This paper investigates why, in 1494, the Franciscan friar and teacher of mathematics, Luca Pacioli, published an instructional treatise describing the system of double entry bookkeeping. In doing so, it also explores the rhetoric and foundations of double entry through the lens of Pacioli's treatise. Recent findings on Pacioli's life and works, his writings, and the medieval accounting archives are combined to identify how he was inspired by his faith and his humanist beliefs to give all merchants access to the practical mathematics and the bookkeeping they required. The paper finds that Pacioli's teaching method was inspired by Euclid, his Franciscan education, and his humanist beliefs, and that Pacioli reveals a simplicity in the then-unrecognized axiomatic foundation of double entry that has been largely overlooked. The findings represent a paradigm shift in how we perceive Pacioli, his treatise, and double entry.
Bibliographical noteThe author acknowledges the advice and assistance of Professor Mark L. DeFond (former senior editor of The Accounting Review) and the two anonymous
reviewers whose insights and suggestions did much to improve the focus and clarity of this paper. Thanks are also given for the advice offered by Albrecht
Heeffer, Argante Ciocci, Richard Goldthwaite, Basil Yamey, David Alexander, James Banker, Nohora Garcia, Richard Macve, Ron Grace, Barbara Flood,
Frances Miley, Christopher Napier, Greg Stoner, Pat McCarthy, and participants at the 2016 AAA Annual Meeting and at various conference and seminar
presentations in Australia, Italy, New Zealand, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, and the U.K. between 2013 and 2017. In particular, I express my gratitude to
Esteban Hernandez-Esteve, whose frank guidance and encouragement have been ever-present since I started on this project in 2006.
- Double entry bookkeeping
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- Business School, Centre for Governance, Accountability, and Sustainability (GAS)
- Business School, Accountancy & Finance, Accountancy - Chair in Accounting History