According to Aristotle, the highest value is something which “makes life desirable and lacking in nothing”. I personally happen to agree with this – this is the ultimate thing that every person should strive for, this and nothing else. Anything particular thing we strive for should ultimately lead to this thing, because this is what life is actually about. The question is, what is this ultimate value?
Many have proposed that it is happiness. Aristotle himself defined this thing as what we today often translate as “happiness” (even if this translation is much debated and according to many didn’t have the meaning then as we attribute to it today).
I happen to not agree that happiness is this ultimate good. Happiness is not the ultimate end – because there are higher ends, which implicate happiness, but which are not always present although you are happy. Thus, these other ends are of higher value than happiness. I have found one such higher value, and I believe that it is the ultimate value in life – the purpose of life itself. This value is self esteem.
What is self esteem?
Self esteem pre-supposes many things, but it is an end in itself (something you want to achieve for its own sake) rather than an instrument to reach other ends. Some of the things that it pre-supposes are:
- Ability to sustain yourself (not starving, not freezing) and the security that you will be able to do this in the foreseeable future regardless of circumstance, due to your own intellectual capability and skills. If you don’t have this, you will by definition lack self-esteem, since self esteem is a direct result of knowing that you can sustain yourself (and your loved ones?) now and in the future.
- Ability to interact productively and well with other human beings – let’s call it “social IQ”. Having ability to interact well with other people is (I am assuming, to be fully correct) inherently tied to self-esteem. Social IQ is also a requirement to the ability to sustain oneself now and in the future, thus indirectly is a requirement for self-esteem.
- Freedom (which in itself both requires and leads to some of the other values in this list). If you don’t have freedom, you are not living the life you want, you are not living your life but someone else’s, which reduces your self esteem in accordance with the degree of lack of freedom. (Conversely, if you do have freedom, it means you must also have ability to sustain yourself because you don’t have to answer to anyone, and both of these lead to self-esteem).
Thus, if you don’t have these, and probably other, values, you won’t have self-esteem. Conversely, self-esteem is the automatic result of having these (and probably other) values. Self-esteem, then, is the highest value we strive for, meaning it is the thing that ultimately “makes life desirable”, and because all other values lead to it, and it doesn’t lead to any other value, it is “lacking in nothing”.
But what about happiness?
Do you get self-esteem from the state of being happy, and the other way around? Let’s examine this.
It is intuitively evident that having self esteem does make you happy. But this is indirect: you are happy not because you have self esteem, but you have self esteem and you are happy because you have the other values discussed above and more (freedom, ability to support yourself, ability to interact well with people, and probably more). But then, is happiness and self esteem both self-sufficient ends?
One way to find the answer to that is to examine if there are some situations which give you one but not the other.
One such situation may be, in some cases (when you are insecure), being in comfort of (taken care of) a “master”. This gives you happiness (under the condition that you are insecure) but not self esteem (it does not give you security that you own – just security as long as the master doesn’t abandon you, not fully within your control, thus robbing you of freedom at the discretion of this master). So there are situations in which you can have one or the other (happiness/self-esteem) while not having both simultaneously.
This also means that one of these is not “…lacking in nothing” because it means you can have happiness but still lack self-esteem. But from the other end, this is not true: If you have self-esteem, it means that you must have security, in which case having a master will not provide you any more happiness than that which you already possess. Thus, self-esteem pre-supposes (meaning it doesn’t lack) happiness (at least in this example, but I will assume it is equally true for any other example we can find), but happiness can lack self-esteem. This means that self-esteem is a higher value than happiness, and the value we are seeking (rather than happiness).
Our conclusion, then, is that anything (you own, think, do, become, or other) in life which raises your self esteem is good, and anything which lowers it is bad.