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Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy


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Philosophers today do not think of Goethe’s Faust as an important contribution to the philosophy of money. But to discount the work in this way is a mistake, I argue. Underneath Faust’s lyrical form, Goethe develops a comprehensive view of money that came to be an important influence on left-wing (Karl Marx) and right-wing (Oswald Spengler) discussions of money. Centrally, Goethe argues that modern economic practices have transformed money obsession (long conceived of primarily as an individual vice) into a structural problem: social structures are now set up to systematically require individuals to engage in quasi-obsessive behaviors towards money (e.g. persistently talking about/sacrificing for money) independently, to a significant degree, from their individual choices. This structural power, Goethe proposes, requires a rethinking of how behavior towards money should be morally evaluated – and, importantly, a critique of moral attitudes that individualize what is, in truth, a social problem.


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