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St. Thomas Aquinas
Summa Theologica

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  • SECOND PART
    • Aquin.: SMT SS Q[1] Out. Para. 1/4 - SECOND PART OF THE SECOND PART (SS) (QQ[1]-189)
      • Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] Out. Para. 1/2 - (D) BY SINS COMMITTED IN BUYING AND SELLING (Q[77])
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Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] Out. Para. 1/2 - (D) BY SINS COMMITTED IN BUYING AND SELLING (Q[77])


OF CHEATING, WHICH IS COMMITTED IN BUYING AND SELLING (FOUR ARTICLES)

We must now consider those sins which relate to voluntary commutations.
First, we shall consider cheating, which is committed in buying and
selling: secondly, we shall consider usury, which occurs in loans. In
connection with the other voluntary commutations no special kind of sin
is to be found distinct from rapine and theft.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] Out. Para. 2/2

Under the first head there are four points of inquiry:

(1) Of unjust sales as regards the price; namely, whether it is lawful
to sell a thing for more than its worth?

(2) Of unjust sales on the part of the thing sold;

(3) Whether the seller is bound to reveal a fault in the thing sold?

(4) Whether it is lawful in trading to sell a thing at a higher price
than was paid for it?


Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[1] Thes. Para. 1/1

Whether it is lawful to sell a thing for more than its worth?

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[1] Obj. 1 Para. 1/1

OBJ 1: It would seem that it is lawful to sell a thing for more than its
worth. In the commutations of human life, civil laws determine that which
is just. Now according to these laws it is just for buyer and seller to
deceive one another (Cod. IV, xliv, De Rescind. Vend. 8,15): and this
occurs by the seller selling a thing for more than its worth, and the
buyer buying a thing for less than its worth. Therefore it is lawful to
sell a thing for more than its worth

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[1] Obj. 2 Para. 1/1

OBJ 2: Further, that which is common to all would seem to be natural and
not sinful. Now Augustine relates that the saying of a certain jester was
accepted by all, "You wish to buy for a song and to sell at a premium,"
which agrees with the saying of Prov. 20:14, "It is naught, it is naught,
saith every buyer: and when he is gone away, then he will boast."
Therefore it is lawful to sell a thing for more than its worth.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[1] Obj. 3 Para. 1/1

OBJ 3: Further, it does not seem unlawful if that which honesty demands
be done by mutual agreement. Now, according to the Philosopher (Ethic.
viii, 13), in the friendship which is based on utility, the amount of the
recompense for a favor received should depend on the utility accruing to
the receiver: and this utility sometimes is worth more than the thing
given, for instance if the receiver be in great need of that thing,
whether for the purpose of avoiding a danger, or of deriving some
particular benefit. Therefore, in contracts of buying and selling, it is
lawful to give a thing in return for more than its worth.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[1] OTC Para. 1/1

On the contrary, It is written (Mt. 7:12): "All things . . . whatsoever
you would that men should do to you, do you also to them." But no man
wishes to buy a thing for more than its worth. Therefore no man should
sell a thing to another man for more than its worth.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[1] Body Para. 1/4

I answer that, It is altogether sinful to have recourse to deceit in
order to sell a thing for more than its just price, because this is to
deceive one's neighbor so as to injure him. Hence Tully says (De Offic.
iii, 15): "Contracts should be entirely free from double-dealing: the
seller must not impose upon the bidder, nor the buyer upon one that bids
against him."

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[1] Body Para. 2/4

But, apart from fraud, we may speak of buying and selling in two ways.
First, as considered in themselves, and from this point of view, buying
and selling seem to be established for the common advantage of both
parties, one of whom requires that which belongs to the other, and vice
versa, as the Philosopher states (Polit. i, 3). Now whatever is
established for the common advantage, should not be more of a burden to
one party than to another, and consequently all contracts between them
should observe equality of thing and thing. Again, the quality of a
thing that comes into human use is measured by the price given for it,
for which purpose money was invented, as stated in Ethic. v, 5. Therefore
if either the price exceed the quantity of the thing's worth, or,
conversely, the thing exceed the price, there is no longer the equality
of justice: and consequently, to sell a thing for more than its worth, or
to buy it for less than its worth, is in itself unjust and unlawful.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[1] Body Para. 3/4

