkeeping.37 The Debtor Paradigm provides a powerful tool to objectify moral concepts such as obligation, duty and guilt, as well as the very mechanisms of reciprocity, for it is capable of encapsulating a longer time frame: especially in cases where the time-span between original favor and the favor done in return (as in the case of parents and children) is extremely long, the Debtor Paradigm provides a transparent analogy that makes the moral connection between the two events evident.

This conceptualization of filial duty in terms of debts and repayment is common in our Athenian sources from the classical period38 and may strike us as self-evident, as in anthropological studies too, the mother–child bond is universally held to be a paradigm-case of ‘generalized reciprocity’:39 the mother suckling the babe, without any security as to a return, which may be expected only after a maximum span of time, i.e., at the end of her life, when she has again reached an age of dependence.40

However, this type of analysis of filial duty has also struck modern readers by its alleged “remarkable lack of any mention of love,” as it “reads painfully like a balance sheet.”41 In fourth-century Athens too, there appears to be a tension between the format of a balance sheet on the one hand and bonds of commitment on the other. The friction seems to be inherent to the Debtor Paradigm of Obligation itself: modeling reciprocal bonds in terms of debtor/creditor-relationships potentially yields paradoxes of perspective.

The fourth-century philosopher Aristotle is remarkably aware of this friction. When wondering why benefactors appear to be more committed to the people who benefit from them than vice versa, Aristotle notes:

Benefactors seem to manifest more commitment (mallon philein, μᾶλλον φιλεῖν)42 to their beneficiaries than receivers do for bestowers of benefits; and this is made a problem for investigation, as if it were an unreasonable thing to happen. Now to most people it appears that one party are debtors (opheilousi, ὀφείλουσι), the other creditors (opheiletai, ὀφείλεται); as in the case of a loan (epi tôn daneiôn, ἐπὶ τῶν δανείων), then, where debtors wish creditors not to exist, while those who made the loan even take care to ensure the safety of their debtors, so the view is that benefactors too wish the recipients to exist so that they can recoup the favours they have bestowed, while recipients do not give the same care to repaying them.43

Aristotle first develops an argument based on a model generally accepted (‘most people’), the Debtor Paradigm. According to this model, a benefaction is to be equated with a loan, the receivers to debtors, and the benefactors to creditors. Within a relationship on these terms, it is in the interest of the creditors that the debtors are preserved, whereas debtors may not be very keen on the existence of their creditors. But in the end, this model is dismissed by Aristotle:

Now Epicharmus might perhaps claim that those who say this say it because they are ‘observing from the bad side,’ but it seems human enough; for most people are forgetful, and aim more at receiving benefits than at bestowing them. But it would seem that the explanation lies, rather, in natural philosophy, and that the case of the lender does not even resemble this one; for with the lender there is no commitment (philêsis, φίλησις)44 involved, only wishing for the other’s preservation for the sake of what is to be got from him; by contrast those who have bestowed benefits feel committed to (philousi, φιλοῦσι) and appreciate (agapôsi, ἀγαπῶσι)45 the recipients even if the latter are of no use and will not become useful in the future.46

Although it is difficult to establish the precise meaning of Epicharmus’ saying,47 the expression seems to suggest that the Debtor Paradigm is one way of seeing things—the way most people see it—but that somehow fails to capture the truth or the whole truth about the logic of benefits. According to Aristotle, the analogy between a debt-relationship and benefaction fails, because the former does not involve attachment to a person, but only a concern with the debtor’s well-being for the sake of repayment, whereas the benefactor does feel committed to the beneficiary48 irrespective of ulterior utility—implying that within a Debtor Paradigm, that ultimately operates on the basis of utility, the elements of commitment (philêsis, philein) and appreciation (agapân) are excluded from the analysis.49

To put it briefly: Aristotle does acknowledge a formal isomorphism between a debt-relationship and the bond between benefactor and beneficiary—i.e., from a material point of view. But his analysis also reveals an awareness of another dimension, a dimension that appears to be inaccessible from this material point of view. Something gets lost in translation when we apply the Debtor Paradigm of Obligation. As is often noted, the debtor’s paradigm “works best for relatively formal obligations. It presents problems for informal and personal relationships.”50

This is begging the question: why is this paradigm problematic for informal and personal relationships? What defines these relationships as informal and personal? What constitutes the distinction between these two relationships, and how do agents construct the difference between formal and informal relationships, especially when these are, from a particular point of view, isomorphous?

