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The Metaphysics of Economic Exchanges

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Massin Olivier, Tieffenbach Emma,
Project The Nature and Value of Efforts
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Journal of Social Ontology
Volume (Issue) 3(2)
Page(s) 167 - 205
Title of proceedings Journal of Social Ontology
DOI 10.1515/jso-2015-0057

Open Access

Type of Open Access Publisher (Gold Open Access)


What are economic exchanges? The received view has it that exchanges are mutual transfers of goods motivated by inverse valuations thereof. As a corollary, the standard approach treats exchanges of services as a subspecies of exchanges of goods. We raise two objections against this standard approach. First, it is incom- plete, as it fails to take into account, among other things, the offers and acceptances that lie at the core of even the simplest cases of exchanges. Second, it ultimately fails to generalize to exchanges of services, in which neither inverse preferences nor mutual transfers hold true. We propose an alternative definition of exchanges, which treats exchanges of goods as a special case of exchanges of services and which builds in offers and acceptances. According to this theory: (i) The valuations motivating exchanges are propositional and convergent rather than objectual and inverse; (ii) All exchanges of goods involve exchanges of services/actions, but not the reverse; (iii) Offers and acceptances, together with the contractual obligations and claims they bring about, lie at the heart of all cases of exchange.