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This chapter discusses stances toward purpose.

For an introduction to this topic, see "An appetizer: purpose."

The question of purpose is easy for both eternalism and nihilism. For a committed eternalist, your purpose is whatever the Cosmic Plan says it is; no problem. For a committed nihilist, there can be no purpose; no problem. Both stances are difficult to live up to. In practice, we usually fall into two other, confused stances: mission and materialism.

These confused stances share an underlying mistaken metaphysical assumption: that purposes can be classified as "mundane" or "eternal," and only one sort is valuable. Mundane purposes are those we share with other monkeys: food, security, reproduction, and position in social dominance hierarchies. Eternal purposes are those that transcend animal existence, such as creative production, disinterested altruism, and religious salvation. These also get called "higher" or "transcendent."

Materialism is the stance that only mundane purposes count; it fixates their value, and denies eternal purposes. Mission is its mirror image: it fixates eternal purposes and denies mundane ones.

So, mission is the stance of “the transcendently valuable role given to me by God,” and materialism is the stance of “getting as much for myself as I can.”

Mission often additionally claims that each person has a unique eternal purpose; so it is mutually supportive with the stance of specialness. Materialism is concerned with purposes everyone shares; so it mutually supportive with ordinariness.

Both mission and materialism can be seen as muddled middles that try, and fail, to reconcile eternalism and nihilism. Additionally, there is a muddled middle that, recognizing the failures of both mission and materialism, tries to find a further halfway point between them. It mingles materialism with mission, attempting to satisfy the demands of both in a single course of action. You might, for instance, pursue fame and glory leading a celebrity media campaign to save starving Africans from poverty. Motivations are usually mixed. When pursuing eternal purposes, one almost always also hopes for some mundane reward.

The complete stance for purpose, enjoyable usefulness, rejects the mundane/eternal dichotomy. The value of both sorts of purposes is nebulous but patterned. This complete stance replaces the misleading question “what am I supposed to do” with “what can I do now to be useful and enjoy myself?”


This page introduces a section containing the following:

This page is in the section Doing meaning better.

The previous page is Selfness. (That page introduces its own subsection.)

This page’s topics are Materialism and Mission.

General explanation: Meaningness is a hypertext book (in progress), plus a “metablog” that comments on it. The book begins with an appetizer. Alternatively, you might like to look at its table of contents, or some other starting points. Classification of pages by topics supplements the book and metablog structures. Terms with dotted underlining (example: meaningness) show a definition if you click on them. Pages marked with ⚒ are still under construction. Copyright ©2010–2020 David Chapman. Some links are part of Amazon Affiliate Program.