Constructing the Informal

The first attempt to explicitly articulate such a distinction we find in Aristotle’s classification of relationships based on cooperative reciprocity (‘utility friendships’ in Aristotelian terminology), ranging from one-off commercial transactions to the extreme of generalized reciprocity as we see in the case of parent and child. Aristotle’s classification is based on degrees of, what we may term, ‘formality’:

Now it seems that, just as what is just is twofold, part of it being unwritten and part what accords with written law, so too friendship in terms of the useful falls into a type based on character and a type based on legal requirements…The legal type is the one that operates on stated terms (hê epi rhêtois, ἡ ἐπὶ ῥητοῖς), the wholly commercial sort (hê pampan agoraia, ἡ πάμπαν ἀγοραία) from hand to hand, the more cultivated sort over time, but still by agreement (kath’ homologian, καθ’ ὁμολογίαν) as to the question ‘What against what?’ With this type what is due (to opheilêma, τὸ ὀφείλημα) is clear and not for dispute, but in as far as it is based on friendship (philikon, φιλικόν) it will allow for postponement; hence the fact that in some places lawsuits to recover such debts are not allowed, the thought being that those who have made an exchange on the basis of trust (kata pistin, κατὰ πίστιν) should be committed.51

On the one extreme, according to Aristotle, there is the one-off cash transaction, classified under the friendship based on law: i.e., with legally backed, potentially contractual, transactions.52 The element of friendship increases as the one-off transaction develops into a debt-relation with an increasing deferral of payment, for this, according to Aristotle, presupposes trust: it requires a leap of faith, for it does not guarantee immediate compensation that the other will fulfill what is due. This is why some city-states refuse to formalize debt-relationships by legal backing: for that would demolish precisely this element of trust by rendering it obsolete.53

The less one formalizes obligations, the more important character becomes.54 The moment obligations cease to be legally enforceable, they become a matter of character and hence, according to this construction, moral. In other words: what from the point of view of an external observer may appear as ‘vagueness’—vagueness surrounding the assumption of a return of favor and its time-span—is constructed by the agents as a matter of moral quality and character.

The epitome of this ‘vagueness,’ or unpredictability of reciprocity, is of course, again, manifest in the relationship between parents and children. In Xenophon’s Memorabilia the mother is presented as a ‘super-philos,’ the paradigm case of philia, for:

The wife conceives and carries this burden, bearing the weight of it, risking her life and giving up a share of her own nourishment; and after all her trouble in carrying it for the full time and bringing it to birth, she feeds and cares for it, although the child has never done her any good and does not know who his benefactor is. He cannot even communicate what he wants; his mother’s attempts to supply what will be good for him and give him pleasure depend upon her powers of guessing. And she goes on rearing him for a long time, putting up with drudgery day and night, without knowing whether she will receive any gratitude (kharis, χάρις).55

The mother’s condition is explicitly constructed as a shot in the dark, an investment in an insecure future. A mother is an exemplary philos, not only due to the magnitude of her gift, but also to her taking the initiative, the fact that her generosity is not a mere reaction to a preceding gift or favor. Moreover, there are no expectations of return in the short run and the future of the relationship is on the whole insecure. In other words, mothers display risky exchange behavior.
This risk-taking is what constitutes the difference between a gift and prestations with legal backing—the latter being incompatible with ‘friendship proper’ (in Aristotelian terminology), as is also reflected in the pseudo-Aristotelian Problêmata: “where there is a debt (khreos, χρέος), there is no friend; for if a man is a friend, he does not lend (daneizei, δανείζει) but gives (didôsin, δίδωσιν).”56 Still, there is an expectation of return, says Aristotle, as if someone “has not given a gift but made a loan”—suggesting that, in order to qualify as a ‘friendly’ act, one is not allowed to have any expectations at all.57 Hence, the paradox of the gift:

