We want to save endangered species, reduce climate change, develop artificial intelligence, travel the world, have an amazing career and voice our opinions. But what for? Let us imagine for a moment that our planet would, for some reason, just stop to exist next week. Nothing, except for some satellites and the Voyager 2, would be left that could indicate that our species ever existed. What if the next pandemic is 100% deadly for humans and our species goes extinct? Nothing would change in the universe. Except for our own belief in the importance of everything, nothing has neutrally seen any significance for the universe – therefore, there is no natural importance of anything. Everything action we take on this planet is grounded in our own firm belief in its importance. This, in itself, is fully legitimate and constitutes no problem whatsoever. However, it is all the more puzzling that our behaviour does not show any clarity about our underlying motives, let alone reflexion. Why and how do we attach importance to things? Where do we want to go as a species? What are we even doing here?
Unlike other animals, human beings are not merely satisfied with surviving and reproducing. In addition to those two aspects, we seek pleasure and once this need is satisfied as well, we seek fulfilment; some people fully replace the former with the latter. Although pleasure comes in various forms, the logic behind it is always the same: spending time without regretting spending it. For some, this means watching television or meeting friends, others find pleasure in sports or in reading books. Of course, we enjoy the respective activity, but in essence we just make a deal: our time is exchanged for joy. The same mechanism can also be applied to the concept of fulfilment. Again, different people have different preferences and, hence, the form of their fulfilment substantially changes. While one sees fulfilment in developing into a great painter or singer, others dedicate their lives to wildlife preservation or to earning money. Similarly to pleasure, people who strive for fulfilment exchange their time for the joy of their development process. The two major differences between seeking pleasure and seeking fulfilment is that people who seek fulfilment personally develop on various levels of their character and also work to achieve a certain goal, which creates added value to society; pleasure seekers merely consume. From the above, it becomes clear that there is a hierarchy between people’s expectations towards life. But what if there is more than just those two types of people?
Looking at how our species has evolved, can we say that this is the best scenario there is after thousands of years of evolution and struggle? The opinions vary greatly: it can be argued that our current world is the best possible version. Everything is a logical consequence from the interplay of influences before. Hence, proponents of this view would argue, for example, that the stagnation in Medieval Europe is a logical consequence and inevitable necessity that arose from the decadent structures of the past. Of course, the fact that history developed in the way it did certainly gives this school of thought a strong argument in favour of their view, but from a normative perspective it can be equally contested that we continuously underperformed as a species. Rather than just accepting our history, it can also be normatively questioned. However, there is a great question mark in terms of relativity, namely: relative to what expectation or goal did we underperform?
This is a crucial point of reflexion and the answer to that question heavily depends on a person’s individual background. A religious person would immediately say that the goal of humanity is to follow the path of God and live according to its laws. Rather materialistically oriented people would focus on the importance of technological advances. Ecologists would defend that our goal as the human race would be to live in harmony with nature and people with a social focus would want to see us treating each other respectfully and everyone living a materially and immaterially secure and fair life. Because of these differences in our beliefs on how our species should live and what it should strive for, we invented political parties that defend their respective belief and try to translate them into action within the society. Grounded in the diversity of the ideas and agendas, we tend to think that the rightness of our path of societal development is a subjective matter. But in an attempt to challenge this status quo we could ask the following normative question: What if there is an objective and universal truth about what our race needs to strive for?
Logically, this question forces us to think about the current societal goals and their universality. What we will see here is that every school of thought will fall short at delivering a convincing argument at some point – either normatively or realistically. However, all of them cover certain aspects of societal life and provide coherent arguments within that realm. For example, while ecologists arguments fail to provide us with arguments why military technology is important to political systems, they are great in giving us insights into what the advantages of sustainable economies are. Applying this logic to all the other aspects as well, we can argue that all the different schools of thought and organised beliefs focused on finding the truth within their realm, but make the mistake to translate it to other aspects of the society. The result is a constant struggle between societal forces that hampers efficient advancement of our species.
Finally, this leads to the question of what would be a universally agreeable goal for our species? The answer to that question is simple: knowledge. A deep and genuine understanding of the dynamics and functioning of every subject matter is the single most important and desirable endeavour of the human race. Interestingly, this goal is not end-oriented, but rather exploratory – the production of knowledge is an end in itself. By striving for this collectively as a species, we will not only find answers to current questions, but will certainly find answers to questions that are beyond our current cognitive capabilities. However, this means that we have to embrace modesty and understand that this societal goal reaches beyond our individual pleasures and individual fulfilment. Overcoming the personal agenda is certainly a very difficult task, but all the more honourable it is to sacrifice the own goals and direct one’s own life towards the advancement of the human race. People who managed the transition from the pleasure seekers to the fulfilment seekers know how difficult this is, but they also know how rewarding it feels. Similarly, the transition from seeking fulfilment to seeking pure knowledge is extremely difficult, but extremely rewarding as well. So, what are we really doing here? Asking this question will help us take a huge leap as a species.