Updated: Mar 28, 2021
“You only live once but you do it right ONCE IS ENOUGH.”
The purpose of existence or the ‘summum bonum’ (greatest good) of life is the subject of our next enquiry. In this examination, we follow the same rules as we have all along. One, that any principle must flow logically from a previous principle or a self-evident truth, and two, that no principle can contradict any other principle. To this end, we must return to the truths that we have discovered and examine them to see if we can discern the purpose from them. Firstly, we know that we exist.
As we exist, any purpose which there is to existence must rely on our existing. There can be no purpose to living if living is not a predicate of that purpose. A way to think of this is to ask, what would the purpose of a light be if nothing could see? It could go on shining, but nothing would come from it. Once something can perceive the light, it can mean something. Through perception, it becomes. In the same way we can view existence, the universe unperceived is irrelevant that it exists or does not in a real way is reliant on something perceiving it. From this logic, we can infer that part of life’s meaning to at least things that exist is existence.
Next, we know that in the universe, there are two types of objects; things which can only react to external force, and beings which can interact as of their own volition. Building upon the first principles that meaning follows existence, we can infer that the meaning of life involves interaction to some purpose with other beings and things.
It may not be immediately clear why this must be so. It is thus, as agency or the ability to interact with externals, is part of the fundamental nature of life. It is helpful in understanding this to turn back to that titular sentient mug and ask what is essential in a mug. In other words, what makes a mug = mug, and not a mug = ¬mug. In the case of a mug, its essential nature is being able to hold fluids, be drunk from, and handle. If it lacks a handle, is unable to be drunk from or cannot hold fluids, it ceases to be a mug, and it becomes. This condition is signified by the familiar terms ‘broken mug’, ‘cracked mug’, etc. In the case of life, the essential property is being able to independently interact with things external to the being. The absence of this property is considered death or ¬life.
Some of you may blanch at this and point out that this is an inference based upon nothing more than that we are beings, not things. To this, I counter, imagine if we were things, even things with perception, how could we have an independent purpose if we lack the ability to actively influence other things? Without independent action, there can be no purpose, only reaction. A man blown by a storm moves without purpose but simply reacts to the external force. A man walking under no compulsion has purpose, the difference being that one is active and the other is passive.
Putting these two principles together, we can gather that what purpose there is must involve existence and independent action. Next, we consider that, as we are only capable of action for a finite time, after which we become a thing once more, we must conclude that the purpose to our existence must be found in the period of what is called ‘life’. This conclusion follows if we consider the need for existence and ability to act from criterion, which is only present in ‘life’.
Next, we consider the final thing we know, that each being is an individual who is limited to their own perspective and experience. We can infer from this that the purpose must be common to all beings or living things. This presumption follows as we have deduced that there is no fundamental difference between beings themselves. There exist only relative differences in size, complexity, cognition and form. Putting these together, we see that the meaning of life must be related to life in this physical universe and be common to all beings. What is common to all beings? The desire to continue living!
At first glance, this seems to be a paradox, we know that all beings die, yet we find that the only commonality is the desire to continue living. Yet again, if we observe all beings, we can see other commonalities in their overall behaviour. All beings from the simplest to the most complex undertake actions such as feeding, drinking, and breathing with the aim of continuing to exist. The forms of these actions are as diverse as the forms of the beings themselves. If we continue to observe them, we will undoubtedly notice another commonality. At first, blush does not seem to relate to the continuance of their own existence directly and, in some cases, hastens their demise. This universal behaviour is reproduction.
Reproduction does not make much sense when considered from a purely logical standpoint. In every case, reproduction requires the expenditure of often scarce resources. Resources that would often more logically be expended on the sustainment of the individual being. Why do we do it? As beings capable of logic and reason, we feel compelled to reproduce just as the most primitive microbes do. This paradox is doubled in the case of beings who sacrifice their own lives in the process of reproduction. Why do they do this? We and all other beings do this to continue to exist!
This conclusion may seem paradoxical. After all, how can we exist if we cease to exist? The answer lies in the limitations inherent in mortality. We as beings want to continue to exist/live yet we are doomed to die. As this is unavoidable, we look for the next best thing. What is the next best thing? It is the partial or secondary immortality, offered by passing on our genetic material through reproduction. This statement may seem crude, yet remember we are talking about all beings, not just ourselves. If you were destined to live but for a moment, then cease to exist, is it better if some part of you goes on or none of you? This desire (for lack of a better term) to continue to exist where existence is impossible is a universal absolute. It is manifested in all beings in the desire to reproduce. This compulsion is as true in the most primitive lifeforms as in the more advanced ones such as you and I.
Some readers may take pause at this claim and say, ‘But I have never felt the desire to reproduce’, or ‘I know people who don’t want children’. Of course, this may all be true, but it does not invalidate the point. It is an incontestable fact that living things are compelled to reproduce, often without being consciously aware of it. While we cannot know for sure, we can be confident that amoebas do not debate within themselves the pros and cons of reproduction, they just do it. It is also easily verifiable through observation that many animals are suddenly struck by the desire to reproduce through no obvious decision of their own. The world is intrigued by various insects that consume their mates; we are inspired and horrified by the devotion of the parents who sacrifice their own lives for the survival of their young. In us humans, who as of yet are the only species capable of coherently expressing their experience of existence, we can observe that while many of us consciously profess otherwise, most of us will have children. In fact, this desire to reproduce is so absolute in us that even as the rational part of our mind professes to have no desire to reproduce, we still desire sex or channel the desire to continue to exist into the pursuit of power or fame, or even into the creation of art or literature by which we hope to make our mark on the world. But try as we might, death and oblivion still comes to us all.