For there to be a gift, there must be no reciprocity, return, exchange, countergift, debt. If the other gives me back or owes me or has to give me back what I give him or her, there will not have been a gift.58

If you are right, there is no point in any friendship; it all comes down to give and take, or give and return, which is disgusting.59

The only way of resolving this paradox is to admit that there are two co-existing perspectives on reciprocity: the perspective of the external observer for whom giving and lending are materially identical, as distinct from the perspective of the agents who experience ‘uncoerced and spontaneous’ behavior and who may even perceive altruistic motives in the other’s behavior. As David Konstan aptly formulates:

…the generosity of friends is imagined as uncoerced and spontaneous: instead of being motivated by a sense of debt, philoi are presumed to act out of an altruistic desire to be of benefit to each other.60

Méconnaissance

This fundamental discrepancy between the perception of participants and the perspective of an external observer according to Pierre Bourdieu revolves around the workings of time: agents construct reciprocity in time whereas an omniscient, omnipresent spectator ‘objectifies’ the phenomenon of reciprocity by detemporalizing its mechanics and turning reciprocity into a cycle of reversible practices.61 Excluding the element of time from the workings of reciprocity is to neglect the elements of improvisation and uncertainty that make the ‘social efficacy’ of gifts and to assume ‘objective’ rules of reciprocity.62 This collapses the difference between a gift, a loan and a swap: they all amount to the same when the unfolding of time is denied its meaning:

In every society it may be observed that, if it is not to constitute an insult, the counter-gift must be deferred and different, because the immediate return of an exactly identical object clearly amounts to a refusal. Thus gift exchange is opposed to swapping, which, like the theoretical model of the cycle of reciprocity, telescopes gift and counter-gift into the same instant. It is also opposed to lending, in which the return of the loan, explicitly guaranteed by a legal act, is in a sense already performed at the very moment when a contract is drawn up ensuring the predictability and calculability of the acts it prescribes.63

Here, we roughly recognize the distinctions between gift, loan-and-swap made by Aristotle. According to Bourdieu, it is time that prevents the reduction of the participants’ experience to the ‘objective’ truth constructed by the external observer—it is time that serves as ‘an instrument of denial’ for agents who are not entirely unaware of the truth, but must ‘refuse to know’ the objective truth of their exchanges, i.e., participants have to uphold ‘méconnaissance,’ a willing misrecognition of the objective mechanisms of exchange.64
This ‘denial’ or ‘misrecognition’ only holds as long as time is running. When the mechanisms of reciprocity are obstructed, philia breaks down and lapses back into a balance-sheet. A telling example can be found in Socrates’ conversation with his friend Aristarchus, who all of the sudden finds himself responsible for a great number of his fugitive female relatives, without having the means to provide them with care and sustenance. Socrates offers an implicit pathology of a disturbed reciprocal relationship:

As things are, I suppose, there is no commitment (phileis, φιλεῖς) lost between you: you feel that they are imposing upon you; they can see that you are annoyed with them; and consequently there is a danger that the ill-feeling will grow and the former gratitude (kharis, χάρις) decline.65

In a situation of poverty and lack of viable prospects, the normal mechanisms of reciprocal well-doing are blocked and gratitude and grace, kharis, disappear. This causes a shift in the way both parties perceive each other: they do not longer see the situation in terms of gratitude and grace. Aristarchus is no longer able to express commitment towards his female relatives, who see that this is the case; their former gratitude makes way for a sense of irritation. Socrates predicts that in the face of poverty, where there is no prospect of return of favors, exchanges will be reframed into less favorable terminology: favors (kharis) and commitment (philia) turn into material loss or damage, whereas gratitude turns into a sense of indebtedness that breeds annoyance.

