Front Page Titles (by Subject) chapter xiv: Of the Price and Value of Things - The Whole Duty of Man According to the Law of Nature
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
chapter xiv: Of the Price and Value of Things - Samuel von Pufendorf, The Whole Duty of Man According to the Law of Nature 
The Whole Duty of Man According to the Law of Nature, trans. Andrew Tooke, ed. Ian Hunter and David Saunders, with Two Discourses and a Commentary by Jean Barbeyrac, trans. David Saunders (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2003).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Of the Price and Value of Things
I.Price. L. N. N. l. 5. c. 1. §1.After Property was introduced into the World, all Things not being of the same Nature, nor affording the same Help to Human Necessities; and every Man not being sufficiently provided with such Things as were necessary for his Use and Service, it was early brought into Practice among Men to make mutual Exchanges of one Thing for another. But because it very often happened, that Things of a different Nature and Use were to be transferred; lest either Party should be a Loser by such Exchanging, it was necessary, by a common Agreement or Consent among themselves, to assign to Things a certain Quantity or Standard, by which those Things might be compar’d and reduced to a Balance between each other. The same also obtained as to Actions, which it was not thought good should be done gratis by one Man for another. And this Quantity or Standard is that which we call Price or Value.
II.Price twofold. L. N. N. l. 5. c. 1. §3.This Price is divided into Common and Eminent; The First is in Things or Actions which come within the compass of ordinary Commerce, according as they afford either Usefulness or Delight to Mankind. But the other is in Money, as it virtually contains the Value of all Things and Works, and is understood to give them their common Estimate.
III.Common Value. L. N. N. l. 5. c. 1. §4.The natural Ground of the Common Value,* is that †Fitness which any Thing or Action has for supplying, either mediately or immediately, the Necessities of Human Life, and rendring the same more easie or more comfortable. Hence it is we call those Things which are not of any Use to us, Things of no Value. There are nevertheless some Things most useful to Human Life, which are not understood to fall under any determinate Price or Value; either because they are or ought to be exempted from Dominion and Property, or because they are not capable of being exchanged, and therefore cannot be traded for; or else, because in Commerce they are not otherwise regarded than as Appendages to be supposed of course to belong to another Thing. Besides also, when the Law of God or Man places some Actions above the Reach of Commerce, or forbids that they should be done for a Reward, it is to be understood that the same Laws have set them without the Bounds of Price or Valuation. Thus the Upper Regions of the Air, the Sky, and the Heavenly Bodies, and even the vast Ocean are exempt from Human Property, so that no Rate or Value can be put upon them. So there is no Rate or Price to be set upon a Freeman, because Freemen come not within the Compass of Commerce. Thus, the Lying open to the Sun, a clear and wholesome Air, a pleasant Prospect to the Eye, the Winds, Shades, and the like, consider’d separately in themselves, bear no Price, because they cannot be enjoy’d and purchas’d separately from the Lands they belong to; but yet of what Moment they are in raising the Value of Lands and Tenements to be purchas’d, no Man is ignorant. So likewise ’tis unlawful to set any Rate or Price on Sacred Actions, to which any moral Effect is assign’d by Divine Institution; which Crime is call’d Simony. And it is great Wickedness in a Judge to expose Justice to Sale.
IV.Inhansing or Debasing a Price. L. N. N. l. 5. c. 1. §6.Now there are various Reasons, why the Price of one and the same Thing should be increas’d or diminish’d, and why one Thing should be preferr’d before another, though it may seem to be of equal or greater Use to Human Life. For here the Necessity of the Thing, or its extraordinary Usefulness, is not always regarded; but, on the contrary, we see those Things are of the least Account or Value, without which Human Life is least able to subsist; and therefore, not without the singular Providence of Almighty God, Nature has been very bountiful in providing plentiful Store of those Things. But the Rarity or Scarceness of Things conduces chiefly to the inhansing their Value; which is the more look’d upon, when they are brought from remote Countries. And hence the wanton Luxury of Mankind has set extravagant Rates upon many Things which Human Life might very well be without; for Instance, upon Pearls and Jewels. But the Prices of Things, which are of daily Use, are then chiefly rais’d when the Scarcity is join’d with the Necessity or Want of them. The Prices of Artificial Things, besides their Scarceness, are for the most Part inhans’d by the ingenious Contrivance and Curiosity of Art, that is seen in them, and sometimes by the Fame and Renown of the Artificer, the Difficulty of the Work, the Want of Artists in that Way, and the like. The Prices of Works and Actions are rais’d by their Difficulty, Neatness, Usefulness, Necessity, by the Scarcity, Dignity, and Ingenuity of the Authors of them; and lastly, by the Esteem and Reputation which that Art has gotten in the World. The Contrary to these are wont to diminish the Price of Things. Sometimes again, there may be some certain Thing, which is not generally much esteem’d, but only by some particular Persons, out of a peculiar Inclination; for Example, because he, from whom we had it, is mightily belov’d by us, and that it was given as a Token of his particular Affection to us; or because we have been accustom’d thereto, or because it is a Remembrancer of some remarkable Accident, or because by the Help thereof, we have escap’d any extraordinary Danger, or because the Thing was made by Our selves. And this is called The Estimate of singular Affection.
