“Well, you see, my property is enough to supply me with all my needs…”
Socrates, in Xenophon’s Estate Manager

While Socrates was not destitute, the value of his estate was relatively low. Yet he expresses gratitude for his financial situation. He assures his friend Critobulus—a very wealthy man—that he prefers the condition of his own household to that of Critobulus’s. Though Socrates did not have very much, he deemed himself to have all that he needed.

For Socrates, as for the other great Greek philosophers and the tradition of Christian thinkers in continuity with them, the significant category concerning wealth is need, as distinct from want or desire. This is as profound as it is challenging, and as implication-rich as it is unappreciated. Here is a thorny issue at the very heart of household and of human life itself.

How do we think about wealth and wealth-getting? More importantly, how do we practice it? A perennial question is this: even if wealth is most about supplying needs, why not supply needs and then go further? Put otherwise, how could having too much be a problem? Isn’t having too little the real problem?

This is a question of civilizational import. It is multi-faceted and nuanced. But as usual, there are basic principles at work here, such as the following:
1. Human life consists essentially in living well and pursuing the higher things.
2. Material wealth should serve this end, not hinder it.
3. When wealth is pursued in view of real human needs (understood broadly, and to include needs of others), then it serves truly human life.
4. When wealth is pursued in excess of genuine needs, then it tends to hinder truly human life.

The truth of the fourth proposition is difficult to see, and difficult to defend. It is even more difficult to live. But the wise have been uniform in asserting it. It always has been and will be a point of contradiction.

Let us be clear: Socrates is well aware that some people can and should be ‘wealthy.’ He had no wish for Critobulus to forsake all his wealth. But he did want to teach him a very different approach to it: to getting it, and to using it.

The wise always seek to bring us back to basic principles. The getting and use of wealth is a fundamental part of life. It calls for constant reexamination and self-knowledge. How can wealth truly serve the good life, and how does it often hinder it? What about in my life?

The notion of need is rich—as is the human flourishing which is its foundation, measure, and goal. It admits of real variation. And yet it is always distinguishable, even if with difficulty, from simply ‘what I want.’

Yet then again, part of the paradox and the gift, is that I can train my wants. I can learn to form my wants in view of real needs: my own, my family’s, my friends, my community’s. And therein is perhaps the ultimate lesson, which Critobulus, and we, might learn from Socrates: the oft-hidden, golden key to wealth and its place in human life.

This new VIDEO unfolds this amazing ancient principle:

Xenophon (430-354 B.C.) was a soldier, historian, and philosopher of Athens. Like Plato he wrote dialogues featuring Socrates as a great teacher. Among these dialogues is Oeconomicus, translated as The Estate Manager, in which we get an insight into the structure and principles of the ancient household, and perhaps ours too. This post is a re-presentation of an earlier post.

Join the Community.

Become a LifeCraft Member and gain access to our online courses and exclusive content. It's FREE of charge. Period.

If you join as a contributing member, you will help make this content available to an increasing audience and enable me to spend more time in this work. I thank you in advance.

Join the LifeCraft community today and get access to:

  • Man of the Household (Course)
  • Woman of the Household (Course)
  • Concepts Made Clear (Mini-course)
  • Dinner at Home (Mini-course)
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE:
Something I Owe My Wife

Something I Owe My Wife

  “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” Proverbs Our failure to see the natural roles of husband and wife has real consequences. This stands to reason. When we miss the difference and...

read more
Make Beauty, Rediscover Humanity

Make Beauty, Rediscover Humanity

“Beautiful things are those which please when seen.” Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae This much is clear if we have eyes to see: beauty is a first principle in the formation of the world. We could even say it is the principle. The natural world and all its processes...

read more
Benedict XVI on Going Home

Benedict XVI on Going Home

“And, to tell the truth, if I try to imagine a little how paradise will be, I think always of the time of my youth, of my childhood. In this context of confidence, of joy and love we were happy, and I think that paradise must be something like how it was in my youth....

read more

Pin It on Pinterest