Human aspiration depends absolutely on our being creatures of need and finitude, and hence of longings and attachments. Pure reason and pure mind have no aspiration; the rational animal aspires in large part because he is an animal and not an angel or a god.
Once again it is our in-between status – at once godlike and animal – that is the deep truth about our nature, the ground of our special standing, and the wherewithal of our flourishing.
Perhaps the most profound account of human aspiration is contained in Socrates’ speech about eros in Plato’s Symposium. Eros, according to Socrates’ account, is the heart of the human soul, an animating power born of lack but pointing upward. Eros emerges as both self-seeking and overflowingly generative – at bottom, the fruit of the peculiar conjunction of, and competition between, two conflicting aspirations joined in a single living body, both tied to our finitude: the impulse to self-preservation and the urge to reproduce. The former is a self-regarding concern for our own personal permanence and satisfaction; the latter is a self-forgetting aspiration for something that transcends our own finite existence, something for the sake of which we spend and even give our lives.
Other animals, of course, live with these twin and opposing drives. But eros in the other animals, who are unaware of the tension between the two drives, manifests itself exclusively in the activity of procreation and the care of offspring…
But eros comes fully into its own as the arrow pointing upward only in the human animal, who is conscious of the doubleness in his soul and is driven to devise a life based in part on the tension between the opposing forces. Human eros , born of this self-awareness, manifests itself in explicit and conscious longing for something higher, something whole, something eternal – longings that are ours precisely because we are able to elevate the aspiration born of our bodily doubleness and to direct it upward toward the good, the true, and the beautiful. In the human case, the fruits of “erotic giving-birth” are not only human children but also the arts and crafts, song and story, noble deeds and customs, fine character, the search for wisdom, and a reaching for the eternal and divine – all conceived by resourcefulness to overcome our experienced lack and limitation and all guided by a divination of that which would be wholly good and lacking in nothing.
Leon R. Kass – Leading a Worthy Life: Finding Meaning in Modern Times p.176