Friday, July 11, 2008

What is my purpose? part 1

The elder teen tells me one of her friends has been wondering about the purpose of his life -- something I started wondering at that age. I've never read Aristotle (What??!?) but my mother told me some decades ago that purpose was tied to the intention of something's creator. Or maybe it was the user.

What is the purpose of a chair? To the manufacturer, there could be any number of them:
  • provide functional, comfortable seating for the buyer;
  • provide elegant, beautiful seating to impress the buyer's visitors;
  • make a profit;
  • get buyers started on the manufacturer's line of furniture;
etc. Whether the chair is successful in its purpose is measured by the manufacturer.

The buyer may have a slightly different (or completely different) set of purposes for the chair:
  • something to sit in
  • prop for a dramatic presentation
  • for certain Microsoft executives, something to throw across the room to express his desire to crush a competitor (I'm not making this up)
  • something to tie a kidnap victim to
etc. The maker's purposes can unfortunately be perverted or corrupted.

Fine, but people aren't chairs! The chair had its essence before its existence; humans are different.

Or are they?

If life and consciousness appeared as a product of unguided accidents compounded upon each other, then there is no objective reality upon which one could base a judgment. (The problem is even worse, but that's another discussion.) Suppose "Mr. A" decided that his purpose was to kill six million (or twelve million) innocent civilians in his country, and "Mr. B" decided to save a comparable number of lives in some other country, upon what basis would one say that one purpose was better or worse than another? (By the way, Mr. B is one of my heroes; he started the green revolution in Central and South America, and has probably saved a billion lives.)

Of course Mr. B's purpose was nobler than Mr. A's, but why? If human lives are just so many random accidents, what makes them valuable? What makes them worth anything at all? The statistical dollar value of an American life is only what the economy (a user of human lives) thinks; it is a perversion of what God (the maker of human lives) intended.

My claim here is that unless we admit there's a creator, a designer, a maker of humanity, then one purpose is as "good" as another. Utilitarianism, the Categorical Imperative, etc., all assume some value system, and the basis of that value system is suspect if it doesn't include the designer's intention.

So suppose there is a designer (or that there was a designer, if you prefer). This raises the question, "What was the designer's original purpose?" And a second question, "What, if any, changes have occurred in the designer's purpose?"

My train ride is almost over, so I'll include a little from Genesis 1:
then God said, "Let us make man in our own image, according to our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over the beasts of the earth." ... And God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; rule over the fish of the sea" (etc.)
Well, I think we've filled and subdued the earth. About ruling over other living things, well, maybe we're not so hot at that.

Well, that's a start; I actually have a day job so I'd better get to it. More later...

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