For someone to decide to commit one’s life to living as a single person comes across as bizarre and absurd in a society that loves and adores couples. As I wrote in my post concerning Valentine’s Day about the different types of love, eros originally was understood in the classical world was an act of an individual to devote oneself to a higher cause. Today the individual is often hailed as the center of all of life. The opposite of this that can also be seen often is that society as a whole, a collective, is the ends of an individual. Both of these, while having aspects of truth, neglect the call of an individual to commit themselves to something beyond oneself. Individuals may choose the vocation of singleness in order to devote oneself to that higher calling, an ideal, as eros was traditionally understood to mean in the classical world.
I was at an event in Denver, Colorado called Pint with a Priest that is held at Platt Park Brewing Company in Denver, Colorado by Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in January. At the event someone asked the priest if there is a vocation to living a single life. The priest’s short answer was that an individual must decide commit oneself to live a life that one chooses, but in so doing must also seek for ways to contribute to the common good. This answer demonstrates that there is nothing wrong with being single or living the single life. Some people may choose to get married. Some people may choose to remain single. It ultimately is a personal decision about how an individual decides how is the best way for one to life one’s life.
Whether married or single, an individual chooses one of the main two options should still contribute to the common good of society. For married couples, the family is the foundation of society as Aristotle writes in Politics:
First, then, there must be of necessity be a conjunction of persons who cannot exist on the one hand, male and female, for the sake of reproduction… on the other, the naturally ruling and ruled, on account of preservation…. [this leads to how] the household first arose… [because] the household is the partnership for the needs of daily life… [and this] partnership arising from the union of several villages that is complete is the city” (II 2-8, p 35-35).
Family is prior to the city, or society, and the political institution of government. It provides future citizens and individuals who will contribute to the economy and society. If one or both individuals of the couple work as well, they also contribute economically to society through their work. By having children and working is how couples normally contribute to the common good. However, single people who do not have children — with the exception of single parents– should find an ideal to devote themselves to if they commit their lives to the vocation of singleness.
Aristotle is concerned with how a polity comes about in the Politics and for this reason focuses on bringing and upbringing of children since the family comes before the city and nation according to the classical view. For this reason, Aristotle does not expand on the other two classical understanding of the purpose of marriage. Aristotle was concerned with the question of human flourishing, or eudaemonia, and its connection to virtue. This was why he wrote about marriage and its connection to the creation of society. Following Aristotle’s explanation above about how the state comes about, there are two other parts to the classical understanding of marriage. These are love and spousal unity. The classical view understood marriage with these two parts of marriage -love and unity- along with the generation and upbringing of children was a natural cause of the love between the couple. It was understood according to certain classical philosophers, particularly Aristotle, that society was made of multiple families and that the family unit was the foundation of society. (Secure Single plans to write future articles presenting different views on marriage since the classical view is only one view among many).
In the classical world, this meant devoting one’s life to the higher ideals of philosophy. An individual would practice and seek to attain Truth by studying philosophy or becoming a priest at a temple to one of the classical gods. Forms of this are still found today where an individual decides to commit ones life to the Church by becoming a priest, a religious order, or by becoming a monk in various religions found in both the East and West. However, someone who decides singleness as a life choice does not need to become a monk or a priest to live a life of singleness.
In the modern world, an individual can decide to devote oneself to a cause or a community that one is passionate about to better the world and society as a whole. (Secure Single plans to write future articles presenting different views on how best to live the single life since there are more than one view). Some examples could be for a single person to volunteer one’s time to help the poor, to volunteer one’s time to a variety of causes from civil rights movements to helping communities get clean water, or to devote one’s life to business or politics as ways for an individual to give back to society and the common good. An individual’s particular worldview will inform the ways that one will decide to contribute to one’s particular society and to the common good in the society in which one lives. Once an individual has found the cause or community that one is passionate about, one needs to seek to spend a majority of one’s time to that cause. In this day and age, that can be physically going to a place or helping out by getting the word out about an issue in the variety of mediums available today that the Internet provides that are accessible to most people around the world. Time and commitment to a cause or community is the key, along with passion for the subject matter to living a life of singleness.
The reason why a single person may decide wants to give oneself to more than just one’s daily routine is if an individual believes there is a greater and common good that one should contribute to as a person. This would entail that this particular individual holds to the classical view of arête that there is a proper function of a thing. Arete simply means that there is a proper function for how to use a thing, for instance the purpose of scissors are to cut, and similarly this would means that humans have a proper function as well as human nature. The classical ideal of vocations recognized marriage, priesthood, or giving oneself to religious life and for singles who choose to follows this classical understanding the single life of singleness naturally follows from the classical conception of arête.
The classical world and classical philosophy was very concerned with how one ought to live. The modern world and modern philosophy was not concerned with that question but with simply how to live life. Remember, eros for Plato did not mean romantic love, but rather, it was the goal to seek and to understand through reason all that True, Beautiful and Good and than to live life after attaining the knowledge of the higher forms. This is because this Eros is more than just romantic love, eros is devoting oneself to a higher ideal. It is according to this classical view that a single person should use one’s skills to help a community, cause, or issue that one is passionate about in life. Singles who choose a life of singleness should commit oneself to the classical understanding of eros by devoting themselves to a cause above oneself.