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?

131 thoughts on “What is the purpose of life?

  1. Rumraket: I just don’t think they’ve thought all that much about what it means to say that something has a purpose.

    So you are saying that the common sense understanding is incorrect.

    Fine, you then need to explain how you can know what the intrinsic properties of a bird’s nest are.

    good luck

    peace

  2. fifthmonarchyman: Fine, you then need to explain how you can know what the intrinsic properties of a bird’s nest are.

    What are the intrinsic properties of a nest?

  3. I think there’s an ambiguity in the word “purpose” that makes it problematic.

    On the one hand, we talk about having a purpose in life: a reason to get up in the morning, a motivation that structures one’s life activities. For some folks, being a good parent is their purpose; for others, it’s related to their profession or career. There are folks who find their purpose in service to others or in devoting their lives to science or to art.

    On the other hand, we talk about the purpose of equipment or technology: the purpose of a hammer, or a computer: what were the intentions in building it, why does it work the way it does, what assumptions about “the right way to use it” are embedded in its structure, and what’s the relation between form and function?

    It seems intuitively clear to me that these are very different senses of “purpose”, which makes me wonder if the word even has a single coherent meaning that can be put to philosophical work.

  4. newton: What are the intrinsic properties of a nest?

    I have no idea, I’m not even sure what the phrase means in this context.

    You need to ask Rumraket he is staking his claim on the proposition that purpose is not an intrinsic property of anything.

    That seems like a tough pill to swallow to me.

    peace

  5. Kantian Naturalist: It seems intuitively clear to me that these are very different senses of “purpose”

    I don’t think so. A good short hand definition would be something like reason to exist. It works for both the senses you mention

    peace

  6. fifthmonarchyman: So you are saying that the common sense understanding is incorrect.

    I’m not buying in to the “common sense” phrase you use here. I don’t think there is such a thing as a common sense understanding of the concept of purpose.

    I think there is a general view among the population in general, but I don’t think that view is “common sense”. I suppose we could call it a colloquial view of purpose.

    But my problem with the colloquial view of purpose isn’t that I think it is always wrong but that it is inconsistently applied and ill defined. I don’t see, for example, how people can simultaneously hold the view that a birds nest “obviously” has a purpose, yet claim to not have a clue what their own purpose is.

    I find that absolutely astonishing. Have these people tried applying the same analysis that they would use to derive the purpose of a bird’s nest to their own existence?

    Fine, you then need to explain how you can know what the intrinsic properties of a birds nest are.

    I don’t think birds nest can even have such a thing. It can’t be found not because finding intrinsic properties is impossible, but because purpose can’t be an intrinsic property.

  7. Rumraket: I find that absolutely astonishing. Have these people tried applying the same analysis that they would use to derive the purpose of a bird’s nest to their own existence?

    I think lots of people have. That is a big part of where theism comes from.

    The problem is that folks sometimes don’t take the time to apply the same analysis or refuse to accept it’s implications because they don’t like them for some reason

    peace

  8. fifthmonarchyman: I think lots of people have. That is a big part of where theism comes from.

    The problem is that folks sometimes don’t take the time to apply the same analysis or refuse to accept it’s implications because they don’t like them for some reason

    I think so too, in large part people don’t like the purpose they derive from the same analysis they use to derive the purpose of a bird’s nest (they end up deriving that they are really just here to further reproduce), so they find it very appealing when they’re told their lives have cosmic significance. Some people become so emotionally invested in this concept they can’t give it up and they end up persuading themselves that if their lives didn’t have a divine purpose they’d become suicidal.

  9. I like how FFM’s interpretation of God’s purpose for mankind is identical with Donald Trump’s: To glorify Him!

  10. Rumraket: (they end up deriving that they are really just here to further reproduce)

    I expect this will get a little bit too theological for you but I think the Westminster divines were on to something when they associated our purpose with joy.

    I think that joy is the emotion we feel when we fulfill our purpose.

    Joy is not to be confused with pleasure.

    Most of us don’t get joy from mere reproduction. In fact it’s something lots of us try and avoid. So it can’t be our purpose.

    peace

  11. Seqenenre: Why on earth do you think that is a satisfying answer?

    It satisfies me. Your mileage may vary.
    That is really not my concern

    peace

  12. Here is what my boys said, 13 and 15 year old;

    15 yo: to me the purpose in life is related directly to meaning in life. And the meaning in life is related to long lasting satisfaction and happiness… If my life contributes to some greater good, I feel satisfied and happy…My life is complete.

    13 yo. Purpose in life is simple; if you do something that has purpose and future benefits then your life is purposeful… I want to make other people that there is real purpose in life… I don’t think I can find the same kind of purpose in life by playing soccer or do track an field even though I’m really good at it..

  13. fifthmonarchyman: expect this will get a little bit too theological for you but I think the Westminster divines were on to something when they associated our purpose with joy.

    I think that joy is the emotion we feel when we fulfill our purpose.

