Saturday, April 20, 2013

A Wealthy Man Knows When He's Rich Enough

An aphorism found on this blog's quote panel is "A wealthy man knows when he's rich enough".  Susan Prince's research into ancient cynics finds some evidence to support this philosophy in the historical record.

Via Want the Shortest Path to the Good Life? Try Cynicism:
Are cynics and happiness mutually exclusive? For modern cynics, perhaps. But for the ancient Cynics, not necessarily.

Research by the University of Cincinnati's Susan Prince shows that despite the historical perception of the ancient Cynics as harsh, street-corner prophets relentlessly condemning all passersby and decrying society's lack of virtue, these Greek philosophers, indirectly descended from Socratic teaching, weren't all doom and gloom. They actually might have espoused a shortcut to happiness...

...Antisthenes was a pupil of Socrates and occasional rival of Plato. In fact, while history occasionally paints Plato as a philosopher of unequaled wisdom, UC's Prince says that through study of his texts, it's more plausible that he developed his ideas through tight intellectual debates with his contemporaries, and Antisthenes was among them. 

Ancient Cynics' Recipe for Happiness: Avoid an Emphasis On Material Goods

Plato and Antisthenes shared many beliefs in common with all philosophers -- rejection of wealth and luxury, and embracing the pursuit of wisdom and virtue. But Antisthenes' methods set him apart from Plato. Whereas Plato founded his Academy for philosophical teaching and lengthy study, Antisthenes advocated a short but rigorous path toward virtue and happiness.

Antisthenes' way was short in that he endorsed an abbreviated curriculum when compared to those of other schools of philosophy, which contended that the quick route was a road to nowhere. Antisthenes' teachings skipped over the technical aspects of logic in order to concentrate on ethical literature, such as reading Homer.

And Antisthenes' way was rigorous in that it required a drastic attitude change. To follow the path of the Cynic was to abandon many societal conventions and to live in accord with nature -- no more fancy clothes, no more exquisite feasts and even no more roof over your head.

Ancient Cynics' Lack of Emphasis On Material Goods Led to More Leisure Time

Through this shortcut, Prince says Cynics were able to gain leisure time which could be put toward living the good life or what Antisthenes called "seeing the things worth seeing and hearing the things worth hearing." And that's how an ancient Cynic could exist in ethical bliss until the end of his days. 

"You get to your happiness quickly and then you practice your happiness for the rest of your life," Prince says...


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