Further proof this week (were it needed) that not thinking about things, actually helps you think about things…
After ten days off for Christmas; scarcely thinking at all about work, I arrived in the office on Monday a little dazed and confused. A colleague asked with a smile if I had any blinding new insights to share? I could only answer slightly sheepishly “Nope”.
But then, thanks to the miracle of the empty mind, I scribbled with a scratchy pen, on a couple of discarded misprinted sheets of A3 off the printer: the entire scope of my job; and the purpose for me at work for 2016.
It had all became clear, because I hadn’t been thinking about it…
Later that same day (at bedtime to be precise) the few remaining work-related knots in my head, were smoothed out by a simple but super article in ‘Philosopy Now‘ by Peter Adamson.
Adamson reminds us that Aristotle gave us the clinching argument against “the proposition that the good life lies acquisition of wealth.”
Whatever else we say about the happy life, happiness is surely something we deserve for its own sake. You don’t seek to become happy for some further goal.
Money by contrast, is not something that can sensibly be desired simply for itself. It is valued only for what we can acquire with it, such as security, pleasures and the opportunity to show virtue.
Therefore a life that seeks to pile up wealth with no other end in view is incoherent.
Aristotle has a similarly persuasive case to make against the life devoted to honor: we wish to be honored not just for any old reason, but because we deserve to be honored.
At most, then, honour comes as a kind of bonus on top of what we really want, which is to be or to have achieved something worthy of the honour.
Out of the contenders for a happy life, that leaves the life of virtue. And virtue is complemented by pleasure, because the virtuous person takes pleasure in being virtuous; and by honor too, at least if one’s fellow citizens apportion honor rightly.
Of course Aristotle was nothing if not also practical:
Although Aristotle insisted that the good life is the virtuous life, he cautioned that we need money as well. You can hardly hope to be virtuous without money, if only because generosity is a virtue: you need wealth to give it away.
Common sense also tells you that such things as health, a flourishing family, and friends, belong to the good life, and Aristotle wasn’t against common sense on this score.
But it’s Adamson’s conclusion which is the clincher:
In these days, when whole countries are faced by economic disaster, ancient advice remains useful: accept money and use it wisely when it comes, but do not sacrifice virtue to get it – and remember that there are things in life compared to which money, in any currency, has zero value.
In sum, don’t seek money or honour for their own sakes; and if they come as a by-product of hard work and a good character, use them wisely.
A timely reminder for 2016 from Adamson that Aristotle’s Ethics are a more than decent guide to working (as well as wider) life.