Explore the Art of Fulfilling Life
Hi! My name is Aristotle.
In the previous lesson, Socrates taught you how to find the essentials of a good life. Today I would like to examine with you the subject of living a good life from a biological point of view.
Greek philosophers of ancient time, including my teacher Plato, used to speculate and theorize about a good life without paying attention to how living creatures — to which human beings belong — grow and develop.
Today you’ll learn how you can achieve personal growth and fulfill your potential and why the cultivation of wisdom can make your life more meaningful.
But first, let’s start with something more simple: how do we differentiate the good from the bad?
Let's take a knife, for instance. What does make a particular knife a good one? Perhaps a good knife is comfortable to hold in hand; it is light, solid, and, most importantly, sharp.
These qualities help the knife to do cutting, its purpose, well. Once you know the purpose of something, you can separate all that allows it to fulfill its purpose. These qualities are what make that thing good.
That is normal to think about human-made objects in terms of their purpose. But how can living creatures, including human beings, be defined in that manner?
Living creatures are not made in the same artificial way as a knife, or a chair is. But they are still being created, created by themselves.
They are creating themselves by the processes of constant growth and development. The purpose of living creatures is defined then by abilities that allow them to realize their potential for growth and development.
Qualities that help living creatures to succeed at their specific abilities are the ones that make these beings good.
Let's look now at living organisms of different complexity to find out how they fulfill their potential. Plants as lifeforms have the capability, the potential for growth and aim at it with all their activities.
Plants spread leaves to consume solar energy and produce necessary nutrients. They put down roots to withstand drought and make seeds to reproduce themselves. To grow and flourish for a plant means to carry out these activities properly.
And just like the quality of being sharp is what makes a knife suitable, things that let plants do their vegetative activities well make plants good. And if these qualities are missing, we say that a plant does poorly.
Animals, just as plants, can grow, use nutrition and reproduce. These capabilities are essential for animals, but they also have ones that we can’t neglect.
Animals have a complex nervous system and body constitution that allows them to move around and use the sensory experience to navigate themselves in outer space.
They also have emotions, impulses, feelings of pleasure to guide themselves in pursuing what they have an appetite for, and feelings of pain to avoid what they consider a threat.
To flourish, animals must do the best out of their capabilities. If animals have qualities that allow them to do so, they fulfill their potential and do well.
But what about us? What are our particular activities that define our purpose? What does it mean to fulfill potential for humans? And what are the qualities of an excellent human being?
Human beings are similar to animals and plants in many ways. We share capabilities for physical growth, sensations, and many other features that we may take for granted, but they define us.
All lifeforms are deeply connected in this way. However, humans have unique reasoning, self-reflection, and language capabilities that distinguish us from other life forms.
These capabilities allow us to grasp the truth, reflect on our flaws and correct them.
Moreover, we can cultivate friendships, build social communities, plan for the future and pursue long-term goals. But there is one most crucial difference.
Animals and plants can’t regulate their growth and development, as they are either born with certain qualities that allow them to succeed or not. In contrast, we’re capable of taking responsibility for our growth and flourishing.
Undoubtedly, one part of us — our personality — has been shaped by the biology and environment that we have no choice over.
But, unlike other creatures, there is the part of us — our character — that we’re capable of cultivating.
For succeeding and thriving at our distinct human abilities, we have our peculiar qualities of excellence: wisdom and virtues. And that is how we can live up to our potential, grow and flourish as human beings.
We fulfill ourselves by constantly cultivating our character and virtues reflectively and deliberately, by improving and exercising abilities that are distinctive of us humans.
Wisdom, in this respect, is the ultimate human meta ability. It enhances all other human capacities, cultivating our character and virtues. So what is our purpose, then?
As you may remember, unique abilities that allow something to realize the potential define its purpose.
Our purpose then is to cultivate wisdom and virtuous character so that we, as much as possible, implement our potential for human excellence.
A life devoted to that purpose is one of the most meaningful ways to live it. Leading one like that becomes a project of continuous self-improvement, so every lived day becomes progress and movement forward.
What are some distinct human abilities — creative activity, working in a team, being kind to a stranger, stepping out of comfort zone, etc. — that you've exercised recently? Did you feel they made your life more meaningful? In which ways?
Meaning in life partially comes from exercising our human abilities instead of merely satisfying our animal urges and following blind impulses.
Not fulfilling that potential for wisdom and virtuous character would be neglecting a part of humanity in us and living an empty, meaningless life.
Living unconsciously and impulsively — like an animal, per se — would downgrade human potential and, thus, the ability to achieve aspirations. But if you look around, many people live an unconscious, unexamined half-asleep life.
They’re wasting their precious time on vain pursuits — fussing over their looks, trying to impress others, and seeking idle pleasures — rather than trying to cultivate their character to become better versions of themselves. Why?
The answer is somewhat simple. Just as Alcibiades in the story of Socrates, they are deeply deluded about what they should truly care about in life. They pursue things way before understanding whether they are good for them.
In the following lessons, Socrates will explain what self-delusions are, how they happen to us, and how wisdom can cure us of them.
What you can start doing today is to practice journaling and start reflecting on how you become better every single day. Well done, and good luck on your way to a more fulfilling life!