The explanatory buck must stop somewhere, or it will have no cash value.
The analogy of reasons to bills, checks, bonds and so forth is pretty tight. These instruments of commerce must be redeemable in real goods or services – at least in principle – if they are to have cash value. Financial instruments that cannot be cashed out in exchange for real goods – cash out, goods or services in – are worthless. When you exchange an instrument for provision of a good or service, the instrument terminates upon that provision. The instrument terminates in that it disappears from your register of economic wealth – which is to say, of your causal power – and is replaced with another sort of power, better apt to your immediate purposes; and, thus, more valuable to you than the perfectly general economic power represented by a financial instrument. You can’t hammer a nail with a dollar.
The final cash value of a financial instrument, toward which its whole being is intended, is some realized good.
Financial instruments then are symbols of real economic good considered in its most general ontological aspect, as power to effect some good end. They symbolize nothing in particular, and this enables them to stand for anything whatever. Qua instruments, they are not themselves goods, so that they are no good at all in and of themselves, except insofar as they can be used as any old paper or metal might be used. Note then also that the paper or metal or memory registers in which financial instruments are encoded are not themselves financial instruments, but merely media thereof. The paper of a bond instrument, signifying the interests of certain parties therein, is just a sheet of paper. What makes the sheet of paper an economic instrument is the encoded formal agreement scriven upon it (all ontological instrumentalities are agreements). The agreement is the instrument, not the medium of its inscription. The same goes for a coin: what makes it a coin is the inscription it bears.
Agreements are all somehow concretely inscribed in things, to be sure, or else they could not work. But usually that inscription is immediate. Only relatively rarely is a concrete inscription abstracted, formalized, and encoded.
Inscriptions of agreements are always underwritten by some power; which is to say, some power to control the allocation of valuable goods. The power that underwrites an instrument might be a sovereign, a bank, a corporation, a natural person, or any other social organism that has capacity and authority to act. This underwriting shows where (even if nowhere else) and by what agency (even if by no other) an instrument can be cashed out in exchange for real goods and services – such as the settlement of a tax debt, an obligation, or an exchange of goods or services or promises. That you can (in principle) use a bill issued by Wells Fargo to settle a debt to Transamerica depends ultimately on the good faith and credit – upon, that is to say, the financial condition and righteousness – of Wells Fargo. It is that competence and willingness of Wells Fargo to fulfill the terms of the bill on its assets that make the bill valuable to others, ergo functional, as a medium of exchange, storage of value, and so forth. And the obligation of Wells Fargo to make good its duties in the agreements codified in the instruments it has underwritten is guaranteed ultimately – or not – by the sovereign in whose realms Wells Fargo does business.
On to that sovereign, then, who can of course also issue financial instruments in his own right. That you can use a dollar to pay your tax to Uncle Sam means that, even if it can be used for no other immediate purpose, it can be exchanged for real goods with others who are short on dollars and would like to use them to pay taxes. Nothing in nature prevents any economic agent from issuing currency – indeed, a mortgage is a sort of currency, issued by a natural person to a bank. Any sort of economic agreement that is amenable to linguistic codification and recording is convertible to currency, which can in theory be exchanged or sold or transferred (so long as the terms of the original agreement provide for such transactions). So banks can issue bills of currency, that can have value insofar as the sovereign has lethal power to enforce agreements.
Agreements to meet economic obligations, such as currency, constrain even defective agents due to the lethal force wielded by the sovereign in whose realms they are issued, and by whom they are registered, regulated and enforced.
The meanings of economic agreements, then, their real consequences for human experience – not just as codified in financial or legal instruments, but such informal and evanescent agreements as form the moment to moment matter of our communal lives – are founded ultimately upon the subvenient authority of the sovereign in whose realms they are executed. For a fee, a toll, a tax, or a duty, sovereign power guarantees and enforces all formal agreements under its sway, reducing risk, search costs, and transaction costs, thereby rendering long term, complex and multiparty agreements economic and feasible.
NB: I did not say that such sovereign power must be human.
Back then now at last to the rational analogue of all this financial talk. Reasons are like currency, I suggested. How so?
Unless reasons can be cashed out of our explanations in the form of some realized actuality, they are worthless qua explanatory factors. This is only another way of saying that a notion must make an actual difference to cosmic history if it is to have any pertinence, ergo meaning thereto. It is a way of saying that reasons that cannot be cashed out really in a world *do not help to explain it.* To explain is to explicate, to unfold. The reasons really operant in a world are the forms of its unfolding, and somehow inform the actualities thereof. Reasons that do not eventuate in the actualities of a world are not at work in it. They are merely specious currency. They might seem to explain, but the seeming is counterfeit.
Consider that word, ‘counterfeit.’ It is contra facere: against factition, against the act of becoming. It is contra fiat. Not that the fiat is somehow defeated by the counterfeit: that there are a few counterfeit bills in circulation does not render all bills worthless (if it did, the counterfeits could not function as such). It is rather only confused, as by noise introduced to a signal. Noise cannot wholly destroy the signal upon which it depends for its own concrete implementation and propagation without destroying itself. No signal, no noise; no fiat, no counterfeit.
What fiat? Fiat lux. Considered as emblematic of all forms of force, light is a medium of ontological exchange, of causal effect. It is a way that one day tells its tale to another. It is the first fiat currency. All other creaturely agreements supervene upon it, and implicitly employ it, as their medium of encoding and recording and communication – of transactions from one occasion of becoming to another.
What then of a stack of ontological instrumentalities that itself supervenes upon no absolutely sovereign fiat, as, e.g., materialism, atomism, and other “turtles all the way down” doctrines? The explanatory buck then stops nowhere. The result is not so much that explanation cannot proceed, as that it cannot even begin; nor then either, likewise, can any explication of reasons in new actualities, any becoming.
The ontological buck must stop somewhere, or coordinate ontological commerce cannot ever get started. Transactions must all ultimately terminate upon some guarantor of all ontological goods, who can himself underwrite and fulfill all subsidiary agreements, and to whose final, supreme and concretely incontestable adjudication they must be all ultimately referred.
Any guarantor competent to all creaturely goods cannot but be omnipotent, omniscient, and ubiquitous. It cannot but be the absolute judge and arbiter of all goodness, beauty, truth, righteousness, virtue, and so forth; of all perfections whatever.
You need an absolute, omnipotent sovereign to get any transactions ending in the realization of any lesser goods. No king, no kingdom.