10 October 2008
Purpose can only be attained by human reason.
Purpose is something set up as an object or end to be obtained. (Merriam Webster) This is not the only definition of purpose, but seems to be the most appropriate one. I find the idea of purpose fascinating. There are many implications when you talk about purpose; what is my purpose? Can a person have more than one purpose? Is a purpose a choice? What is the purpose of (insert noun here)? Does everything have a purpose? “Can there be a principle or law at work [in the universe] without a purpose or goal?” (Velasquez, 199) I would say yes. Principle or laws aren’t purposeful. How can objects have purpose? Purpose can only be attained by an object, law, or principle by human reason.
Humans apply purpose to things. Take for example a piece of wood with some metal coming out one end. When this object is in a drawer of my kitchen, it has no end to be attained. Although, when I need to make a steak I just fried up on the grill into smaller pieces, this object has the purpose of cutting my steak into smaller and more manageable pieces to be consumed. So this raises the question, is purpose permanent? Let’s take this same wooden object with metal coming out one end and use it to maim a person. Have we not changed the very purpose of this object? This leads me to believe purpose is not permanent, and can be dynamic. While you can change the purpose of an object, what you change the purpose to might not be the orginally intended purpose of that object. Such as taking a steak knife and maiming someone with it.
When people apply purpose to inanimate objects, it comes off to me as hypostatization fallacy of sorts. For example, the sun’s purpose is to warm the earth. How can the sun, which is basically a flaming ball of gases, have a purpose? Well, if we think about it a little more critically, people give the sun that purpose. Purpose is observer relative, because without humans there to perceive the sun having the purpose of warming the earth, it really has no purpose or goal to attain. It’s just a big hot ball of gas. If humans weren’t around, would the sun still have a purpose?
Social reality might play a part in the idea of purpose and goal. Based on agreement, this piece of paper in my wallet with some ink on it is money and can buy me something. We agree that it’s money, and that it has value, and we use it to trade for an object that we wish to attain. The purpose of money is to buy things. The goal of money is to attain something through trade. Beyond that, does that piece of paper with some ink on it really have a purpose other than the one we give it? I would say no. It’s only true because we agree it’s true. It’s epistemically objective, but ontologically subjective, in the sense of social reality.
There is the argument, “God(s) gave everything a purpose,” and I might be considered an infidel for saying this, but considering there is no proof at all of the existence of some omnipotent being, I really can’t find a justification for that argument. For the sake of this paper, I shall refute this argument in a logical way, and assume the existence of some omnipotent being for but a moment.
If God created all things, and gave all things purpose, he may be omnipotent, but that just means he created these things for a purpose. If the purpose was given, (we’ll use the sun for example.), does it really have a purpose of its own? That may sound confusing, so let me rephrase. The sun has been given purpose by God, but the sun on its own can’t have purpose or goals, because it doesn’t have the cognitive ability (That I am aware of.) to do such things. Purpose and goals cannot exist without reason; whether it is the reason given by some omnipotent being, humans, or even apes.
“Can there be a principle or law at work [in the universe] without a purpose or goal?” (Velasquez, 199) Again, I say yes. The only reason the idea of purpose exists, is because humans see a connection between things. Humans ask “why is this, this way?” The answer we have come up with is purpose. It is sadly satisfactory for the common person, and not looked at with more critical thinking behind it. Purpose and goals are applied by reason. Without the ability to reason, things such as purpose and goal cannot exist.
“Merriam Webster Dictionary.” Merriam Webster Dictionary.
14th Century. Unknown location. Unknown. < http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/purpose >
Velasquez, Manuel. Philosophy: A Text with Readings 8th edition. Belmont: CA
All rights reserved to the Author (Jared W. Armstrong). You may not use this essay or the contents herein without the sole permission of the Author.