Join Date: Dec 2002
Rep Power: 15
Re: Does life have a purpose?
Right, now I've got some time and let's see if I can explain how an atheist can think life has a purpose. Let's go back in time for a second. A while ago, Nic, you opened a thread on scientism asking whether science was the only way to objective truth. My answer was "yes, but it should be noted that truth, whether objective or not, is not the only important thing we should learn."
This thread goes to show what I meant, because (for an atheist/existentialist as I am) the objective truth is that life has no purpose. We're just the result of a random and obscure chain of cause and consequence, the heavens are empty of their God and this emptiness is the state in which we exist. Man is thrown into the void, and there is nothing before him, behind him or around him to find sense and purpose. As if that weren't enough, you can pull down all the arguments on purpose & co. by proving that the questions that drive to their formulation in the first place are just linguistic constructions (which is what I was expecting Sajon to do, but it seems like beatbass/kant has taken the bother. Ah well).
The existentialist position used to be my own too, but I've come to distance myself from it in recent times (mainly as I finally got rid of that damn cosmic pessimism, which had flooded my circuits like cancer for something like three years), because it fails to account for moral truth, which goes over and beyond objective truth. By morality I don't mean just the study of what's right and wrong; that's ethics, I think. Morality is rather the code or balance or sense of measure by which human beings value themselves and others. This is something that all people seem to agree on. Everyone thinks that judging someone by his/her moral stature is more important than judging them for their talents, looks, social position, class, or whatever. (Interpretations of moral truth vary, yes; but that morality is more important than everything else is where everyone agrees).
I'm still in the process of trying to understand what morality is or how it works, so I can't be too exhaustive on the purpose of life. Objective truth, that I used to believe in, is that morality does not exist. It's just a particular course in our process of evolution, a biological result derived from our capacity for empathy, an outcome of social patterns and group behaviour. But that, to me, goes to show why objective truth is not appropriate as a humanistic torchlight; because the existence of such an intrinsic and universal kind of metre in us does differentiate us from all other animals, indeed from the nothingness that is matter, and I feel compelled to accept it even without recognising its existence in the material world, or the presence of some God that wrote its rules down. Morality may be an outcome of chance, yes - but it exists, and goes over and beyond chance, has greater value.
Morality is also what guides our "sense of purpose," that compels us to ask such questions in the first place and that everyone feels, even those who deny it or who claim such sense of purpose is delusional (that is, it has no correspondence in the material world - which I agree it doesn't, but I disagree it makes it irrelevant). Which is also why I think the "critical approach", that of deconstructing the question, is ultimately unsatisfying (as well as quite boring once you've understood how it works); because all it does is expose the assumptions behind a question, without bothering to reveal or explore the "matter" that allows us to judge whether those assumptions are justified or not.
My belief is not so much that life has a "purpose", but that, since all actions have a moral weight, denying the drive or moral truth behind the question "does life have a purpose" (which is what you're doing if you answer "no") means taking an action that has a negative moral weight. Morality is based on feeling and experience and as such it's resistant to actions that posit/preach/are-attracted-to nothingness, that is, that deny life. Negating the sense of purpose (regardless of the correspondence between empirical reality and such purpose) has to me a moral value that is a bit like that of suicide (if not nearly as heavy): True, the objective truth may be that you're doing no evil since you're only harming yourself (assuming there's no one that cares for you), but suicide remains an action with a negative moral weight, because it negates the fundaments of morality by denying life.
So, while morality may not exist and be a construction and an outcome of chance and all the rest, it remains enough of a universal guide and of a spontaneous feeling for me to say that yes, life has a purpose, and that purpose is morality. All human beings feel the moral weight, whether they like it or not. All that's being debated here is whether they decide to negate it or embrace it.
PS: It should be noted that morality, precisely by virtue of not existing in the material world, is not some universal thing that we should all be striving for. The "should" is already implicit in the object. Morality - and hence purpose - is unconscious, and it exists independently of the subjects of our actions, be they of nature social, religious, artistic, etc. Ergo morality/purpose is not the object towards which we're striving, it's the arrow that's hanging above our heads and that is pointing to the object (regardless of the fact that that object does not exist).
And that's all I've got to say about that. *collapses*