Vinder af dansk OL i filosofi

Vinder af dansk OL i filosofi
16. april 2024

Stort tillykke til Hannibal Hilden Otte 2x, der netop har vundet finalen i den danske filosofi-olympiade.

Lørdag d. 13. april skrev Hannibal vinder-essayet i konkurrencen, der foregik på engelsk på Gefion Gymnasium i København med 20 finalister fra hele landet. Hannibal fortæller, at han selv blev ret overrasket over placeringen, da han egentlig mest deltog for at få oplevelsen, men forklarer, at han ikke har problemer med at tænke og skrive filosofisk på engelsk. Han havde i øvrigt besluttet sig for ikke at træne for meget på en bestemt skrivemåde op til konkurrencen – men i stedet at følge sit skrivehjerte for at bevare sin personlige stil.
Det virkede åbenbart, for essayet om filosoffen Seneca fangede dommernes opmærksomhed og sikrede Hannibal førstepladsen.
Filosofi, fortæller han, har egentlig blot været en hobby siden han gik på Sorø Borgerskole, hvor de snusede til filosofi i historietimerne i 8-9.klasse – herefter lagde han ud med at læse Nietzsche og politisk filosofi ...

Nu venter en tur til den internationale konkurrence i Helsinki, hvor han skal repræsentere Danmark i maj.
Det var eleverne fra filosofiholdet, der havde stemt på hinandens essays, og indstillet Hannibal til den indledende runde på landsplan.

Vi kan også lige i parentes bemærke, at nogen har hvisket til os, at Hannibals filosofilærer her på skolen, Mike Lauridsen også vandt den danske filosofi-olympiade, men det var tilbage i 2010 :)


Læs vinder-essayet i sin fulde længde her:


“It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.”


In this essay, I’ll start off challenging the common societal definition of poverty, arguing in favor of the definition laid out by Seneca. Then I’ll touch upon human nature and how it relates to the definition, ending off with presenting how the quote also gives us a good look into other parts of stoic philosophy, which Seneca contributed a lot to. I want to define a few terms that I use throughout the essay: I define standard as a standard of living, with a universal standard being a standard set by broader society, whereas an individual standard is the expectation to life of the individual.

What does it mean to be poor? The most common metric with which poverty is measured is wealth. By this metric, the definition of a poor person would be an unwealthy person, or a person without many resources. This is how it seems to be defined on the societal level, where someone is considered poor if their wealth doesn’t exceed a certain standard set by society, let’s call it a universal standard. This universal standard is often relative to the general wealth in the society in which the poor person is situated. But this definition has some weaknesses. Who is to decide what the universal standard should be set to, and is wealth really the only metric that has a say in whether a person is poor or not? If the definition of poor is someone whose standard of living lies under this universal standard, is it given that the person has too little, and not just little?

The word “too” is essential to the definition, since it implies a problem, and why would we regard someone as poor if it’s not because it’s a problem. But this sparks an issue with the universal standard, because the only thing a person's position relative to the universal standard tells us is whether the person has more or less, not if that less is “too” little. This is where the whole definition seems to falter. The universal standard would be too general, and wouldn’t take individual differences into account. Two different people could have radically different expectations of life, which could make a person above the universal standard feel like they have too little, and a person below the universal standard feel completely satisfied with what they have. And if this is the case, who is really poor?

A better alternative would be to introduce an individual standard, where a person has their own expectation to life, this expectation then serving as the individual standard to them. This way, nobody besides the individual decides whether people just have little or actually have too little. The definition is simple. A person under their individual standard would feel they have too little, and would thus be poor, whereas a person who lives correspondingly to their individual standard would be satisfied, and thus not be poor. This can be described mathematically, where a person is to be considered poor if returns a positive value. The size of the value then tells us about the severity of the poverty, with a larger value indicating more severe poverty. Here I’d also like to present what I claim to be a flaw in Seneca's quote. “It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.”. Since the only person who knows whether something is too much is the person themself, craving more would be synonymous with having too little. So having too little is being poor, but one only has too little if they crave more. I’d consider the following quote to be more fitting: “It is not the man who has little, but the man who craves more, that is poor”.

