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 “higher,” and only one of those sorts is meaningful.
- Mundane purposes are those we share with other social mammals: food, security, reproduction, and position in social dominance hierarchies. They also include material altruism on behalf of one’s family or tribe.
- Higher purposes are those that transcend animal existence, such as creative production, disinterested altruism, and religious salvation. These are sometimes called “transcendent,” “eternal,” or “ultimate.” Their value should survive your physical death, or have significance in realms beyond the material.
Materialism is the stance that only mundane purposes count; it fixates their value, and denies higher purposes. We have no choice but to pursue sex, power, status, safety, pleasure and possessions; anything else is a delusion. Mission is its mirror image: it fixates higher purposes and denies mundane ones. We have a specific higher purpose, and pursuing others is wrong.