Author Topic: Purpose, Meaning and Morality?  (Read 395 times)

TheBigDeal

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Purpose, Meaning and Morality?
« on: December 15, 2011, 12:31:12 PM »
Hi everyone, I am a typical guy in his low 20's. What brings me to this forum is the nagging question of purpose (or lack thereof). To start off, I am fairly convinced that there is no god (though one can not be sure) and even if there was one I am convinced that we could never know it.

I have subscribed to absurdism for as long as I can remember, more generally agnostic atheism, but that’s beside the point. The consequences of this worldview can’t be overstated:
-   a lack of objective morality
-   a lack of inherent meaning of anything
-   a lack of purpose

The lack of objective morality, otherwise known as moral relativism, is an inescapable conclusion in the absence of a god. That is not to say that there is no such thing as morality, only that morals are not objective. In other words two individuals might perform two completely antagonistic actions, each believing that they are acting righteously. Thankfully, this is largely inconsequential to our daily lives since we as a society don’t need objective morals to function, only a set of rules that most people agree upon in order to aspire towards a certain goal (whether it be humanitarianism, utilitarianism, hedonism, etc).

The lack of inherent or absolute meaning of things is also irrelevant for all practical purposes. In order to demonstrate this point let’s consider the scientific method. While the goal of science is to describe natural phenomena through observation, we never claim to know things in an absolute sense. Since we are limited by our narrow set of perceptions (even including augmented perception through technology) we can only describe things through measurement. For example, let’s consider a tree. We can say that it is a certain size, or age, or color, or taste, or texture, or species but in the end we can only assign it an artificial meaning that is agreed upon between most individuals. Despite this shortcoming we can use our arbitrary words/symbols/images to learn about our world on an operational level and even begin to predict or manipulate our surroundings based on these observations. In other words, even though we don’t “know” what a tree is, we can still know it well enough to cultivate it for sustenance, isolate chemicals from it to use as drugs, use it to build structures, or manipulate it to make products (paper, etc).

The lack of purpose, though, leaves me unable to reconcile despite my best efforts. After establishing what I think is a worthwhile goal I am always immediately reminded of the phrase ‘dust to dust’. For example if self-improvement or growth is the goal, one must first concede that memory is fleeting, acuity attenuates with time, physical health inevitably declines, etc. If leaving a legacy is the aim, one must first admit that everything is finite and it is simply a matter of time before all traces of your existence are completely forgotten (some later than others). If improving the human condition (whatever that means) is the goal, one must first recognize that humans will all be extinct in the next few thousand years (that’s an optimistic projection). In a nutshell Mother Theresa, Hugh Hefner, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, and that random homeless guy will all be equal (read: worthless, purposeless, meaningless) a millennium from now, but it’s okay because they’ll be dead and won’t be any the wiser.

If you have somehow miraculously made it this far I commend you on your superior patience and thank you for your time.

…and so (finally) I ask the question “why do anything?


A common response that I encounter is “it’s the trip that is important, not the destination.”

So is that it? That’s “the miracle of life”? Everyone satisfying their hedonistic impulses until they drop dead? If so, I’m not impressed.

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Re: Greetings
« Reply #1 on: December 15, 2011, 01:11:24 PM »
Welcome!

Why not?

I can't offer an good answer, but it's not a problem I struggle with really.
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TheBigDeal

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Re: Greetings
« Reply #2 on: December 15, 2011, 01:15:57 PM »
Welcome!

Why not?

I can't offer an good answer, but it's not a problem I struggle with really.

Thanks for the quick reply. Of course... 'why not?' But then, the question remains, given the infinite number of actions we can take in this world and our finite lifespan why choose one over another? Surely one must be 'better' somehow than all the others. If not, then don't you feel that aimlessly doing things for the apparent sake of killing time is unsatisfying?
« Last Edit: December 15, 2011, 01:18:36 PM by TheBigDeal »

xSilverPhinx

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Re: Greetings
« Reply #3 on: December 15, 2011, 01:40:50 PM »
No, like I said it's not really an issue that troubles me. I guess it's a question of perspective.

For one, there's hope that humanity won't destroy ourselves in the near future, and will figure out a way to solve problems so that we can continue to thrive until something changes and things run their course. I'm not talking about myself necessarily, but people who lived and died in the past have made the future that we're living in possible. That also continues.

I think that thinking too much about these things are rather pointless. I'm alive so...why not? "I" will never get another chance at being the conscious collection of atoms that I am now.   
I'm just a student of the game that they taught me.


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Re: Greetings
« Reply #4 on: December 15, 2011, 02:02:42 PM »
For me, when I ask myself why I do things, it is usually because I want to. And if it is not what I want to do, it is what I have to do. I don't have to go to the barn six times a week for about four hours each day. But I do it because I enjoy being around and riding the horses. I like to apply that philosophy to other things.

