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AMBITION: The appetite for money in our modern world

Maximiliano Korstanje

Universidad de Palermo


Ethics and business are part of our modern daily life. Today, numerous businessmen decided to study philosophy to increase and improve their profitabilities. In fact, the question is why do businessmen want to earn more and more without limits?. From our turn of mind, a person whose patrimony is more than five million dollars will surely have his own needs covered for long time. What is the reason behind that unlimited ambition, what do they feel earning one million more?.

Likewise, we find a partial response in protestant ethic concept developed by Max Weber (2004) (1985); the German sociologist sustained that capitalism derived from Protestantism and Pietism. The work is for protestant a way to demonstrate that he is chosen by God’s grace. However, at some instance that Weber did not precise, this passion for working became a hungry obsession for money. Anguish over predestination became the reason for ambition as well as work transformed in a way of evasion.

Following this, N. Luhmann confirms that money is one of social mechanism aimed at reducing distrust and complexity of the world. Like power, the money brings certain temporal security that some needs to be satisfied. Social environment is more complex than we may tolerate, for that some elements are used for reducing anxiety and fear such as love, power or money. This way, society not only helps us regulating anxiety feelings but also shaping identity process (Luhmann, 1996). Analogically, for Blau the confidence works as a tool utilized for facing uncertain events. As a result of this, community reinforces their liaison internally and externally. Certainly, vulnerability of relationships may jeopardize society to be disintegrated (Blau, 1964).

In this regard, we are obliged into defining ¿what does ethic mean? And ¿is ethic possible in business?.

Regarding the recent financial crash in United States, John Renesch writes "those who have mastered this game -- those who made fortunes while leaving the rest of the world in ruins -- have no conscience. They leave others to clean up after them and slink off into the darkness with their loot. They truly do subscribe to the pirates code: Take what you can. Give nothing back. This makes these dubious characters the modern-day pirates, far worse than mere tyrants" (Renesch, 2008). Possibly, today United States is living the consequences of free market ambitions, but as a whole it is hard to believe they had lost The Faith; most specifically, panic and terror appears just there where faith failed. Then, Money may be rooted in the belief that it would improve the style of life, and (in fact) many argued that one lives better and more secure with certain money amount in banks. Even we are not able to precise where and how, the need of security is transformed in a continuous necessity for more.

Undoubtedly, ethic must be understood as an essential part of moral philosophy in studying of moral basics values. It refers to all obligations and responsibilities that men are obliged to follow; besides ethic may be deemed as a Duty Science. Nevertheless, humanity in each time understand ethic from a different ways. Thus, while "French philosophes" (thru XVIII century) take ethic like an institution imposed on men by society, idealism (former century) sustained moral order was internal to all human beings. For further understanding, Durkheim believed ethic and education give parameters as to how men can behave in their social daily life.

For that reason, each society lives convincingly inside its own proper moral atmosphere of responsibilities. Social solidarity and reciprocity are based on ethic order. A child whom education has socialized inside an industrialized society will take into consideration the necessary skills to take part as worker in a factory when grown-up (profession).

For Durkheim, education as well as ethic are intended to develop human resources for economic production. Since culture chooses the proper way of industry organization, this idea would explain the reasons as to why education forms vary by country (like professions). In sum, ethic is conditioned and determined by many factors such as culture, customs and economy (Durkheim, 1997) (Durkheim, 1999). Ethic for professional issues (deontology) may be explained by an economic organization need.

On contrary for Kant, ethic remains internally no matter than society influences. Inside psychological ego, anybody knows the difference between good and evil. Most likely, it is possible some interference does not allow us to hear its voice clearly but moral resides always inside. Insofar, I do anything moving by my egoist interest ethic disappears. Following this explanation, consequence of certain action does not grant this ethical. For example, a businessman may donate more than one million dollars for reducing the hunger in Africa. Apparently, this action may be catalogued as ethical but not for Kant, this is because Personal wills must not interact with moral purposes. The question also is ¿why?.

