The next characteristic for consideration is magnitude. For internal and proximal reality, magnitude is nearly fixed. For instance self-perfection represents a specific target and true friendship is fairly well defined. The significance in the larger picture of both of these is also consistent from person to person. This is not true for societal purpose where one factor in choice is the expectation of the magnitude of the impact on society. While outcomes may be unpredictable, in general, the baker or the restauranteur’s purpose of providing others’ pleasure and nutrition, both noble purposes, seems to be of a different order of magnitude compared to that of the cancer researcher or biomedical engineer. It is at this point we run into a brutal and inescapable conundrum –magnitude or significance and viability of societal purpose are inversely proportional, that is, the greater the significance of our goals, the less the chance of our success.

Another feature of societal purpose differing from inner and proximate forms is number. Inner purposes are generally singular except perhaps meaning which is subjective and thus alterable. The cast of others is mostly fixed; one romantic partner, specified family members, and limited true friends. Acquaintances and strangers are innumerable, but the number of purposes regarding them is static. At the level of civilization, the number of purposes we can choose is limited only by time, talent, energy, and desire. Consider Benjamin Franklin whose purposes included at least – printer, writer, library-founder, scientist, inventor, trade representative, politician, ambassador, and law giver. While it is unlikely most of us can choose so many roles, many of us can pursue more than one path and a meaningful life seems more attainable when we expand our horizons at this level.

Satisfaction or pleasure is a fifth parameter of societal purpose. For internal purposes satisfaction is assumed as these are purely for the self. Proximate purposes to a large extent – especially romantic interest, family, and friendship – are for one’s own satisfaction as well as the others; though perhaps acquaintances are an unavoidable negative experience for some of us. In any case, at the level of society, the choice of purpose can be one that offers pleasure to the individual or not. The great artist may chose her cultural purpose due to her love of her craft and the pleasure she experiences in creation, while the nuclear weapons negotiator may despise his field or his adversaries, but understand the importance of his mission. Clearly some important needs of civilization involve distasteful work and each of us must decide whether personal preference transcends societal necessity.

(further continued)

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