Secondly we may speak of buying and selling, considered as accidentally
tending to the advantage of one party, and to the disadvantage of the
other: for instance, when a man has great need of a certain thing, while
an other man will suffer if he be without it. In such a case the just
price will depend not only on the thing sold, but on the loss which the
sale brings on the seller. And thus it will be lawful to sell a thing for
more than it is worth in itself, though the price paid be not more than
it is worth to the owner. Yet if the one man derive a great advantage by
becoming possessed of the other man's property, and the seller be not at
a loss through being without that thing, the latter ought not to raise
the price, because the advantage accruing to the buyer, is not due to the
seller, but to a circumstance affecting the buyer. Now no man should sell
what is not his, though he may charge for the loss he suffers.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[1] Body Para. 4/4

On the other hand if a man find that he derives great advantage from
something he has bought, he may, of his own accord, pay the seller
something over and above: and this pertains to his honesty.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[1] R.O. 1 Para. 1/2

Reply OBJ 1: As stated above (FS, Q[96], A[2]) human law is given to the
people among whom there are many lacking virtue, and it is not given to
the virtuous alone. Hence human law was unable to forbid all that is
contrary to virtue; and it suffices for it to prohibit whatever is
destructive of human intercourse, while it treats other matters as though
they were lawful, not by approving of them, but by not punishing them.
Accordingly, if without employing deceit the seller disposes of his goods
for more than their worth, or the buyer obtain them for less than their
worth, the law looks upon this as licit, and provides no punishment for
so doing, unless the excess be too great, because then even human law
demands restitution to be made, for instance if a man be deceived in
regard to more than half the amount of the just price of a thing [*Cod.
IV, xliv, De Rescind. Vend. 2,8].

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[1] R.O. 1 Para. 2/2

On the other hand the Divine law leaves nothing unpunished that is
contrary to virtue. Hence, according to the Divine law, it is reckoned
unlawful if the equality of justice be not observed in buying and
selling: and he who has received more than he ought must make
compensation to him that has suffered loss, if the loss be considerable.
I add this condition, because the just price of things is not fixed with
mathematical precision, but depends on a kind of estimate, so that a
slight addition or subtraction would not seem to destroy the equality of
justice.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[1] R.O. 2 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 2: As Augustine says "this jester, either by looking into
himself or by his experience of others, thought that all men are inclined
to wish to buy for a song and sell at a premium. But since in reality
this is wicked, it is in every man's power to acquire that justice
whereby he may resist and overcome this inclination." And then he gives
the example of a man who gave the just price for a book to a man who
through ignorance asked a low price for it. Hence it is evident that this
common desire is not from nature but from vice, wherefore it is common to
many who walk along the broad road of sin.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[1] R.O. 3 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 3: In commutative justice we consider chiefly real equality.
On the other hand, in friendship based on utility we consider equality of
usefulness, so that the recompense should depend on the usefulness
accruing, whereas in buying it should be equal to the thing bought.


Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[2] Thes. Para. 1/1

Whether a sale is rendered unlawful through a fault in the thing sold?

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[2] Obj. 1 Para. 1/1

OBJ 1: It would seem that a sale is not rendered unjust and unlawful
through a fault in the thing sold. For less account should be taken of
the other parts of a thing than of what belongs to its substance. Yet the
sale of a thing does not seem to be rendered unlawful through a fault in
its substance: for instance, if a man sell instead of the real metal,
silver or gold produced by some chemical process, which is adapted to all
the human uses for which silver and gold are necessary, for instance in
the making of vessels and the like. Much less therefore will it be an
unlawful sale if the thing be defective in other ways.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[2] Obj. 2 Para. 1/1

OBJ 2: Further, any fault in the thing, affecting the quantity, would
seem chiefly to be opposed to justice which consists in equality. Now
quantity is known by being measured: and the measures of things that come
into human use are not fixed, but in some places are greater, in others
less, as the Philosopher states (Ethic. v, 7). Therefore just as it is
impossible to avoid defects on the part of the thing sold, it seems that
a sale is not rendered unlawful through the thing sold being defective.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[2] Obj. 3 Para. 1/1

OBJ 3: Further, the thing sold is rendered defective by lacking a
fitting quality. But in order to know the quality of a thing, much
knowledge is required that is lacking in most buyers. Therefore a sale is
not rendered unlawful by a fault (in the thing sold).

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[2] OTC Para. 1/1

On the contrary, Ambrose says (De Offic. iii, 11): "It is manifestly a
rule of justice that a good man should not depart from the truth, nor
inflict an unjust injury on anyone, nor have any connection with fraud."

