Part One: Life Purposes of Great Thinkers

Summaries of major philosophies, selected to inspire thought regarding one’s lifestyle and purpose. In analyzing how living according to different philosophies would affect one’s life and the world, one better understands oneself and what one believes he/she should strive for.
Purposes of Happiness
Hedonism touts that nothing matters except one’s own pleasure. The hedonist’s actions are evaluated in terms of maximizing net pleasure (pleasure minus suffering), although unclear whether immediate or long-term gratification is better. Crop rotation is a higher level hedonist tactic: constantly change what one is doing in order to maximize the enjoyment derived from each activity, staving off boredom; however, Kierkegaard argued that it eventually leads to a state of despair because all activities, no matter how unique or new, will eventually become boring, leading the hedonist to yearn for a more meaningful life.
Utilitarianism, instead of focusing on the self, wishes “the greatest happiness/well-being (pleasure minus suffering) to the greatest number of people.” It believes that the worth of an action is determined solely by its usefulness in maximizing utility (pleasure, preference, satisfaction, knowledge, etc.) and minimizing negative utility as summed among all sentient beings. Utilitarianism values highest the people who sacrifice their own happiness for the greater happiness of others.
Negative Utilitarianism is the idea that the reduction of suffering to all is most valuable, moreso than increased pleasure. Buddhism’s central idea is the same, specifying that we can reduce suffering by performing good deeds (because we are trying to be the best virtuous person we can be, not because of our emotions). Regarding the self, Buddhism touts acceptance of both bad and good, which allows one to be forever content with everything, appreciate what one has, and to move on.
Epicureanism maintains that the greatest good is to attain a tranquil long-term happiness by becoming free of pain. The greatest source of pain is fear, and the solution is to be wise (to not fear the elements), just (to not fear friends), and honorable (to not fear anything else). This elimination of fears and desires leaves people free to pursue modest pleasures to which they are naturally drawn (companionship, knowledge, love, sex, acceptance, virtuous temperate living), and to enjoy their consequent peace of mind. Non-natural sources of pleasure (power, fame, material objects, etc.) are sources of even more pain. Epicureans further argue for withdrawing from public life and residing frugally with like-minded close friends, albeit criticized by Plutarch as neglecting the desire of the human spirit to help mankind and take on leadership roles and responsibility.
Egoism states that a man’s purpose should be his own happiness or rational self-interest, that an action is right if it maximizes good for the self. Similarly, Objectivism, as founded by Ayn Rand, also has self-interest as man’s purpose, but “with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” She said the individual should neither self-sacrifice for others, or sacrifice others to himself.

Purposes of Virtue Ethics: Stoicism
Note: “One could not simply study what virtue is, he had to be virtuous, via virtuous activities.” — Aristotle
Cynicism touts that the purpose of life is living a life of virtue, aided by embodying man’s animal-like self-sufficient nature. The Cynic entirely rejected possessions and conventional desires (power, wealth, fame, entertainment/pleasure). To a Cynic, suffering and negative emotions are consequences of false judgments of value (mostly from society’s conventions).
Stoicism holds the purpose of life as living according to virtue (wisdom, justice, courage, temperance), achieved through self-control and mental fortitude to achieve “clear judgement” (maintaining a will that is in accordance with nature vs Cynicism’s living in accordance with nature). To a Stoic, health, pleasure, beauty, strength, wealth, good reputation, and noble birth are neither good nor bad since they can be used well or badly, so they are merely preferable indifferences. We should be indifferent/resigned with dignity towards external events/misfortune, as we have little power to change them, but can change our state of mind and our exercise of virtue. For a more thorough version of the Stoics’ techniques for Apatheia (achievement of freedom from instinctive primitive emotional responses): 1) Use awareness and self-examination to help avoid the dangers of identification of our psyche with anything. 2) Distinguish genuine wants (food, shelter) from false wants (needless cravings) because the self, itself, has all that it needs. 3) Avoid the unhealthy desires (painful, compulsive, nervous, or angry) and seek those that are virtuous or aid self-understanding. 4) Think of ourselves in the third-person (a more objective self-observing view), to help separate the way we feel from the way we truly are.

