What Is the Purpose of Life? Part 10

OK, we’re down to the final two candidates now. The runner-up is goods of the soul. There are two primary goods of the soul: wisdom and virtue. Wisdom is the good of the mind and virtue is the good of the will. Wisdom is knowing the best means to get to the best ends. Put another way, wisdom is knowing the best way to accomplish the best goal.

Virtue is simply moral excellence. Love, kindness, courage, generosity. These are all virtues.

Likewise, wisdom encompasses all of the goods of the mind. The mind and the will are what make up our souls.

So, why would the goods of the soul be the best candidate for happiness? Well, it seems that we’ve excluded everything external to the human being, meaning wealth, honor, fame, and power. We’ve also excluded bodily health and pleasure. By the process of elimination, the soul must be it. The health of the soul must be the thing that makes us happy.

Indeed, this is the conclusion that many people come to. It is common for people to say that love and wisdom are our purpose in life. Even Monty Python said we should live in peace and harmony with others. John Lennon said “All you need is love.” Jimi Hendrix said, “When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.”

Wisdom is also a popular goal for many. Ralph Waldo Emerson said “Life is a festival only to the wise.” Wise people attract a crowd and nobody tires from spending time with them. King Solomon asked God for wisdom and he commended wisdom to his son: “Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or swerve from them. Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom” (Pr 4:5-7).

Surely the goods of the soul are the meaning of life, the thing that gets us to ultimate happiness. How can we do better than love and wisdom?

But alas, even though it is through the soul that we reach happiness, the soul itself cannot be the ultimate goal of human life. Why? The soul is like an arrow heading toward a bull’s-eye. The bull’s-eye is happiness. It doesn’t make sense to say that the arrow is flying toward itself. The arrow cannot be its own bull’s-eye, but to say that the soul seeks itself for ultimate happiness is saying that the arrow flies toward itself.

Our soul strives for our entire lives to reach happiness. We gain knowledge and wisdom, we learn to love others, but those things are all aimed at our ultimate goal. To say that our soul is that goal is to say that we are going in circles for our entire life, like a cat chasing its own tail. It may be true that we attain happiness with our souls, but our souls are not what gives us final happiness. What is it that our souls long for? What is the bullseye? What is our destination?

  • Andrew R

    “Well, it seems that we’ve excluded everything external to the human being, meaning wealth, honor, fame, and power. We’ve also excluded bodily health and pleasure”

    You may have excluded them for yourself, but that doesn’t mean that others don’t find meaning in any of these things or a combination of some or all of them.

  • Andrew_EC

    It’s posts like these that make me wonder if Bill Pratt isn’t an exceptionally deep-cover atheist running a well-crafted parody page. Sentences like “The arrow cannot be its own bulls-eye, but to say that the soul seeks itself for ultimate happiness is saying the arrow seeks itself” — that’s a word salad that would make Alan Sokol blush. It can’t possibly be anything other than parody, can it?

    Put another way: can anyone straightforwardly decipher the last two paragraphs of gibberish in this post?