Is your wealth a means to a more profound end or an end in itself? It’s the sort of question Aristotle wants you to ponder. He thought everything has a purpose, goal, and reason for being.
In pursuing financial success, he encourages a deeper inquiry: what virtues guide my financial decisions? How does your wealth contribute to your ethical, moral and intellectual development?
Aristotle, born in 384 BCE, learned under Plato’s guidance, questioning everything. He flourished at Plato’s Academy for 20 years, absorbing wisdom like a sponge.
Aristotle advised Alexander the Great in his prime, shaping the young conqueror’s mind. “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all,” Aristotle wrote.
Why Telos? What is it?
In Greek philosophy, telos (pronounced “TAY-loss”) refers to the end, purpose, goal, or final cause of something. It is a crucial concept in Aristotle’s philosophy, particularly in his ethics principles.
It’s why anything exists and what they’re meant to achieve. Aristotle believed our telos is to live a good life. It’s not just about surviving but thriving, being happy, and doing good.
For example, think about an acorn. Aristotle would say, “That little acorn’s Telos is to become a mighty oak tree.” The purpose of the acorn’s existence is to grow into this majestic tree. That’s its Telos.
How does the acquisition and use of wealth contribute to the telos, the ultimate goal, of your life? Wealth was a means to a profound life, he argues. Aristotle linked wealth to a purpose beyond accumulation. He thought whatever we aim to amass for ourselves must have a deeper meaning — a meaningful end.
“Being wealthy consists in using things rather than in possessing them; for it is the activity and use of such things that makes up wealth,” writes Aristotle.
Aristotle’s telos of wealth was not amassing gold but achieving eudaimonia, a state of complete well-being and fulfilment (not merely pleasure or the absence of pain).
Aristotle argued we can achieve eudaimonia through cultivating virtues (the excellences of human character.) He thought to live a good life, we must identify and pursue experiences that allow us to express our virtues. “Happiness depends upon ourselves,” he said.
Aristotle lived, learned, and thrived, finding wealth’s telos not in hoarding riches but in a life well-lived. “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence,” he thought.
In Aristotle’s view, wealth is not an end in itself but rather a means to an end. Beyond our basic needs, Aristotle cautioned against the pursuit of wealth for its own sake.
“Wealth is for the sake of life, not life for the sake of wealth,” he said. Aristotle’ observed excessive wealth could lead to greed, avarice, and a distorted view of what constitutes a good life. He thought prosperity wasn’t an end itself but a means to a virtuous, flourishing life.
He emphasised a middle path, steering clear of excess and deficiency. “Virtue lies in our power and similarly so does vice; because where it is in our power to act, it is also in our power not to act.”
The final causality of wealth
“Wealth is not the good, but a means to the good.” (Nicomachean Ethics 1.9.11). The telos of wealth prompts us to view money as a means of facilitating a life of virtue and meaningful eudaimonia. It challenges the notion that wealth, in and of itself, leads to a meaningful existence. “The use of wealth is limited by the pursuit of a virtuous life,” he wrote in Nicomachean Ethics.
The telos philosophy invites reflection on whether our financial pursuits align with the noblest aspects of our humanity, steering us towards a life of purpose, wisdom, and ethical fulfilment.
It challenges us to ponder the metaphysical questions about wealth — not just what we have but why we have it. Wealth as a reflection of our values and virtues means it becomes a tool for self-realisation. A means to express and embody the highest ideals of our human nature.
The telos of wealth, then, becomes a profound tool, guiding us towards a life that transcends the superficial trappings of affluence. And, of course, leading to a deeper, more meaningful existence.
Aristotle’s telos challenges hedonistic pleasure (a philosophical concept that emphasises the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain as the highest good). He thought the pursuit of pleasure as an end in itself may be shallow or lacking in moral depth.
It directs us to seek a more profound fulfilment — a eudaimonic happiness rooted in the virtuous use of wealth that promotes personal growth and contributes to the common good.
Aristotle urges us to ponder the relationship between morality, purpose, and material abundance. His telos urges us to find balance. Avoid the extremes of extravagance or misery. It encourages thoughtful spending, investing in experiences, learning, and relationships. “Excessive wealth can distort one’s view of what constitutes a good life,” he wrote in his book Politics.
Telos can also be applied to our careers. Work should contribute to a purposeful life. A paycheck is a means to a meaningful end. “The end of labor is to gain leisure,” Aristotle said.
We work hard not just for the sake of working but to enjoy life more meaningfully, invest in good experiences and savour the sweet fruits of our labour.
“The life of money-making is one undertaken under compulsion, and wealth is evidently not the good we are seeking; for it is merely useful and for the sake of something else,” he said. So, your hustle at work has a Telos.
It applies to friendships. Aristotle would likely say the telos of friendship is not just having someone to grab coffee with; it’s about supporting each other, sharing joys and sorrows, and growing together.
Key takeaway: Telos is the deeper meaning, the why behind everything we do. Find telos in every area of life. Your telos is about personal flourishing. A meaningful life depends on it.