    When you said “Westminster” did you mean Dwarka?

    ‘What Need Have I for This? What Need Have I for That? I am Dancing at the Feet of my Lord. All is Bliss. All is Bliss.’

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

    You should be commended for your honesty…If everyone in USA and UK did that, the world would be a much better place …

  15. J-Mac: Purpose in life is simple; if you do something that has purpose and future benefits then your life is purposeful

    Chip off the old block.

  16. 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.

    Who could we blame? How about God who doesn’t exist?
    Easy..

  17. walto: That would be my purpose, not life’s purpose.

    walto, because of your inconsistencies I’m forced to put you into the mung/OMg/ keiths folder… I hope you do well soon…

  18. Kantian Naturalist:
    I think there’s an ambiguity in the word “purpose” that makes it problematic.

    On the one hand, we talk about having a purpose in life: a reason to get up in the morning, a motivation that structures one’s life activities. For some folks, being a good parent is their purpose; for others, it’s related to their profession or career. There are folks who find their purpose in service to others or in devoting their lives to science or to art.

    On the other hand, we talk about the purpose of equipment or technology: the purpose of a hammer, or a computer: what were the intentions in building it, why does it work the way it does, what assumptions about “the right way to use it” are embedded in its structure, and what’s the relation between form and function?

    It seems intuitively clear to me that these are very different senses of “purpose”, which makes me wonder if the word even has a single coherent meaning that can be put to philosophical work.

    Some really good points Kantian!
    Can they please the great majority of TSZ population? What do you think?

  19. J-Mac: walto, because of your inconsistencies I’m forced to put you into the mung/OMg/ keiths folder… I hope you do well soon…

    Ah, then you won’t notice me mentioning what a blockhead and waste of this site’s space and time you are. I guess that’s best.

  20. J-Mac: You should be commended for your honesty…If everyone in USA and UK did that, the world would be a much better place …

    It gets me out of bed in the morning, if that is the criteria.

  21. walto: When you said “Westminster” did you mean Dwarka?

    I take the connection between joy and purpose to be universal and innate.

    It’s just the divines are more to my taste than jazz fusion.

    peace

  22. J-Mac: 15 yo: to me the purpose in life is related directly to meaning in life.

    Even at the risk of following walto into exile in a quantum possible world, the op ed is the purpose of life, not the purpose in life. Not exactly the same.

  23. newton,

    The water’s fine. Besides, he’s put you on ignore at least 14 times in the last couple of months, so even if you don’t like clean water, you’ ll be back in the vomituous muck before you know it.

  24. fifthmonarchyman: I have no idea, I’m not even sure what the phrase means in this context.You need to ask Rumraket he is staking his claim on the proposition that purpose is not an intrinsic property of anything.

    Maybe it is not a claim, but a pragmatic choice.If no one can define or provide evidence for an intrinsic property, why waste your time with it. Time is limited. If some brave anti materialist want to make a positive claim ,that would be the time to perhaps consider its existence.

    That seems like a tough pill to swallow to me.

    Only if you need it to exist,Rum doesn’t.

    peace

  25. newton: If no one can define or provide evidence for an intrinsic property, why waste your time with it.

    Rum grants that we think that bird’s nests have purpose. There is no extra time or effort necessary.

    What he does is advocate that we all deny those preexisting impressions because he does not think purpose is an intrinsic property (what ever that means).

    I find that to be just silly and a prime example of skepticism run amuck.

    This is one of my favorite quotes

    quote:

    “If there are certain principles, as I think there are, which the’ constitution of our nature leads us to believe, and which we are under a necessity to take for granted in the common concerns of life,’ without being able to give a reason for them; these are what we call the principles of common sense; and what is manifestly contrary to them, is what we call absurd.”

    end quote:

    Thomas Reid

    nuff said

    peace

  26. walto: Ah, then you won’t notice me mentioning what a blockhead and waste of this site’s space and time you are. I guess that’s best.

    What I’m hoping to happen is that once we’re all on ignore J-Mac will start to have productive conversations with those that are left, and eventually from that small start all the various branches and splinter theist groups will agree on common ground and work together to determine the true spiritual heritage of mankind.

    Until that day I guess they’ll have to forgo noticing the irony of proclaiming the one true truth in multiple mutually exclusive ways….

  27. J-Mac: to me the purpose in life is related directly to meaning in life. And the meaning in life is related to long lasting satisfaction and happiness… If my life contributes to some greater good, I feel satisfied and happy…My life is complete.

    The greater good, the greater good. That sounds very familiar. Very familiar indeed.

    How are they getting on replicating that experement?

  28. Seqenenre

    @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”

    It is indeed true that the chief end of man is to be man. Human beings, like all living things, possess intrinsic finality: they have a “good of their own.”

