Happiness and Financial Freedom

Happiness and Financial Freedom

In the Ancient Greek world (the world of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, often regarded as the birthplace of philosophy) a “symposium” was a banquet held after a meal, an “after party” of sorts that usually included drinking, dancing, recitals and engaging conversations on the topics of the day.

For our purposes in this course, the Symposium discussions will not involve dancing, recitals or a banquet, but they will provide food for thought on current ethical issues and direct application of the ethical theory discussed in each of these weeks.

It is almost impossible these days to turn on the news or log onto social media without encountering a controversy that cries out for ethical discussion. For these Symposium discussions, your instructor will choose a topic of current ethical interest and a resource associated with it for you to read or watch. Your task is to consider how the ethical theory of the week might be used to examine, understand or evaluate the issue.

This week, you will consider how virtue ethics applies to a controversy, dilemma, event, or scenario selected by your instructor. It is a chance for you to discuss together the ethical issues and questions that it raises, your own response to those, and whether that aligns with or does not align with a virtue ethics approach. The aim is not to simply assert your own view or to denigrate other views, but to identify, evaluate, and discuss the moral reasoning involved in addressing the chosen issue.

Your posts should remain focused on the ethical considerations, and at some point in your contribution you must specifically address the way a virtue ethicist would approach this issue by explaining and evaluating that approach.

If you have a position, you should strive to provide reasons in defense of that position.


To respond, hit ‘Reply’ ABOVE this note, not below it!

As usual, this is a long introduction; let me summarize in advance:

Here is what we are asking for this round:

For your chosen theme (one of the following: a) happiness; b) education and training; c) ethical practice; d) friendship; e) the attainment of ‘full development’ as a person), HOW DOES CONTEMPORARY SOCIETY HELP US OR HINDER US IN REALIZING THAT THEME?

Now for the introductory notes to the Forum:

For this Forum’s discussions, please read the Guidance for this week and my own Lecture on Aristotle, above. Although Aristotle does write on what we would call social issues, those are mainly in the context of his Politics, rather than the Ethics. The Ethics is largely concerned with what we might call self-development and self-fulfillment, i.e., becoming a fully ethical person. Yet we can bring Aristotle’s ideas to bear on social issues if we first get clear about those central concepts. Remember that, for Kant, it was ‘humanity’ that was the focus of his ethical theories.

For Aristotle, practical wisdom is the central issue, which is the result of a lifetime of the practice of excellence and of virtuous behavior, guided by the aim of a flourishing life and a practice of the Doctrine of the Mean; by the development of good habits and solid practices of deliberation and judgment, enhanced by friendship, and supported by a good — i.e., flourishing and healthy — city or community. Society does have a role in the development of the individual for Aristotle; one isn’t solely on ‘one’s own’.

Thus, we could take any of the following ideas:

1) Happiness or flourishing (NOT the same thing as ‘feeling good’, but a fulfilled or satisfied existence) as the goal of a human life

2) The development of good habits through practice and training (which is the responsibility both of family and of society)

3) Guidance by way of the Doctrine of the Mean and seeking balance in one’s decisions and behavior

4) The role of friendship in self-discovery and the heightening of self-knowledge (and thus of one’s own form of excellence, i.e., virtue)

5) Practical wisdom (‘phronesis’ in Greek, if you want to look it up) as the result of a lifetime of the practice of excellence in virtue and in all one’s concerns in life


I) To what extent is happiness (not as a ‘good feeling’, but as a flourishing life, in the Greek sense) possible in a society determined by economic factors, as ours is (‘capitalism’), including the struggle to survive and work, the growing inequality in our society and in Western societies generally –

II) What is the role of education in helping people to achieve a happy or flourishing life? Is there very much in our own educational system that is oriented toward such a goal? (For example, is it oriented toward physical health, caring for oneself and for others, mental health and well-being, techniques for survival and success, for self-development… or is it oriented mainly toward becoming ‘ready for the job market’? What do you think Aristotle would say about our current modes of education?

III) What techniques or practices (like those suggested in the ‘Doctrine of the Mean’ or of choosing the best middle path) can lead to a more fulfilled and happier life? Do people today have time for such practices? For a modern note, what might practices like mindfulness and meditation contribute to poise, calm, and even happiness? (One could find other examples of ‘practice’ of course.)

IV) Does our society encourage the experience of friendship or does it discourage it? Are we in such a rush, so busy, so preoccupied with making a living that we don’t have time, as adults, for friendship and developing enjoyable social relationships? Is ‘networking’ the same as friendship, in short!? What can we do to develop our own friendships and experience of friendship further?

V) What is maturity? (“Practical wisdom”) What does mature, practical judgment mean for our place and role in life; how is it exhibited in work and in our relationships? “Fulfillment” for Aristotle is not selfish self-aggrandizement; it is (just as the acorn becomes an oak), “growing” into what it means to be human, of which maturity is at least a part. What does it mean for our contemporary society, in work, in relationships, and elsewhere?

Again, to summarize, here is what we are asking for this round:

For your chosen theme (one of the following: a) happiness; b) education and training; c) ethical practice; d) friendship; e) the attainment of ‘full development’ as a person), HOW DOES CONTEMPORARY SOCIETY HELP US OR HINDER US IN REALIZING THAT THEME?

That is the one question, really, you see… I look forward to seeing what you have to say about these issues! Again, just choose one for your initial post, but try to respond to others who have a different topic than yours, simply to make for interesting conversations….

(400 words) cycle