As long as the turn-taking structure is not seriously disrupted, participants are capable of viewing kharis as an ongoing process that calls for continuous reinterpretation of mutual exchange acts. As long as exchanges are regarded as not completed, participants are capable of upholding méconnaissance: there is no balance sheet. However, in the absence of viable prospects, the temporal dynamics of exchange is put to a stop and the carefully sustained méconnaissance collapses. Previous exchanges are viewed as closed events and the calculating begins: obligations and expectations that hitherto remained implicit become, retrospectively, objectified—whereas in a healthy relationship, there is no such thing as a final bill, and partners silently agree on concealing the balance sheets and suspending settlement of accounts.

The remedy Socrates has to offer is equally lucid: Aristarchus should force a breakthrough in the situation by creating means of generating income. Aristarchus should borrow capital to make a start with a little wool-manufacturing workplace:

But if you encourage them to work, you will be committed to them (phileis, φιλεῖς), when you see that they are doing something for you, and they will appreciate you (agapêsousin, ἀγαπήσουσιν) when they realize that you are pleased with them (khaironta, χαίροντα); and as you both remember former acts of kindness with greater pleasure, you will increase the gratitude and grace (kharis, χάρις) aroused by these acts with the result that the relations between you will become more committed (philikôteron, φιλικώτερον) and intimate.66

Once everyone is back to work, relationships can be restored: because Aristarchus is back in a position in which he can benefit his relatives, and because these relatives finally have the opportunity to do something in return, there is an increase of overall gratitude and grace (kharis, χάρις): because the women are reciprocating with benefits, Aristarchus is able to feel committed (philein, φιλεῖν) towards them again. On the whole, commitment and the mutual sense of relatedness will be strengthened and sustained by positive emotions, because the change in situation allows for a more favorable perception.

Cultural Strategies of Demarcation

The subjective experience of a gift and the ‘objective’ detemporalized truth that each gift calls for a countergift cannot be reconciled in a monolithic model.67 The coexistence of these two ‘truths’ of reciprocal exchange can also be detected in the taboos in a culture: examples of transgressions of ‘the limits of the thinkable and unthinkable’—as in the character sketches of the fourth-century philosopher Theophrastus, who portrays several types of moral flaws.68 The Mistrustful Man, for instance, violates the distinction between ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ relationships in failing to trust his friends, by calling for legal backing and by precise quantification and calculation:

When people owe him money he takes the witnesses with him when he collects the interest, so they won’t be able to deny the debt…Whenever someone comes to him to borrow drinking cups he prefers not to give them at all, but if it is a relative or close friend he makes the loan only after practically testing their composition and weight, and nearly asking for someone to guarantee replacement costs.69

—whereas the Griper is flawed by his failure to acknowledge a favor by displaying gratitude:

If his friends get together a friendly loan for him, and someone says “Congratulations!” he says “Why? Because I’ve got to pay the money back to each of you, and be grateful besides, as if you’d done me a favor?”70

Both characters are flawed because in blatantly monitoring the terms of exchange, they fail to distinguish formal obligations from informal ones. Trust and gratitude both presuppose time: trust being prospective (taking a leap of faith into an insecure future), gratitude being retrospective (acknowledging an act of kindness and recognizing friendly actions as distinct from, e.g., commercial ones). As such, they are dispositions that are premised on méconnaissance, a willing misrecognition, a ‘denial’ and ‘repression’ of one of the two truths that constitute reciprocity.

This representation of lack of trust and gratitude as moral flaws indicates a large-scale cultural strategy to demarcate philia from other, seemingly isomorphous, reciprocities as, e.g., manifest on the market. It may be read as an attempt to immunize philia against total incorporation into a Debtor Paradigm of Obligation, by morally privileging philia-reciprocity over other exchanges. In the case of Aristotle, e.g., this strategy involves making the moral quality of a friendship dependent not only on performance but also on intentions and character; more in general, such ‘officialization’ strategies tend to produce a moralizing representation of philia-reciprocity as grounded in selfless generosity, as ‘putatively altruistic’ and ‘uncoerced and spontaneous.’ Hence, the egoism/altruism opposition, and the related moral opposition between utilitarian and selfless behavior, may be a mere product of a strategy designed to demarcate potentially isomorphous relationships.

