I am interested in philosophical arguments about goals. Specifically, is a life without great goals necessarily inferior? For us to have a "good life", must people set "admirable" goals?

Please describe what major philosophers had to say on the topic, and perhaps reference relevant papers.

  • 1
    I edited out the parts that asked for users' opinions as that would be off-topic here.
    – Conifold
    Mar 15, 2020 at 17:42
  • By having a goal, you change your course and that changes your life.
    – Weezy
    Mar 16, 2020 at 18:40
  • 1
    I think it boils down to, loosely speaking, consequentialism vs deontological ethics. One can decide to devote his life towards solving the Millenium problems, and may end up solving none. On the other hand, a man may live his life in mechanical/simplest of ways, and yet end up doing simple acts of kindness. Which one is necessarily inferior?
    – Ajax
    Mar 17, 2020 at 9:25

3 Answers 3


The issue is related not to big goal but to good goal. How is it possible to fulfill everybody's big goals? You may observe the people around you and reach a conclusion easily. Among them can't you see the disabled and sick people? Also, in any kind of society, different fragments of people perform different services and based on such services a division is formed.

If both your parents and other family members had entirely different big goals in their lives could your big goal be reached?

Here our power of discrimination should be utilized to differentiate 'big goal' and 'good goal'. You know happiness is important in human-life. And of these two goals, you would feel sadder if you couldn't reach your big goal. But you can switch over from your good goal to another good goal when you realize the difficulty or when there is an unavoidable great hindrance on your path. I mean, often it would be very difficult to switch over from a big goal to another big goal at any time during our endeavor . But to switch over from a good goal is possible. Another benefit of this is that after switching over to good goal you may change that good goal to a big goal IF YOU HAVE GREAT WILL POWER. You would be able to find many instances for this from history. Children feel tension when they set big goals in their life. Sometimes the selection of big goals is done by the parents. And this sometimes leads to depression. This is a great issue in many countries. So I would say big goal is harmful especially to children.

The quote from the Katha Upanishad: "Arise, awake, and stop not till the goal is reached." is a slogan popularized in the late 19th century by Indian monk Swami Vivekananda. Since each individual's big goals are different, what he meant is certainly another goal; but the biggest goal. But to reach this biggest goal some big goals (not good goals) WOULDN'T BE HELPFUL.

You know, 'food, sleep, fear and mating, these acts of humans are similar to animals'. If you believe humans can achieve more than these, you should set a good goal. https://blog.practicalsanskrit.com/2010/01/human-or-animal-what-is-difference.html

Good goal that is related to service to humanity (this may not seem to be a big goal) is enough for reaching the greatest goal of human life. If your ambition is to become a highly admired person, big-but-bad goals also sometimes help you. Eg:Hitler. So, what I am trying to convince you is that the goal should always be good; not big. Eventually it will help you to purify yourself and become contented.

Specifically, is a life without great goals necessarily inferior?

Never. The person who have great goals also get great help from those who seem to be inferior (but he might not have noticed it). They may say it as inferior but how would the other person say their life is inferior? So you can never reach such a conclusion. You will become humble when you realize this truth.

For us to have a "good life", must people set "admirable" goals?

For a happy and peaceful life you had better not to follow "admirable" goals.

Please remember these lines also:


If you want one of the philosophies and the quotes about superior work and inferior work, please refer to these very old ideas:

As Shakespeare said: “For there is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

Similarly, work in itself is neither good nor bad. Depending upon the state of the mind, it can be either binding or elevating. Work done for the enjoyment of one’s senses and the gratification of one’s pride is the cause of bondage in the material world,

Details are here:https://www.holy-bhagavad-gita.org/chapter/3/verse/9

  • Thank you for your comment.
    – Deren Liu
    Mar 23, 2020 at 15:04

First of, thank you very much for asking this question! It's a really great one. Below are only my very own thoughts. Those are purely based on personal experience.

To answer you Question "Is it better to have big goals in life?" directly:

In my opinion, no. Small goals are equally important as big goals. But i would suggest that you chase both at the same time. Or rather, switch between them however you see fit for your current situation.

Why i think this is important is best explained by my own Life Goals:

The Big Ones:

  1. Getting Chief Operations Officer at Dell Technologies
  2. Funding and Creating an Organization which can determine and predict the "trueness" of any given statement (mathematics, physics, human interactions, country interactions, financials) based purely on a logical, deterministic approach (that's actual research which is done in Philosophy/Psychology)
  3. Funding and Creating an Organization which builds "self sustained" community cities where each and every resident does only exactly what he would like to do to help the community. There will be no financial interactions within the city boarders. And external financial interactions (of any resident) will be automated and approved by Artificial Intelligence.

Guess my big goals are already on a whole different scale each....

The Medium Goals:

  1. Getting a Manager Job at Dell Technologies - This is one step in achieving Big Goal Nr. 1. as well as 2. and 3. they both need money
  2. Creating a Concept Program that proves that my Hypothesis of "trueness" is "true" - This is one step in achieving Big Goal Nr. 2. and maybe even 3. (if it works i can more easily convince stakeholders for Vision 3.)
  3. Creating a Concept for a Community Household which matches the Concept of the Cities i envision - This is one step in achieving Big Goal Nr. 3.