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[2] Body Para. 1/4

I answer that, A threefold fault may be found pertaining to the thing
which is sold. One, in respect of the thing's substance: and if the
seller be aware of a fault in the thing he is selling, he is guilty of a
fraudulent sale, so that the sale is rendered unlawful. Hence we find it
written against certain people (Is. 1:22), "Thy silver is turned into
dross, thy wine is mingled with water": because that which is mixed is
defective in its substance.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[2] Body Para. 2/4

Another defect is in respect of quantity which is known by being
measured: wherefore if anyone knowingly make use of a faulty measure in
selling, he is guilty of fraud, and the sale is illicit. Hence it is
written (Dt. 25:13,14): "Thou shalt not have divers weights in thy bag, a
greater and a less: neither shall there be in thy house a greater bushel
and a less," and further on (Dt. 25:16): "For the Lord . . . abhorreth
him that doth these things, and He hateth all injustice."

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[2] Body Para. 3/4

A third defect is on the part of the quality, for instance, if a man
sell an unhealthy animal as being a healthy one: and if anyone do this
knowingly he is guilty of a fraudulent sale, and the sale, in
consequence, is illicit.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[2] Body Para. 4/4

In all these cases not only is the man guilty of a fraudulent sale, but
he is also bound to restitution. But if any of the foregoing defects be
in the thing sold, and he knows nothing about this, the seller does not
sin, because he does that which is unjust materially, nor is his deed
unjust, as shown above (Q[59], A[2]). Nevertheless he is bound to
compensate the buyer, when the defect comes to his knowledge. Moreover
what has been said of the seller applies equally to the buyer. For
sometimes it happens that the seller thinks his goods to be specifically
of lower value, as when a man sells gold instead of copper, and then if
the buyer be aware of this, he buys it unjustly and is bound to
restitution: and the same applies to a defect in quantity as to a defect
in quality.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[2] R.O. 1 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 1: Gold and silver are costly not only on account of the
usefulness of the vessels and other like things made from them, but also
on account of the excellence and purity of their substance. Hence if the
gold or silver produced by alchemists has not the true specific nature of
gold and silver, the sale thereof is fraudulent and unjust, especially as
real gold and silver can produce certain results by their natural action,
which the counterfeit gold and silver of alchemists cannot produce. Thus
the true metal has the property of making people joyful, and is helpful
medicinally against certain maladies. Moreover real gold can be employed
more frequently, and lasts longer in its condition of purity than
counterfeit gold. If however real gold were to be produced by alchemy, it
would not be unlawful to sell it for the genuine article, for nothing
prevents art from employing certain natural causes for the production of
natural and true effects, as Augustine says (De Trin. iii, 8) of things
produced by the art of the demons.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[2] R.O. 2 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 2: The measures of salable commodities must needs be different
in different places, on account of the difference of supply: because
where there is greater abundance, the measures are wont to be larger.
However in each place those who govern the state must determine the just
measures of things salable, with due consideration for the conditions of
place and time. Hence it is not lawful to disregard such measures as are
established by public authority or custom.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[2] R.O. 3 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 3: As Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xi, 16) the price of things
salable does not depend on their degree of nature, since at times a horse
fetches a higher price than a slave; but it depends on their usefulness
to man. Hence it is not necessary for the seller or buyer to be cognizant
of the hidden qualities of the thing sold, but only of such as render the
thing adapted to man's use, for instance, that the horse be strong, run
well and so forth. Such qualities the seller and buyer can easily
discover.


Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[3] Thes. Para. 1/1

Whether the seller is bound to state the defects of the thing sold?

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[3] Obj. 1 Para. 1/1

OBJ 1: It would seem that the seller is not bound to state the defects
of the thing sold. Since the seller does not bind the buyer to buy, he
would seem to leave it to him to judge of the goods offered for sale. Now
judgment about a thing and knowledge of that thing belong to the same
person. Therefore it does not seem imputable to the seller if the buyer
be deceived in his judgment, and be hurried into buying a thing without
carefully inquiring into its condition.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[3] Obj. 2 Para. 1/1

OBJ 2: Further, it seems foolish for anyone to do what prevents him
carrying out his work. But if a man states the defects of the goods he
has for sale, he prevents their sale: wherefore Tully (De Offic. iii, 13)
pictures a man as saying: "Could anything be more absurd than for a
public crier, instructed by the owner, to cry: 'I offer this unhealthy
horse for sale?'" Therefore the seller is not bound to state the defects
of the thing sold.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[3] Obj. 3 Para. 1/1

OBJ 3: Further, man needs more to know the road of virtue than to know
the faults of things offered for sale. Now one is not bound to offer
advice to all or to tell them the truth about matters pertaining to
virtue, though one should not tell anyone what is false. Much less
therefore is a seller bound to tell the faults of what he offers for
sale, as though he were counseling the buyer.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[3] Obj. 4 Para. 1/1

