I owe you a dinner invitation, you owe ten years on your mortgage, and the government owes billions. We speak confidently about these cases of debt, but is that concept clear in its meaning?  This book aims to clarify the concept of debt so we can find better answers to important moral and political questions.

This book seeks to accomplish two things. The first is to clarify the concept of debt by examining how the word is used in language. The second is to develop a general, principled account of how debts generate genuine obligations. This allows us to avoid settling each case by a bare appeal to moral intuitions, which is what we seem to currently do. It requires a close examination of many institutions, e.g. money, contract law, profit-driven finance, government fiscal operations, and central banking. To properly understand the moral and political nature of debt, we must understand how these institutions have worked, how they do work, and how they might be made to work.

There have been many excellent anthropological and sociological studies of debt and its related institutions. Philosophy can contribute to the emerging discussion and help us to keep our language precise and to identify the implicit principles contained in our intuitions.

part I|28 pages


chapter 1|2 pages

‘Debt’ as equivocal

chapter 2|2 pages


chapter 3|3 pages

Debt and sin

chapter 4|4 pages

Debt vs. duty, I

chapter 5|4 pages

Debt vs. duty, II

chapter 6|3 pages

Owing and owning

chapter 7|4 pages

Creditum, I

chapter 8|4 pages

Creditum, II

part II|32 pages


chapter 9|5 pages

What is the institution of debt?

chapter 10|5 pages

Ancient usury

chapter 11|3 pages

Productive and extractive usury

chapter 12|6 pages

The defence of usury

chapter 13|5 pages

Forced debts

chapter 14|4 pages

The taming of debt

chapter 15|2 pages

Usury and abusury

part III|37 pages


chapter 16|4 pages

What is money?

chapter 17|2 pages

The trick behind money

chapter 18|3 pages

The origins of money

chapter 19|3 pages

Debunking the myth of barter

chapter 20|5 pages

Money as debt

chapter 21|4 pages

Chartalism and Fiat money

chapter 22|3 pages

Government IOUs and taxes

chapter 23|3 pages

Bank deposits and ‘inside money’

chapter 25|4 pages

Fixed and floating exchange rates

part IV|34 pages

Political economy

chapter 26|3 pages

The monetary theory of production

chapter 27|3 pages

Debt, trust, and production

chapter 28|2 pages

Debt deflation and accidental abusury

chapter 29|5 pages

Government deficits

chapter 30|6 pages

Inflation, I

chapter 31|5 pages

Inflation, II

chapter 32|5 pages

What any housewife knows

chapter 33|3 pages

Lazy thinking and a new proposal

part V|22 pages

Notes and replies to objections

chapter 35|5 pages

A note on the foreign trade balance

chapter 37|4 pages