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10 philosophers on whether money can make you happy
How much money does it take to be happy? How much is too much? These philosophers have a lot to say about money and how it relates to the good life.
Money. It's either the root of all evil or the best thing ever. People have been arguing about the merits of wealth since they started saving it up. We've all faced the question of if we should pursue money for its own sake, or if we would be better off without it.
Science increasingly shows that there is a right amount of money for happiness, but that countless variables make the amount change for little reason. The problem must be approached another way.
Philosophers have asked the same question. Every thinker who has tried to answer the question of how to live has had to wonder how much money was right to have. Here, we have the ideas on how money affects happiness from ten philosophers that might help you decide how much money is enough.
In Aristotelian philosophy, virtue is the key requirement for a life well lived. But while his stoic contemporaries thought virtue alone would assure a good life, Aristotle knew that a few other things would be needed. Among them are friendship, good luck, and money.
While he saw money as merely a tool to promote other goals, he is open about the fact that the good life requires that you have a fair amount of it. One of the items on his list of virtues needed to live a full life is magnificence, which involves the donation of large sums to charity.
He warns against the life dedicated to pursuing money, however, as this is a life spent chasing something which is “useful for some other end" without ever reaching that end.
"The life of money-making is one undertaken under compulsion, and wealth is evidently not the good we are seeking; for it is merely useful and for the sake of something else." —Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
Henry David Thoreau is famous for retreating to a cabin near Walden pound and writing a book about his experiment of living a simple, self-sufficient life in the wilderness. While his experiment is often presented as more than it was, his cabin wasn't that far from a town and his mother usually cooked and cleaned for him, his ideas on the simple life are still worth considering.
His time in the woods showed him the benefits of living simply; such as how much humanity can gain by spending more time in nature and how getting away from material pleasures can help us live a fuller life. While his self-imposed situation came with great security, we can all stand to learn from his ideas on how to earn less and live more.
To have done anything by which you earned money merely is to have been truly idle or worse- Walden
Epicurus was a philosopher with some bold ideas on how to make people happy. He lived in the countryside in a large house with a dozen other people where they all lived communally. He argued that the path to happiness was moderation, strong friendships, and philosophy.
Rather than accumulating wealth, one should try and live a simple life and find joy in things like friends, the pleasures of work, and philosophy. While he wasn't opposed to having some wealth, he feared that having too much of it would lead a person to live immoderately, which would lead to vice and unhappiness. The moderate life, however, didn't require much money at all.
If you wish to make Pythocles wealthy, don't give him more money; rather, reduce his desires- Epicurus
Nietzsche was one of the prominent members of the chronically asking for money club. His books didn't sell well at all, and he never had much money during his productive years. While he never sought out riches, he didn't preach against them; and he had a lot to say about people who declared wealth to be evil.
He argued that the morality of the gospels was a slave morality which was based on a sort of sour grapes approach to things. Since the authors of the gospels didn't have money or power they declared those things to be evil and the poverty and weakness they had to be good. Nietzsche sees this reactionary morality to be unbecoming of great people.
This doesn't mean that he thought hoarding cash was good, but he does warn us to be wary of the poor man who derides money as evil and useless to our happiness.
“But tell me: how did gold get to be the highest value? Because it is uncommon and useless and gleaming and gentle in its brilliance; it always gives itself.
Soren Kierkegaard was the founder of existentialism and a critic of modern life. Often writing under pseudonyms, he challenged us to examine how we make choices and to accept our freedom long before anybody else was considering such ideas.
In The Present Age Kierkegaard strikes out against how people are increasingly dispassionate, conforming, and detached. He blames, among other things, money for causing some of this. As the abstraction of real value, it tends to make us desire of it rather than the things it can buy or represents.
Kierkegaard implores us to dive headfirst into life and live it fully and desiring too much money is a symptom of not doing so.
In the end, therefore, money will be the one thing people will desire, which is moreover only representative, an abstraction. Nowadays a young man hardly envies anyone his gifts, his art, the love of a beautiful girl, or his fame; he only envies him his money. -The Present Age
Philosophy's saddest genius, Schopenhauer was a pessimistic thinker who felt that most people were doomed to rather unpleasant lives. He was so convinced of this that he was one of the first prominent anti-natalists and wrote that most people were better off not being born. His advice on how to be happy is fittingly strange.
Schopenhauer's great solution to the endless miseries of life is to withdraw from them and live ascetically. Money then, that cause of infinite desire, labor, and strife, is to be avoided. The worst part of his solution is his understanding of how few people could hope to carry it out.
Wealth is like sea-water: The more we drink the thirstier we become; and the same is true of fame. -Aphorisms on the Wisdom of Life
Unlike many thinkers on our list, Franklin was independently wealthy. After a lifetime of wise investments, hard work, and a fair share of luck, Franklin was able to turn his attention to his social projects and not have to worry about money again.