The paradoxical part about this, is that poverty would be the default state of humans. Humans evolved in scarcity. Before civilization, a person could never be sure that they would survive the next few weeks, given the scarcity of resources necessary to survival. This brought an evolutionary bias with it, where people who consumed as much as possible would be more likely to survive, and thus reproduce, applying their superior genes to the next generation. This is very significant, since every modern economy relies on people consuming as much as possible, and being willing to consume even more in the future to ensure economic growth. It does have consequences on the individual however. Since society has deviated so much from what it evolved to be, and scarcity has become abundance, human nature cannot be assumed to be optimal in navigating the world anymore. Humans evolved for scarcity are now living in abundance, resulting in over-consumption, bringing a lot of issues with it, most notably obesity and lifestyle diseases, but also just the way people go about their lives.

In this society, it’s really easy to be trapped in a constant cycle of hedonistic adaptation, where any increase in wealth immediately gets put to use in upgrading one's lifestyle, and one then getting used to that lifestyle and craving even more, repeating the cycle. And this isn’t even an exception, but the rule, not just on a personal level but on a broader societal level, simply because of human nature. Now, looking at this cycle of hedonistic adaptation with the perspective of our new definition of poverty, a person stuck in this cycle would be considered poor, since they obviously must feel they have too little since they strive to upgrade their lifestyle anytime possible. And this is really where Seneca’s critique gets manifested.

Seneca is really criticizing hedonism with his quote. The constant striving after material possessions and consumer products is poverty, since the individual standard in that case always lies just above the actual standard that an individual is living under. But how should you go about life and consumption then? Seneca himself was a wealthy man, being a roman senator. But Seneca claimed to still live according to his principles, since he didn’t have a tight relationship with his possessions. The stoics preached the notion of being indifferent to anything out of your control, and material possessions were seen as one of such things. Given that you could lose your possessions at any time, maybe because of theft, inflation, your ship sinking like in the case of Zeno or something different, you must be indifferent to them. Seneca would be an advocate for the ideal individual standard being set in a way, where you never expect anything outside your control out of life. You simply never wish for anything outside of your control, because you’re indifferent to it.

This has a whole lot in common with the expression “Amor Fati” coined by Friedrich Nietzsche, translating to “Love of Fate” from latin. Loving your fate no matter what makes it impossible to ever be poor, since all you expect from life simply is that things unfold how they do. You don’t wish to be wealthier than you are, healthier, happier or more beautiful than you are, but simply to be who you are. You also don’t wish to have more money or wealth than you have, removing any issue with having little and thus moving beyond the terms of poor or rich. You start to embrace life at full throttle, detaching yourself from outcomes, allowing yourself the freedom of not having to worry about results. You can write an essay at a philosophy olympiad without having to worry about whether the people reading it like the fact that you included this example or not, simply because it is indifferent to you. Any outcome is a good outcome.

Since your individual standard won’t be found on a scale of things outside your control following this ideal, it must be found on the scale of things you can control. This adds more depth to the concept, providing an excellent springboard into other parts of the philosophy of Seneca and the stoics. The only things you can really control are your thoughts and actions, which I will simplify as behavior, so the individual standard must be a standard of the quality of your behavior. This has a whole lot of resemblance to the quote of former roman emperor and fellow stoic Marcus Aurelius, who says “The quality of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts”. On this scale, being poor would be your behavior not living up to the standard you’ve set for yourself, or expressed more clearly, a poor person would be a person who doesn’t do the things they want to do. An example of this would be a smoker who wants to stop but doesn’t do it, or someone who wanted to prepare for a specific competition by reading a lot of books but didn’t do it.

It makes sense to have a high individual standard of one's behavior, and Seneca and the stoics praise this very notion, expecting nothing and giving everything. This is in stark contrast to giving nothing and expecting nothing, which would be a more cynic approach, corresponding more to the philosophy of Diogenes, who lived in a barrel, which makes perfect sense since that approach would also be poverty by our definition. This also makes the stoic philosophy make a lot more sense to apply in real life. Giving everything generally results in more of the things we consider important in life, and even if you don’t get them, you can be happy with having done everything you could, instead of regretting not having gone all out in retrospect. Giving everything and expecting nothing will always result in a net-positive outcome, even if you ideally shouldn’t care about the outcome.

In conclusion, poverty isn’t a result of having little, but having too little. And the only person who is to define whether what they have is too little or not, is the person themself. By this definition, it is up to the expectations of the person whether they are rich or poor. According to Seneca, a person should never expect anything outside of their control, leaving this definition of poverty to really only be on the scale of a person's behavior relative to the expectations they have of their behavior, translating well to the stoic worldview in general.

(Udgivet med tilladelse fra ©Hannibal Hilden Otte)