What is the purpose of life?

The question of the purpose of life has preoccupied philosophers, poets, thinkers and the like, for thousands of years. Clearly, it’s a tricky one. It is surprising that pharmaceutical companies have not addressed this issue… yet… 🙂

From the materialistic/atheistic/evolutionary perspective, the answer to this question is clear: Since the universe and life are the products of purposeless, random processes, life itself has no purpose or meaning either…
While materialists could argue that it is still possible to find some kind of meaning in life, in the end there doesn’t seem to be an ultimate purpose in life without some kind of hope that theistic supporters look forward to…

However, while researching the subject of the meaning/purpose in life, I found it quite astonishing that the great majority of theists ascribe meaning/purpose in life mainly with the afterlife, whatever that could be… What I mean by that is the great majority of religions today, especially Christianity and Islam, teach that the ultimate purpose/meaning of life is to live with goal of afterlife in heaven or different dimension, where the ultimate meaning or purpose should be often associated with endless happiness… That is where the need of immaterial soul that survives death come in…

Personally, I think that if the universe and life were purposely designed by ID/God, then there has to be at least some purpose to our lives…

Everything humans design and produce has a purpose (at least it should have a purpose, otherwise why bother) WHY the design of the universe and life, human life especially, would be any different?

127 thoughts on “What is the purpose of life?

  1. Neil Rickert:
    The purpose of life is life.

    Thanks Neil!

    Your first take on my OPs is always much appreciated and it seems the most ignored. On my blog, if you even consider commenting there, all your comments would have to be moderated by say…Mung..that is… if he agrees to be one of the moderators… 😉

  2. I have thought about this issue (purpose/meaning) in life and I have to admit, I don’t trust the great majority of religions on this one…I don’t know why…
    I have contacts with different people, both rich and poor…The great majority, in the end, admit that if you are truly happy in your life, then there is purpose to your life…I LIKE IT!
    I have recently visited the Caribbean…I was terrified how people drive there, but especially how they ride their bikes…cutting off cars….riding a motorcycle with 2-4 people on it… including children with… no helmets..
    A street vendor lost several of his pineapples all over the main road in Puerto Plata… He just parked his truck and walked back to pick them up with a grin on his face as if nothing happened…
    I said it to my wife: If that had happed in the west, it would have made the front pages of newspapers and possibly TV news…No news network reported that in the Dominican Republic…

  3. the purpose of life is to argue over who is right or wrong.

    Since the universe and life are the products of purposeless, random processes, life itself has no purpose or meaning either…

    I would question the premise, then I would argue that the conclusion doesn’t even follow from the premise. Surely no one argues that life has no purpose or meaning.

  4. J-Mac:

    From the materialistic/atheistic/evolutionary perspective, the answer to this question is clear: Since the universe and life are the products of purposeless, random processes, life itself has no purpose or meaning either…

    Wrong. And very stupid of you.

  5. Mung:
    the purpose of life is to argue over who is right or wrong.

    I would question the premise, then I would argue that the conclusion doesn’t even follow from the premise. Surely no one argues that life has no purpose or meaning.

    mung,
    Unfortunately, you and OMGuano are in the same category now..

  6. If nobody here can define what the purpose of life is, how can we move on to the more complex issues?

  7. J-Mac:
    If nobody here can define what the purpose of life is, how can we move on to the more complex issues?

    What’s to define?

    Ascribing purpose is a matter of personal judgment or personal opinion. And I have given mine.

  8. Why THE purpose? Who says there’s just one?

    And why can’t living people have purposes without LIFE (whatever that is) having (just) one.

    My question is, what was the purpose of this OP? It’s senseless and an utter waste of anybody’s time to read.

    I mean, pineapples? Really? Couldn’t this kind of shit be moved to noyau or sandbox or something? I thought those forums were for babbling in this way: is that wrong? That’s where I’ve always lodged my nonsense, anyhow. Feel like ranting? Rant there.

    The main threads at tsz shouldn’t be clogged up with drivel, and I think this should be moved.