OBJ 4: Further, if one were bound to tell the faults of what one offers
for sale, this would only be in order to lower the price. Now sometimes
the price would be lowered for some other reason, without any defect in
the thing sold: for instance, if the seller carry wheat to a place where
wheat fetches a high price, knowing that many will come after him
carrying wheat; because if the buyers knew this they would give a lower
price. But apparently the seller need not give the buyer this
information. Therefore, in like manner, neither need he tell him the
faults of the goods he is selling.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[3] OTC Para. 1/1

On the contrary, Ambrose says (De Offic. iii, 10): "In all contracts the
defects of the salable commodity must be stated; and unless the seller
make them known, although the buyer has already acquired a right to them,
the contract is voided on account of the fraudulent action."

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[3] Body Para. 1/2

I answer that, It is always unlawful to give anyone an occasion of
danger or loss, although a man need not always give another the help or
counsel which would be for his advantage in any way; but only in certain
fixed cases, for instance when someone is subject to him, or when he is
the only one who can assist him. Now the seller who offers goods for
sale, gives the buyer an occasion of loss or danger, by the very fact
that he offers him defective goods, if such defect may occasion loss or
danger to the buyer - loss, if, by reason of this defect, the goods are
of less value, and he takes nothing off the price on that
account - danger, if this defect either hinder the use of the goods or
render it hurtful, for instance, if a man sells a lame for a fleet horse,
a tottering house for a safe one, rotten or poisonous food for wholesome.
Wherefore if such like defects be hidden, and the seller does not make
them known, the sale will be illicit and fraudulent, and the seller will
be bound to compensation for the loss incurred.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[3] Body Para. 2/2

On the other hand, if the defect be manifest, for instance if a horse
have but one eye, or if the goods though useless to the buyer, be useful
to someone else, provided the seller take as much as he ought from the
price, he is not bound to state the defect of the goods, since perhaps on
account of that defect the buyer might want him to allow a greater rebate
than he need. Wherefore the seller may look to his own indemnity, by
withholding the defect of the goods.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[3] R.O. 1 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 1: Judgment cannot be pronounced save on what is manifest: for
"a man judges of what he knows" (Ethic. i, 3). Hence if the defects of
the goods offered for sale be hidden, judgment of them is not
sufficiently left with the buyer unless such defects be made known to
him. The case would be different if the defects were manifest.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[3] R.O. 2 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 2: There is no need to publish beforehand by the public crier
the defects of the goods one is offering for sale, because if he were to
begin by announcing its defects, the bidders would be frightened to buy,
through ignorance of other qualities that might render the thing good and
serviceable. Such defect ought to be stated to each individual that
offers to buy: and then he will be able to compare the various points one
with the other, the good with the bad: for nothing prevents that which is
defective in one respect being useful in many others.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[3] R.O. 3 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 3: Although a man is not bound strictly speaking to tell
everyone the truth about matters pertaining to virtue, yet he is so bound
in a case when, unless he tells the truth, his conduct would endanger
another man in detriment to virtue: and so it is in this case.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[3] R.O. 4 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 4: The defect in a thing makes it of less value now than it
seems to be: but in the case cited, the goods are expected to be of less
value at a future time, on account of the arrival of other merchants,
which was not foreseen by the buyers. Wherefore the seller, since he
sells his goods at the price actually offered him, does not seem to act
contrary to justice through not stating what is going to happen. If
however he were to do so, or if he lowered his price, it would be
exceedingly virtuous on his part: although he does not seem to be bound
to do this as a debt of justice.


Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[4] Thes. Para. 1/1

Whether, in trading, it is lawful to sell a thing at a higher price than
what was paid for it?

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[4] Obj. 1 Para. 1/1

OBJ 1: It would seem that it is not lawful, in trading, to sell a thing
for a higher price than we paid for it. For Chrysostom [*Hom. xxxviii in
the Opus Imperfectum, falsely ascribed to St. John Chrysostom] says on
Mt. 21:12: "He that buys a thing in order that he may sell it, entire and
unchanged, at a profit, is the trader who is cast out of God's temple."
Cassiodorus speaks in the same sense in his commentary on Ps. 70:15,
"Because I have not known learning, or trading" according to another
version [*The Septuagint]: "What is trade," says he, "but buying at a
cheap price with the purpose of retailing at a higher price?" and he
adds: "Such were the tradesmen whom Our Lord cast out of the temple." Now
no man is cast out of the temple except for a sin. Therefore such like
trading is sinful.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[4] Obj. 2 Para. 1/1