His ideas on wealth were similar to Aristotle's in many ways. He wrote a book on how to earn and save money and associated having wealth with having a least a few virtues. He also agrees that, while good to have, money is at best a tool for getting other things. Unlike Aristotle, however, his list of virtues does not require wealth to live life to the fullest.
The use of money is all the advantage there is in having money- The Way to Wealth
The father of modern communism, and the favorite philosopher of many a penniless left-winger. Marx had difficulty with money all of his life and was often provided for by his friend and comrade Fredrich Engels. His difficulties didn't hamper his understanding, however.
Marx reminds us that money, for all the bad things philosophers often say about it, is extremely useful. It drives history, grants the ability to accomplish great things, and often consumes too much of our time. His philosophy of communism isn't so much against wealth as it is an attempt to tame it and make it the servant of humanity rather than the problem it frequently can be. The results have been mixed at best.
Money plays the largest part in determining the course of history.
The founder of Buddhism, Gautama Buddha lived in both extreme wealth and obscene poverty during his life. His time spent on the extremes showed him the wisdom of “The Middle Way" which became a core element of Buddhism.
His life story and later dedication to intellectual pleasures speak against a life of chasing money as the path to Nirvana. However, extreme poverty is no solution either. While many Buddhist monks are supposed to avoid even touching money, the rest of us are encouraged to have the “right livelihood" and earn it virtuously. This also includes not having more than we need.
We are warned that there is too much of a good thing and that we should not suppose that more money is the solution to suffering. Having nothing isn't too much fun either though.
Faith is the best wealth for a man in this world. Righteousness when well practiced brings happiness.- Sutta Nipata
An American philosopher, Needleman has spent decades helping people navigate life. He is often sought out as a consultant on how to handle money at the conceptual level and has a lifetime of advice on how money affects us to give out.
One of his realizations is that money doesn't solve problems or provide answers. While it might assure that we have access to necessities, it won't cure us of worrying about having them. He reminds us that there are things that money can't buy, like happiness, that we must never lose sight of; even if it is nice to be able to buy that trip to Hawaii without saving for it.
Those who criticize the wealthy don't realize that money is needed to do good things.- Jacob Needleman
The COVID-19 pandemic is making health disparities in the United States crystal clear. It is a clarion call for health care systems to double their efforts in vulnerable communities.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated America's health disparities, widening the divide between the haves and have nots.
- Studies show disparities in wealth, race, and online access have disproportionately harmed underserved U.S. communities during the pandemic.
- To begin curing this social aliment, health systems like Northwell Health are establishing relationships of trust in these communities so that the post-COVID world looks different than the pre-COVID one.
COVID-19 deepens U.S. health disparities<p>Communities on the pernicious side of America's health disparities have their unique histories, environments, and social structures. They are spread across the United States, but they all have one thing in common.</p><p>"There is one common divide in American communities, and that is poverty," said <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/about/leadership/debbie-salas-lopez" target="_blank">Debbie Salas-Lopez, MD, MPH</a>, senior vice president of community and population health at Northwell Health. "That is the undercurrent that manifests poor health, poor health outcomes, or poor health prognoses for future wellbeing."</p><p>Social determinants have far-reaching effects on health, and poor communities have unfavorable social determinants. To pick one of many examples, <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/09/27/913612554/a-crisis-within-a-crisis-food-insecurity-and-covid-19" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">food insecurity</a> reduces access to quality food, leading to poor health and communal endemics of chronic medical conditions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified some of these conditions, such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes, as increasing the risk of developing a severe case of coronavirus.</p><p>The pandemic didn't create poverty or food insecurity, but it exacerbated both, and the results have been catastrophic. A study published this summer in the <em><a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-020-05971-3" target="_blank">Journal of General Internal Medicine</a></em> suggested that "social factors such as income inequality may explain why some parts of the USA are hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than others."</p><p>That's not to say better-off families in the U.S. weren't harmed. A <a href="https://voxeu.org/article/poverty-inequality-and-covid-19-us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper from the Centre for Economic Policy Research</a> noted that families in counties with a higher median income experienced adjustment costs associated with the pandemic—for example, lowering income-earning interactions to align with social distancing policies. However, the paper found that the costs of social distancing were much greater for poorer families, who cannot easily alter their living circumstances, which often include more individuals living in one home and a reliance on mass transit to reach work and grocery stores. They are also disproportionately represented in essential jobs, such as retail, transportation, and health care, where maintaining physical distance can be all but impossible.</p><p>The paper also cited a positive correlation between higher income inequality and higher rates of coronavirus infection. "Our interpretation is that poorer people are less able to protect themselves, which leads them to different choices—they face a steeper trade-off between their health and their economic welfare in the context of the threats posed by COVID-19," the authors wrote.</p><p>"There are so many pandemics that this pandemic has exacerbated," Dr. Salas-Lopez noted.</p><p>One example is the health-wealth gap. The mental stressors of maintaining a low socioeconomic status, especially in the face of extreme affluence, can have a physically degrading impact on health. <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/index.cfm/_api/render/file/?method=inline&fileID=123ECD96-EF81-46F6-983D2AE9A45FA354" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Writing on this gap</a>, Robert Sapolsky, professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University, notes that socioeconomic stressors can increase blood pressure, reduce insulin response, increase chronic inflammation, and impair the prefrontal cortex and other brain functions through anxiety, depression, and cognitive load. </p><p>"Thus, from the macro level of entire body systems to the micro level of individual chromosomes, poverty finds a way to produce wear and tear," Sapolsky writes. "It is outrageous that if children are born into the wrong family, they will be predisposed toward poor health by the time they start to learn the alphabet."</p>Research on the economic and mental health fallout of COVID-19 is showing two things: That unemployment is hitting <a href="https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2020/09/24/economic-fallout-from-covid-19-continues-to-hit-lower-income-americans-the-hardest/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">low-income and young Americans</a> most during the pandemic, potentially widening the health-wealth gap further; and that the pandemic not only exacerbates mental health stressors, but is doing so at clinically relevant levels. As <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7413844/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the authors of one review</a> wrote, the pandemic's effects on mental health is itself an international public health priority.
