Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Aristotle's formula for success and happiness

Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter

Twenty-five centuries ago, Aristotle wrote about the principles of reality. His conclusions remain fully applicable in the twenty-first century. For those who don't have much spare time, Aristotle's teachings possess the great advantage that they can be summarised in a single sentence: "Identity and causality govern reality."

There is no way of escaping the principles of identity and causality. They apply to everything we do, and also to our perceptions and thinking. When we make mistakes, the reason always lies in our attempt to breach one of these principles.

We break the principle of identity when we imagine qualities that do not exist in reality. How often have you assessed a person, object or situation much too quickly, only to realise later how flawed your initial judgement was? We also tend to exaggerate problems when we grow overly emotional. Blowing problems out of proportion is an all too common phenomenon. I view exaggeration as the quintessential breach of the principle of identity.

Causality simply means identity in motion. It entails amongst others that, once you identify the true characteristics of an individual, you can predict how he will act in the future. Similarly, once you identify the essential characteristics of an organisation, you can predict with a large degree of certainty how it will act in the future.

The shortest path

Your understanding of identity and causality determines the success of your private and professional endeavours. Observing these principles constitutes the shortest path to prosperity and happiness. In business, individuals who respect these principles will be rewarded with increased efficiency and productivity. Conversely, those who act in breach of these principles are bound to suffer financial losses and personal tragedy.

Ignoring the characteristics of human beings and organisations, overlooking their identity, is tantamount to blinding your eyes. The result of self-inflicted blindness is predictable: you will make mistake after mistake, and those will be accompanied by failure, anger and depression.

Aristotle's principles are extremely useful for solving practical problems. Imagine for instance a manager who becomes aware that his employees are delivering erratic levels of quality. How can he apply identity and causality to solve the problem?

A wrong approach would be for him to implement immediately rigid quality controls across the board. Strict quality controls will do little good because the manager has not bothered to study the problem and identify the cause. Instead of addressing the real problem, the new quality controls are likely to alienate employees, and slow down operations.

A simple formula

The Aristotelian method demands observation and a rational assessment of facts. The manager in our example needs to check the facts, and ask the right questions: Why are quality levels erratic? Are employees using the right materials? Is every member of the team well-trained to do his job? Does the company's compensation system align employees' interests with the company's goals? Should the company redesign its production process? Is the company using the right technology?

Of course, the manager might make mistakes when he is trying to find the answers, but if he is using the proper methodology, his mistakes will be self-correcting. Identity and causality are offering him a proven system for reaching accurate conclusions. It is a system from which everybody can benefit. If you adopt the Aristotelian way of thinking, you will achieve your goals faster, with less effort and lower levels of stress.

Aristotle's formula is easy to remember. Check the facts. Think clearly. Be consistent. And if you discover contradictions, check your logic and correct the errors. Consistency is the key, not only to clear thinking, but also to success and happiness.


Image: Photograph of classical painting. Photograph taken by John Vespasian, 2018.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books   

Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter