Friday, 1 November 2013

This is an old post from Facebook. I'll be putting most or all of them up here eventually. Hopefully once per day, if I can remember.

I've been thinking a lot about purpose lately, both as an overall concept, and how it applies to philosophy and morality in general.

Purpose, at least by the definition I'm using, is something entirely unique to created things, as it is the reason that thing was created. It is entirely separate from function, which is what the creation can be used for. An example would be a knife: someone could create a knife for the purpose of the act of creation. However, after its creation, it could then be used for any function a knife could possibly have. In this case, its purpose is already fulfilled, but its function is separate from that. Another example would be if someone created a knife for the purpose of having something with all the functions of the knife. In this case, its purpose is fulfilled when its functions are used, and the two are tied together.

There is a clear dichotomy in science and philosophy for humans: either we are created, or uncreated. This has huge implications, because if we were created, then we have a purpose. I'll give two examples of this: first, of an unknown hypothetical deity, second, of the God of the Bible.

In the case of the hypothetical deity, say our purpose was a test of its power, similar to the example of the knife. In this case, our purpose is already fulfilled simply by existing, and our function is unrelated to that. This would have relatively little impact on our lives, as we would be free to live however we choose. Our purpose would not have any practical implications.

The second case is rather special, because if we were created by the God of the Bible, then we can actually know our purpose: to glorify God in all that we do, by following the commandments laid out in the Bible. In this case, our purpose is directly related to to our function, because our function is how we fulfil it. Our purpose is to serve God in what we do.

This actually presents an interesting case for why we should hold to Biblical morality. Possibly the most common argument used in favour is that of God's supreme authority, but this adds a new dimension: by following these commands, we fulfil the very purpose for which we were created.

The other end of the extreme is fairly simple. If we were not created, we have no purpose, only function. In a sense, this would let us define our own purpose, though it would not be the same as the purpose of a created thing. It would probably be best defined as a reason for why we live the way we do.

The idea of purpose is sometimes used as an argument for the existence of a deity. It's a generally accepted fact that most humans feel a sense of unfulfilled purpose. A higher cause for their life that they must fulfil. And the Bible, for example, directly addresses this, saying that we do have a purpose, and telling us what it is. This makes the question one of whether or not that feeling is a legitimate sense of purpose, or an illusory feeling that stems from some part of the human psyche.

Worth noting is that, if we are created, we are the only creations that can actively choose to attempt to defy our purpose. This raises the question of whether, by virtue of being able to do this, it is right to do so. I would say not, but perhaps it is just a matter of opinion. Maybe the authority argument is really the best option? I'm honestly not sure. However, at the very least, the prospect of a purpose that can be fulfilled provides a sort of incentive. (An alternative to this would be the question of whether free will even exists, and a discussion on predestination, and whether we are even able to deviate from our purpose. But that's another topic for another time.)

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