The Most General Life Ideals

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The Most General Life Ideals
by Bolesław Prus, translated by Christopher Kasparek

These excerpts are from the 2nd, revised edition of Bolesław Prus' book, Najogólniejsze Ideały Życiowe (Warsaw, 1905).

Bolesław Prus

[W]e [Poles] are inclined to eruptive action, we do not like small and persistent effort, and we are entirely lacking in discipline, that societal virtue which disposes man to obey and teaches him how to command. [...]

Clearly a people or a man can exist, live, develop only when they follow the paths set out by nature, [when they] fulfill nature's goals. [...]

That is the source of the three Ideals that I regard as the highest and most general not only in the human world but in all of nature. Those Ideals are: Happiness, Perfection, Utility. [...]

[...] Perfection consists in the existence of various parts and properties that form an organized whole, where all things support one another mutually.

Happiness in living beings results from changes supportive of life, health and development. Finally, Utility consists in such acts as produce Happiness and Perfection. [...]

There is a very widely held opinion, that the highest goal in life, and therefore the highest aspiration of man, ought to be Happiness. Against this I have sought, if not to demonstrate, then at least to assert that both men and societies must strive to realize all three Ideals, passing over none of them. Every man and every people has a right to be happy, has an obligation to be useful, and must strive for perfection. When they are unwilling or unable to do so, their lives and characters are crippled, made monstrous.

[...] Even as none of the three Ideals — Utility, Perfection and Happiness — may be neglected, since they form an intimate whole much as do a head, trunk and limbs, so none of the three Faculties of the soul — Mind, Feeling and Will — may be passed over, since they too form a single organism, since they too are as intimately bound together as a head, trunk and limbs.

But in developing, too, the faculties of the soul, a certain order must be maintained, namely: most vigorously to form the Will, after it the Mind, and after that — Feeling. This order is more particularly important to us Poles, who up to now have practiced just the opposite. [...]

In commending Utility to my compatriots, I am not recommending some contrived theory. I am merely disclosing to their eyes a universal fact and saying:

"You must be useful, because the whole world is useful, because utility is one of the most universal laws. The more useful one can be to his intimates, to his neighbors, to society, to civilization, the better are his chances of existence. But he who is unable to be useful will perish helpless and unmourned...

We must be useful to everyone, or at least to those who are useful to us — that is the law of exchange of services.

[...] We are not only a backward and materially poor society, worse — we are spiritually ill. Our old programs have outlived their time and have no value in the world's present day. [...]

[...] I return once more to the motto repeated [here] on every page:

"Perfect the Will, the Mind, Feeling, their corporeal organs and their material tools; be useful to yourselves, to your own ones, and to others; and Happiness, insofar as it exists on this earth, will come of itself."

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This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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