• TheMadFool
    5.2k
    Look at our bodies; every part of it has or, for vestigial organs, had purpose. Noses to smell, eyes to see, ears to listen, legs to walk, arms to make tools; the same applies to internal organs and maybe purpose exists even at the molecular level. In effect, every part of our body has purpose and yet the question "what is the meaning of life?", understood as a question about the purpose of humanity, remains unanswered. How is it that an object, a human, every part of which has purpose, itself as a whole, lacks purpose or, more accurately, if a human has purpose, why hasn't it been discovered?

    This is, by any standards, a peculiar state of affairs isn't it? Every part having a purpose but the whole lacking/missing one; this I call the teleological paradox. Either we agree that humans actually are purposeless or, if we extrapolate the purposefulness of the parts that constitute the human body to the whole, the human, then we surely must have some purpose but haven't yet discovered it.

    Let's go back to body-parts. I can imagine a nose being used to operate a phone if ever we're in the unfortunate situation of having our hands tied behind our backs; similarly, teeth maybe used to defend against assailants, etc. However, the accepted purpose of noses is to smell and teeth is to chew food; in other words, even if a particular object has a wide range of uses, the use that the object is best-suited to is considered as its purpose.

    Aren't we then justified in applying the same logic to humans? What is it in us that stands out? What among the things we're capable of that not only distinguishes us from the rest but also is something we can do extremely well, something we're best-suited for? The fact that our species is named homo sapiens which roughly translates to wise man suggests, in no uncertain terms, that it's thinking that humans excel at; that's relatively speaking of course. Thus, it must be that our, humanity's, purpose is to think. That doesn't mean that all we have to do is think because that can mean even daydreaming or sexual fantasizing to name a few instances of thinking; no, we need to give, quite unsurprisingly, purpose to our thoughts and, if one refers to our species designation as homo sapiens (wise man), it must be that the humanity's purpose is to seek and gain wisdom. Can we then not say that the purpose of humanity is to become philosophers, seekers of wisdom?

    I'd like to add a small comment about what I described as the teleological paradox: the parts having purpose but the whole (apparently) lacking purpose. Consider complex human artifacts, say a watch; every part of that watch is purpose-built and the whole, the watch itself, too has a purpose. It seems the property of having purpose is transferable from the parts to the whole; the fallacy of composition is not being committed. Ergo, whatever the purpose maybe, since the parts of a human have purpose, the whole human must have purpose. Here I'm not making any claims as to what the purpose of a human life is, only that a purpose exists.
  • god must be atheist
    2.1k
    Body parts can be viewed as serving a purpose, I can't deny that. But it also can't be denied that body parts do NOT serve a purpose, they just haphazardly formed to be useful. And what's the use? To make the individual survive and bring forth more individuals like himself or herself. This is a USE, not a PURPOSE.

    So... if you view your body parts as made and created for a purpose, then the theory stands. If the body parts are not viewed as made for a purpose -- which is an equally as valid view as the other -- then the theory in the OP is meaningless.

    Take your pick, it's a free world.
  • TheMadFool
    5.2k
    This is a USE, not a PURPOSE.god must be atheist

    And the difference being?
  • god must be atheist
    2.1k
    And the difference being?TheMadFool

    More than semantic.

    If you ask what's the difference between use and purpose, then please refer to a dictionary. I speak and write in English. Describing plain, commonly understood concepts, with words that are plain and commonly understood. If you are unable to tell the difference between use and purpose on your own, then it's no use to tell you.
  • TheMadFool
    5.2k
    :rofl: Can I not say "the purpose of a nose is to smell"? Can I also not say "a nose's use is to smell?

    You don't have to reply
  • Harry Hindu
    2.8k
    Can something that is never used have a purpose?

    Can something that doesn't have a purpose have a use?
  • StreetlightX
    4.9k
    The fact that our species is named homo sapiens which roughly translates to wise man suggests, in no uncertain terms, that it's thinking that humans excel at; that's relatively speaking of course.TheMadFool

    Huh? Humans are notoriously bloody awful at thinking. If that's our 'purpose' we'd have better trot off into the collective night as we're a miserable failure of a species.

