Purpose is the cognitive awareness in cause and effect linking for achieving a goal in a given system, whether human or machine. Its most general sense is the anticipated result which guides decision making in choosing appropriate actions within a range of strategies in the process (a conceptual scheme) based on varying degrees of ambiguity about the knowledge that creates the contextualisation for the action. Purpose serves to change the state of conditions in a given environment, usually to one with a perceived better set of conditions or parameters from the previous state. This change is the motivation that serves the locus of control and goal orientation.

First attested in c.1290, from earl Old French "porpos" "aim, intention", purpose is related to from "porposer" "to put forth," from Vulgar Latin corruption of por- "forth" (Latin pro- "forth") and Old French "poser" "to put, place". [ [http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=purpose] Online Etymological Dictionary] Purpose is related to the term pose used from 1374 as to "put in a certain position," or "suggest, propose, suppose, assume," a term use in Late Latin debating (c.300-c.700) from "pausare" "to halt, rest, pause". [ [http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=pose] Online Etymological Dictionary]

In human life

“There is a fundamental human need for guiding ideals that give meaning to our actions”, states Roger Fisher. Renowned psychiatrist Victor Frankl’s premise is that ‘man’s search for meaning’ is the primary motivation of his life. He speaks of the ‘will to meaning’ as opposed to Freud’s’ ‘will to pleasure’ and Friedrich Nietzsche’s ‘will to power’.

According to some philosophies, purpose is central to a good human life. Helen Keller wrote that happiness comes from "fidelity to a worthy purpose", and Ayn Rand wrote that purpose must be one of the three ruling values of human life (the others are reason and self-esteem ). Some people hold that God assigns purposes to people and that it is their mission to fulfill them. Others hold that purpose is not inherent, but instead freely chosen (or not chosen) by individuals. Among these, some say that natural propensities may determine what sorts of purposes a person needs to pursue, but do not guarantee that he or she "will" pursue them, that being dependent on free choice.

Pursuing a career, raising a family and creative vocation are all long terms for all cultures. It is related to many philosophies of life and these three main aspects do make life meaningful. It is as one could say, the American Dream. These aspects take a Westernized position. The eudaimonism and objectivism that claim self-sacrificial goals are destructive take more of a Western philosophy and cannot be generalized into the Eastern philosophy. Eastern philosophy such as Buddhism shows that self-sacrificial goals are not destructive because one can bring out their own happiness through self-sacrificial goals especially when it comes to family. In eastern cultures it is more of a collectivism perspective than an individualistic one.

Modern spiritual philosophy sees the purpose in life as improving the environment and world condition for all beings. In the most immediate sense this means each individual finding the special talents which are a gift to serve others. This in turn is found in pursuing a soul level joy, so that the personal and highest individual purpose of life is pursuit of soul level joy. This is the first joy, that which has followed the individual from birth. In most instances it begins with the desire for acceptance and evolves to discovery of each person's genius or gift to serve.

From a scientific point of view the purpose of evolution is the progression of genes. The evolution of life is value free and purpose neutral. However, this is not the same thing as a human being's purpose. Best expressed by popular evolutionary biologist and TV personality Richard Dawkins, purpose is something that "grows up in the universe" (see: Growing Up in the Universe) [Richard Dawkins on our Queer Universe — http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/richard_dawkins_on_our_queer_universe.html] . Man has the complex genetic make-up that allows him to "choose" a purpose for himself.

Opposed to that view is a famous work by the Christian Rick Warren who wrote the best-selling book Purpose Driven Life [Rick Warren talks on a life of Purpose — http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/rick_warren_on_a_life_of_purpose.html] . This work expresses the common religious belief that there exists an inherent purpose of life, as provided by God. The notable difference between the scientific and the religious views on purpose is the latter leaves little or no room for a freely chosen destination in life. There has also been a lot of scientific critism of Rick Warren's book. A good rebuke was done by Dan Dennet [Dan Dennet's response to Rick Warren — http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/dan_dennett_s_response_to_rick_warren.html] .

Relationship as a purpose

Theravada Buddhist, the Dalai Lama, states in The Art of Happiness that the purpose of life is the pursuit of happiness, which would seem to present a circular argument with the definition of purpose according to other philosophies mentioned above if purpose and happiness are the same thing. One important distinction to make is that statistically, those people who behave or appear happy tend to be altruistic and less egotistic. It would follow that an appropriate choice of purpose altruistic in nature leads to happiness.

According to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, relationship, acceptance, and sexual intimacy is fundamental to meeting human needs and conducive to building happiness. Or moreover, that the pursuit of these things, though not necessarily directly, are the underlying purpose of one's actions. Concerning intimacy, the Dalai Lama's view is that sexual intimacy is not necessarily conducive to happiness and fulfillment. It only serves to provide temporary gratification and the desire for a committed bond, which is brought-about by the secretion of oxytocin during orgasm. This promotes the desire for intimacy between the two individuals. Daniel Maguire says in his article Sex and the Sacred:

"It used to be said "animal humanum post coitum triste", humans after love-making are sad.

'A pity beyond all telling is hid in the heart of love,' said the poet Yeats. That can happen.

Sex awakens hopes for intimacy and the priceless gift of mutual trust."