  9. walto,

    Actually, it might make sense to just give J-mac his own forum/blog here. He could be taken off moderation, post 12 OPs a day, jabber about anything whatever. And the site wouldn’t be dragged down like this. It could be like Kingsley’s newsletter to his fans on the Larry Sanders Show. Made him happy and had no deleterious effect on the program.

  10. walto,

    What’s wrong with drivel?

    Anyway, I’ve always been puzzled by this idea of “a purpose to life.” As far as I can tell it makes no sense to me. Sure, there are lots of purposes in life, but a purpose to life?

    I was once teaching “the abortion debate” to a bunch of students and one of them asked me when I thought life begins. Since this is a really bad way of framing the relevant issues, I responded, “life began 3.5 billion years ago and hasn’t stopped since.” They hated that answer. But it got them to think about the ambiguities of the word “life.” Then I gave them James Rachels’s distinction between “biological life” and “biographical life” and moved on from there.

  11. Kantian Naturalist: Anyway, I’ve always been puzzled by this idea of “a purpose to life.” As far as I can tell it makes no sense to me. Sure, there are lots of purposes in life, but a purpose to life?

    We often judge purpose based on observed behavior.

    When we observe life, we see it producing life. Or life begets life.

    That’s why I suggested “the purpose of life is life”.

  12. walto: Why THE purpose? Who says there’s just one?

    A subpurpose would not be good enough. It has to be the ultimate purpose.

    For example, it can be said that a purpose of eating is to enjoy tastes. This subpurpose may explain why some overeat, but it does not explain why we eat even when we don’t enjoy the taste.

    The purpose of life should explain life. A small subpurpose cannot do it.

  13. Erik,

    If that’s what’s meant by this question, I’d put as “Why is there life?” or ” How did there come to be life?”

  14. walto: If that’s what’s meant by this question, I’d put as “Why is there life?” or ” How did there come to be life?”

    Why and how are two very different questions

    peace

  15. There is none. Whether there is a god that made us or not, there is no intrinsic purpose to life, because there is no such thing as intrinsic purpose. What would that even be? What are we saying about an entity that it “has a purpose”?
    Suppose we took the purpose away, have we changed the thing? No. That means it isn’t really a thing, it’s not a property of something at all.

    When we say of something that it has a purpose, what we’re saying is that someone intends for it to accomplish something. But that is a description of the [someone], not a description of the thing.

    It’s just an idea in our heads. If a creator of some sort exists, whether a God or we are in a simulation made by programmers, that creator might have intentions for why it made us. Something it wishes or desires for us to accomplish.

    But that intention only exists in the mind of the creator, it is not a property of the created thing. And if a creator can intend for us to achieve something, and if that is enough for us to be able to say that we “have purpose” (that someone have desires about us accomplishing something), then so can we ourselves. Because we can also intend for us to accomplish something.

    Since we have mind, we can have fully and entirely as much purpose as if we were created by a simulator or a God. There’s no difference. We can have intentions for ourselves. Things we intend for us to accomplish. Same thing, no difference.

    If some people just can’t deal with having to come up with their own purpose and wants it imposed on them from outside, let me help. Your purpose is hereby to make the most of the one life you have, to travel the world and see strange new environments, foreign cities and landscapes, love your fellow human beings, love nature, seek new experiences, marvel at the beauty and mystery of the cosmos, and to make the world a better place for coming generations.

    There you go. Thank you for playing.

  16. I can make a hammer and intend to use it to push nails into wood. That is now the hammer’s purpose at least in my mind. Suppose I decide to change the purpose of the hammer, I now want to use it to see how far I can throw it. Does something about the hammer change after I “change the purpose” of the hammer? No. The hammer remains exactly as it was.

    That means “purpose” isn’t really a thing, it’s not a property of something at all. It’s just an idea I have about something. Anyone can have ideas about anything. Purpose is completely and entirely subjective and it can’t be any other way even if God exists or the cosmos is a simulation.

  17. walto: Why THE purpose? Who says there’s just one?
    And why can’t living people have purposes without LIFE (whatever that is) having (just) one.
    My question is, what was the purpose of this OP?

