The Soul’s Motive

What motivates? A feeling that we need something, without knowing quite what it is. If we knew what we needed, it would no longer have much power to move us — and hence, perhaps, we would no longer need it very much.

From the preceding, we may conclude that all essential motivation is indirect. For there must be a thing we can point to — that is the way of human reason — and yet what we are pointing to, precisely to the extent that we can isolate it clearly, retains its motive force primarily as a hint or reminder of something else.

This is the secret of all kinds of love, for example. It is the reason, to demonstrate by way of contrast, that modern marriages — or rather, since marriage barely exists anymore, let us say modern “relationships” — so easily founder on the rocky shore of boredom and repetition. Imagining that the essence and ultimate expression of love is its most obvious and superficial expression, couples, in this age of immediate gratification, inevitably and fairly quickly arrive at the disturbing revelation that “this is all there is” — from which point all the motivation in human contact is lost. To state this more precisely, the “lovers” — again, I hesitate to use such an anachronistic term — discover, usually a few months or years after this fact should have been apparent to them, that they have nothing left to learn about, or from, one another, which is another way of saying they are no longer motivated by one another.

Plato taught us — or rather told us, although we never learned the lesson — that all desire is the desire for wisdom. When the soul realizes, with regard to any person, experience, or situation, that “there is nothing left to learn here,” she necessarily loses all enthusiasm, i.e., ceases to care. The more superficial (in the sense of “material”) one’s perception of any condition or connection, and hence the more immediate and literal the discoveries one seeks from it, the briefer the relevance of that condition or connection to one’s life, as anything other than a heavy load of spent fuel, which is to say a burdensome past. Desire is deadened by the sense that there is nothing left to discover.

The will to discovery is the will to walk into the unknown with one’s eyes open. Take away all hope of important mysteries lying along any prospective path, and the feet will no longer move lightly, if at all, but must now be dragged along that path. When the promise of discovery, which makes walking a pleasure, is taken away, then the grim determination of duty is all one has left. The soul’s effortless attraction toward the distant beacon of Life gives way to the exhausting, onerous slog of a body merely trying to keep one step ahead of Death.

To summarize all of this: Life is the quest for the most inexhaustible motive. A quest presupposes a tantalizing awareness of the unknown, which in turn engenders a painful need to know. Therefore, the defining motive of human life is learning, and especially learning of the most essential and elusive sort.

We are moving entirely in the realm of the soul here. Hence, modern materialism intrinsically kills human motivation (i.e., denies the natural reason to live) — from the motivation that sustains the best “relationships” by gradually revealing, to each person, ever-higher regions of the Undiscovered to be sought in and through the other, to the motivation that draws each intellect toward self-discovery, which means a glimpse of the essence forever teasing us from beyond the narrow boundaries of our spatiotemporal perspective. 

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