What is the difference between the purpose of life and the reason for it?
Have you ever thought about it? I have. So in March last year I posed this question to a number of people on Facebook and I received the following answers. I followed up in February 2014 and have added some new answers. Surnames are deleted for some.
If you are a thinker then feel free to add to the discussion.
Well that is a fairly difficult one … from a fairly prosaic perspective, my first response would be that while it’s reason could be accounted for by a freak of nature, It’s purpose then becomes fairly irrelevant to everything other than its own context random selection
One might say that the purpose of life (in a living context) is to do unto others as you would have then do unto you. However, that is rather quaint, invokes noble individualism, and is uncharacteristic of all humanity.
We might also say that because we are all individuals and have free will (or do we?) that there is no one purpose commonality. In fact, the answer to the purpose of life might be within the individuals own. personality. Alternatively, that because no man is an island and we all need each other the purpose might very well be survival as a common goal. Or maybe there is no purpose and there doesn’t need to be.
In the absence of any proof as to why life originated we cannot therefore work out the reason for it. However, there is always an overwhelming desire to procreate. Perhaps that is it. Having said all that I believe that the human mind has not yet sufficiently developed to the point of satisfactorily answering these questions. We are all correct within the capacity of our own individual current thought processes and that can change as we age. Or progress intellectually. Give it another five hundred years or so.There cannot be an answer that will satisfy us all.
An unnamed Christian man.
I say this. We should all live our lives as near as is possible to the example set by Jesus, taking into account our humanity. That is our imperfection
Sam (friend of Angus).
Hmmm, purpose and reason. I’ll start by assuming we’re talking about sentient and sapient life, and not just life in general – for which I think there is no purpose.
For all life, I think the reason for life is the things that led up to it – in a general sense the chemical and evolutionary process that led to it. Usually reason is to do with rationality, and in this case, I’d say it’s the parts that go together to make life – you could say it’s a strictly rational equation.
Purpose, I think, is more to do with values, and as I said, can only apply to people (beings with some self-awareness and rationality). I suppose ones purpose in life would describe what they should aim to do in life. I don’t think I can adequately answer what that is, on a general or personal sense. It’s too easy to say that we have no purpose, and that morality is for naught, and it doesn’t make sense to me to say that our purpose is somehow ordained by another being. So I guess it’s got to do with our relationships with each other. But I dunno.
John, my guess would be: you can’t choose the purpose of life, but you can choose the reason to live!
The presumption in the question is that life has a purpose. I think that you can give your life purpose, but simply being conscious of being alive, does not imply a purpose (beyond replication of genes if Dawkins is correct).
Is it so frightening to imagine that there is no reason, no ‘higher purpose’ than to live a good life. Enjoy the journey. The evidence so far demonstrates that it doesn’t last forever, every moment is precious.
“The Purpose of Life”
I’ve had many a late night debate with Christians who have said variations of this to me:
“If you don’t believe in Heaven and Hell then why don’t you just rape and kill everybody?”
“All morality comes from God. If you don’t believe in God you must have no morals whatsoever”
“The meaning of life comes from God. If you don’t believe in God then you have no reason to live, why don’t you kill yourself?”
“When you believe in nothing you’ll fall for anything.”
“Belief in God is the bedrock of all judgement. If you don’t believe in God you have no morals and no judgement at all.”
And yet I don’t go around raping and killing. Haven’t raped or killed, ever. I have a perfectly clean police record and a highly developed sense of right and wrong.
I am actually very suspicious of the highly pious. Former politician Keith Wright was one of the most pious men I’d ever met. I met him in the late 1980s in Rockhampton. God this, hallelujah that, “praise the Lord” every five minutes. In 1993 he was convicted of child sex offences and rape. Then there is the matter of the Catholic Church child abuse that went on for decades and was actively covered up by the Church. Don’t start me on all the atrocities of history committed in the name of God.
Sorry. I’m patronising you now by giving lessons in history.
The point I’m making is that if God can’t be relied upon to give moral guidance then don’t bother looking to God for the Purpose of Life.
And the truth is most people don’t look to God for the purpose of life. Australia is not a very religious country. Most people just get on with life and find happiness and purpose and meaning without God, and have no less success than those who do seek spiritual meaning.
So, what is the Purpose of Life? I don’t know but my life is far from miserable because of that.
Is there an Ultimate Purpose of Life? I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure there is none.
Does that mean “anything goes”? Clearly it does not.
Is life shallow without a spiritual meaning? Most of the population demonstrate that it isn’t.
So, what do I think the purpose of life is?
I don’t know, exactly. It is probably love, fulfilment, “to create the greatest good for the greatest number of people” as Sam Harris puts it in his book “The Moral Landscape”. Likely, a combination of all of this.