Whereas reciprocal exchange is always potentially ambiguous between acts of compensation and manifestations of relatedness, in a society that is rapidly transforming these exchanges are even more ambivalent and underdetermined. One historical example, then, is the monetization of ancient Greek culture. The transformation of the Athenian economy produced, amongst other things, a distinction between ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ relationships.

In various sources, this distinction appears to be problematic as the potential isomorphism between formal and personal obligations provokes conceptual puzzles that are due to problems of perspective. An objectivist account, from the point of view of a timeless observer, will never be capable of encapsulating the subjective experience of reciprocity, in which time lapse facilitates the ‘denial’ of the material truth of exchange. Méconnaissance, the refusal to know, and the logic of improvisation prevent favors to discharge one another and relationships to be dissolved.

In the cultural context of classical Athens, the distinct modes of exchange were not solidified constructions yet. Hence, in our sources we find an awareness of the need to disambiguate between various modes of reciprocity. The taboos transgressed by Theophrastus’ flawed characters, the logical puzzles discussed by Aristotle, and the idealization of risk-taking and vagueness by Xenophon reveal a perceived need to forge a boundary between the two coexisting truths of exchange, i.e., to articulate a realm of the personal as opposed to the formal. As in the course of the fifth- and fourth century money proves to be a powerful tool for quantification, objectification and reductionism, making ‘the personal realm’ immune to formalization was tantamount to shaping ‘the personal’ as a matter of character and of subjective definition of a situation.

Therefore, some of the binary oppositions that are often held to be fundamental—such as the opposition between egoism and altruism, between instrumental relationships and elective affinities, between objective obligations and subjective favors—may better not be used without qualification for descriptive purposes. Rather, these oppositions themselves seem to originate in cultural processes that are concerned with disambiguating the different types of reciprocity that are culturally available. To use such distinctions is to take cultural strategies designed to forge a new difference at face value and to turn a blind eye to the cultural processes that produce these oppositions.

Bibliography

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1

I am grateful to Ineke Sluiter for feedback at various stages of this article; to Allan Silver, Hu Ying, Adam Sutcliffe, Albert Joosse and Gabriel Herman for stimulating discussion during the Leiden conference (2010); to Erik Bähre and Carla Risseeuw for inspiring conversations on this topic. Some points brought forward in this article have been discussed in Van Berkel “Pricing the Invaluable,” and in my dissertation (“The Economics of Friendship,” 2012).

2

In this chapter, ‘metaphor’ will be used in the sense of a conceptual metaphor, as defined by Lakoff and Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, 3–7. A conceptual metaphor is a cross-domain mapping in the conceptual system, i.e., the phenomenon of understanding one idea or conceptual domain in terms of another.

3

Lakoff, “The Contemporary Theory of Metaphor.” Metaphors function as framing devices, i.e., as ‘makers of meaning’ (Lakoff, The Language War, 47–48) and ‘structures of expectation’ (Tannen, “What’s in a Frame?," 21–22). Klamer and Leonard distinguish between ‘pedagogical,’ ‘heuristic,’ and ‘constitutive’ economic metaphors (see “So What’s an Economic Metaphor?," 31–42).

4

See Simmel (The Philosophy of Money) for a conception of money as both the means and the symbol of processes of atomization in modern society. See, for example, Lakoff and Johnson (Metaphors We Live By) on the ‘Time is Money’-metaphor; Gramm (“Economic Metaphors”) on the danger of (more technical) economic metaphors. Conversely, there is growing attention for the importance of metaphors in economic modeling (McCloskey, The Rhetoric of Economics).

5

Vohs, Mead, and Goode, “The Psychological Consequences of Money.”