    Speaking of contradicts…
    First, walto is not happy that I ask for (at least one) purpose of life as he thinks he has more to offer… Then he questions the purpose of the OP that is asking to identify at least one purpose in life… which he didn’t…
    In the end walto is upset that I post too many OPs that in his mind mean I might as well be given the ownership of TSZ….

    In the end it appears clear the walto’s purposes in life are to generally upset, obnoxious, have a whiny disposition in this life or in the many wolds life…

    Yeah, walto is a balmy…

  18. Rumraket: Whether there is a god that made us or not, there is no intrinsic purpose to life, because there is no such thing as intrinsic purpose.

    Suppose we took the purpose away, have we changed the thing? No. That means it isn’t really a thing, it’s not a property of something at all.

    see walto

    This is exactly the sort of materialist perspective I’m trying to explore in the other thread.

    peace

  19. J-Mac: In the end walto is upset that I post too many OPs that in his mind mean I might as well be given the ownership of TSZ….

    I didn’t read walto’s post that way.

    I took walto to be proposing that you be given your own private blog where you can post to your heart’s content, but nobody else will ever see what you post.

    Of course, I might have misinterpreted what walto wrote.

  20. I found this ‘definition’ of the purpose of life interesting:
    1.
    “Your life purpose consists of the central motivating aims of your life—the reasons you get up in the morning.

    Purpose can guide life decisions, influence behavior, shape goals, offer a sense of direction, and create meaning…”
    *please note that one of the main reasons many people become depressed and suicidal is their lack of motivation to get up in the morning, which could clearly be linked to the lack of purpose in life….

  21. keiths: Wrong. And very stupid of you.

    Not that he is stupid, he was just being stupid at the time. I need to add that one to my bag of tricks. How stupid of me to not have thought of it before you!

  22. walto: My question is, what was the purpose of this OP?

    I think you’ve just provided me with the title for my next OP. Thanks!

  23. Neil Rickert: I didn’t read walto’s post that way.
    I took walto to be proposing that you be given your own private blog where you can post to your heart’s content, but nobody else will ever see what you post.
    Of course, I might have misinterpreted what walto wrote.

    So, one way or another walto is upset about what exactly? My OPs?
    Too many… the content is to his liking… in other words walto wants to be one of the admins to decide what gets posted and what not… This means you are doing a terrible job allowing my OPs to be posted…
    Why don’t you count the last 20 OPs and find out the number of comment on his OPs and mine…
    In the end walto is getting the attention he thinks he deserves… My question is why?

  24. Rumraket: When we say of something that it has a purpose, what we’re saying is that someone intends for it to accomplish something. But that is a description of the [someone], not a description of the thing.

    It’s just an idea in our heads.

    If only people felt he same way about ascribing FI to things. 🙂

  25. I don’t know what the purpose of all life is, but it is quite obvious that the purpose of avian and mammalian life is to provide life support systems for E. coli.

  26. Rumraket: But that intention only exists in the mind of the creator, it is not a property of the created thing.

    So take for example a bird’s nest. It has no purpose other than that given to it by the bird that created it and what it is for isn’t a property of what it is? So why then do birds build nests, since apparently any old thing would do to serve the same purpose?

  27. To fifthmonarchyman :
    Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
    A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

    Q. 2. What is the chief end of God?
    A. ?

  28. Mung: So take for example a bird’s nest. It has no purpose other than that given to it by the bird that created it and what it is for isn’t a property of what it is?

    Correct.

    So why then do birds build nests

    Instinctive behavior. I’m not convinced birds are fully aware of what they’re doing when they build nests. But even if they are, I think the reason they do it is mostly instinctive.

    since apparently any old thing would do to serve the same purpose?

    Ahh, no. I don’t think anything would serve the same purpose equally well. Presuming birds have intentions.

    Does it have a purpose? (which is to say, does some sentient being intend for it to accomplish something?)
    And,
    Will it serve that purpose well? (will it be conducive to the intentions of the sentient being?)
    – Are two very different questions.