Ancient Greek philosophy was divided in three: physic, ethic and logic. Material knowledge is based on certain object and is interested as to how universal rules are understood. Formal Philosophy (instead) are part inherited of Logic while Material Philosophy are detached pursuing Natural and Freedom rules. In the first case (natural), we come across with physic or theory of nature whereas, for second kind (Freedom), we find ethic as theory of customs. Furthermore, Logic neither Ethic may be empirical since they do not belong to experience (Kant, 2007). Whenever proper interests contaminate to moral sphere, we come across with egoism. The action and consequences did not determine how ethical an event is.

Whatever the case may be, altruism consequences may be resulted from egoism actions, and egoism actions from altruism results. If I leave my family to help indigents in Africa, for Kant this is not an ethical action since I am being moved by egoism interests and hurting my loves ones. Basically, regardless the society customs moral and ethic would be taken as universal duties. This discussion will take many years and will not be finished than today. However, it is interesting the contribution that roman philosophy may do in this case.

Roman philosopher, Luccio Anneo Seneca (the younger) helps understanding better this point. Let us remind readers, Ancient Rome was involved in a turbulence lapse at time of Seneca appeared in the public sphere as philosopher and writer. Seneca was an example to imitate in his private public life, besides he contributed and influenced many philosophers like Erasmus, Montaigne, Emerson, and Salisbury. Moral issues in Seneca are particularly interesting for us.

With basis in stoic philosophy, he emphasized practical suggestions by readers might improve or face life’s problems, morality meditations were one of his contribution to modern philosophy. In fact, his concern was aimed at denouncing negative consequences of Empire emerging. For better understanding, we might figure out in Seneca a philosopher who was experiencing in the end of millennium and an intense transformation of Rome. In few words, Seneca realized that old roman customs were being altered. In Pysche and Eros legend, we find the principle of voluptuous and ambition concerns. Curiosity and nonconformity of the princess provoked Eros escaped from her love forever. The ambition deprived her from love and happiness eternally. However, curiosity as well as serenity are human passions and may not be denied.

The point is that roman civilization (between firth and second century BC) was built on basis on Hellenic culture tradition. The notion of State was founded around of "civitas" and promptly adopted some point of epicurean’s philosophy doctrine (Robert, 1992) (Korstanje, 2008). In few words, Rome was expanded and converted from a farmer folk to an Empire some new customs were adopted from abroad to maintain the social equilibrium in order.

Ambiguously, leisure, pleasure and emulated expenditures worked as political mechanism of hegemony and identity (Veblen, 1974). In other words, austerity is replaced by ambition; as a consequence of this, family, religion, moral, ethic, policy and economic old practices are altered (Robert, 1992:22-39). Initially, Epicurean’s thesis sustained the search of pleasure will be useful for medical purposes.

The lack of pain is useful for humanity since it helps increasing happiness. Biological pleasures are necessary and contribute to happiness for humankind whereas ambition and avarice are not necessary needs and can be discarded or repressed. Autocontrol is suggested by Epicurus but this idea is manipulated by some Roman thinkers in order for legitimate throughout Empire voluptuous, leisure, and excessive pleasure experimentation. Certainly, for Seneca education and philosophy knowledge may revert this chaotic situation; happiness has nothing to do with emulated consumptions.

Following this background, Seneca also is concerned in specific moral issues relating to austerity and humility return. In his Moral Letters to Lucillio, our stoic philosopher said "As I feel, I hope you were not stranding and change of residency constantly. This need is part of a sick soul. One of the point in order for us not to loose the order is to settle down in one place and struck up friendships with few persons. This way, our soul is in pace internally. There are some citizens who are interested in travelling as remote as possible all time and anytime, they are rushed to go world-wide but did not focus in any stable relationship" (Seneca, II, p. 16). Prophetically, Seneca like Salustio and Horace observed in luxury and excesses the end of Roman civilization.

The origin of pain is positive for humankind if the pertinent massage is not misunderstood; illness or pain indicate that the body is not working well, to set a clear example: if we soothe the suffering consuming certain drugs, we likely will be feel better momentarily but once its effects disappear, more pain will make our life miserable. In order for us to mitigate this awful pain, more drugs will be requested creating (this way) a vicious circle. Like Socrates who decided to die remaining his honour, men should face their life considering pain and suffering as natural facts; if not, the proper essence of being in this world is denied. Material possession, banquets as well as trips are not our life better but worse (increasing fear and panic). Frustration is opposed to happiness but for Seneca either interacts each other.

