“…since the chief good of life is the possession of friends, we are right to prefer those to whom we are drawn by secret inclinations, provided that we also see worth in them.”– Rene Descartes, Letter to Pierre Chanut, 6 June 1647
Let’s begin by relocating the discussion that comprises this section – Purpose and Others or more accurately Purpose and Proximate Reality in our overall project. I have presented the thesis that the recorded thoughts of the great minds of human history reveal that the search for a meaningful existence requires we attend to four dimensions: (1) Virtue (human excellence and ideal conduct), (2) Purpose, (3) Contentment, and (4) Connection with Ultimate Reality. The first two of these are accessed at the four lower levels of reality: internal, proximate, societal, and cosmic. We saw in the last section that internal purpose boils down to (1) striving for self-perfection, (2) making a good life for oneself, (3) achieving happiness, and (4) identifying meaning for oneself. Success depends on a correct balance of solitude and the sharing of one’s inner purpose with others.
From the vantage point of purpose, proximate reality in effect refers to other people with whom we have direct contact. We can further group others in a rough order of proximity as romantic partners, family, friends, acquaintances, and strangers. Our first foray beyond internal reality then is to reach out to those in our immediate sphere of existence for actualization of purpose. Proximate purpose therefore translates into reciprocal contributions by oneself and one’s contacts to the quality of life, personal improvement, happiness, and meaning of each other. There are both similarities and differences in the components of purpose for these four basic groups that I wish to pull together in this and the next post.
Starting with romantic love, intimate relationship brings each interconnectedness, metaphysical wholeness, experience of the beautiful, and perhaps even transcendence of space and time. Functionally it permits enhanced survival through mutual concern and assistance, and biological continuance through reproduction. As such it serves as a vital source or extension of the next category, family. A spouse or steadfast lover is also the most reliable partner in achieving a good life for oneself and finding worldly happiness.
Family purpose includes acknowledging place which is relationally fixed while accepting shifting roles essential to family perpetuation. Family informs one’s sense of identity, ethics, fate, and the enigmatic tension between continuity and change. Family also offers psychological sanctuary through unconditional acceptance and belonging combined with a safe exposure to diversity. It may also evoke divine or transcendental understanding that one can extend to all of humanity or even all living things. Like romantic love, family often aids in the realization of a good life and of happiness.
(continued next post)