It would follow that one key purpose of sexual intimacy is to build a lasting bond between two people. According to the Dalai Lama, contemporary Western culture falsely holds that deep intimacy between individuals is not possible outside of romantic or marital attachments. Deep relational intimacy is possible and appropriate between all individuals regardless of status. In light of this, the Dalai Lama's views, and Maslow's hiearchy, all indicate a genetic underlying purpose of life to diligently build and retain intimate bonds with other people.

Life stances and purpose

The "purpose in life" has different explanations from different life stances. It may differ substantially within the communities of each life stance, but the examples below are the purposes that are generally accepted as the main for each life stance.


Purpose is similar to teleology, the idea that a final goal is implicit in all living organisms. Until the modern age, philosophy followed Aristotle's and Plato's depiction of a teleological cosmos in which all things had a final purpose (namely, to realize their implicit perfection). Perhaps most modern philosophers of science have reversed the idea of purpose inherent in nature; they do not consider an eye explicable as being "in order to see"; instead, cause-and-effect processes are credited with bringing about the eye organ, which allows us to see. The difference is between a cause as pushing from behind (movements of billiard balls) and a cause as pulling from within (movement of a growing plant). With teleology (purpose) matter is fulfilling some aim from within.

Non-philosophers' views

* A religious point of view on purpose is expounded in the best-selling book "The Purpose Driven Life".

* Nikos Mourkogiannis argues in his book "" that purpose is crucial to a firm’s success: it is the primary source of achievement and reveals the underlying human dynamics of any human activity. He starts with a discussion of purpose, what it is, and what it is not, and also identifies four possible sources of energy for purpose, four sets of moral ideas that provide the basis for action. The second part of the book contains great stories of purpose, illustrating each of these four ideas. The third part explores the connection between purpose and the four attributes of greatness – morale, innovation, competitive advantage and leadership. The author then details how to develop purpose and put it into action and also discusses four purpose driven companies.

* The Broadway play Avenue Q describes purpose as helping others, especially in the song "Purpose".

ee also

* Function (biology) (often informally called 'purpose', but a very different concept; compare design and designoid)
* Meaning of life
* Value (personal and cultural)
* Telesis

External links

* [http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/cgi-local/DHI/dhi.cgi?id=dv1-42 "Dictionary of the History of Ideas":] Causation in the Seventeenth Century: Final Causes
* [http://www.csh.umn.edu/csh/programs/purpose.html The Purpose Project—Center for Spirituality & Healing—University of Minnesota]
* [http://www.crosscurrents.org/Maguire0304.htm Sex and the Sacred] By Daniel C. Maguire
* [http://www.theonequestion.com The One Question] Articles, exercises and tests on finding purpose in life.


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.


Look at other dictionaries:

  • purpose — UK US /ˈpɜːpəs/ noun ► [C] the reason for doing something or the reason that something exists: sb s purpose in doing sth »My purpose in calling this meeting was to remind everyone of some basic rules. with/for the purpose of (doing) sth »He… …   Financial and business terms

  • Purpose — Pur pose, n. [OF. purpos, pourpos, propos, L. propositum. See {Propound}.] 1. That which a person sets before himself as an object to be reached or accomplished; the end or aim to which the view is directed in any plan, measure, or exertion;… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • purpose — [pʉr′pəs] vt., vi. purposed, purposing [ME purposen < OFr porposer, var. of proposer: see PROPOSE] to intend, resolve, or plan n. [ME < OFr porpos] 1. something one intends to get or do; intention; aim 2. resolution; determination …   English World dictionary

  • purpose — pur·pose / pər pəs/ n: an objective, effect, or result aimed at or attained; specif: the business activity in which a corporation is chartered to engage pur·pose·ful / fəl/ adj pur·pose·ful·ly adv pur·pose·ful·ness n Merriam Webster’s Dicti …   Law dictionary

  • purpose — [n1] intention, meaning, aim ambition, animus, aspiration, big idea*, bourn, calculation, design, desire, destination, determination, direction, dream, drift, end, expectation, function, goal, hope, idea, intendment, intent, mecca, mission,… …   New thesaurus

  • Purpose — Pur pose, v. t. [imp. & p. p. {Purposed}; p. pr. & vb. n. {Purposing}.] [OF. purposer, proposer. See {Propose}.] 1. To set forth; to bring forward. [Obs.] [1913 Webster] 2. To propose, as an aim, to one s self; to determine upon, as some end or… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • purpose — late 13c., from O.Fr. porpos aim, intention (12c.), from porposer to put forth, from por forth (from L. pro forth ) + O.Fr. poser to put, place (see POSE (Cf. pose)). On purpose by design is attested from 1580s; earlier of purpose …   Etymology dictionary

  • purpose — ► NOUN 1) the reason for which something is done or for which something exists. 2) resolve or determination. ► VERB formal ▪ have as one s objective. ● on purpose Cf. ↑on purpose ORIGIN …   English terms dictionary

  • Purpose — Pur pose, v. i. To have a purpose or intention; to discourse. [Obs.] Spenser. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • purpose — n *intention, intent, design, aim, end, object, objective, goal Analogous words: *ambition, aspiration: proposition, *proposal: *plan, project, scheme purpose vb propose, design, *intend, mean Anal …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.