6

Scanlon, What We Owe to Each Other; Wiseman, “Friendship.”

7

Kapur Badhwar, “Why It Is Wrong to Be Always Guided by the Best”; Hurka, “Value and Friendship.”

8

An example is the current pervasive ideological distinction between relations based on formal obligations and relations labeled ‘personal’ because they are supposedly based on a ‘subjective definition of the situation.’ As Silver has argued, this distinction is in an important sense a product of the development of commercial society during the Scottish Enlightenment (see “Friendship in Commercial Society”; “‘Two Different Sorts of Commerce.’”)

9

The ancient Greek ‘Classical Period’ is commonly defined as the fifth and fourth centuries bce, ranging roughly from the expulsion of the last tyrant in 510 bce to the death of Alexander the Great in 323 bce.

10

Unless otherwise indicated, all dates mentioned henceforth are bce. In this article, I define coinage as fiduciary coins, with an exchange value that exceeds the intrinsic value of the metal. I also intentionally equate money with coinage. There is a qualitative difference with pre-coin money, in that Lydian and Greek coinage were the first forms of all-purpose money (see Schaps, The Invention of Coinage; Seaford, Money and the Early Greek Mind).

11

The rapidity of this spread is most probably related to the development of the city-state, the polis, on the Greek mainland (see Reden, Exchange in Ancient Greece).

12

Kraay, “Hoards, Small Change, and the Origin of Coinage;” Reden, “Money, Law, and Exchange.”

13

Money does not necessarily imply trade, nor does it necessarily imply commodification (see Parry and Bloch, Money and the Morality of Exchange).

14

Division of labor: see Harris, “Workshop, Marketplace, and Household,” 88–99; Loomis, Wages, Welfare Costs, 155; rationalization of agriculture: Osborne, “Pride and Prejudice”; Schaps, The Invention of Coinage, 163–74; the institution of paid labor: Loomis, Welfare Costs and Inflation in Classical Athens; Schaps, Invention of Coinage, 150–62; monetization of politics and welfare: Schaps, Invention of Coinage, 124–49; development of credit systems and banking practice: Cohen, Athenian Economy and Society; Millett, Lending and Borrowing in Ancient Athens; Shipton, “The Private Banks in Fourth-Century bc Athens.”

15

This is supported by recent finds containing large numbers of fractional silver coins (1/10 gr.), from the first quarter of the fifth century (Kim, “Archaic Coinage”). Fractional silver coins behave differently from large-denomination coins: small coins tend to travel less far and are found in hoards only with similarly small coins. These archaic fractional coins were likely to be used in everyday transactions.

16

Shipton, “The Private Banks in Fourth-Century bc Athens.”

17

Polanyi, The Great Transformation, 46. For a warning against identifying money with trade, commodification and disembedded economy, see Reden, Exhange in Ancient Greece, 171–94.

18

Howgego, Ancient History from Coins, 16.

19

Seaford, Money and the Early Greek Mind.

20

Kurke, “Kapêleia and Deceit.”

21

E.g. Aristotle, Politics 1256b40; Aristophanes, Wealth, 189–97; Xenophon, On Ways and Meansiv.6–7.

22

E.g. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethicsix.i. (1164a1–2); Aristophanes, Peace 1201; cf. Seaford, Money and the Early Greek Mind, 283–91.

23

For example, see Aristophanes, Frogs 1368–1410; cf. Reden, Exchange in Ancient Greece, 114 on this scene. On money as a universal means, see Seaford, Money and the Early Greek Mind, 162–65.

24

This terminology signifies a long-term bond of mutual solidarity. In the specific cultural and social circumstances of classical Athens, this solidarity is manifested in mutually treating each other well: friends are supposed to help one another and to do good towards one another on a basis of mutuality that goes beyond the show of good intentions. Relations that allow for such a conceptualization in terms of give and take (parents and children, husband and wife, neighbors, lovers, mortals and gods, members of political factions) can be labeled philia-relations.

