Last time we looked at the thoughts of some eminent 20th century non-philosophers – Jean Kirkpatrick, Daniel Boorstin, and Elie Wiesel – who gave family a prominent place in their personal philosophy of life.
Last we hear from Elizabeth Longford, a respected British biographer, who offers still another nuance. She answers the question as to why the family is the best way of organizing humans with the proposition that its source is marital love. However she thinks the concept must be extended in order for the family to function properly; therefore children should know as many blood relatives as possible. More distant family members offer different ideas and help establish rituals and customs that “add a patina to the early days.”6 For her a great advantage ensues as “The old …can teach the young painlessly about change and decay,”7 while the young invigorate the old. Within this matrix is discerned the profound and universal dichotomy of change versus continuity. But perhaps most importantly, to Longford, human prosperity is further served by “extending one’s family feelings to the whole human race.”8
The comments of these highly reflective and intelligent persons of the twentieth century reviewed in these last two blogs reflect what I believe is an unspoken truth for nearly all people including of course philosophers. Whatever one’s occupation, political thoughts, celebrity, or published philosophical theories; no matter what one believes about the meaning of life or the absence of same, almost everyone defaults in everyday mode to deep concern and attachment to at least part of their family – a spouse, a child, a parent, a sibling, etc. In situations where one must choose between blood and reason, to a large extent blood wins out. We should not be hypocritical in acting as if any other priority approaches its significance. Purpose, whether acknowledged or not, is externally directed first and foremost to the ones we love. From this starting point, we can experience a brotherhood with all humanity – the very people who make up our world and instantiate our destiny – and thus encompass our greater purpose.
Next time we look at another nuance of family as purpose – filial piety. Join me then.
6Fadiman, Clifton (editor), Living Philosophies. Doubleday, N.Y., 1990. ISBN 0-385-24880-6, page 58.
7Ibid., page 60.
8Ibid., page 58.