“Every individual… neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it… he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was not part of his intention.”
Adam Smith - The Wealth of Nations
The individual is central to this work. This work does not espouse a collectivist doctrine that places the group above the individual. It is an individualist philosophy that relies on informed self-interest to guide the individual to the achievement of their Individual Purpose, being their family’s survival. Let us begin with what we know about the individual being so far. We can infer from the principle of ‘perspectivism’ that the individual being has an equality of inherent value.
We can deduce that if each being’s inherent value is the same from the universal perspective due to its purpose being only the continuation of life in all its forms, then the value each species and being must assign to other beings must also be predicated on the achievement of their purpose. Just as species, if they were able to think, would prioritise their continued existence over others, consequently placing greater value on their existence than others, so too must individual beings.
The Value of the Individual
All beings find themselves at the crux of their own existence. From their perspective, their existence is all, and as such, they value themselves higher than all other beings. This is both natural and correct. To achieve our Individual Purpose, we must generally continue to exist. By placing our own survival first, we allow ourselves to pursue our purpose with clarity. However, we must sound caution here to prevent misunderstanding.
Just as you place yourself first, so to do all others. To you, you are the most valuable being, and to them, they are the most valuable being. This valuation is only a matter of perspective and does not alter the inherent equality of your and their inherent value. It should be a position of faith that each individual has, at their birth, equal latent potential. Every one of us is capable of anything. While genetics play a role in our traits and give us advantages in some areas and weaknesses in others, we must not let them define us. The race is not always to the swift or the fight to the strong.
In a universe, as conceived here governed by choice and chance, we cannot judge with any reliability what potential a person may possess. Who would have picked from the infancies of the great men and women of the ages that they would achieve greatness? Churchill and Hitler were famously considered by their teachers and parents to be unpromising, yet achieved distinction or notoriety in their own ways. Fabius Maximus, who was counted as one of Rome’s greatest heroes, was in his youth derided for his meekness and supposed stupidity. So common is this defiance of expectations that luminaries such as Isaac D’Israeli and Rousseau commented on it. With Rousseau going so far as to assert that ‘this seeming and deceitful dullness in youth in many cases is the sign of a profound genius’. Therefore, we should take to heart that we are not superior to others except in our own estimations and treat all beings with respect.
How to Achieve Our Purpose
The individual exists in the world as both a single independent entity and as part of a greater whole. As an independent entity, we seek our own interests and welfare, yet as we are also part of a greater whole, we cannot act without affecting others. The difficulty in achieving the deceptively simple purpose of life lies in this. If we accept that our purpose in life is synonymous with that of the Individual Purpose, then we are impelled to seek the best way to achieve it.
As a starting point, we should consider our actions and seek to harmonise them with the achievement of the Individual Purpose. In essence, we should seek to expend our energies on those activities that will promote our survival and welfare. Conversely, we should resist the temptation to act in ways that we judge as being harmful to our welfare and long-term survival. In practice, this means that we must seek to act in such a way as will promote our achievement of the Individual Purpose while factoring in the often-unconscious way in which all other beings are doing the same and the cumulative effect these concurrent actions have on the achievement of your Individual Purpose.
For us as humans, this means taking the time to reflect on the actions we are taking to see how they affect the world around us, the other beings we share the world with, and how they affect us. This is due to the ability of our actions to lead to unbudgeted externalities. For instance, if we act in a way that while initially beneficial to ourselves leads to long-term negative consequences that harm our long-term interests, this is harmful. An example of this is the temptation to overfish an area or to take undersized fish. While initially, we benefit from the surplus, the long-term impact is a reduction in the fish stocks and diminishing returns. By acting unreflectively, we harm our long-term interests, and through our inattention or caprice, harm other beings which are then incentivised to retaliate against us.
As individuals, we can exert the most significant influence over the achievement or non-achievement of our Individual Purpose. However, we cannot achieve it alone. The accomplishment of our Individual Purpose is, like all things in life, only partially in our hands. Our choices influence but cannot decide the issue. In essence, this is due to the nature of existence being partly dependent on our choices and partially dependant on fortune’s influence. In the case of the Individual Purpose, it is further complicated as it can only be achieved through successful reproduction, which requires two unrelated individuals.
The question implied by this necessity is as two (generally) unrelated individuals are necessary for the achievement of the Individual Purpose. How are we to act to promote this outcome? Now, of course, some animals have the equivalent of casual sex and leave their offspring at the mercy of fate. However, many others and, in particular, the more complex animals, take a far more active role in the selection of a mate and the rearing of their young. In the Hobbesian war of survival that Darwinian evolution supposes, it beggars belief that these complex behaviours happen by chance and are not productive to those beings’ achievement of their Individual Purposes and, consequently, the achievement of the purpose of life universal.