25

See Foxhall, “The Politics of Affection”; Herman, Ritualised Friendship and the Greek City; Konstan, Friendship in the Classical World, 53–92; Millett, Lending and Borrowing in Ancient Athens, 109–26.

26

The distinction between commodity and gift is not material but lies in a distinction in modes of exchange. The same object can be both gift and commodity, its meaning shifting with the ideology attached to the situation of exchange: see Appadurai, “Introduction”; Kopytoff, “The Cultural Biography of Things,” 64.

27

I argue this in more detail in Van Berkel, “Pricing the Invaluable.”

28

Xenophon, Memorabiliai.vi.11–12. All translations of Xenophon are by Tredennick and Waterfield (1990).

29

In Antiphon’s world-view, there is only one single standard of value to which everything can be reduced; the value of Socratic conversation can and should be expressed in terms of monetary currency. The term ‘value-monism’ is used to refer to ethical systems that recognize only one thing as having value in itself; other entities only have value by virtue of their reference to this single measure of value; see Anderson, Value in Ethics and Economics, 117.

30

Socrates’s company is characterized as a possession comparable to a cloak or a house; moreover, the very saleability of wisdom and virtue presupposed by Antiphon, serves as an indicator of commodity status. Commodities are commonly defined as entities that have use value and that can be exchanged in a discrete transaction for a counterpart that has, in the immediate context, an equivalent value; see Kopytoff, “The Cultural Biography of Things,” 68.

31

Xenophon, Memorabiliai.vi.13–14; trans. Tredennick and Waterfield.

32

I owe this terminology to Risseeuw, “On Family, Friendship and the Need for ‘Cultural Fuss.’”

33

In didactic and theoretical discourse, the parent–child relationship is, in turn, exploited as a model for philia. Cf. Xenophon, Memorabiliaii.ii where the mother–child bond is presented as exemplary for all philia-relationships.

34

Plato, Laws 717b–718a; trans. Bury.

35

Similar analyses of the parent–child relationship can be found elsewhere in Plato (Republic 538b–c; Laws 869a–c, 930–931a; Symposium 207a–209e) and in Aristotle (e.g. Nicomachean Ethicsviii.14 (1163b12–22); ix.2.8 (1165a22–24)).

36

Millett, Lending and Borrowing, 133.

37

Card, “Gratitude and Obligation,” 115, for a distinction between a ‘debtor’s paradigm’ and a ‘trustee’s paradigm’ of obligation.

38

Millett, Lending and Borrowing, 133–34.

39

Sahlins, Stone Age Economics, 193–94.

40

This construction cannot be taken for granted. In a study on the Dutch welfare state, it is observed that the recent retreat of the welfare state is premised on the existence of family ties that guarantee the care of the elderly. However, in the Netherlands, these ties are not operative to that extent: due to all sorts of culturally specific causes, the notion of reciprocity of care between parents and children is very weak. Dutch parents are supposed to endow their children with absolute freedom when they reach adulthood and move out of the parental house. Dutch parents usually feel very inhibited in asking their children for assistance: they ‘do not want to be nuisance,’ or impede their children’s absolute freedom (Risseeuw, Palriwala, and Ganesh, Care, Culture, and Citizenship, esp. Chapters 3 and 4).

41

Stevenson, “The Ideal Benefactor,” 428.

42

The first line of the translation is adapted to render the semantics of the verb philein more accurately. The phrase mallon philein is commonly translated as ‘to have more love,’ or ‘to love more.’ However, the verb philein (φιλεῖν), although compatible with philoi having warm emotions, does not in itself refer to an emotional disposition comparable to modern English ‘loving.’ The verb primarily expresses that the subject is related to something or someone, with senses ranging from a vague ‘belonging to,’ to a stronger sense of ‘being/feeling committed to,’ ‘showing loyalty’ or ‘depending on.’

43

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethicsix.7, 1167b17–24. All translations of Aristotle are by Broadie and Rowe (2002).

44

Aristotle defines philia (φιλία, noun) as a bond of mutual philein (φιλεῖν, verb) of two partners who are aware of each other’s philêsis (φίλησις, nominalized verb).

