Purpose, Value Hierarchies, and Happiness

Craig Biddle
Content Type
Journal Article
The Objective Standard
Issue Number
Publication Date
Summer 2014
The Objective Standard
Author's note: This essay is an edited version of a lecture I've delivered to various Objectivist community groups. It assumes some understanding of and agreement with the philosophy of Objectivism. That we live only once is not speculation. This is it. This life is all we have. This fact, however, is not cause for despair; it is cause for action. To quote a favorite ad, “It's not that life's too short, it's just that you're dead for so long.” Our time in life is substantial—we might live to eighty, ninety, or even a hundred years old—and we can do a great deal in the decades we have. But we are going to die. And when we do, that's it. We're done. So: What to do? As rational egoists—as people who know that the moral purpose of life is to maximize our personal happiness—we want to fill our days and years with accomplishments and joy. We want to wake up every morning and pursue our values with vigor. We want to thrive in a career we love, in romance, in our recreational pursuits, in our friendships, and so on. In short, we want to make our lives the best they can be. That's easy to say. And, in a sense, it's easy to do: Just think rationally and act accordingly. In another sense, however, it is the single most difficult thing in the world. Making our life the best it can be is the only project that requires the harmonious use of all of our resources and capacities—physical and mental, personal and social—toward a highly complex goal for the span of our entire life. No other project comes even close to this in terms of its demands. In fact, all of our other egoistic endeavors are subsumed under this one. Whether we are performing brain surgery, or composing a symphony, or building a semiconductor company, or raising children, or learning to hang glide—all such endeavors are only projects within the broader goal of making the most of our life. Everything we do is but an aspect of this grand, all-encompassing goal. To achieve the greatest happiness possible, we have to unify all of our choices, values, and goals into a single harmonious whole. This requires a great deal of thinking, selecting, planning, prioritizing, coordinating, reviewing, reevaluating, and so on. At every turn, we must gain or apply the necessary knowledge, use our best judgment, and act accordingly—with respect to the full context of our values and goals. This is a huge subject, and, in keeping with the opening point, we have limited time. So I want to be clear about the scope of my talk. My goal tonight is to indicate the nature and importance of purpose (and related matters) in good living. My overarching point is that understanding and upholding the concept, value, and principle of purpose is essential to making your life the best it can be. What is a purpose?