Working to close the health gap<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDc5MDk1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTYyMzQzMn0.KSFpXH7yHYrfVPtfgcxZqAHHYzCnC2bFxwSrJqBbH4I/img.jpg?width=980" id="b40e2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1b9035370ab7b02a0dc00758e494412b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Northwell Health coronavirus testing center at Greater Springfield Community Church.
Credit: Northwell Health<p>Novel coronavirus may spread and infect indiscriminately, but pre-existing conditions, environmental stressors, and a lack of access to care and resources increase the risk of infection. These social determinants make the pandemic more dangerous, and erode communities' and families' abilities to heal from health crises that pre-date the pandemic.</p><p>How do we eliminate these divides? Dr. Salas-Lopez says the first step is recognition. "We have to open our eyes to see the suffering around us," she said. "Northwell has not shied away from that."</p><p>"We are steadfast in improving health outcomes for our vulnerable and underrepresented communities that have suffered because of the prevalence of chronic disease, a problem that led to the disproportionately higher death rate among African-Americans and Latinos during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Michael Dowling, Northwell's president and CEO. "We are committed to using every tool at our disposal—as a provider of health care, employer, purchaser and investor—to combat disparities and ensure the <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/education-and-resources/community-engagement/center-for-equity-of-care" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">equity of care</a> that everyone deserves." </p><p>With the need recognized, Dr. Salas-Lopez calls for health care systems to travel upstream and be proactive in those hard-hit communities. This requires health care systems to play a strong role, but not a unilateral one. They must build <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/news/insights/faith-based-leaders-are-the-key-to-improving-community-health" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">partnerships with leaders in those communities</a> and utilize those to ensure relationships last beyond the current crisis. </p><p>"We must meet with community leaders and talk to them to get their perspective on what they believe the community needs are and should be for the future. Together, we can co-create a plan to measurably improve [community] health and also to be ready for whatever comes next," she said.</p><p>Northwell has built relationships with local faith-based and community organizations in underserved communities of color. Those partnerships enabled Northwell to test more than 65,000 people across the metro New York region. The health system also offered education on coronavirus and precautions to curb its spread.</p><p>These initiatives began the process of building trust—trust that Northwell has counted on to return to these communities to administer flu vaccines to prepare for what experts fear may be a difficult flu season.</p><p>While Northwell has begun building bridges across the divides of the New York area, much will still need to be done to cure U.S. health care overall. There is hope that the COVID pandemic will awaken us to the deep disparities in the US.</p><p>"COVID has changed our world. We have to seize this opportunity, this pandemic, this crisis to do better," Dr. Salas-Lopez said. "Provide better care. Provide better health. Be better partners. Be better community citizens. And treat each other with respect and dignity.</p><p>"We need to find ways to unify this country because we're all human beings. We're all created equal, and we believe that health is one of those important rights."</p>
With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
The next era in American history can look entirely different. It's up to us to choose.
- The timeline of America post-WWII can be divided into two eras, according to author and law professor Ganesh Sitaraman: the liberal era which ran through the 1970s, and the current neoliberal era which began in the early 1980s. The latter promised a "more free society," but what we got instead was more inequality, less opportunity, and greater market consolidation.
- "We've lived through a neoliberal era for the last 40 years, and that era is coming to an end," Sitaraman says, adding that the ideas and policies that defined the period are being challenged on various levels.
- What comes next depends on if we take a proactive and democratic approach to shaping the economy, or if we simply react to and "deal with" market outcomes.
A new MIT report proposes how humans should prepare for the age of automation and artificial intelligence.
- A new report by MIT experts proposes what humans should do to prepare for the age of automation.
- The rise of intelligent machines is coming but it's important to resolve human issues first.
- Improving economic inequality, skills training, and investment in innovation are necessary steps.