V.Particular Prices Legal. L. N. N. l. 5. c. 1. §8.But there are other Circumstances likewise to be consider’d in stating the Rates and Prices of particular Things. And among those indeed, who live in a Natural Independance on any other, the Prices of particular Things are determin’d no otherwise, than by the Will of the Persons contracting; since they are intirely at their own Liberty to make over or to purchase what they please, nor can they be controlled in their Dealings by any superior Authority. But in States and Governments the Prices of Things are determin’d two several Ways: The First is by an Order from the Magistrate, or some particular Law; the Second is by the common Estimate and Judgment of Men, or according as the Market goes, together with the Consent and Agreement of those who contract among themselves. The former of these by some is call’d the Legal, the other the Vulgar Price. Where the Legal Rate is fix’d for the sake of the Buyers, as it is for the most part, there it is not lawful for the Sellers to exact more; though they are not forbidden, if they will, to take less. So where the Rate of any Labour or Work is tax’d by the Publick Magistrate for the sake of those who have Occasion to hire, it is not lawful for the Workman to demand more, though he be not prohibited to take less.
VI.Vulgar Price. L. N. N. l. 5. c. 1. §9.But the Vulgar Price, which is not fix’d by the Laws, admits of a certain Latitude, within the Compass whereof more or less may be, and often is, either taken or given, according to the Agreement of the Persons dealing; which yet for the most part, goes according to the Custom of the Market. Where commonly there is Regard had to the Trouble and Charges which the Tradesmen generally are at, in the bringing home and managing their Commodities, and also after what manner they are bought or sold, whether by Wholesale or Retail. Sometimes also on a sudden the Common Price is alter’d by reason of the Plenty or Scarcity of Buyers, Money, or the Commodity. For the Scarcity of Buyers and of Money, (which on any particular Account may happen) and the Plenty of the Commodity, may be a Means of diminishing the Price thereof. On the other hand, the Plenty of Buyers and of Money, and the Scarcity of the Commodity, inhanses the same. Thus as the Value of a Commodity is lessen’d, if it wants a Buyer, so the Price is augmented when the Possessor is solicited to sell what otherwise he would not have parted with. Lastly, it is likewise to be regarded, whether the Person offers ready Money, or desires Time for Payment; for Allowance of Time is Part of the Price.
VII.Price eminent. L. N. N. l. 5. c. 1. §12.But after Mankind degenerated from their primitive Simplicity, and introduced into the World several kinds of Gaining, it was easily discern’d, that that Common and Vulgar Price was not sufficient for the dispatching the Business of Men, and for the carrying on of Commerce, which then daily increas’d. For at first all Kind of Trading consisted only in Exchanging and Bartering, and the Labours of others could no otherwise be valued than by Work for Work, or some Thing given in Hand for Recompence. But after Men began to desire so many several Things for Convenience or Pleasure, it was not easie for every one to become Master of That which another would be willing to take in Exchange, or which might be of equal Value to the Things he wanted from him. And in civiliz’d States or Societies, where the Inhabitants are distinguish’d into several Stations, there is an absolute Necessity there should be different Degrees and Sorts of Men, which, if that simple and plain Way of bartering of Things and Works had been still in Use, could not, or at least, not without great Difficulty, support themselves. Hence most Nations, which were pleased with a more sumptuous Way of Living, thought fit, by Publick Consent, to set an Eminent Price or Value upon some Certain Thing, whereby the Common and Vulgar Prices of other Things should be measured, and wherein the same should be virtually contain’d. So that by Means of this Thing, any one may purchase to himself whatsoever is to be sold, and easily manage and carry on any Kind of Traffick and Bargain.
VIII.Gold, Silver, &c. L. N. N. l. 5. c. 1. §13.For this purpose, most Nations chose to make use of the nobler Kind of Metals, and such as were not very Common; because these being of a very compacted Substance, they cannot easily be worn out, and admit of being divided into many minute Parts; nor are they less proper to be kept and handled; and for the Rarity of ’em are equivalent to many other Things. Altho’ sometimes for Necessity, and by some Nations for Want of Metals, other Things have been made Use of instead of Money.
IX.Coin. L. N. N. l. 5. c. 1. §14.Moreover, in Communities, it is only in the Power of the Chief Magistrates46 to assign the Value of Money; and thence Publick Stamps are wont to be put upon them. Nevertheless, in the assigning thereof, respect is to be had to the Common Estimate of the Neighbouring Nations, or of those with whom we have any Traffick or Commerce. For otherwise, if the State should set too high a Value on their Money, or if they should not give it a just and true Alloy, all Commerce with Foreign Nations, which could not be carried on by Exchange or Barter alone, would be at a Stand. And for this very Reason, the Value of Money is not rashly to be alter’d, unless a very great Necessity of State require it. Tho’ as Gold and Silver grow more plentiful, the Value of Money, in Comparison to the Price of Land, and Things thereon depending, is wont, as it were insensibly and of its self, to grow lower.
[*] See Grotius de Jure Belli & Pacis, l. 2. c. 12. §14.
[†] Our Author here gives an imperfect Account of the proper and intrinsick Value of Things. For Things capable of Valuation or Price, ought not only to be of some Use and Service to human Life, if not really, yet at least in the Opinion and Fancy of those who desire them; but also they ought to be of such a Nature, as not to be sufficient for the Occasions and Demands of every one. The more any Thing is useful or scarce, in this Sense, the greater is its intrinsick Price or Value. Nothing can be more useful to human Life than Water, yet it never bears any Price or Value, unless in such Places, or under such Circumstances, as make it not sufficient for every one’s Use, or difficult to be come at. [Barbeyrac’s III. 1, p. p. 193–94.]
[46.]In Pufendorf’s Latin this occurs in the “state” (civitas), not “Communities,” at the direction of the “sovereign” (summus imperator) rather than the “Chief Magistrates.”