When I was a kid, I had a feeling that money was not that important, but the majority of people around me kept saying the opposite. So I thought that I just did not understand them. Now that I have grown up, have a career of my own, have a family of my own, and understand the world much better, the feeling remains within me. I still struggle with the question why do people see money as an element of life rather than a tool to support life.

This feeling of mine keeps coming back when I see any of the following:

  • People do their work just for the money.
  • People who work in the education or medical areas that help others to improve or even save life do not earn nearly as much as others who work in e-commerce.
  • Women in professional work areas seem to have lower value because they can get pregnant and give live to the new generations that will support our lives in the future.
  • Companies on stock markets only focus on financial growth to keep stakeholders happy while this can mean that the ways to reach that financial growth are harmful or even dangerous for human life.

Based on my search to understand more of how people perceive money, I have found that:

  • People use money as the unit of measure of commodity value.
  • People use money as the data to keep track of who created value and who is due value in a monetary system.
  • People use money as storage to save value.

In these definitions I cannot really see the reflection of value of life. So it seems to me that people often only value commodity/products/belongings, and they do not put explicit value on life or the quality of life. But the way our society thinks is by having a higher value of income/saving our quality of life is higher. This does not sound right at all.

My gut says that we are missing something here as a human race. We miss the tool to measure the value of human life. So we need to create a measurement tool to measure the value of life and the quality of life. Money needs to have more visible dimensions. The number on money should not be the only thing that reflects value.

But I am not sure how to do this. So any thought?

  • I made some edits mainly to format as I suspect you intended. You may roll these back or continue editing. You can see the versions by clicking on the "edited" link above. I agree with your assessment of money. This may get closed because it lacks a specific question and may lead others to primarily provide a personal opinion. If that is the case try again, perhaps focusing on a philosopher who has similar views to those you have. Welcome to this SE! Commented Sep 23, 2018 at 13:01
  • Are you talking about how things are, or about how things should be? Because if we are talking about how things are, then it is not true that money is a "tool to support life"; rather our lives are tools to support money and its reproduction... Commented Sep 23, 2018 at 13:40
  • One must be very materialistic to value money / things above the quality of human life (which is itself interrelated with other lifeforms and with the general environment which is our shared natural habitat). Personalism plato.stanford.edu/entries/personalism/#HumBeiAniNat thus arose as a reaction to impersonalist modes of thought which were perceived as dehumanizing. The impersonal dynamic of modern pantheism and monism in both their rationalistic and Romantic forms underlie many of the modern philosophies that personalism turns against, idealistic as well as materialistic.
    – Bread
    Commented Sep 23, 2018 at 13:43
  • (Quoting again from the article on Personalism): Only persons can give love and only persons can receive love. In other words, "money can't buy me love". Yet materialistic attitudes suggest otherwise. Also, Love as a bestowal of value: plato.stanford.edu/entries/love/#LoveBestValu In other words, what we love most is what we value most.
    – Bread
    Commented Sep 23, 2018 at 13:59
  • While personally I'd agree with your assertions here, this unfortunately isn't the place to discuss such topic, at least not in the way you present it, as it is "primarily opinion-based" (one of the few must-not rules of the SE). You'll need to rephrase the question to present a more objective view that may be answered objectively. The other choice is that the question would unfortunately be closed. Commented Sep 23, 2018 at 14:51

4 Answers 4


"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." Neoliberal ideologies consider that the economic dimension is the simple answer to all questions, with decisions pending on a number, usually measured in dollars. But value is not price and Karl Polanyi in his Great Transformation (1944) launched The Formalist vs Substantivist debate. A recent development has came to be known as the (sub) discipline of Economic anthropology. David Graeber has made a notable contribution with his 2001 book Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of Our Own Dreams (NY: Palgrave). Many of his popular essays forcefully demonstrate that value is indeed a multidimensional social construct. The bottom line is that societies produce people, not goods.

See e.g. Graeber D. (2013), It is value that brings universes into being Hau: J. of Ethnographic Theory, 3 (2): 219–43

The value of “values” in contrast lies precisely in their lack of equivalence; they are seen as unique, crystallized forms. They cannot or should not be converted into money. Nor can they be precisely compared with one another. p.224


Actually money is a promise of future labor that we produce and exchange in a consensus.

The engineering of this consensus has been the real condition of human development.

  • I made an edit which you may roll back or continue editing. You can see the versions by clicking on the "edited" link. If you have a reference where this idea is discussed in more detail it would strengthen your answer and give the reader a place to go for more information. Welcome to this SE! Commented Sep 23, 2018 at 23:19
  • This answer is very much predicated from within a Marxist paradigm. Consider for instance whether it would be true if by some miracle everybody had a positive bank balance. Its not wrong, just not all of the truth.
    – christo183
    Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 11:59
  • Actually there is a fundamental opposition between communism that exploit human value and financial environment that exploit property. The first never managed to build an efficient technology to store the value (maybe soon with pashaa.co) and the second managed to build legal consensus to build the capitalism. But the theory is right. There no other real substance of money : promise of future work asking for money (money is an engine)
    – Nova Lova
    Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 14:58

First of all, for measures of credit that are easily transferable between individuals, such as money, it is hard to avoid exchange rates between them materializing. Once such exchange rates have been established, it no longer matters which of these measures is used (say, USD).

But there are measures that are not (completely/easily) transferable. One is reputation, which is obviously something that people care about. Similarly, some goods cannot be traded and therefore don't have a market price -- for example, a parent spending an hour playing with his or her child. (It's possible to hire someone else to do that, but that's not the exact same thing.)

It is often acknowledged, including by economists, that (say) GDP is an imperfect measure of prosperity. Its advantage, of course, is that it is (relatively) easy to measure and interpret.


From my US perspective, money is useful in increasing the quality of life, but it's vital for security. If I can't afford health insurance, I'm in real trouble if I get a serious medical condition. If I lose my job (and I've been laid off and had contracts terminate), having extra money is very important in keeping up the basic lifestyle. It's important to keep up the basic lifestyle after retirement. It would be very interesting to see whether people in countries with universal medical care and stronger social safety nets have the same concern about money.

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