OBJ 2: Further, it is contrary to justice to sell goods at a higher
price than their worth, or to buy them for less than their value, as
shown above (A[1]). Now if you sell a thing for a higher price than you
paid for it, you must either have bought it for less than its value, or
sell it for more than its value. Therefore this cannot be done without
sin.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[4] Obj. 3 Para. 1/1

OBJ 3: Further, Jerome says (Ep. ad Nepot. lii): "Shun, as you would the
plague, a cleric who from being poor has become wealthy, or who, from
being a nobody has become a celebrity." Now trading would net seem to be
forbidden to clerics except on account of its sinfulness. Therefore it is
a sin in trading, to buy at a low price and to sell at a higher price.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[4] OTC Para. 1/1

On the contrary, Augustine commenting on Ps. 70:15, "Because I have not
known learning," [*Cf. OBJ 1] says: "The greedy tradesman blasphemes over
his losses; he lies and perjures himself over the price of his wares. But
these are vices of the man, not of the craft, which can be exercised
without these vices." Therefore trading is not in itself unlawful.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[4] Body Para. 1/1

I answer that, A tradesman is one whose business consists in the
exchange of things. According to the Philosopher (Polit. i, 3), exchange
of things is twofold; one, natural as it were, and necessary, whereby
one commodity is exchanged for another, or money taken in exchange for a
commodity, in order to satisfy the needs of life. Such like trading,
properly speaking, does not belong to tradesmen, but rather to
housekeepers or civil servants who have to provide the household or the
state with the necessaries of life. The other kind of exchange is either
that of money for money, or of any commodity for money, not on account of
the necessities of life, but for profit, and this kind of exchange,
properly speaking, regards tradesmen, according to the Philosopher
(Polit. i, 3). The former kind of exchange is commendable because it
supplies a natural need: but the latter is justly deserving of blame,
because, considered in itself, it satisfies the greed for gain, which
knows no limit and tends to infinity. Hence trading, considered in
itself, has a certain debasement attaching thereto, in so far as, by its
very nature, it does not imply a virtuous or necessary end. Nevertheless
gain which is the end of trading, though not implying, by its nature,
anything virtuous or necessary, does not, in itself, connote anything
sinful or contrary to virtue: wherefore nothing prevents gain from being
directed to some necessary or even virtuous end, and thus trading becomes
lawful. Thus, for instance, a man may intend the moderate gain which he
seeks to acquire by trading for the upkeep of his household, or for the
assistance of the needy: or again, a man may take to trade for some
public advantage, for instance, lest his country lack the necessaries of
life, and seek gain, not as an end, but as payment for his labor.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[4] R.O. 1 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 1: The saying of Chrysostom refers to the trading which seeks
gain as a last end. This is especially the case where a man sells
something at a higher price without its undergoing any change. For if he
sells at a higher price something that has changed for the better, he
would seem to receive the reward of his labor. Nevertheless the gain
itself may be lawfully intended, not as a last end, but for the sake of
some other end which is necessary or virtuous, as stated above.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[4] R.O. 2 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 2: Not everyone that sells at a higher price than he bought is
a tradesman, but only he who buys that he may sell at a profit. If, on
the contrary, he buys not for sale but for possession, and afterwards,
for some reason wishes to sell, it is not a trade transaction even if he
sell at a profit. For he may lawfully do this, either because he has
bettered the thing, or because the value of the thing has changed with
the change of place or time, or on account of the danger he incurs in
transferring the thing from one place to another, or again in having it
carried by another. In this sense neither buying nor selling is unjust.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[77] A[4] R.O. 3 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 3: Clerics should abstain not only from things that are evil
in themselves, but even from those that have an appearance of evil. This
happens in trading, both because it is directed to worldly gain, which
clerics should despise, and because trading is open to so many vices,
since "a merchant is hardly free from sins of the lips" [*'A merchant is
hardly free from negligence, and a huckster shall not be justified from
the sins of the lips'] (Ecclus. 26:28). There is also another reason,
because trading engages the mind too much with worldly cares, and
consequently withdraws it from spiritual cares; wherefore the Apostle
says (2 Tim. 2:4): "No man being a soldier to God entangleth himself with
secular businesses." Nevertheless it is lawful for clerics to engage in
the first mentioned kind of exchange, which is directed to supply the
necessaries of life, either by buying or by selling.





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