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Davin

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Re: Greetings
« Reply #5 on: December 15, 2011, 02:59:07 PM »
-   a lack of objective morality
It's not any more of a problem being an atheist or a theist. All morals are derived through subjective means even if one believes they are derived from a god.
Quote from: TheBigDeal
-   a lack of inherent meaning of anything
Even with a god, nothing has an inherent meaning. If you think that a god gives things meaning, then it's not inherent, it's meaning giving by a god. So really, nothing is different here either.
Quote from: TheBigDeal
-   a lack of purpose
Just like those who believe in a god, you decide what purpose you have. Even if there was a god, there is no reasonable communication with it to give one purpose, it's all derived personally through feelings.

So really, we're all (atheists and theists), in the same boat with all these, however it's worse if one believes in a god. That is a bit more of a serious topic though, bring this up again after you get ten posts. Welcome.

Always question all authorities because the authority you don't question is the most dangerous... except me, never question me.

kimberlyfaith81

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Re: Greetings
« Reply #6 on: December 15, 2011, 03:05:51 PM »
I was in my mid-20's before I had decided that there was no god and I was free to do as I wished without big bad daddy in the sky watching it all and threatening me with hell and damnation.  I struggled briefly with the questions you are posing.  If there is no reward to work for and no punishment to run from, what guides my decisions?  What is the purpose of life in general?  I did not struggle for long.  All I had to do was look around.  Life is full of endless possibilities and opportunities.  More so than when you are chained to a religion that shapes your every thought.  I live for life, for experience, for love, for learning, for DOING.  The only morality that guides me is my love of other people.  I don't cheat on my husband because hurting him is a reprehensible thought.  I am involved in numerous community projects because I have so much and it makes me feel good to see others happy.  Not because god demands me to do anything.  No ten commandments in my way.  No good samaritan parables.  I don't need any of that.  I find happiness in all that I do and if doing something doesn't bring happiness, joy, fulfillment, I don't do it.  Of course, this is "big picture" thinking.  I don't really enjoy bathing the dog, brushing and flossing three sets of teeth at bedtime, mowing the lawn, dusting... but I do enjoy the results.  So, I guess, in short, my life is just a collection of actions designed to bring happiness to myself and the people who matter to me, and each day is a balancing act to keep the scales from tipping too much toward myself or the others.  Pretty simple really, for me anyway.  

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Re: Greetings
« Reply #7 on: December 15, 2011, 03:15:20 PM »
Welcome to HAF.

I think you are overthinking things...humans, like every other animals, do stuff because they want to.  The complicated part is understanding why we want to do certain things.  This addresses meaning and purpose (which imo are very similar)

As for morality, there is no reason why a god would have to exist in order for it to be objective (we could theoretically just all naturally know what is moral..and to some extent we do via empathy; just not the complicated moral issues)...it's just simply that it's not wholly objective.  Morality is only a tool for social interaction that is based on each individual's and society's best understanding of how to live together. 

Btw, to be fair, I need to move this topic out of the getting to know you area.  Go get up to your 10 posts so you can continue in it :)

Gawen

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Re: Purpose, Meaning and Morality?
« Reply #8 on: December 16, 2011, 03:10:24 PM »
Quote from: TheBigDeal

…and so (finally) I ask the question “why do anything?
Why worry? Be happy. Seriously, people who cannot seem to find meaning of anything need help. If everything means nothing, then why live? And this pokes no fun at the subject. It's a serious and legitimate question.

In my opinion, the purpose of life is to be happy without making others unhappy in the attempt. If nothing makes you happy, which is a "meaning" unto itself, then what have you?


The essence of the mind is not in what it thinks, but how it thinks. Faith is the surrender of our mind; of reason and our skepticism to put all our trust or faith in someone or something that has no good evidence of itself. That is a sinister thing to me. Of all the supposed virtues, faith is not.
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Pharaoh Cat

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Re: Purpose, Meaning and Morality?
« Reply #9 on: December 16, 2011, 04:12:19 PM »
Seriously, people who cannot seem to find meaning of anything need help.

There are three kinds of people in this world: (1) people who want the whole to wrap them in meaning like a warm blanket; (2) people who ram meaning down the whole's cosmic throat; (3) Homer Simpson.

BEER!!
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Re: Purpose, Meaning and Morality?
« Reply #10 on: December 16, 2011, 10:29:13 PM »
I have subscribed to absurdism for as long as I can remember, more generally agnostic atheism
I'm not sure what you mean by this.
If it is absurd not to believe in gods then you must be a theist right?

With regards to morality, there is no such thing. This is a human made concept, have you ever met an immoral cat?

Purpose, religious brainwashes people to be dependant on a definition of purpose. Really, there is no such thing as purpose.