This thought appears to be linked to Hobbesian social bondage origin. Indeed, for Thomas Hobbes, men had two different instincts: for one hand, there is an evident human tendency for possessing whiles (for the other) a manifested fear of loosing the proper patrimony. In this point, Hobbes is interested in explaining philosophically the principle of sociability in human beings. This ambiguous tension helped men assigning in a third external part (Leviathan) the monopoly of force. Whenever men follow their desire of possession without any law also conflicts, wars and violence surface. Leviathan (or modern State), in part, prevents human beings from killing themselves each other (Hobbes, 2004).

Under this context, Seneca distinguishes three dimensions of analysis: at a first instance ambition is a form of expansion for sensible cognition, in travelling or excessive consumption there is no wisdom because soul denies itself. Secondly, possession eagerly will entail an inevitable fear of loosing, in turn "for you great will be the ambition need that anything and anybody should satisfy your wishes. The death will be your worse illness, and everything around you will be a pretext to feel fear and panic" (Seneca, IV, p. 133).

Truthfully, even if possession leads us to make our life better, movement follows a negative dynamic due to men are placed on back to life. Whether mankind forgets death is part of life then they did not support the privation. The fact is that, we live in this world for dying and at the same second we birth we inevitably are dying; under this context, humanity must reckon the beginning of life is the death. Also, ambition should be very well explained as an alternative pathway when soul is missing and frightful.

For that reason, modern businessmen satisfactions seem to be related to unlimited ambition. As much as they have much they want. The problem lies in material goods did not satiate the hunger and fear but increase them. In consequence, frustration tolerance in ego slumps inevitably increasing violence and psychotic reactions. Like Bremmer proved with his theory of J curve, people feel more frustrated when a steady period of richness and welfare collapsed because they compare involuntarily the present situation (undesirable) with former. Afterwards experiencing a long period of welfare, if some material privations emerge society faces it violently; this theory was intended to explain the origin of some nationalisms, ethnic riots, fascisms and dictatorships (Bremmer, 2007).

According to this point mentioned above, Tom Veblen is strongly interested in analysing the role of American business in social life. "The American culture celebrates individual sovereignty (self rule). In practice this philosophic stance leads through free and open markets to democratic politics, private enterprise, and scientific inquiry. In all three of these spheres the 'customer' -- i.e. voter, investor, skeptic, buyer -- is king … We rely on marketplace competition and the rule of law, ameliorated by the democratic political process, to resolve justly the trade-offs. The future, where nothing is certain, can only be addressed in terms of desired ends and means" (Veblen, 2008).

Particularily, Veblen is convinced a new social order is emerging based on justice and freedom Empire. Private property and democracy promote new values for business world-wide. After all, author notes "Americans are an inventive and irreverent bunch, guided by pragmatism, idealism, and competition. Generally outgoing and optimistic, we celebrate theindividual and competence and hard work, while dreaming of community and equality and leisure. The keys to social acceptance and a good life in America have been (and remain) education, engagement, and real (income-producing) property -- probably in that order. The pace of daily life is frenetic. Those who disengage, or can't keep up, get left behind. America's complexity both amazes and flummoxes us. There are more and more vigorous and striving people, beguiling material things, compelling technologies, and challenging ideas. Contending subcultures clash, a blend of the pure and profane. Alienation is a recurring theme in America. The dark sides of Americans -- greed, envy, dishonesty, exploitativeness, violence, racism -- are endlessly debated in all sorts of public forums. In fact, self-assessment is something of a national obsession" (Veblen, 2008).

This above mentioned meditation in conjunction with the present humble essay are interesting from two point of view; at a first instance, it demonstrates our thesis about modern ambition is very well interrelated to material possession and capitalism values. Secondly, Seneca contributions may be reconsidered from a modern standpoint. Only understanding the sense of suffering, we may access to real happiness.

In this sense, like roman, we may conclude American capitalism and material style of life legitimate increasingly the ambition and appetite for richness. Nonetheless, behind that facade we find anxiety, dissatisfaction, hate, panic and pain. It remains to be seen whether, United States may be compared with Ancient Rome or perhaps ¿how much influenced is United States by Ancient Rome style of life?.


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