opinion | After 4 Years of College, Many Students Don’t Know Where to Go Next
These patterns of academic thinking soon permeate his personal life. Being asked to give reasons for his personal decisions is to entertain the possibility that such reasons exist. Thomas Aquinas, another author of our course, calls the cause which is the orienting point of all your other causes which is your “ultimate end”. Those who find that they have such extremes, and learn to assess them, find a way out of the tumultuous house of arbitrary decisions in which young people often find themselves trapped.
Because the number of end loops is not infinite. Aquinas usefully suggests that the ultimate objects of human longing can only be classified into eight permanent categories. If we want to understand where we are headed, we must ask ourselves these questions: Am I interested in this opportunity because it leads to money? Or am I aiming for praise and admiration? Do I want lasting glory? Or the power – to “make an impact”? Is my goal to maximize my pleasures? Am I looking for health? Do I want some “goodness of the soul,” such as wisdom or virtue? Or is my ultimate longing to come face to face with God?
Most of the students are surprised that they can trace their wishes on this old map. This does not make the students feel constrained, as they are often made to be the cause of fear. It makes them feel empowered, as if the wanderer suddenly recognizes the orienting features of a landscape.
Like any good map, Aquinas’ reasoned analysis of human objects can tell us something about where we are going before we get there. For example, we start the path of wealth, because it is a universal means to almost any goal. But money cannot be the ultimate goal of life, because it gives satisfaction only when traded for something else. Appreciation signals that people think we are doing something good. But it is provided by the often wrong judgment of others and can lead you astray.
Most of the students are grateful to have discovered this art of choosing. Learning to reason about happiness awakens “the power that resides in the soul,” as Socrates puts it, which is as joyful as discovering that one’s voice can be made to sing. Why, then, do liberal arts institutions rarely teach it? In some cases, faculty members are encouraged to emphasize specialized research rather than thinking about the good life. In others, they share the belief that reason is only an extension of the pursuit of dominance, or Rousseau’s belief that emotion is a better guide to happiness than the mind.
Most fundamentally, however, the reigning model of liberal education – opening doors without helping us think about what lies ahead of them – prevails because it repeats a successful modern formula. Agnosticism about human motives, with its endless growth of means and opportunities, has proven to be a powerful organizing principle for our political and economic life. It has helped create the remarkable peace, prosperity and freedom that we have enjoyed for much of the modern era.