On anxiety

Sima Niu asked about the gentleman.
The Master replied, “The gentleman is free of anxiety and fear.”
“‘Free of anxiety and fear’ – is that all there is to being a gentleman?”
“If you can look inside yourself and find no faults, what cause is there for anxiety or fear?”

Confucius, Analects 12.4

On gratitude

From everything that comes about in the universe one may easily find cause to praise providence if one possesses these two qualities, the capacity to view each particular event in relation to the whole, and a sense of gratitude.  For, otherwise, one will either fail to recognize the usefulness of what has come about, or else fail to be truly grateful if one does in fact recognize it.

Epictetus, Discourses 1.6.1-2

Welfare, the Stoics, and reference dependence

My essay on the relationship between Stoic and economic ideas about welfare has been published in the Journal of Markets & Morality.

Economic accounts of consumer welfare focus heavily on the physical circumstances of the consumer.  In contrast, in many religious and philosophical traditions, welfare is thought to be largely independent of physical circumstances.  This essay argues that the introduction of reference dependence enriches economic models of choice in a way that connects the economic account of welfare with the contrasting account offered by the Stoics….

Read the whole piece.

An Attitude of Stewardship

My essay on how an attitude of stewardship toward our possessions can benefit Christians in times of loss has been published in The Banner.

Panic surged through Wall Street in October of 1929. On October 24, stock prices plunged briefly before several large banks intervened and the market rallied. But things were about to get much worse. On Black Monday, October 28, stock prices fell by more than 10 percent. The next day it happened again. Prices would continue falling for the next three years. When they reached their nadir in July of 1932, prices were down 90 percent, and the country was in the midst of the Great Depression.

In the face of such tremendous financial losses, the kind of desperation felt by some financiers was understandable. But it is not inevitable.

The effects of loss depends on our attitude toward our circumstances. Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote, “No man is crushed by misfortune unless he has first been deceived by prosperity.”

Studies by economists and psychologists provide support for Seneca’s observation. Our satisfaction with our circumstances depends on the comparisons we make. We compare our circumstances to our expectations, and we hate losing things we were expecting to have. That aversion to loss influences all sorts of decisions, including decisions about investments, insurance, and how long to work. It may even influence the performance of professional athletes, with golfers playing better when they need to save par than when they have the chance to beat it.

But loss cannot be avoided. Cars rust, fabrics fray, and bodies fail. All who are born must die, and each of us leaves this world with empty hands.

The Bible describes an attitude toward loss that can protect us from the disappointment that accompanies it. Our expectations about the future often reflect our current circumstances, but, as Seneca knew, they also reflect the way we see ourselves and the world around us.

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Rich in contentment

My essay “Rich in contentment” is now available online.

My dad is the restless type, and when I was a kid he changed jobs every few years. That usually meant a move to another state. We would move everything ourselves, loading streams of cardboard boxes into the backs of rented moving trucks. Sometimes, when we moved, we would find boxes that hadn’t been opened since the last move, and we would just move them again. We also moved boxes full of junk, things like wire hangers and busted toasters that we were never going to use.

We wouldn’t have paid money for that stuff, but we paid with our sweat to keep it. We weren’t the only ones to hang on to things like that. Other families do it, too, stuffing their closets and their attics, filling their garages until they have to park their cars outside, even renting storage space.

Why do we keep things we would never buy? Sentimental value can’t explain it. May the day never come when I develop an emotional attachment to a busted toaster. Ignorance or indifference can’t explain it. All of the boxes were labeled with their contents before we loaded them into the trucks.

Economists have discovered something that can explain it, and what they have discovered has implications that go well beyond crowded closets and garages. Their discovery links the clutter in our closets to what the Bible teaches about contentment in difficult circumstances.

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On the sovereignty of God

…every part of nature, when attentively surveyed, equally demonstrates the providential care of its Author; and we may admire the wisdom and goodness of God even in the weakness and folly of men.

Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments