“The Ultimate Goal of Man”

Here’s Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) on the goal of what he calls “Platonic Theology”:

Our soul conceives a universal notion of truth and goodness which prompts it to seek the universal truth and aspire to the universal good. All truths are contained in the universal truth, all goods in the universal good. This explains why the soul naturally seeks all truths and naturally aspires to all goods. There is evidence for this, too: whenever we know one piece of truth about a thing, we do not rest content with it, but go on looking for another one and still another for as long as we think that there remains another truth to be known. The same phenomenon can be observed with respect to the acquisition of goods. Now, the sum of all goods is God himself, who is the first truth and the first good. Therefore, it is God himself whom we seek.

But what is it that we desire above all in him? To become similar to him. For all things strive towards him as their end according to the capacity of their nature, and they long to become similar to him in their own way: inanimate bodies with respect to being alone; animate bodies with respect to life; sensate bodies with respect to sensation; rational bodies with respect to intellect. We can only become similar to God if we make him the object of our thinking, since the intellect becomes similar to other things whenever it makes them the object of its thinking and is thus transformed into images of them. Our goal, therefore, is to see God by means of our intellect and to enjoy the vision of God by means of our will, since our highest good is the highest object of our highest faculty or the most perfect act related to that highest object. Our highest faculties are the mind, the apex of the mind [that is the intellect] and the will. Their highest object is the universal truth as well as the universal and undivided good, in other words, God.

…for we have a natural inborn desire always to discover the cause of any given effect, and our enquiry only comes to an end when we have reached the first cause. Consequently, since we wish to understand the cause of every known effect, and since our intellect knows universal being itself, it follows that we have a natural desire to know the cause of being itself, which is God himself. And it is only when our natural desire is entirely appeased that we can claim to have attained our ultimate goal. This is why the ultimate goal of man consists solely in the knowledge or the possession of God, which is alone able to put an end to our natural appetite. – From Platonic Theology XIV.2, trans. Luc Deitz, in Cambridge Translations of Renaissance Philosophical Texts Vol. 1: Moral Philosophy, ed. Jill Kraye (Cambridge University Press, 1997), pp. 149-150

It might be an interesting exercise to compare this Platonic statement of the “ultimate goal of man” with the Reformed tradition’s insistence that “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

This entry was posted in 15th Century, Faith and Reason, The Renaissance. Bookmark the permalink.

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