    There can be large differences between how well something serves it’s intended purpose in so far as there is something that intents something for it. I would be fine with saying that it is generally the case that created things are well suited for the thing they are intended by their creators.

    But I don’t think this is a necessary relationship. There can be things which are well suited for someone’s intentions, without having been created (with intention or not). And there can be things which are created for a purpose, but are not well suited for it. Bad design occasionally does take place, and blind physical processes (like natural selection acting on random mutation) can result in entities that are well-suited for whatever a sentient(or even non-sentient) being might use them for.

  29. Rumraket: Instinctive behavior.

    So bird’s nests have no purpose. That’s what you are saying?

    Rumraket: But that intention only exists in the mind of the creator, it is not a property of the created thing.

    So we need a mind. And intent. And that doesn’t apply to birds. Am I right?

  30. J-Mac:
    I found this ‘definition’ of the purpose of life interesting:
    1.
    “Your life purpose consists of the central motivating aims of your life—the reasons you get up in the morning.

    It seems my purpose in life is to feed my dogs and take a piss.

  31. Acartia:
    I don’t know what the purpose of all life is, but it is quite obvious that the purpose of avian and mammalian life is to provide life support systems for E. coli.

    and to, principally, consume oxygen.

  32. J-Mac:
    I found this ‘definition’ of the purpose of life interesting:
    1.
    “Your life purpose consists of the central motivating aims of your life—the reasons you get up in the morning.

    Purpose can guide life decisions, influence behavior, shape goals, offer a sense of direction, and create meaning…”
    *please note that one of the main reasons many people become depressed and suicidal is their lack of motivation to get up in the morning, which could clearly be linked to the lack of purpose in life….

    That would be my purpose, not life’s purpose.

  33. The purpose of life is to serve as the observer and finally to put that dang Schrödinger’s cat out of it’s misery.

    peace

  34. Mung: So bird’s nests have no purpose. That’s what you are saying?

    If the birds who make them don’t intend for them to accomplish anything, then yes they have no purpose.

    Now, even if they were to intend for the nests to accomplish something, I don’t think the nests have intrinsic purpose. The purpose that the birds might have in mind for the nests, are not a property of the nests, but of the mind of the bird.

    Rumraket:But that intention only exists in the mind of the creator, it is not a property of the created thing.

    Mung: So we need a mind. And intent. And that doesn’t apply to birds. Am I right?

    I don’t know if it applies to birds, as I don’t know what birds think when they built the nest. A bird has never told me if it was aware of what it was doing when it built a nest. If it is aware of what it is doing and it has intentions, then birds nest have a purpose in the minds of the birds who build them. Which is still not a property of the nests, but of the mind of the bird. Either way the nests don’t have intrinsic purpose.

  35. newton: It seems my purpose in life is to feed my dogs and take a piss.

    Right, although you may have longer-term ‘life goals.” But they’re still YOUR purposes, not ‘the purpose of life.”

  36. Rumraket: Either way the nests don’t have intrinsic purpose.

    I think the term intrinsic is with out a purpose. 😉

    We have no access to what is intrinsic to a bird’s nest. If there even is such a category

    All we have is our own subjective perspective and the perspectives of folks we communicate with

    From those perspectives a bird’s nest certainly has a purpose…….As does life

    peace

  37. @Mung
    “The chief end of God is to be God.”
    That is a not an answer (especially since God was created by the Intelligent Designer).
    If it would be an answer, then the answer to the first question would be: “The chief end of man is to be man”

  38. Seqenenre: If it would be an answer, then the answer to the first question would be: “The chief end of man is to be man”

    Glorifying God and enjoying him forever is what it means to be man or it should be anyway.

    peace

  39. But I think you’re right, most people if asked would say a bird’s nest has a purpose. I just don’t think they’ve thought all that much about what it means to say that something has a purpose.

  40. Rumraket: I don’t find this kind of mere assertion persuasive.

    It’s not an assertion. I’m telling you that from my perspective there certainly is a purpose to a bird’s nest.

    If you don’t think there is a purpose to a birds nest from your perspective. We have bigger problems

    peace

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