What Is The Purpose Of Life?

4209 words - 17 pages

Theories on man’s development from a state of nature into politics and the present have all been an attempt to understand the purpose of life. After all, a look at what man was like before politics should give some sense of what his initial aims were. However, the ends of mankind have never been agreed upon, with ideas ranging from simple survival to complex interrelations of populations on a global scale. Perhaps the best way to define the ends of the individual would be that those ends must be found by the individual, thus making them different for every person. However, for a political individual, there is a larger interplay of forces. In a political society, it is possible for others to abridge your own personal pursuit of your own good. This leads to a fundamental question: do the ends of the individual naturally oppose those of a society? This is most likely not the case, as the purpose of a government, a civil society, a politic body, is to allow everyone to pursue their own sense of purpose.

The overall development of thought in this direction, towards human purpose, matured by the time Benjamin Constant spoke on the subject. In addressing the current thought that the purpose of government was to allow “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (Jefferson, 240), Constant asks, “Is it so evident that happiness, of whatever kind, is the only aim of mankind?” (Constant, 327). Life is our initial purpose as a human, and liberty is the purpose of a government, but the final ends of mankind are more difficult to define, with the final words in this sequence changing often. Do we have the right to property, happiness, and a side order of fries? Anything could be stated in that final position; Constant argued that it was not necessarily happiness. He says,

There is not one single one of us who, if he wished to abase himself, restrain his moral faculties, lower his desires, abjure activity, glory, deep and generous emotions, could not demean himself and be happy. No, Sirs, I bear witness to the better part of our nature, that noble disquiet which pursues and torments us, that desire to broaden our knowledge and develop our faculties. It is not to happiness alone, it is to self-development that our destiny calls us (Constant, 327).

In the modern sense, a term exists to define this self-development: self-actualization. Self-actualization, then, includes happiness, work, accomplishment, profit, and all sorts of ideas that accumulated over the ages as necessary for the human – the ideas of such authors as Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. However, reaching self-actualization requires all of these thinkers, and an engagement with the liberal tradition itself.

As with so many things, these thoughts began in the classical era, with thinkers such as Plato and Aristotle. A deep discussion of these authors is far beyond the scope of this discussion, but a brief discussion of these thinkers is useful as a starting point. For...

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