An Atheist lives their lives with freedom of thought. They can choose goals on a whim or even with much thought.
Goals can be:
Have fun
Find love
Lead people
Leave a legacy
Family
be successful
Be wealthy
Serve others
...
What ever suits a person
Goal change over time

keithpenrod

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Re: Purpose, Meaning and Morality?
« Reply #11 on: December 16, 2011, 11:08:22 PM »
Personally, I've found more purpose in my life than when I was a believer.  When I believed in god, it felt like I was living a script: get married, have children, make mormon babies, and teach them to be mormon so we can all live together with Heavenly Father in the Celestial Kingdom. 

But, now I just do what I feel is good.  I like helping other people, so I do.  I like teaching math, so I do.  I like being with my boyfriend (and he likes being with me), so I stay with him. 

What Stevil said about goals is very applicable.  I have a goal to be a college professor.  In fact, I've had this goal since I was in middle school.  Becoming atheist didn't deter me in this. 

Perhaps it's not so much that I believe there is a purpose for life, but a purpose in life.  That is, I feel like there are things that I can accomplish while alive.  Perhaps after I die, that will be the end of me and then I'll obviously not care what I did with this life, since I'll no longer exist.  But that doesn't matter.  While I'm here, I want to make my world pleasant--for me and for other people because I care about other people.  I want other people to be happy.  I want to raise children and I want their lives to be more enjoyable than mine was.  I want life to be more spectacular, scholastics to be more advanced, and hope to be brighter for my posterity.  Not because I think I'll be alive in some ethereal heaven somewhere watching everyone enjoy it, but because right now, while I'm living, I care about people.  I care about people I've never met and people that haven't even been born yet.  I care about people in third-world countries that starve to death.  I care about people who are bullied in school because they're different.  I care about animals (I'm not a vegan, or even a vegetarian).  I care about the Earth--the plants, the beauty of the landscape.  I care about preserving that beauty for others to enjoy.  I care about improving our circumstances rather than destroying all that we have.

This is all intrinsic.  I have no god telling me that I should do this or think that.  I have no hope for a reward in heaven if I do things that are right.  I don't need any reward.  I intrinsically want to make the world a better place.  I want people to be happy.  I think life is wonderful and should be enjoyed to its fullest.  It has nothing to do with hedonism.  Sure, I enjoy things that happen in the bedroom.  But, it's not what drives me.  It's not what motivates me.  I am motivated to make the world better.  I am motivated to learn as much as I can and do the best good I can with that knowledge.  Having "fun" along the way is great, but I just view it as a perk.  Maybe other people focus more on "hedonistic" things.  That's fine.  I don't judge.  Maybe their purpose in life is just to give pleasure to themselves and others they may engage in such activities with.  That's just one more thing that makes life wonderful (aside from unsafe practices, which can lead to disease). 

But, the advantage (for me anyway) of no longer being a theist is that I'm not constrained to one idea of what is right and what is wrong.  I don't have a script to follow.  I'm now living a choose-your-own-adventure.  My world is bright and glorious, and every day I get to wake up and decide what to do with the next 16 hours of my life. 

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Re: Purpose, Meaning and Morality?
« Reply #12 on: December 17, 2011, 01:04:50 AM »
Can't we be happy just to exist? Do we need a purpose or meaning to feel fulfilled?

I am a Nihilist and a very contented one. I feel privileged to be senscient. I am as proud to be a spectacular feat of nature as I am to be an insignificant amoeba within the vastness of a meaningless universe. What a privilege in either case. My 'me-ness' is more than enough for a lifetime of happiness (however other people choose to perceive my interactions with them, noone will ever know what MY 'me-ness' means and how awesome it is (to me)). I feel so sorry for anyone who isn't able to grasp the sheer wonder of just 'being' in a meaningless Universe. The fact there is even 'something' (matter) in the universe is near miraculous in itself. There might have been nothing for eternity - (yeah, that's a tough one to get your head around!).

Yet, I feel passionately about the welfare and happiness of my fellow earthlings (human or otherwise). Indeed, what better way to feel good about oneself (even if only in a purely selfish way) than to dedicate a part of ones existence to this end. In all its ultimate meaninglessness, one must consider the value in philanthropic giving for its own sake. If this is all we are, then 'meaning' and 'purpose' are inherent.

Despite the ultimate meaninglessness of it all; the Earth, our neighbours, our family, our friends, our fellow evolutionary miracles - it's all weve got and all we'll ever have. So why would I not love it with any less vigour than if there was a divine purpose? Actually I think it's all the more precious for its very arbitraryness.

Live, have fun, die. Brilliantly simple.

When one sleeps on the floor one need not worry about falling out of bed - Anton LaVey

The universe is a cold, uncaring void. The key to happiness isn't a search for meaning, it's to just keep yourself busy with unimportant nonsense, and eventually you'll be dead!

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Re: Greetings
« Reply #13 on: December 17, 2011, 01:23:20 AM »
why choose one over another? Surely one must be 'better' somehow than all the others.
Choose whatever seems best at the moment. Pay for it later. For me, it really is that simple.
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