Epictetus on the Necessity of a Goal - Have One to Prosper

It is not always easy to be clear about your actual goal. Of course, we usually have some goals in mind that we are working towards. But that's exactly the problem: any goals will always take us somewhere and not where we should actually go.

This is also found in the following quote from the former slave Epictetus (or Epictetus), who is counted among the younger Stoa:

"Only those who know their destination will find their way."


This quote can of course be taken very literally and I think you will agree with it: Without a clear hiking destination, you won't be able to determine the right path. But also in a figurative sense this quote is plausible - and addresses a widespread problem that I know all too well: The lack of a higher goal.

The reason why people often do not have a clear higher goal is, as far as I can observe, that people rarely think things through to the end. And this is not only a danger for untrained thinkers. I have also observed this in very analytical and consciously thinking people.

In fact, I know some very intelligent people who have their jobs and other set goals extremely well in hand: financial stability, partner, children, luxury, and so on. But they have often given little, if any, thought to higher goals.

Higher goals are somewhat unwieldy to explain, as they are abstract and also just different from the goals we are more familiar with (like the ones mentioned above). Nevertheless, I will try to bring closer what is meant by it:

To begin with, it should be mentioned that there is not only one type of intelligence but several. You may even be aware of this. For example, people often talk about social intelligence when it comes to interpersonal relationships.

But that is not all. Depending on the model, there are considerably more. The U.S. educationalist Howard Earl Gardner, for example, defined 10 types of intelligence in his model.

I don't want to go too far here. If you are interested in Gardner's model, you can find it here as a book but also Lukas has described the 10 types in an article about the Intelligence of philosophers treated.

In any case, it is the case that while the average person develops intelligence in most areas, one usually falls completely by the wayside:

The existential intelligence. This is present in every human being since birth, but is usually no longer promoted or even suppressed early in childhood.

Questions like "What does it mean to love?", "What is the meaning of life?", "Who am I?", result from this intelligence, which also no other living being on the planet shows. Spatial intelligence, natural intelligence even musical intelligence, on the other hand, can be found in animals.

The reason that existential intelligence usually atrophies is that neither schools nor families are usually eager to deal with existential questions. I do not want to judge here, but simply describe my observation.

It is therefore plausible that only a few people concern themselves more deeply with the meaning of their own lives, but mostly simply live their lives and do what the rest do. Getting a promotion, buying a home, and so on. And I don't mean that in a judgmental way either. It doesn't have to be a bad thing not to want to fathom the greater meaning (which, by the way, in Stoicism is referred to as Logos knows - here it goes to the corresponding article).

But it can happen that you don't know the way and therefore don't arrive at the desired destination. You can observe this, for example, with people who at some point come to a point where suddenly the question is raised:

"Is that supposed to be it?".

Even if you have found yourself in this situation, it is not a big deal. Because it means you still have time to change your life - to fill it with color, so to speak, as Seneca once said (here it goes to Luke's article to this quote).

But if you get busy early enough identifying your destination, chances are you'll be able to navigate there confidently, as Seneca made clear in another quote that Luke in this article has explained.

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