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Bitcoin Versus Aristotelian Intrinsic Value

Bitcoin Versus Aristotelian Intrinsic Value

Invoking Aristotle, Max Keiser published an article arguing that Bitcoin has an intrinsic value in its privacy.[1] According to that article, Bitcoin versus Aristotelian intrinsic value is a match.

Bitcoin Versus Aristotelian Intrinsic Value: A Mismatch

In Aristotle’s work, intrinsic value specifies any value an object has independently of being money. So its intrinsic value results from its useful properties as a commodity (rather than as money). However, Bitcoin is useful only as money. Then, apparently Max Keiser’s argument would be wrong. For not being useful as a commodity, Bitcoin has no intrinsic value.

Bitcoin Versus Aristotelian Intrinsic Value: A Match

However, there is a situation in which all money becomes a commodity. That situation is its exchange for a different form of money. Whenever bought or sold, money becomes a commodity.

Transacting Versus Transacted Money

For us to buy or sell a monetary object, that object must remain its mere possibility of being money: actual money can only play the active role — as the buying object — in any transaction, and never its passive role — as the bought or sold object. It must be a mere possibility to play this last role. Then, because money always belongs either in an actual or just possible transaction, we must call it when actual or active, transacting money, and when merely possible or passive, transacted money.

As thus, whenever transacted, money becomes a commodity.

So as actual, transacting money, Bitcoin has no intrinsic value. However, as just possible, transacted money, it does have an intrinsic value. This is because, whenever bought or sold, Bitcoin’s intrinsic monetary properties become its commodity properties.

Therefore, if Bitcoin became the only currency of the world, its intrinsic value would vanish. With no other currency to buy it and for which to sell itself, Bitcoin no longer could be a commodity. It only could be actual money. Bitcoin’s intrinsic value depends on its being able to compete with other currencies (as a transacted, bought or sold commodity).

Privacy as Bitcoin’s Intrinsic Value

Still, privacy does not itself constitute an intrinsic value of Bitcoin:

  • There is a difference between transaction privacy and public-key privacy.
  • There is a difference between exchange value depending on and being itself whichever utilities or properties.

The privacy of Bitcoin transactions depends on Bitcoin’s public-key privacy, which is one of its properties. Likewise, its intrinsic value possibly depends on its allowing transaction privacy, which is one of its utilities. Public-key privacy, by making transaction privacy possible, allows us to give Bitcoin its intrinsic value as a bought or sold commodity (for example, in Bitcoin exchanges). Intrinsic value is the exchange value of utilities resulting from intrinsic properties.

Finally, Bitcoin has other properties than public-key privacy, like its ubiquity and security — both unknown to Aristotle. Those properties also make Bitcoin useful, despite in other ways. It is because of all such utilities — rather than just because of transaction privacy — that we can give Bitcoin its monetary value.

Bitcoin’s Intrinsic Value

So Bitcoin is possibly a commodity but only when transacted. Only then, its (merely possible) monetary value becomes its intrinsic value.

  1. Here is Max Keiser’s article: Is Bitcoin Money?