The Small Goals:

  1. Creating a step by step Career Plan and presenting it to my current Manager - This is one step in achieving Medium Goals Number 1. 2. and 3. - Again, Goal 2. and 3. need Money
  2. Create a Go-Fund-Me Campaign for my Sisters Doctors Office which otherwise would get closed due to financial Problems (Corona sucks... even for Healthcare)
  3. Help my "i hope to be fiancee in my future" achieving here live goals

The Tiny Ones:

  1. I need to talk to my "i hope to be fiancee in my future" and ask for her emotional support during this times.
  2. I need to drive to my sister and support her and her family during those hard times.
  3. I need to convince my sister that she can give me her 3 Kids, so she can fully focus on providing healthcare.

The almost forgotten ones:

  1. I love Motorcycling, i need to get me a new Motorcycle.
  2. A friend and i wanted to go on a Vacation this summer. But where? Need to check that.
  3. Last but not least... I really would love to have Sex at some point during this year :D

So what can you see by my Goals? What i hope you can see is that they are all somehow related to each other. If i do not work on the smaller ones, the bigger ones won't happen.

Of course, if my big ones ever happen is completely unknown to me. But i certainly can guide my life in a direction which make them more and more likely with each and every step i take.

This includes even writing this Article. I feel good about it. Sharing my own experiences and knowledge is good. Posting it on the Web for everyone to read? That's even better! So this for me feels like a "almost forgotten goal". But in the end, who know? Maybe i am the first one getting a Noble Price for Philosophy, just because i shared my knowledge? :D

So i would like to close with a quote and with some external References:

“We have to learn to walk before we can run” - E.L. James

How to motivate yourself to finally get working on any of your Goals:


How to achieve even the biggest Goals you can envision:


How to not get overwhelmed of all the little Goals/Improvements the above Video describes:


  • Thank you for your comment.
    – Deren Liu
    Mar 23, 2020 at 15:04

I would say the default view in our modern culture, tends to be that 'grand goals' when achieved, make for an important, and therefore meaningful, life. So I would look towards the rare advocates of an opposite view to this intuition, rather than the many who hold it.

Candide, as he was returning home, made profound reflections on the Turk’s discourse. “This good old man,” said he to Pangloss and Martin, “appears to me to have chosen for himself a lot much preferable to that of the six kings with whom we had the honor to sup.” … “Neither need you tell me,” said Candide, “that we must take care of our garden.” “You are in the right,” said Pangloss; “for when man was put into the garden of Eden, it was with an intent to dress it: and this proves that man was not born to be idle.” “Work then without disputing,” said Martin; “it is the only way to render life supportable.”

  • Voltaire, in 'Candide'

This is typically aphorised as, 'the important thing in life is to tend one's own garden', and interpreted as saying interfering with the affairs of the world is frequently counterproductive and frustrating, whereas paying close attention to 'one's own patch' provides a benefit to everyone, and is universalisable ethical advice in the Kantian sense. Candide is quite polemic, and Voltaire clearly considered his influential writing career to be 'on his patch', despite it's wider impacts.

The Christian basis for this 'garden tending' as an ideal life is clear in this, indeed explicit. Rousseau with his idea of 'the noble savage' broadened that, to suggest simple living allows the best human qualities to flourish, and lives of the greatest 'nobleness' therein. (the Irish 'national poem' The Lake Isle Of Innisfree, inspired by Thoreau's account of attempting to live such a life, are other examples of this view)

The opposite or undermining view is I think not so much that humans need greatness, but a view that 'idleness' is problematic. Adam Smith in his Theory Of Moral Sentiments & Wealth of Nations laid out that view influentially, and certainly that ethic helped create an economic & militarily successful empire, though few now would argue, that created more net happiness..

Who decides what is good, or admirable? As children and young adults we tend to see answers to that as having been set, and work within them. As we mature, and especially through studying philosophy, we realise we can decide for ourselves at least to an extent what is good and admirable, by rethinking assumptions like in my 1st paragraph her, and living 'an examined life'. Further, if we do that, and notice how society changes it's views over time, we can even work consciously to change and influence what is seen as good and admirable, by sharing clearly thought views we can make a case for, by example, etc.

Diogenes is perhaps the best example of someone diverging from society's views about what is good & admirable. He lived a life of poverty, and was enslaved, but was still happy in all situations, and kept his integrity. His example went on to influence Stoics, and so Marcus Aurelius, a person in the opposite circumstance, but in need of the same independent thinking about what was good and admirable, as emperor of Rome - yet is better remembered for his book 'Meditations' which is still very widely read. Who was 'greater'?

When we come to our own views of what is good and admirable, we must be ready to risk being condemned by the crowd. Perhaps for idleness, or for lacking in 'greatness', which may be more tools of empire building culture, than truly worthy things to avoid. Unlike those things, integrity is it's own reward, and I would say the true basis for lasting influence on others, for a Diogenes of an Aurelius. So whether you take up 'great goals' or not, think through and live by your own criteria, and live with integrity, and that will be the basis of a good and admirable life.

  • 1
    Thank you for your comment
    – Deren Liu
    Mar 23, 2020 at 15:04
  • Come to think about it, your kantian reference is a good point. It's impossible for everyone to have big goals.
    – Deren Liu
    Apr 25, 2020 at 20:10

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