45

Whereas philein (φιλεῖν) is a verb that signifies the level of commitment the subject feels towards a philos (φίλος), agapân (ἀγαπᾶν) is rather an evaluative verb indicating a subject’s positive response (‘appreciation’) of a person, thing or situation, ranging from ‘to value,’ ‘to appreciate’ to ‘to be pleased with’: Schmidt, Synonymik der griechischen Sprache, 485; Cope and Sandys, The Rhetoric of Aristotle, 296.

46

Nicomachean Ethicsix.7, 1167b24–32.

47

See the discussion in Pakaluk’s commentary in Nicomachean Ethics Book viii and ix, 184. The main problem is that without the original context, it is impossible to establish the meaning of ‘from the bad side.’ The interpretations suggested by Pakaluk are: (1) ‘from a bad point of view,’ i.e., like a bad seat at the theatre that prevents one from seeing what is actually going on; (2) ‘at the bad side of things,’ i.e., with neglect of the good in what is to be seen on the stage. Pakaluk thinks (1) is most likely the correct reading.

48

In the passage that immediately follows this quotation, Aristotle proposes an alternative model to analyze the benefactor–beneficiary-relationship, based on an analogy with the craftsman–product-relationship: the ‘creating’ and ‘giving’ side of the analogy is actualizing its potential in the creating and giving.

49

Note that at this point, Aristotle only mentions philêsis and philein from the point of view of the benefactor/giver. Another objection frequently formulated against the Debtor’s Paradigm is that it fails to explain and take in positive dispositions and emotions from the side of the receiver, such as gratitude: Card, “Gratitude and Obligation,” 118.

50

Ibid., 116.

51

Nicomachean Ethicsviii.13, 1162b22–31.

52

Here, Aristotle is extending the range of philia to encompass all types of exchanges (‘utility friendships’ in his vocabulary). Modern readers as well as Aristotle’s contemporaries would not be inclined to categorize these one-off transactions (bonds between ‘neutral strangers’ in Adam Smith’s terminology) as ‘friendships.’ See Silver, “Friendship in Commercial Society,” 1479–85.

53

Historically, we know that the colony Locri in Italy did not regulate credit in law.

54

See Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethicsviii.13, 1162b31.

55

Xenophon,, Memorabiliaii.2.5–6; emphasis added.

56

Pseudo-Aristotle, Problems 950a40.

57

Cf. Aristotle’s definition of kharis (mutual generosity, hence including gratitude) as “a service to one who needs it, not in return for anything, nor so that the one who performs the service may gain something, but so that the other may” (Rhetoricii.vii).

58

Derrida, “The Time of the King,” 128.

59

Forster, A Passage to India, 254.

60

Konstan, Friendship in the Classical World, 82; emphasis added. The same point is already implicit in Sahlins’s definition of ‘generalized reciprocity’ as ‘putatively altruistic’ (Stone Age Economics, 193).

61

Bourdieu, The Logic of Practice, 105.

62

“The most ordinary and even the seemingly most routine exchanges of ordinary life, like the ‘little gifts’ that ‘bind friendship,’ presuppose an improvisation, and therefore a constant uncertainty, which, as we say, make all their charm, and hence all their social efficacy” (ibid., 99).

63

Ibid., 105.

64

Ibid., 6.

65

Xenophon, Memorabiliaii.7.9.

66

Ibid., ii.vii.9.5.

67

Cf. Bourdieu [1980] (1990) 107: “It is the curse of objectivism that, here as in all cases where it confronts collective belief, it can only establish, with great difficulty, truths that are not so much unknown as repressed; and that it cannot include, in the model it produces to account for practice, the individual or collective, private or official, subjective illusion against which it has had to win its truth, in other words the illusio, belief, and the conditions of production and functioning of this collective denial.”

68

Bourdieu, The Logic of Practice, 108.

69

Theophrastus, Characters 18.5–7.

70

Ibid., 17.9.