Excessive Expenditure: Aristotle on the Ethics of Gift-Giving

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 4 (1121a-b)

“Most people who spend too much, as it is said, both take what is not right and are cheap because of that. They become greedy because they want to spend but cannot do this easily because their funds quickly escape them. They are therefore compelled to procure from elsewhere. In addition, because they don’t think at all about nobility of action, they take from everywhere. They desire to give and it makes no difference how or where to them. For this reason, their giving is not liberal. For the gifts are not noble or given for nobility’s sake, nor in the way that it correct. Sometimes they make those rich who ought to be poor and they will give nothing to those humble in character, but they provide much to their flatterers and those who please them.”

ἀλλ᾿ οἱ πολλοὶ τῶν ἀσώτων, καθάπερ εἴρηται, καὶ λαμβάνουσιν ὅθεν μὴ δεῖ, καὶ εἰσὶ κατὰ τοῦτο ἀνελεύθεροι. ληπτικοὶ δὲ γίνονται διὰ τὸ βούλεσθαι μὲν ἀναλίσκειν, εὐχερῶς δὲ τοῦτο ποιεῖν μὴ δύνασθαι, ταχὺ γὰρ ἐπιλείπει αὐτοὺς τὰ ὑπάρχοντα· ἀναγκάζονται οὖν ἑτέρωθεν πορίζειν. ἅμα δὲ καὶ διὰ τὸ μηθὲν τοῦ καλοῦ φροντίζειν ὀλιγώρως καὶ πάντοθεν λαμβάνουσιν· διδόναι γὰρ ἐπιθυμοῦσι, τὸ δὲ πῶς ἢ πόθεν οὐθὲν αὐτοῖς διαφέρει. διόπερ οὐδ᾿ ἐλευθέριοι αἱ δόσεις αὐτῶν εἰσίν· οὐ γὰρ καλαί, οὐδὲ τούτου ἕνεκα, οὐδὲ ὡς δεῖ· ἀλλ᾿ ἐνίοτε οὓς δεῖ πένεσθαι, τούτους πλουσίους ποιοῦσι, καὶ τοῖς μὲν μετρίοις τὰ ἤθη οὐδὲν ἂν δοῖεν, τοῖς δὲ κόλαξιν ἤ τιν᾿ ἄλλην ἡδονὴν πορίζουσι πολλά.

 

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