I don’t believe the purpose of life is handed down to us from any higher being. I don’t believe there is anyone up there or out there who is going to save us. We are alone and we have to, as individuals and as a species, need to find the meaning of life for ourselves.
That is a very interesting question. As an atheist, I don’t believe in a reason for life. I believe life is the result of a complex series of chemical reactions due to cosmological events. That is why life arose, evolved, and led to us. I don’t believe that the universe “owes” us a reason for being here. As far as the purpose of life, my answer to that question is very clear. As a Humanist, the purpose in life, for me, is to help others, and to bring joy to lives of others, and to leave this world, to the largest degree possible, a better place than I found it.
I maintain that there is neither a purpose nor a reason for life. It just is. We are here entirely by accident, the only ‘reason’ being that our parents procreated. “Purpose and reason” in terms of what we ‘should’ make of our lives are entirely subjective, and are thus at the whim of the individual. One person’s self-identified purpose is to spread love, another’s to kill infidels. Who’s to say which is more valid? In terms of self-ascribed purpose, that brings up the whole question of free will because we are inherently so influenced by nature/nurture, brain chemistry and education (or lack thereof), and limited to the possible options afforded by our environment and the time in which we live, how much free will is there really anyway? Great, now I’M depressed, LOL.
The purpose of life is “why”, the reason for life is “how” .We make our own purpose. The question assumes an absolute answer.
The reason for life, however, can be explained scientifically through means such as the “something from nothing” theory, the big bang, evolution by natural selection and so on.
Brendan J Kelly.
Ah, a philosophical bone on which to gnaw. I tend to agree with Tim, (who would dare do otherwise?) in that a purpose suggests a preceding intention. “The purpose of this demonstration is to show you how to make jam from duck’s down.”
Whereas reason comes from a feeling, a desire a drive. A discovery or a thought out conclusion may compel you to take action or pursue a particular course of thought.
The purpose of life is what you make of it, the reason of life is that which drives you in a particular direction and comes from deep within.
That is not to say that experience way not later your reason and reshape your purpose.
This is the magic pudding of discussions John.
I would begin by looking at the linguistic choices in that sentence.
The difference between ‘purpose’ and ‘reason’ is that one is an action and the other is a thought.
A reason is a notion, a thought, an intention based on an appraisal.
A purpose is an explanation for the inevitable outcome.
The universe is demonstrably in a state of flux, everywhere, things change. Nothing is at rest. This is true for the planets, the galaxies and also for this set of collective, interactive, organic biological processes that are definable in a provisional, conventional sense, as “me.” This is the case whether you are Heraclitus, Newton, Einstein, or the Buddha. All things can be shown to proceed from a dependent cause and thus there are consequential outcomes. “From this, comes that.” This does not describe merely a simple determinism, it has implications for us of the efficacy of action and the possibility of making an operative distinction between helpful action and unhelpful action. If we mean “life” as a broad construct defining existence, there can’t be a “purpose,” unless we make some step towards a pre-determined destiny, or we refuse to accept the idea of change, which is an unsupportable view. If we mean “life” as a description of the ongoing process of “this set of sensations I can report on” as a being, then there may be a “purpose” of awareness, just because I can be aware, and because I can make those operative decisions about actions. “I do this, I get that. I do something else I get another result.” Purpose then is not some external thing out there that has been imposed, but the immediate result of intention and action. If I want a “reason,” as in a primary cause, I can only say, trying to find one will simply vex me. There isn’t the possibility of one beyond observing the processes that evolved to bring me to this point. I can make one up of course, but that will be nothing but conjecture and speculation.
There is no reason for life. We do, however, have a purpose. When stripped of all pretence, the purpose of all living things is to be eaten ~ reproduce, by all means, in the meantime, but, in the end, almost all living organisms are eaten one way or the other. Some organisms avoid that fate. Most don’t. Neither is there any external, extrinsic meaning to existence. That doesn’t mean that our lives are meaningless. Even though there is no absolute or universal meaning to be discovered (implicit in the question: ‘what is the meaning of life?’), we create whatever meaning we can. Our lives are no less meaningless for that, but there is no extrinsic ‘reason’ for any one life, in and of itself. On the other hand, a statement such as: ‘you are my reason to live’ is not devoid of significance, but the reason is always specific to the circumstances, never general. It is situational, particular and temporal…
The reason for life is that our world sustains us and all living things on our planet. The purpose of life is to live, learn, love and participate.
We are DNA carriers. It is our DNA that shapes our every action in order to replicate itself. Once we have finished with that, everything else is what we make up.
Artist Sandy Macfarlane Kluin
This answer would be very different for every one of us, depending on our maturity, intelligence and introspection.