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Podcast #303: The Philosophy of Frugality

When most people think of frugality, they think of it primarily a way to reduce spending so they can do things like pay off debt or save for a goal like retirement or a downpayment on a home. It’s seen as a personal finance tactic with purely utilitarian ends. But for philosophers and theologians going back all the way to Ancient Greece, frugality was seen as an essential virtue in order to develop wisdom and true happiness. 

Today on the show, I talk to Emrys Westacott, philosophy professor and author of The Wisdom of Frugalityabout the philosophical history of penny pinching. We begin our conversation discussing what philosophers mean by frugality and the various philosophical schools that gave frugality primacy. We then go on to summarize the arguments as to why frugality makes people wiser and happier, the counter-arguments to frugality as a virtue, why the ideal of frugality changes based on circumstances, and why living frugally is harder to do today than in times past. 

This show provides a nuanced look at a much-praised virtue and will leave you mulling over how, why, and to what extent to strive for it in your own life.

Show Highlights

  • Why a philosophy professor decided to write a book about frugality
  • What ancients like Plato and Socrates thought about frugality
  • Frugality as a lifestyle throughout the ages
  • The seeming morality of being frugal and the immorality of luxury/extravagance
  • Why Emrys disagrees with virtue ethics, which argues that virtues are inherently good
  • How frugality and simplicity encourage human flourishing
  • How technology makes self-sufficiency more difficult
  • The surprising benefits of extravagant living
  • How the meaning of frugality changes over time and with personal circumstances
  • Why is there a disconnect between desire and behavior when it comes to simple living?
  • Practicing frugality without descending into miserliness
  • The possible downsides of being frugal
  • How Emrys himself practices simplicity, and how his mindset about frugality changed as he wrote the book
  • Appreciating life’s simple pleasures, and being okay with indulgences now and then

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

The Wisdom of Frugality provides a nuanced look at a much-praised virtue. I know after I finished reading it, I had a lot to chew on regarding how I lived the virtue of frugality in my own life.

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Recorded on ClearCast.io.

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