Monday, January 23, 2012

The Meaning of Life

This week, I'm going to get philosophical as I discuss the meaning of life.  It is commonly agreed upon that people don't know or understand the meaning of life.  Many negative-minded people will say that there is no meaning of life, and that everything is just random chance.  Other people think that you yourself can create the meaning of life for yourself.

However, these people are wrong.  To make a long story short, Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches us that, without a doubt, the meaning of life is happiness.  That's the meaning or purpose of life; that is the final end or goal that humans work towards.  And that is the topic that I am going to discuss this week.

Of course, St. Thomas doesn't start from the position that happiness is the goal of human life.  Instead, he begins with a series of questions about the goal of life in general.  That's a good technique, so I'm going to use it here.


1. Do humans act towards ends or goals?

Yes, humans act towards goals.  Experience proves this is true, and reason proves that it is necessary for people to act towards goals.  We can see this, if we look at the difference between humans and animals.  Humans are in control of their actions, through the use of their reason and free will, while animals are not.  This is important to note: human actions involve the use of the will.  Since the will is always geared towards a goal, human actions must always involve acting towards a goal.

There are actions, such as sneezing, that a person can perform, without the use of their reason and deliberate will.  Properly speaking, these are not human actions.  They are, to use a legal term, "acts of man".

2.  Do animals act towards ends or goals?

Yes.  Out of necessity, all agents act towards an end.  If an agent was not working towards a particular effect, he would not do one thing, rather than another.

As stated earlier, humans work towards goals, by means of their reason and will.  But it is possible for someone to work towards a goal, without knowing what the goal is.  This is often the case when someone forces another person to do something.  With animals, this is always the case.

Instead of being led by reason and intellect, animals are led by natural instinct.  Humans sometimes work by instinct, too.  These instincts guide animals (and humans) towards particular ends and goals.  The fact that the animals don't know what the goals are does not mean that they aren't working towards those goals. 

3. Is there a final goal or ultimate end that people work towards?

Yes, and that is happiness.  This becomes apparent if you examine all the various goals that people work towards.  Even though these goals are very different at times, they have one thing in common, and that is the fact that they always involve seeking after some kind of goodness.  In other words, people only desire things which they think are good.  Therefore, no matter what goal a person makes, the person is working towards goodness.  Goodness results in happiness; hence, every action a person takes is ultimately geared towards happiness.

The main objection that people make to this argument is that people can desire something which is bad.  Too true, but when someone desires something that is bad, they desire it under the guise of goodness.  If you truly believe something is bad, you do not desire it.  If you desire a thing, there must be something in it that you see as good, which is the cause of your desire.

A good example is someone who is trying to quit smoking.  The person desires to smoke and to not smoke at the same time.  Even though these desires are contrary, they both involve the person doing what he thinks is good.

4.  Can a person have multiple last ends?

It is possible for a person to have many goals at once, but it is impossible for a person to have multiple final ends.  As explained earlier, every goal is geared towards the one, final goal of happiness.  If there were any other goals separate from or beyond happiness, then happiness would not be the final end.  That is what the concept of finality entails.

5.  Do all people have the same last end?

Yes, all people desire their complete fulfillment by reaching their last end.  The desire to reach the last end is the same for everyone, but the way that this desire is actualized varies from person to person.  Some people seek happiness in pleasure, some people seek happiness in meditation, some people seek happiness in possessions, and so on.


To sum up, humans work towards goals, and all human actions are ultimately geared towards the final end of happiness.  Happiness is the acquisition of the last end, and tomorrow, I will discuss the various ways people try to get happiness.

1 comment:

Cat said...

The meaning of life is 42.