Sufficiency, nature and freedom

‘More’, written by I.C. Springman, illustrated by Brian Lies.

A magpie and a mouse begin with nothing, but soon find a few covetable shiny objects with which the magpie furnishes its nest. As the collection rapidly expands, it’s not long before the nest is bursting with stuff. The accumulated ‘plenty’ is not enough for the magpie, who requires more nests to house the growing stockpile of items. The nests, weighed down with found items, bulge on their boughs. Too late, the mouse calls a halt: ‘Enough!’ Disastrously, the branch snaps and treasures spill from the nest, burying the fallen magpie. A team of mice helps to excavate the debris until, at last, the magpie is freed from the weight of its possessions. The magpie and mouse depart unencumbered, with only a couple of special treasures in tow.

Discussion – Sufficiency and the good life

  • Why do we want things?
  • How can we know when we have enough? Why do people have different ideas about what is enough?
  • What is the difference between needing and wanting? What is the difference between comfort and luxury?
  • Is it wrong to feel attached to things?
  • What do we need to be happy? Is happiness more than just pleasure? Can having or wanting things make us unhappy?
  • What is wealth?
  • What is beauty?
  • How do we decide what is meaningful?
  • What does it mean to lead a good life? How can we improve our quality of life?

Discussion – Environmental ethics and social justice

  • Is it OK to use environmental resources for our own purposes?
  • Is it our responsibility to ensure that other people and animals get their share of the resources that are available?
  • Do we need to ensure that future generations of people will have enough? How many generations into the future should we be concerned about?

Discussion – Human nature and free will

  • It’s natural for magpies to collect things. Is it natural for human beings to collect things?
  • Is trying to satisfy our appetites just a part of human nature?
  • What does it mean to exercise self-control? What is willpower? Can we ever overcome bad habits?
  • Are you more free when you have less stuff? What does it mean to be free?

Philosophical Allsorts

“True happiness flows from the possession of wisdom and virtue and not from the possession of external goods.” Aristotle (384 – 322 BCE)

“…the zealot … tortures himself like a madman in order to desire nothing, love nothing, feel nothing, and … if he succeeded, would end up a complete monster!” Denis Diderot (1713 – 1784)

“The principle of asceticism never was, nor ever can be, consistently pursued by any living creature.” Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832)

“…that seemingly wealthy, but most terribly impoverished class of all… have accumulated dross, but know not how to use it, or get rid of it, and thus have forged their own golden or silver fetters.” Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862)

“…my greatest skill has been to want but little…” Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862)

“Acquisitiveness — the wish to possess as much as possible of goods, or the title to goods — is a motive which, I suppose, has its origin in a combination of fear with the desire for necessaries.” Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970)

The Philosophy Club runs co-curricular and extra-curricular workshops for children in Australia.




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