    Moreover taking for granted a self-aggrandizing self-appellation as evidence for our 'purpose' is hilariously facile.
  • StreetlightX
    4.9k
    Also, if we're going to commit shoddy errors of reasoning perhaps we can at least get the geneaological facts straight - Linnaeus dubbed us homo sapiens not because we have the exclusive capacity of thought - he was not so arrogant as to believe this - but for the far more humbling fact that he could not distinguish for us any defining charcateristics other than the circular fact that humans are those who recognize themselves as such - hence the single, pithy, Socratic line that he scribbed next to Homo Sapiens in the Systema Naturae: nosce te ipsum, know theyself. As he asked elsewhere of a critic: "I ask you and the entire world to show me a generic difference between ape and man which is consistent with the principles of natural history. I most certainly do not know of any".
  • TheMadFool
    5.2k
    Can something that is never used have a purpose?

    Can something that doesn't have a purpose have a use?
    Harry Hindu

    I confess that I'm a little confused on the distinction between use and purpose. Contrary to my claims, some of us, like myself, don't exactly excel in thinking.

    That out of the way, the impression I get from the questions "what is the meaning of life? what is our purpose?" is that of the asker wishing to discover the part he's to play, his role as it were, in life. If there is a difference between use and purpose as understood in my terms above, then by the salva veritate principle, asking "what is my use?" carries a different meaning to asking "what is the meaning of life? what is our purpose?". Is it true then that salva veritate is violated when we exchange "purpose" for "use"?

    The lexical definition of purpose is end which can be safely expressed as objective/aim and also use. Let's consider common usage of the words "objective" and "aim" and check how it's relevant to my claims:

    Meaning 1: Mr. P says that his aim/end/objective is to be a musician. Quite clearly, in this case he wishes to achieve a state a state of being in which he will be able to do something with music. In this case, aim/objective/end/purpose is not equivalent in meaning to use: I can't say "Mr. P's use is to be a musician"

    Meaning 2: The purpose of a hammer is to drive nails into something. In this case there is no difficulty in saying, without the slightest change in meaning, that the use of the hammer is to drive nails into something.

    When I ask the question "what is the purpose of life?" which meaning of "purpose" am I using? Is it meaning 1 (aim/end/objective) or meaning 2 (use) or some other meaning I'm unaware of? Can I replace "what's life's purpose?" with "what's life's use?" or can't I, being restricted to "what's life's objective/aim/end?" This is a very difficult question for me and while I invite criticism on it I'd like to see what relevance it has to my usage of the word "purpose".

    To the extent that I can see, both use and end seem completely applicable to the matter of life's purpose: when someone says life's purpose (aim/objective/end) is x it means that we should purpose (use) life for x.
  • xyzmix
    40
    Life, is accompanied by death, but, existence doesn't necessarily end. The meaning of life must be contained in that time frame before death.

    A query of a meaning to life, is not an existential query, it's universal. As theMadFool stated, we're full of physical purpose but when mind is anoint, we are in full control - a purpose isn't clear.

    I think the meaning of life is to harmonize with universal conditions - also the moral high road.

    If we do not eat, drink, rest, and if we are not careful enough, we die. The opposite to life, not inclusive of the same meaning.

    Existing in harmony with universal conditions is an imperative, we need to do this to explore, and to learn. If you're not up for it, do you deserve a voice on the matter? You must be living alternatively if so, off wikipedia and Government.
  • Possibility
    1.1k
    Purpose: an explanation, cause or justification (ie. reason) for existence.

    What is it in us that stands out? What among the things we're capable of that not only distinguishes us from the rest but also is something we can do extremely well, something we're best-suited for?TheMadFool

    The human organism has not evolved to maximise survival, dominance or procreation. What success we enjoy as a species, we owe ultimately to our capacity to maximise awareness, connection and collaboration. This is what we seem uniquely built for.
  • TheMadFool
    5.2k
    Hi. Thanks for the comment. I hope all well in your corner of the world. :smile:
  • Gnomon
    533
    How is it that an object, a human, every part of which has purpose, itself as a whole, lacks purpose or, more accurately, if a human has purpose, why hasn't it been discovered?TheMadFool
    I would make a distinction between the mechanical function of a body part, and the teleological purpose of the whole person. Function is simply a consistent input-output ratio. You input Energy and get useful Work as the output. But human Purpose implies Ambition or Aspiration. It requires the ability to imagine a possible future state, and to control functional body parts in such a way as to achieve that preferred outcome. Human purpose is not merely motivated by physical energy, but by metaphysical intentions.

