Part 14

The character of merchants are inferior to those of leading personalities and remote from manliness

January 29, 2022

A merchant concerns himself with buying and selling, earning money and making a profit. This requires cunning, willingness to enter into disputes, cleverness, constant quarreling, and great persistence.

These are things that belong to commerce. They are qualities detrimental to and destructive of virtuousness and manliness, because it is unavoidable that actions influence the soul.

Good actions influence it toward goodness and virtue. Evil and deceitful actions influence it in the opposite sense. If (evil and deceitful actions) come first 72 and good qualities later, the former become firmly and deeply rooted and detract from the good qualities, since the blameworthy influence (of the evil actions) has left its imprint upon the soul, as is the case with all habits that originate from actions.

These influences differ according to the different types of merchants. Those who are of a very low type and associated closely with bad traders who cheat and defraud and perjure themselves, asserting and denying statements concerning transactions and prices, are much more strongly affected by these bad character qualities. Deceitfulness becomes their main characteristic.

Manliness is completely - alien to them, beyond their power to acquire. At any rate, it is unavoidable that their cunning and their willingness to enter into disputes affects their manliness (adversely). The complete absence of (any adverse effect) is very rare among them.

There exists a second kind of merchant, which we mentioned in the preceding section, namely, those who have the protection of rank and are thus spared (the onus) of having anything to do personally with such (business manipulations).

They are most uncommon. For they are people who have all of a sudden come into the possession of a good deal of money in some unusual way, or have inherited money from a member of their family. Thus, they have obtained the wealth that helps them to associate with the people of the dynasty and to gain prominence and renown among their contemporaries. Therefore, they are too proud to have anything personally to do with such (business manipulations), and they leave them to the care of their agents and servants. It is easy for them to have the magistrates confirm their rights, because (the magistrates) are familiar with their beneficence and gifts.

These merchants will thus be remote from such (bad) character qualities, since they have nothing to do with the actions that bring them about, as has just been mentioned. Their manliness, therefore, will be very firmly rooted and very remote from these destructive qualities, save for the influences of such evil actions as may slip in behind the scenes.74 For they are compelled to supervise their agents and to concur with or oppose the things they do and do not do. However, these (activities) are limited, and their influence is scarcely perceptible.

14. The character qualities of merchants are inferior to those of noblemen and rulers.

This is because merchants are mostly occupied with buying and selling. This necessarily requires cunning. If a merchant always practices cunning, it becomes his dominant character quality. The quality of cunning is remote from that of manliness which is the characteristic quality of rulers and noblemen.

If the character of (the merchant) then adopts the bad qualities that follow from (cunning) in low-class merchants, such as quarrelsomeness, cheating, defrauding, as well as (the inclination to) commit perjury in rejecting and accepting statements concerning prices, his character can be expected to be one of the lowest sort, for well-known reasons 76 It is because of the character that one acquires through the practice of commerce that political leaders avoid engaging in it.

There are some merchants who are not affected by those character qualities and who are able to avoid them, because they have noble souls and are magnanimous, but they are very rare in this world.

15. The crafts require teachers

It should be known that a craft is the habit of something concerned with action and thought. In as much as it is concerned with action, it is something corporeal and perceptible by the senses.

Things that are corporeal and perceptible by the senses are transmitted through direct practice more comprehensively and more perfectly (than otherwise), because direct practice is more useful with regard to them.

A habit is a firmly rooted quality acquired by doing a certain action and repeating it time after time, until the form of (that action) is firmly fixed. A habit corresponds to the original (action after which it was formed).

The transmission of things one has observed with one’s own eyes is something more comprehensive and complete than the transmission of information and things one has learned about. A habit that is the result of (personal observation) is more perfect and more firmly rooted than a habit that is the result of information.

The skill a student acquires in a craft, and the habit he attains, correspond to the quality of instruction and the habit of the teacher.

Furthermore, some crafts are simple, and others are composite. The simple ones concern the necessities. The composite ones belong to the luxuries. The simple crafts are the ones to be taught first, firstly because they are simple, and (then) because they concern the necessities and there is a large demand for having them transmitted. Therefore, they take precedence in instruction.

But the instruction in them, as a consequence, is something inferior.

The mind, however, does not cease transforming all kinds of (crafts), including the composite ones, from potentiality into actuality through the gradual discovery of one thing after the other, until they are perfect. This is not achieved all at one stroke. It is achieved in the course of time and of generations. Things are not transformed from potentiality into actuality all at one stroke, especially not technical matters.

Consequently, a certain amount of time is unavoidable. Therefore, the crafts are found to be inferior in small cities, and only the simple (crafts) are found there. When sedentary civilization in (those cities) increases, and luxury conditions there cause the use of the crafts, they are transformed from potentiality into actuality.