    However, man (unlike God) is an animal whose fulfillment is directed at something other than himself, which means that he also possesses extrinsic finality. As the Baltimore Catechism puts it:

    Q. Why did God make you?
    A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven.

  29. walto:
    newton,

    The water’s fine. Besides, he’s put you on ignore at least 14 times in the last couple of months

    Just think if I was trying.

    so even if you don’t like clean water, you’ ll be back in the vomituous muck before you know it.

    Like clean water, but growing up in New Orleans I do have a high tolerance for vomit and muck. It is the humidity which is intolerable.

  30. OMagain: What I’m hoping to happen is that once we’re all on ignore J-Mac will start to have productive conversations with those that are left, and eventually from that small start all the various branches and splinter theist groups will agree on common ground and work together to determine the true spiritual heritage of mankind.

    Or the Crusades.

  31. fifthmonarchyman: Rum grants that we think that bird’s nests have purpose. There is no extra time or effort necessary.

    I think he would say( no idea if this is true in this world but in some possible world it is possible) they are used for a purpose. Our language often is anthropomorphic.

    Not sure the bird’s behavior in building the nest is motivated by choice or if they are compelled by instinct. If compelled the purpose might be to satisfy the compulsion.

    What he does is advocate that we all deny those preexisting impressions because he does not think purpose is an intrinsic property (what ever that means).

    Possible Rum might say impressions should be questioned especially if those who have the impression that intrinsic properties exist cannot even define what an intrinsic property is.

    I find that to be just silly and a prime example of skepticism run amuck.

    Fair enough and not surprising , what would be the proper methodology to study whether intrinsic properties exist?

    “If there are certain principles, as I think there are, which the’ constitution of our nature leads us to believe, and which we are under a necessity to take for granted in the common concerns of life,’ without being able to give a reason for them; these are what we call the principles of common sense; and what is manifestly contrary to them, is what we call absurd.”

    Possible Rum might ask “What specifically are those principles, and how do we distinguish them from the ones that only seem necessary?

    What is the basis for this common sense, logic, instinct, revelation?

    What if common sense dictates we should be wary about taking things for granted? “

    Thomas Reid

    nuff said

    peace

  32. KN raises the obvious first question: which meaning of the word ‘purpose’ does J-mac have in mind ?

    I wonder if JM will clarify this for us ?

  33. newton: Possible Rum might say impressions should be questioned

    he is not advocating questioning he is advocating denying/abandoning our common sense impressions because they have implications he does not like.

    newton: what would be the proper methodology to study whether intrinsic properties exist?

    first determine if there is any way for you objectively to access the “intrinsic” (what ever that means).

    Once you have done what no one else can do. You can begin your quest to study the unstudyable.

    newton: “What specifically are those principles, and how do we distinguish them from the ones that only seem necessary?

    did you read the quote 😉

    newton: What is the basis for this common sense, logic, instinct, revelation?

    Reid would say “the’ constitution of our nature” I would say that ultimately we can only know things if they are revealed from a reliable source .

    peace

  34. fifthmonarchyman: he is not advocating questioning he is advocating denying/abandoning our common sense impressions because they have implications he does not like.

    What are the common sense implications of something you can’t define or know it exists?

    first determine if there is any way for you objectively to access the “intrinsic” (what ever that means).

    There you go again, you want possible Rum to determine if there is a way to access something you don’t even know what it means. If that interests you ,go ahead, I suggest a good place to start is by determining what intrinsic properties means first.

    Once you have done what no one else can do. You can begin your quest to study the unstudyable.

    Knock yourself out, my common sense says it sounds like a waste of time.

    did you read the quote

    I directly quoted it in my response, what does your common sense tell you?

    Reid would say “the’ constitution of our nature” I would say that ultimately we can only know things if they are revealed from a reliable source .

    What exactly is the constitution of our nature and how does it know things, how do we know if it is reliable without using the constitution of our nature?

    peace

  35. fifthmonarchyman: he is not advocating questioning he is advocating denying/abandoning our common sense impressions because they have implications he does not like.

    I don’t think that your admiration for Thomas Reid is consistent with your presuppostionalism. Reid thinks that the constitution of our nature is a pragmatic foundation for our beliefs that cannot itself be called into question. Reid would (I think) agree with Wittgenstein’s remark, “At the foundation of well founded belief lies belief that is not founded.” That seems really different from the presuppositionalist project.

    What Reid would have to deny (I think) is the following: what strikes people as being “common sense” or “self-evident” (and conversely “absurd”) is itself an effect of their conceptual frameworks. Different conceptual frameworks will generate conflicting intuitions about what is self-evident and what is absurd, which means that disagreements between different conceptual frameworks cannot be rationally resolved by appeals to what is self-evident or absurd.

  36. Kantian Naturalist: I don’t think that your admiration for Thomas Reid is consistent with your presuppostionalism. Reid thinks that the constitution of our nature is a pragmatic foundation for our beliefs that cannot itself be called into question. Reid would (I think) agree with Wittgenstein’s remark, “At the foundation of well founded belief lies belief that is not founded.” That seems really different from the presuppositionalist project.

    Thanks for the info on Reid.

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