Purposes of Humanity’s Development
Humanism encourages us to lead ethical lives of personal improvement and self-fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity. Enlightened self-interest is at the core of humanism; the most significant thing in life is the human being, thus also the human race, because the happiness of the individual person is inextricably linked to the well-being of all humanity (due to the fact we are social animals who find meaning in personal relations and all benefit from cultural progress). Confucianism, a humanist philosophy, tries to define the most basic virtues/ethics to cultivate and maintain for self-development and the greater good: 1) altruism and humaneness to others (saintly), 2) upholding justice/righteousness to do good (scholarly), and 3) following an etiquette that leads to a content and healthy society (gentlemanly). It looks down on pettiness of mind and heart, narrow self-interest, greed, superficiality, and materialism. Transhumanism emphasizes that we should also actively improve the human body with technology, to overcome all biological limitations such as mortality, physical weakness, limited memory capacity, etc.
Evolutionary Ethics states that survival and growth is the chief purpose of man.

Purposes of Existentialism
Existentialism holds that the existence of life precedes its essence/meaning. In other words, the universe is either meaningless or its meaning transcends our understanding. Because the meaning of one’s life is not predetermined, every person is free to create their own meaning. Furthermore, although the human being can use reason to understand the objective world, he cannot use reason alone to give meaning to his own life. If he tries, it gives rise to the emotions of anxiety and dread, felt in facing one’s radical freedom and inevitable death.
In a world where many people seek to flee their anguish, existentialists agreed that we should fully accept our “Absurd” dilemma (that we are compelled to find meaning in a meaningless universe) and the freedom it provides. This allows us to live life to the fullest. To fully solve the dilemma, one should not commit suicide or be aesthetic/hedonistic, one should either:
1) Believe in a spiritual/transcendental idea (ie God, heaven) that is not human-comprehensible, as such has innate meaning (Kierkegaard)
2) Create and work towards one’s own purpose and subsequent goals (or at least search for such), thus creating meaning (most other existentialists, Nietzsche)

Nietzsche could also explain existentialism’s idea “the universe is meaningless” in that all ideas and evaluations occur from perspectives (Perspectivism), so one can never know absolute truth. Nietzsche believed that man needs to continue to act in the face of this uncertainty, forging his own way with new lifestyle/goals/values (based off love for this world and life) instead of being burdened by the old or imposed ones, or having no values (nihilism). This is also the only way to attain true happiness/pleasure, as opposed to chasing it (which also leads to mediocrity).

Nietzsche’s interesting take on a man overcoming himself to greatness, in control of his life: the Ubermensch
His concept of a great man entails 1) being creative and skeptical so nothing limits his creation of meaning, able to change and be different from the majority/others not just with words but also actions. 2) He is noble: consumed by his work/responsibilities/projects and actively seeks heavier ones, all in pursuit of a unifying project. 3) He only has a taste for that which helps him towards this project (he despises anything non-relevant/petty, ie he lacks “congeniality,” requires no sympathy, and deals with others only instrumentally – as means or obstacle, and shuns alcohol/Christianity). The humanities in school should be taught not as exercises in academics but guides to living life. Health is important, however the familiarity of suffering can bring energetic stimulus to one’s life, necessary for human excellence. He even stated we shouldn’t hide from envy but accept it and own up to our desires, put up a heroic fight towards them, and own up to failure with solemn dignity. 4) He is not pessimistic, but life-affirming, as he would joyously repeat his entire life for all eternity. 5) He has an attitude of self-reverence (akin to a God), transforming his life into a work of art through self-knowledge, and has an attitude of certainty about oneself and one’s values.
The great man’s anti-thesis is the last man: tired of life, taking no risks, seeking/achieving only comfort and security, an apathetic creature who has no great passion, who is unable to dream, who merely earns his living and keeps warm.

Purposes of Deontology (duties/rights)
Classical Liberalism (Locke, Rousseau, Smith) considers individual liberty to be the most important goal, because humankind has evolved from its natural state to finding meaning for existence through labor and property, and using social contracts to create an environment that supports these efforts. It casts humans as beings with inalienable Natural Rights (including the right to retain the wealth generated by one’s own work), and seeks out means to balance rights across society.
State Consequentialism holds that an action is right if it leads to state stability, through order (no violence), wealth for basic needs, and population growth (no famine).
Marxism and Communism say the meaning of life is to serve one another, in peace and with integrity as equal and just beings. The pursuit of wealth, power, and fame cannot ultimately give our lives meaning, even standing in the way of achieving happiness. Thus private property should be abolished. No one has anything anyway, except the 10% that have everything; those conditions should be equalized. They believe that only when we share in the ownership of property, when all are equal with all, and all share in the labor, can there truly be freedom.

