more (or less) purpose
Submitted by Kathy Maffei on Wed, 2006-02-08 13:45
Ok, I’m no philosophy major, but I’m going to try to better explain my feelings about the concept of purpose: To start, I find only 1 definition of the word purpose that appears to relate to our discussions: what something is used for. Sure, it’s also affected by context (i.e. “What’s your purpose for being in this building right now?” vs. “What is the program’s purpose?” vs. “the purpose of my existence”), but either way, it boils down to pretty much the same thing: function / use / reason. Now, I think it’s safe to say that anything and everything can have more than one use. Take for example something as straightforward as the Hello World program, which simply prints the statement “Hello, World” onto the screen. It can be said to have the purpose of printing “Hello, World” onto the screen, or its purpose could be to serve as a basic example for beginning programmers, or it might be used to quickly test your success at installing C libraries on your machine, etc. Furthermore, the purpose of a particular agent can be presumed by the agent, the creator, the user, or an observer, and each purpose may be distinctly different. It can be argued that none has any stronger claim to validity, except within a particular context. In other words, purpose isn’t a fixed aspect of the agent, itself, but of the intention of the person describing it in a specific situation. In all cases, the concept of purpose is simply an artificial construct of the mind – a device we use to contemplate and describe something at a particular moment of existence / contemplation / creation / use / observation. It does not exist as a provable absolute. Just to muddy the waters a little, I expect there’s a condition under which this whole argument becomes moot. If there is no such thing as free will and if there is a designer who deems it desirable to assign purposes to things, then there’s no argument against them. On the other hand, if there is no free will yet still no designer – for example, if the universe is only one huge deterministic CA that accidentally came into being – then there’s still no purpose without someone to think it up. I believe that as long as there is free will, there is no real thing as purpose – that it is subjective and useful only in terms of expressing a personal opinion or plan.