    The willful purpose of a single human is made manifest in the person's behavior. We can intuit their intentions from their actions. But the Purpose Problem for collective humanity is usually based on the assumption of a role & goal that is assigned by a higher power, not by the individual's will-power. The Bible revealed the divine purpose of humanity in Genesis : to serve God as gardeners & shepherds, following orders without asking any "why" questions. In other words, the purpose of humanity is to serve as will-less functional slaves for God's Will : "Thy will be done . . ." However, "Unprofitable servants" are expendable, as illustrated in the story of Noah's Flood.

    God's ultimate teleological Purpose for the created world seems to be similar to that of a typical absolute ruler of human societies : Kings, Pharaohs, War Lords, Dictators, Tyrants. His servants tend the gardens & flocks, and bring him "sacrifices" for his sustenance and pleasure. So he can "walk in the garden in the cool of the day". In this scenario, God's purpose is to enjoy the power & glory provided by his servants. The servant's Purpose, then, is basically his inherited or assigned job description, or Function, as Gardener, Shepherd, etc.

    For those who don't accept the biblical stories though, you are left without a divinely designated purpose or role in the Grand Plan for the planet. That is the dilemma addressed by Existentialism, which by contrast with scripture, viewed humans as Freewill Agents. Hence, each of us must define the Purpose or Meaning of our own lives. Therefore, if you need an ultimate goal to make your life worthwhile, you'll have to "discover" your teleological Purpose for yourself. As for the ultimate destiny of the world, your guess is as good as mine.

    Probably, most of us will just continue to do what we are already doing, without giving the teleological destination much thought. They may be too lazy or apathetic to work for themselves, so merely wait for orders from above. A few self-motivated individuals, though, will define their own teleological destiny --- at least to the extent that they can control the contingencies of the indifferent world, that doesn't share their motives. What's your teleological target? :cool:
  • tim wood
    4k
    Might ask if there can be purpose before use. Logically, maybe, temporally, no. The history of life on the planet simply is that use has evolved, and purpose an abstract categorical name applied after-the-fact. That is, in reality, no theological teleology.

    That teleology might be a useful way of thinking about some things may be granted, but ought to be taken together with the responsibility to neither confuse nor be confused by misapplying the idea of it.
  • A Seagull
    341
    This is a USE, not a PURPOSE. — god must be atheist
    And the difference being?
    TheMadFool

    Use is when something is used, perhaps to make change. Purpose is a projection of that use, a convenient idea perhaps, but also a fantasy.
  • Joshs
    740
    The parts of a body are of course only parts in the abstract. They are separated arbirtarily from the whole in which they function. The organism is fundamentally integrated body-environmental interaction. not a collection of parts first with assigned functions and then a whole. The fact that each aspect of organismic-environmental processes mutually implies each other process allows us to see how it is that the behavior of a bacterium or bird or dog is the expression of this gestalt organization. At every moment a creature is behaving in a way that is at the same time the expression of its current form of self-organization and an implying beyond itself, pointing to a next step.

    The purpose of any particular human is whatever , at any given moment, its behavior, as a totaling of all its integrated processes, is pointing toward. Put differently, in the same fashion that one can dissect the organism into parts and talk about their 'use' or 'purpose' in relation to the aims of the organism as a whole, one can talk about one's motives, desires , purposes as a psychological entity in such terms.
    That is why one is alwasy in a state of desire, which is to say, that one is oriented in a certain disposition to think and act as a function of one's current organism-environmental posture, and that one is at the same time implying ahead of or beyond that posture, .Psychological functioning, as all organismic functioning, is for self-overcoming. Human purpose is a constantly changing self-organized implying ahead of itself. To look for reasons and purposes beyond or above (God) this temporally self-transforming body-environment interaction is to unknowingly affirm it.
  • CeleRate
    61


    "You all know the argument from design: everything in the world is made just so that we can manage to live in the world, and if the world was ever so little different, we could not manage to live in it. That is the argument from design. It sometimes takes a rather curious form; for instance, it is argued that rabbits have white tails in order to be easy to shoot. I do not know how rabbits would view that application."

