Response: Ethics and Money Part 2
The first thing to do when considering the role of money in our life is to work out how much we need to pay the basic bills;, the second is to work out how much we want (in a number of philosophical systems, of course (such as that of Epicurus), the goal is to match our wants to our basic needs; we'll come back to this). But these two tasks are complicated by the fact that in our culture money is not just a means of purchasing goods and services, but also possesses considerable symbolic value.
So a key question is: when I want to buy something, what is it that I ultimately want to obtain? For example, I may want to buy a bicycle because I want to get fitter, or to reduce my carbon footprint (or both). I may want to buy my niece an expensive present because I think it will make her happy, or because I want her to love me (or both). I may want to invest in gold because I think it will provide me with financial security in turbulent times, or because the investment will make me feel that I am successful (or both). I may want to buy a sports car because I would love the physical sensation of driving it, or because I want others to admire or envy me, or because I think it will make me seem more attractive (or all of the above!).
The next question, therefore, is: how important are these ultimate aims to me?
Then: if they really are important, is money the only, or the best, means of achieving them? For example: if my aim is to make my niece happy and/or to strengthen her love for me, could these aims be better achieved by giving her some of my time rather than an expensive present?
If I still really feel that a) my ultimate aim is important and that b) spending money on this particular product or service is the only, or the best, means of obtaining it, then I finally need to ask myself whether, even so, buying the product or service would in fact satisfy my need or want? Is this particular need or want (for love, say, or a sense of security, or the admiration of others) insatiable or satiable? If it seems to be the first, is it really insatiable, or does it just appear that way to me because I am conceiving it in the wrong way, or because I have been trying to satisfy it by the wrong means?
If the need or desire really is genuinely insatiable, would I perhaps be better off trying to rid myself of it entirely rather than trying to obtain more and more money in a fruitless bid to satisfy it? Or could I perhaps learn to accept that some needs and desires are intrinsically insatiable, and decide only to try to accomodate them to a certain degree but no more?
Next time we'll look at some of the things Plato has to say on these issues.