The Stoic’s On Charity

The Stoics took a pragmatic approach to money and how it can improve the world.

For the Stoics, hoarding unnecessary wealth was seen as impractical and immoral. That isn’t to say that the Stoics disregarded money entirely. Money was a tool that allowed an individual to do good in the world — assuming one’s basic needs were taken care of. Through their involvement in politics, the Stoics saw that money played an essential role in both the motivations of public officials and the general public. But the impact of wealth, either positive or negative, was determined by the virtue of the individual with whom it had been acquired. If one had wealth, they had the responsibility to do good with it.

This is still true today. For most people, money is the north star and they are willing to sacrifice everything – often even their most fundamental morals – to acquire it. For the wise, money is a mere tool that can be used as a force for good in the world if used correctly.

In this way, the Stoics encouraged a rational and measured form of charity. In his dialogue, “On the Happy Life,” Seneca wrote about what this looks like:

“And so [the good person] will possess wealth, but with the knowledge that it is fickle and likely to fly away and …. he will give of it either to the good or those to whom he will be able to make good.” 

But he also stressed that we should be rational and discerning in how much, and why, we are giving our money. Seneca says,

 “Whoever believes that giving is an easy matter errs. Provided that gifts are made discerningly and not scattered haphazardly and impetuously, it is a matter of great difficulty.”

So when we have the fortune of excess wealth, we should use it to make good in the world. Who in your community is doing work to make the world a better place? Is it a small business? A charity? A school? This holiday season, think about those who are actively making a positive change in the world and support them through charity. Even better, get proactive and go help out your community in person.