    -Bertrand Russell
  • god must be atheist
    2.1k

    Well done, A Seagull; explaining concepts at the level that ought to be obvious to a ten-year-old is too tedious for me.

    Much like in math, it is easy to prove the sinus theorem (Sin(alpha))^ + (Cos(alpha))^2 = 1, but it is almost impossible to prove that 2 + 2 = 4. The simpler the terms and the more in-your-face, the harder to explain they are to someone who can't get them. I give up on that sort of exercise.
  • god must be atheist
    2.1k
    I do not know how rabbits would view that application. -- Russell.CeleRate

    The implication is that the design is faulty. It can be shown that that proposition is false.

    Rabbits had several utility functions in the design; guns did, too.

    This is where they intersect.

    The happiness of rabbits has nothing to do, or has limited application, with the design.

    That's A. B. is, that we have NO PROOF whether the rabbits think it's not a good thing to be shot so humans can have their fun. Rabits revelling in being sport targets or food for humans and predators is not impossible, and if the design is well done, then it is a valid assumption to imbue on the design.

    (For the record, I am a rabid anti-designist. I just abhor counter-logical arguments, even if on the surface they help my cause or support what I believe in. The bigger the man or woman who utters them, the more pleasure for me to debunk their stupidity.)
  • Gnomon
    533
    What success we enjoy as a species, we owe ultimately to our capacity to maximise awareness, connection and collaboration. This is what we seem uniquely built for.Possibility
    Well put! Humans collectively are the apex Witnesses, Weavers, and Workers of the World. Our job, our role in the evolving universe, is to know & appreciate the wonders of the world; to assist in its construction by bringing together disparate things (enzyme, catalyst); and to work together toward making it a better place to live (communion, concert, harmony). Some thinkers have proposed that the divine purpose of humanity is to act as the eyes, ears, and hands of God in the world. In that sense, we are the Demiurge, assisting the Designer in creating an ideal world (Utopia) from the raw materials of Nature. Of course, others, with no sense of teleology, opine that humans are a cancer blighting the beauties of impersonal inhuman Nature --- rosy red in tooth and claw.

    How are we doing, so far? Humanity emerged on the scene late in the progression from Max Potential of the Singularity to the current half-baked state of affairs. So, our Science is just beginning to wrest control of the laws of nature, in order to impose our collective Will on the foundations of reality, and to erect a super-structure of ideality, of human teleology. To explore the Possibilities of raw Potential. :nerd:
  • Joshs
    740
    our Science is just beginning to wrest control of the laws of nature, in order to impose our collective Will on the foundations of reality, and to erect a super-structure of ideality, of human teleology.Gnomon

    I wonder if the the metaphors of violence, competition and force here are unconscious. Sounds vaguely fascist to me. I think removing the divine shtick and leaving the self-organizing teleology could help fix this.
  • Possibility
    1.1k
    our Science is just beginning to wrest control of the laws of nature, in order to impose our collective Will on the foundations of reality, and to erect a super-structure of ideality, of human teleology.
    — Gnomon

    I wonder if the the metaphors of violence, competition and force here are unconscious. Sounds vaguely fascist to me. I think removing the divine shtick and leaving the self-organizing teleology could help fix this.
    Joshs

    This here is part of the reason we’re not doing such a great job of it. It isn’t about wresting control from the laws of nature or imposing our collective Will, but about working with these laws as the limited Will of all of nature to develop the full potential of the universe - not just of humanity. Understanding how the Will operates at all levels of relational structure in the universe, and where the opportunities exist to increase awareness, connection and collaboration despite the tendency for ignorance, isolation and exclusion, is where ‘our Science’ should be focusing its efforts.

