Reflections on the Ontology of Money


  • Uskali Mäki University of Helsinki & Nankai University


money, currency, causal powers, institutions, institutional fact, convention, realism, existence, social ontology, Searle


The suggestions outlined here include the following. Money is a bundle of institutionally sustained causal powers. Money is an institutional universal instantiated in generic currencies and particular money tokens. John Searle’s account of institutional facts is not helpful for understanding the nature of money as an institution (while it may help to illuminate aspects of the nature of currencies and money particulars). The money universal is not a social convention in David Lewis’s sense (while currencies and money particulars are characterized by high degrees of conventionality). The existence of the money universal is dependent on a larger institutional structure and cannot be understood in terms of collective belief or acceptance or agreement separately focusing on money. These claims have important implications for realism about money.


Aglietta, M. 2002. “Whence and Whither Money?” In The Future of Money, 31–72. Paris: OECD Publications.

Armstrong, D. M. 1978. Universals and Scientific Realism, Vol. I. Nominalism and Realism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Frankel, S. H. 1977. Two Philosophies of Money. The Conflict of Trust and Authority. Oxford: Basll Blackwell.

Frasser, C. and G. Guzmán. 2020. “What Do We Call Money? an Appraisal of the Money or Non-money View.” Journal of Institutional Economics 16: 25–40,

Guala, F. 2010. “Infallibilism and Human Kinds.” Philosophy of the Social Sciences 40 (2): 244–64,

Guala, F. 2016. Understanding Institutions. The Science and Philosophy of Living Together. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Harré, R. and E. H. Madden. 1975. Causal Powers. Oxford: Basll Blackwell.

Hayek, F. A. 1948. Individualism and Economic Order. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hicks, J. 1989. A Market Theory of Money. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Hindriks, F. 2003. “The New Role of the Constitutive Rule.” The American Journal of Economics and Sociology 62: 185–208,

Hindriks, F. 2009. “Constitutive Rules, Language, and Ontology.” Erkenntnis 71 (2): 253–75,

Lewis, D. 1969. Convention. Oxford: Blackwell.

Mäki, U. 1990. “Mengerian Economics in Realist Perspective.” History of Political Economy 22: 289–310.

Mäki, U. 1997. “Universals and the Methodenstreit: A Reexamination of Carl Menger’s Conception of Economics as an Exact Science.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 28: 475–95,

Mäki, U., eds. 2001. The Economic World View. Studies in the Ontology of Economics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mäki, U. 2002. “Some Non-reasons for Non-realism about Economics.” In Fact and Fiction in Economics. Realism, Models, and Social Construction, edited by U. Mäki, 90–104. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mäki, U. 2005. “Reglobalising Realism by Going Local, or (How) Should Our Formulations of Scientific Realism be Informed about the Sciences?” Erkenntnis 63: 231–51,

Mäki, U. 2008. “Scientific Realism and Ontology.” In The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics. 2nd ed. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Mäki, U. 2009. Reflections on the Ontology of Money. unpublished paper, archived at

Mäki, U. 2012. “Realism and Antirealism about Economics.” In Handbook of the Philosophy of Economics, edited by U. Mäki, 3–24. Elsevier.

Mäki, U. 2013. “Performativity: Saving Austin from Mackenzie.” In Recent Progress in Philosophy of Science: Perspectives and Foundational Problems, edited by K. Vassilios, and D. Dennis, 443–53. Dordrecht: Springer.

Menger, C. 1892. “On the Origin of Money.” Economic Journal 2: 239–55,

Newlyn, W. T. 1962. Theory of Money. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Ruben, D.-H. 1989. “Realism and the Social Sciences.” In Dismantling Truth. Reality in the Post-Modern World, edited by H. Lawson and L. Appignanesi, 58–75. London: Weidenfield and Nicolson.

Searle, J. 1969. Speech Acts. An Essay in the Philosophy of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Searle, J. 1995. The Construction of Social Reality. New York: Free Press.

Searle, J. 2005. “What Is an Institution?” Journal of Institutional Economics 1: 1–22,

Searle, J. R. 2010. Making the Social World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Searle, J. R. 2017. “Money: Ontology and Deception.” Cambridge Journal of Economics 41: 1453–70,

Tieffenbach, E. 2010. “Searle and Menger on Money.” Philosophy of the Social Sciences 40 (2): 191–212,




How to Cite

Mäki, Uskali. 2022. “Reflections on the Ontology of Money”. Journal of Social Ontology 6 (2). Vienna, Austria:245-63.



Symposium on Money, Edited by Frank Hindriks and Joakim Sandberg