Purposes of Spirituality
Theism touts God created the universe and that God had a purpose in doing so. Humans find their meaning and purpose for life in God’s purpose in creating and/or one’s perceived relationship to God. Theists further hold that if there were no God to give life ultimate meaning, value and purpose, then life would be absurd.
Asceticism describes a lifestyle characterized by abstinence from worldly desires/pleasures often with the aim of pursuing religious and spiritual goals (salvation, deliverance, etc.), but always with the aim of greater freedom in various areas of one’s life (such as freedom from compulsions and temptations and suffering) and greater tranquility of mind. Nietzsche agreed that an ascetic can overcome pain and despair and attain mastery over oneself in this way, however, it does not encourage achievement/self-improvement and can lead to an aversion to life (like the hibernation and denial of the material world that priests place themselves in).
Kierkegaard (religious thinker, “founder of existentialism”) believed that the only way to embrace life fully is to have a non-rational acceptance for an unprovable thing (ie “God exists”), to have faith among doubt (without doubt one would merely be gullible). Only with faith can one have great passion, become his true self, and be atoned for always being in sin (God’s morals of right and wrong transcend our understanding). He also stated faith could be of something else, like an impossible love; we deduce we will never have that person, and can either 1) give up, 2) keep at it but be resigned that it won’t happen, or 3) keep at it and believe “the absurd that it will happen because all things are possible with god” (the only happy option). You must DO something, not merely think about your faith. In addition to faith, Kierkegaard’s other idea was that religion is a purely personal endeavor (never social, political, etc); to know God deeper, we must know our selves deeper, through self-reflection and introspection, cultivating our own awareness of our selves and our own principles for salvation. He warned of pretending to be spiritual while acting from worldly motives or others’ views of God’s will, and also warned of losing the self within the infinitizing of the God-relation, perverting the relation.
Platonism states that there are no such thing as objects, except as heavenly forms. The meaning of life is in attaining the highest form of knowledge, which is the Idea (Form) of the Good, from which all good and just things derive utility and value. Human beings are duty-bound to pursue the good.

Purpose of Anti-Human Nature: Schopenhauer
Schopenhauer deems all humans, both the master and slave, are one and the same, that we all have the same human essence called the “will to life”; an aimless, irrational drive towards everyday basic desires (survival) and leads to suffering. This is caused by our strong tendency to apply reason/rationalization (from our individuating consciousness) to everything. To fully reduce one’s suffering and become more free is to realize and resist our individuality (minimize desires through Ascetic voluntary poverty and chastity, resist the animalistic drive to merely endure and flourish, etc) and to direct the physical, practically-oriented consciousness towards more extraordinary, universal (consequently more peaceful) states of mind. One realizes that the origins of morality are not found in reason as Kant believes, but rather in the feeling of compassion (we feel the suffering of others, so it is as important as one’s own). Among the values Schopenhauer respects are treating others as you would like to be treated, refraining from violence/egoism/revenge, and reducing suffering in the world. Others refuted Schopenhauer’s “will to life” being the main driving force of man; Sigmund Freud’s supported the “will to pleasure”, Kierkegaard “will to meaning” aka Frankl’s logotherapy, and Nietzsche “will to power” (achievement, ambition, and the striving to reach the highest possible position in life).

Nihilism (No Purpose)
The world, and especially human existence, is without meaning, truth, knowledge, or valuable morals (which only serve as society’s false ideals). Nietzsche recognized that nihilism induces a despicable “paralysis of will.” However, Nietzsche believed nihilism is a necessary evil, a transitional period between believing illusions (ie God/Afterlife) and manifesting greatness.

Ethics: Correctness/Morality of Actions
Consequentialism (Teleological) – the rightness of an action is determined by its consequences (either actual or expected)
Deontological Ethics (Deontology) – the rightness of an action is based on the action’s adherence to a rule or rules
Virtue Ethics – the rightness of an action depends on what the action says about the person (benevolent, charitable, selfish, etc.)
Pragmatic Ethics is different in that, 1) it focuses on the society as the entity achieving morality/ethics instead of the individual, 2) inquiry should be used to improve norms, principles, and moral criteria, 3) a moral judgment is only appropriate in a given age of a society (ex: although Thomas Jefferson fought to end slavery, he did not free his own slaves, claiming that to do so before society reformed would result in harm for both the freed slaves and the union).
Development of Ethics: Lawrence Kohlberg indicates that humans typically learn to practice consequentialism at the earliest age, followed by virtue ethics and deontology. Since ethical pragmatists build upon these forms of moral reasoning, pragmatic ethics would likely be learned later in life, and would therefore be less prevalent in the general population.