Last time I outlined a classification of role types for consideration in completion of purpose at the level of cultural reality including: occupation, callings, missions, entertainers, influencers, politicians, practical scientists and inventors, and creators, It is worth noting that there is much overlap in these admittedly artificial categories; the lawyer may service a business as a mere occupation and source of income or may devote herself to a mission to help refugees seeking to immigrate. The baker may regard his trade as a calling if it is based on a deep personal commitment to offer pleasure to as many folks as possible (how many of us can honestly say that we give pleasure to people every working day of our life?).
In fact, the sense of the magnitude of one’s purpose, like meaning itself, is ultimately subjective. The onus is on the individual to view his or her chosen ‘work’ or ‘labor’ as a cherished purpose in life. Moreover, for many and perhaps all of us, societal purpose penetrates deeply into the human world via a chain of causation. Consider the nurse’s care that heals a patient who can then continue on with his or her purpose. As with all events in the universe, in fulfilling our societal roles, we act as triggers of a web of innumerable effects on living and future people.
Before closing I wish to look at two philosophers who allude to purpose in the social sphere: Adam Smith and Thomas Hobbes. Smith, the economist, sees work being of only two types: productive and nonproductive. By his economic assessment, the carpenter is productive while the king is nonproductive. This quasi-scientific classification seems excessively black and white. By such a standard, poets and researchers also are nonproductive. While this may be true in an objective sense, the willingness of society to trade the results of productivity for the output of these individuals seems to be sufficient justification for the sense of purpose they enjoy.
Hobbes takes a somewhat different approach from Smith and me. Power, especially instrumental power is the supreme measure of purpose in society. One example is wealth combined with liberality. Here I must confess, Hobbes adds to my design; that is one may choose one’s occupational or entrepreneurial path as a means to accumulate wealth that in turn supports one’s true societal purpose, the betterment of society through philanthropy and support of positive processes. But Hobbes adds other categories of power such as reputation, affability, nobility, eloquence, and dignity.1 His classification system of the means towards social power nicely blends social virtue with social purpose.
Whichever approach the reader chooses to take – economic, power, or role-based – in all likelihood, a consideration of expected or desired outcomes will drive his or her unique answer for locating purpose in the extended world of humanity.
1Hobbes, Thomas, Leviathan. The Great Books, 1952. Volume 23, pages 71-73