Last time we looked at finding purpose through others from the standpoint of extended family focusing on metaphysical and ethical dimensions. We continue now with the other considerations.
No matter the philosophical depth of one’s living, I suspect the quality and meaning of life always includes a psychological component, which it seems to me is most pronounced in relationship to family. The School of Life notes one of the great values of family is ‘unashamed nepotism’ – meaning the reciprocal, justifiable, and socially approved preferential status we give to our relatives. Included in this is a willingness to overlook unfavorable traits. The result is an environment which meets what Baumiester and Laeary call the ‘fundamental need to belong.’1. There we are offered a level of understanding of “the underlying atmosphere of our lives that others will almost certainly lack.” 2
Family also permits otherwise uncharacteristic opportunities for us to spend time with types of people we otherwise would not as for example that between persons of marked age disparity as seen with grandparents and grandchildren. Family allows an unusually close interaction with members of the opposite sex in a safe forum.
If one of the components of a meaningful life is understanding one’s origins and place in the world, then another purpose of family relationship is the part played by shared and sharing of cultural origins. Closer family members give us the greatest context of our lives, but more distant relations, especially those through marriage, provide valuable comparison backgrounds which offers contrast and diversity in understanding the human condition in the safest environment possible.
As Aristotle explains, families serve the practical purpose of wealth acquisition and assistance with everyday needs whereas the State exists to create the conditions for a good life.3 Purpose for the family member then includes the rewards of familial sharing of wealth and professional opportunities as well as the obligation to aid other relatives as one’s own circumstances allow.
For Christian readers (and perhaps others) there is another purpose of family – the recognition of its divine origin. Thomas Aquinas expounds on the duties of care and obedience which binds family members together.4 And of course there is also the escatological purpose – the desire to spend the eternal afterlife together. Metaphorically, this is reflected in the phrase “blood is thicker than water,” and mirrored in the attempt of so many families to place the remains of its members in the same cemetery or mausoleum. No matter your religious beliefs, you likely will admit if there were an afterlife, you would seek to reconnect with your ancestors and with your existing relatives.
1Saphire-Bernstein, Shimon and Taylor, Shelley E., Close Relationships and Happiness in The Oxford Handbook of Happiness, edited by Susan David, Ilona Boniwell, and Amanda Conley Ayers. Oxford University Press, 2015. Chapter 60; page 823.
2The Meaning of Life, from The School of Life, 2019. ISBN 978-0-9957535-4-9, page 29.
3Adler, Mortimer J, et. al., The Great Ideas – A Syntopicon of Great Books of the Western World, Volume II, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., Chicago, 1952. Page 488.
4Ibid., page 489.