    As for your resistance to ‘divine shtick’, I think perhaps this comes from an assumption that the reference here to ‘God’ is a being - I’ve had lengthy discussions with Gnomon about this, and I’m confident that this is not how they conceptualise ‘God’, despite the language. Reading a personality or other anthropic traits into discussions about ‘God’ lead to throwing out the proverbial baby with the bath water. I think a conceptual ‘God’ is a useful reference in discussions of teleology - in many ways it keeps us from assuming that we’ve already figured it all out.
  • Joshs
    740
    I think a conceptual ‘God’ is a useful reference in discussions of teleology - in many ways it keeps us from assuming that we’ve already figured it all out.Possibility

    You could just substitute for God a 'radical otherness' to assure that experience doesn't become captured within a prefigured organizing frame. Even when God is no longer thought as a being or a personality, God as the name for a teleological movement can still end up as a metaphysical totalization of being. Hegel does this with his idea of dialectical becoming, and I suspect that something similar is being offered by Gnomon.
  • Possibility
    1.1k
    You could just substitute for God a 'radical otherness' to assure that experience doesn't become captured within a prefigured organizing frame. Even when God is no longer thought as a being or a personality, God as the name for a teleological movement can still end up as a metaphysical totalization of being. Hegel does this with his idea of dialectical becoming, and I suspect that something similar is being offered by Gnomon.Joshs

    I agree with you here - I think this describes roughly where my own theory differs from Gnomon’s. I like the idea of a broader sense of ‘radical otherness’ to get past the notion of Being even as an absolute metaphysical concept. I think we maximise this relation, then, beyond a distinction of ‘self’, let alone ‘humanity’ - which renders the question of human teleology rather narrow.

    Our uniquely developed capacity as humans enables us to participate more effectively and efficiently, but I see our ‘purpose’ as no different than any other existence in the universe: to increase awareness, connection and collaboration.
  • Marty
    192
    I don't understand anti-teleological views.

    It seems as though everything has a purpose in so far as everything in the world operates underneath rational constraints. That is, simply, in virute of what a thing is (having determinate characteristics/a form), it does what it's nature is. It does not do what it's not. As long as a concept determines the object of inquiry, that concept then determines in advanced what it's parts functionally do.

    Aristotle made a sort clever argument once that accidents (or things occurring by chance) are generally understood from purpose, and not the other way around. We see something occurring by accident as a by-product of multiple purposeful acts. When I incidentally walk into my friend at the park due to the fact that I wanted to have a stroll in the part, I would say that would have occurred "by chance."
  • Marty
    192
    I would make a distinction between the mechanical function of a body part, and the teleological purpose of the whole person. Function is simply a consistent input-output ratio. You input Energy and get useful Work as the output. But human Purpose implies Ambition or Aspiration. It requires the ability to imagine a possible future state, and to control functional body parts in such a way as to achieve that preferred outcome. Human purpose is not merely motivated by physical energy, but by metaphysical intentions.


    But then the question gets pushed back: why do we have to say the theory of functionalism is non-teleological? Just because you have an input and output of anything doesn't mean that things don't occur for a specific functional purpose. Just because "things occur" doesn't mean that they don't have a guided purpose or a way expressing what they are. You can create a speculative judgement of what certain types of behaviors mean in terms of a universal concept.

    The willful purpose of a single human is made manifest in the person's behavior. We can intuit their intentions from their actions.

    And how is this done? This "intuiting"? You just see? Non-inferentially? Why is it that when we "see" in whatever way we do, we omit certain properties that're teleological from certain behaviors/functions and not from others? What is it about our seeing that creates a projection, and in order types of perceptions veridical precepts?
  • Marty
    192
    Might ask if there can be purpose before use. Logically, maybe, temporally, no. The history of life on the planet simply is that use has evolved, and purpose an abstract categorical name applied after-the-fact. That is, in reality, no theological teleology.

    That teleology might be a useful way of thinking about some things may be granted, but ought to be taken together with the responsibility to neither confuse nor be confused by misapplying the idea of it.


    If all teleological explanations occurred after-the-fact, then they should not be able to have predicative power to generate explanations of the future. But unless there's a substantial change in the organism or being that you're analyzing, it seems as though teleological explanations have plenty of explanatory power, and can be postulated to occur before the organism (or being) has undergone whatever future transformation. You can generally cash these out in terms of hypothetical necessities generally.

    I also tend to question why things have a utility. Why is it the case that we can see certain types of feedback loops, or cycles occurring in the world with some degree of certainty? The idea that "things occur" doesn't seem to generate any explanations.

