Pinto, Isaac de

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PINTO, ISAAC DE (1717–1787), philosopher and economist of Portuguese-Jewish origin. Born perhaps in Bordeaux, Pinto lived mostly in Holland. A widely cultured man with a combative pen, he defended the Jewish people against *Voltaire's Dictionnaire Philosophique article "Juifs" in his well-known Apologie pour la Nation Juive (Amsterdam, 1762). He sent a copy of this work to Voltaire, who thanked him but held to his opinions. Pinto's major work on economics is the Traité de la circulation et du crédit (Amsterdam, 1771), one of the great documents in the history of political economy, written in refutation of the physiocrats, who advocated an economy based mainly on agriculture. Other works by Pinto are his Essai sur le luxe (Amsterdam, 1762), Précis des arguments contre les matérialistes (The Hague, 1774), and Du jeu de cartes (1768), a short essay on card playing which he addressed to *Diderot. For his services in arranging favorable terms for English trade in India at the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Seven Years' War (1756–63), Pinto was lavishly rewarded by the East India Company a few years later (1767).

De Pinto was, as Voltaire said, a philosophe and a Jew. He had a broad general 18th-century education, as evidenced by two unpublished philosophical discourses from 1742. His attack on Voltaire, whom he admired, was more a defense of the Sephardim than of Judaism. He suggested that Voltaire's antisemitic criticisms were justified against the Ashkenazim, but that the Sephardim were cultured and enlightened. In economics, De Pinto opposed the physiocrats, and advocated (against Hume) the economically productive role of the national debt, and modern credit and commerce. Opposed by Adam Smith, he was seen by Dugald Stewart and Sir Francis D'Ivernois as an important new economist. Marx called him "the Pindar of the Amsterdam stock exchange" for his advocacy of speculation. Werner *Sombart regarded him as the beginner of the modern age of economics, and the first to understand the growth of credit. Sée claimed he was the first to say that speculation was useful. Hertzberg saw De Pinto's economics as a covert defense of the role of Jews in 18th-century economic affairs. De Pinto was a conservative in philosophy and politics. A Deist, he opposed D'Holbach's materialistic atheism as a menace to the social order. He offered proofs of the existence of God and the immortality of the soul (borrowing from Mendelssohn among others), but not appealing to any biblical evidence. His criticisms of the American Revolution opposed popular democracy and defended the economic rights of the colonial powers, and the need for them to join together to maintain peace and social harmony.

De Pinto was a Jew of the Enlightenment (he knew Voltaire, Hume, Diderot, Marat, among others). He was a genuine innovator in economic theory, and a moderate, tolerant, pacifistic conservative in its politics and philosophy. Manuscript 48A19 of Ets Haim library (Amsterdam) contains many unpublished works of De Pinto, including two philosophical discourses.


M.B. Amzalak, O economista Isaac Pinto (1922); J.S. Wijler, Isaac de Pinto, sa vie et ses oeuvres (1923), incl. bibl.; A. Guenée, Lettres de quelques juifs… M. de Voltaire (Paris, 1769), letters 2, 3, and 4; Biographie universelle, 34 (1823), 484–6; Sutherland, in: English Historical Review, 62 (1947), 189; A. Hertzberg, French Enlightenment and the Jews (1968), index.

[Richard H. Popkin]

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Pinto, Isaac de

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