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Ethics, How One Ought to Live, The Absolute Aim of Life

Related Links: Expanding Consciousness / What is God? / What is Truth? / Philosophy

"Well-being and happiness never appeared to me as an absolute aim. I am even inclined to compare such moral aims to the ambitions of a pig." --Einstein

Ethics, which deals with how one ought to live one's life, is obviously of enormous import for us all. Perhaps the most important part of Ethics concerns the 'Absolute Aim of Life', or rather, the absolute aim of our life. People, for the most part, seem to fall into one of two camps; either they think that 'happiness' is the absolute aim of life, or they think that it's something else, like experiencing God or meaning. I will argue in this essay for the latter. Of necessity, this essay will draw from my own personal experience. I do not claim that what I say will be valid for everyone, but it is valid for me.

Early in life, I often found happiness if I aimed for it, but such happiness was invariably temporary and fleeting because I was aiming for the wrong thing in life. And I soon realized that such temporary happiness amounts to emptiness and vanity, and it resulted in self-disgust, and so I sought for something more lasting and meaningful, and what I found was that more enduring happiness is a mere by-product of worthier aims in life.

These worthier aims in life include the realization of your full potential, self-development, self-actualization, expanding consciousness, meaning, and the realization of God and Truth. Happiness is a mere by-product that should not be aimed for.

A note about definitions, by 'meaningful' is meant 'significant, full of significance', and by 'worthy' is meant 'deemed sufficiently meaningful to oneself and/or to humanity to justify personal sacrifice and investment of resources'. Happiness is not a necessary condition for being significant or meaningful. Furthermore, 'significant' (and 'meaningful') is something that everyone hopefully knows from experience, and to further define such terms would result in a circular definition (which all definitions are if we continue to pursue the meanings of different terms indefinitely), or it would amount to trying to explain to a blind person what it's like to see. At some point, individuals need to have recourse to the actual experience, and without this experience, nothing that can be said will get through.

One final definition: 'ethics of happiness' means the following claims: 1) that happiness is the meaning of life, 2) that everyone aims solely for happiness whether they know it or not, and 3) without happiness, life is not worth living. As will be shown in the following, such an 'ethics of happiness', if taken to its rational conclusions, results in the absurdity of each person doing anything, no matter how distasteful, repugnant, or degrading, in order to achieve personal happiness. As such, an 'ethics of happiness' can easily be shown false (or otherwise absurd) via the method of reductio ad absurdum.

Interestingly, the person who naively seeks happiness as an absolute aim in life would be wiser to pursue worthier goals, because one would achieve more enduring happiness this way. But by pursuing worthier goals, this person would soon realize that happiness is, in and of itself, worthless, and would reach the realization that happiness only attains worth within the context of meaningful experiences stemming from the pursuit of worthy goals. As such, there is much truth to Einstein's quote (above) that pursuing happiness as the absolute aim in life is comparable to the ambitions of a pig.

To experience happiness alone is worthless. Happiness can attain meaning and worth when considered to comprise a part of more meaningful and worthwhile experiences. If happiness attains meaning and worth, it is only within the context of more meaningful and worthy experiences, and these more meaningful and worthy experiences are, in general, the result of pursuing and realizing meaningful and worthy aims. Pursuing happiness as the sole aim in life is not meaningful, nor is it worthy. This does not rule out pursuing happiness as the means to further aid one in pursuing one's meaningful and worthy aims. But as such, happiness, in and of itself, is a tool and an aid, and not an end in itself to be sought for. One should aim for worthier and more meaningful goals in life, such as knowing God and oneself, and realizing one's potential and humanity's potential.

If someone make happiness their absolute aim in life, then they might as well be shooting heroin or overdosing on prozac, since this is what their ethics justifies and really boils down to, and this, to most people, is simply repugnant, meaningless, and is not what one's life is or should be all about. The culmination of an 'ethics of happiness' that makes happiness an absolute aim in life would be to hook electrodes into the person's own brain and continuously stimulate their happy centers so as to make the person happy all the time, thereby allowing the person to forget everything and everyone else, because so long as the person's happy, nothing else matters.

Since such people would place the pursuit of their own happiness above all else in life, they have no real calling or meaning in life. Oftentimes, such people will claim that the life without happiness is not worth living. Well, perhaps they should ask themselves whether it is they who are not worthy of life. Life is a gift of sorts, and with it comes tremendous responsibilities. Yet, such people don't want the gift unless there's happiness included in the package. Besides being ungrateful, that's also just irresponsible. The key difference between an 'ethics of happiness' and an ethics of meaning, self-realization, and knowing God, is that the latter can justify life in the absence of happiness, whereas the former cannot. If life was completely without happiness, these followers of the 'ethics of happiness' would turn tail and run away from life and reject it, considering it not worth living, whereas people following an ethics of meaning, self-realization, and knowing God would still fully accept life's challenge and find meaning and worth in pursuing their aims. In essence, an 'ethics of happiness' is weak and it degrades Man to a very small and ridiculous stature, whereas an ethics of meaning, self-realization, and knowing God elevates him to unimaginable heights.

And finally, on a different note, and maybe this is already obvious, but having aims in life (i.e., being oriented towards the future in a particular manner) does not preclude experiencing the here and now, and of vividly living in the present. On the contrary, living in the here and now, and fully in the present moment, while at the same time pursuing meaningful and worthy aims, is very meaningful indeed.


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