    I also don't really see a reason why teleological explanations are only "in us" as a regulative function of our cognitive processes. It seems as though we need an error theory for that.
  • Gnomon
    533
    I wonder if the the metaphors of violence, competition and force here are unconscious. Sounds vaguely fascist to me. I think removing the divine shtick and leaving the self-organizing teleology could help fix this.Joshs
    The forceful wording was tongue-in-cheek, because I'm aware that some people view humans as a cancer on the natural world. So those "trigger words" might get a rise from "tree-hugging liberals". But it also stated a harsh truth, that humanity has "selfish goals" that are different from those of indifferent Nature. In that sense, humans are indeed forcing their will upon the natural order. So, the term "teleology" was referring to the future orientation of human planning, not necessarily to any long-range plans of deity.

    Hence, the metaphors of "violence, competition, and force" were appropriate from a historical perspective. It's only in recent years --- perhaps since the "blue marble" images from space --- that humans have decided to curb their selfish Will to align better with the "will" and "teleology" of Nature. Even so, humans have become the new driving force of Evolution, and are collectively steering the world toward a future that is anything but natural --- if proponents of Technological Singularity are correct, the future will be increasingly artificial. And imagining a return to the Garden of Eden is wishful thinking. :cool:


    Technological Singularity : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_singularity

    Tree-hugging liberals : phrase in quotes is also tongue-in-cheek. I'm a bit of a tree-hugger myself, but I'm also realistic -- not fascist -- about the "nature" of humanity. :joke:
  • Gnomon
    533
    I think a conceptual ‘God’ is a useful reference in discussions of teleology - in many ways it keeps us from assuming that we’ve already figured it all out.Possibility
    Thanks. That is exactly what I have in mind, when I bow to necessity for a First Cause that set Nature on its current course. The law-guided program of natural evolution has eventually produced conscious agents with wills of their own. And the collective will of humanity is directed toward -- what we imagine to be -- the welfare of homo sapiens. It's only in the current generation that we have learned the hard way, that --- although we may have the power --- it's self-defeating to fight Nature. So the welfare of humanity is inextricably linked with the course of Nature, and with the teleological destination of the whole universe --- whatever that might be. We are passengers on this vehicle, but we can make ourselves as comfortable as possible in our little milieu, which may eventually expand beyond the Blue Marble. :smile:
  • Gnomon
    533
    Just because you have an input and output of anything doesn't mean that things don't occur for a specific functional purpose. Just because "things occur" doesn't mean that they don't have a guided purpose or a way expressing what they are. You can create a speculative judgement of what certain types of behaviors mean in terms of a universal concept.Marty
    If the Output is equal to the Input, there is no sign of Purpose, only Function. The distinction between "Function" and "Purpose" lies in what happens between the Input and Output.

    A billiard ball normally transmits the input force to the next ball without any thought or intention. But if a ball suddenly changed course, ignoring the Aim of the shooter, we could assume from its behavior that the ball had developed a mind of its own. Or that it had been programmed to change direction in mid-course. Such things don't "just occur" without some reason, some internal purpose. Purpose and Programming provide internal guidance to a target.

    "To Purpose" is to intend, and intention is the key to teleology. It requires a look ahead to some future possibility, a value judgment, and an action to set a course in the preferred direction. Only the intentional agent knows for sure what the reason (intended goal) was. Nevertheless, an onlooker might "create a speculative judgment" of the meaning or purpose of that otherwise inexplicable course change. We infer the intention by the results of the action. If the end is not in sight, we can still infer intention by recognizing a steady tendency in an otherwise random background.

    A Teleological process follows from an intentional act. Which is why Atheists deny any signs of intention or purpose in Evolution. Goal-directed natural activity would imply a "universal concept" : a value judgment of a preferred outcome. Which, in turn, would necessitate the setting of a non-random course within Possibility Space toward a specified goal, or in any consistent direction (e.g. the Arrow of Time) . Such a purposeful process would require Laws to limit the ways things & events interact, and it would need some kind selection filter to weed-out anything on the wrong course. So, Natural Laws and Natural Selection are signs of Intention. :nerd:

    Signs of Purpose within randomness :
    Tendency
    Intention
    Consistent
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