I have a purpose, an end to which I aim at; but I am also a part of nature, a fragment of the universe.

So in my being can I say the universe has a purpose?

To clarify:

I follow, or rather am the expression of my will. That is my will is my law - the law that I follow. My will is my purpose.

An electron as it leaps from one orbit to another follows a law. This law is its purpose.

The universe is full of purposes - none of which is substitutable for each other - despite there being family resemblences - and at some level those substitutions can be made. One worker for another is substitutable - but not in themselves - in the world that they carry. Or one electron for another, but in themselves, in the history that they carry - their world - they're not substitutable either.

So the world is a multiplicity of purposes in its inner sense.

To see the world have no purpose is to see the world in its outer sense only.

The universe, the world is an outer expression of all these wills - they are a representation of it as such.

On reflection, these ideas look Schopenerian to some extent.

  • Can you try to differentiate this from this question?
    – Joseph Weissman
    Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 0:17
  • Obeying laws of physics is not the purpose of an electron. Purposes can or cannot be fulfilled, laws cannot be skipped.
    – Natxo
    Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 16:26
  • @Naxto: well, we know of the laws of the state which I could 'skip'; and the laws of physics which an electron cannot - but seeing that they're named by the same word - law - shows that there is imaginatively and philosophically a relation. Thus with purpose. Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 17:16
  • @MoziburUllah Please, stop obscuring the meaning of purpose. It was fairly clear that i meant physics laws in my comment, your 'electron premise' is false.
    – Natxo
    Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 17:31
  • Yes, it was perfectly clear that you meant physics laws in your comments - as those were exactly the words you used. And I perfectly well know the difference between the physical laws and State laws. But I also understand that they're named laws for some reason. I'm not obscuring the idea of purpose but simply appropriating it for my own use. And why not - haven't cohomologists appropriated the ideas of boundaries & chains from the ordinary world on the basis of some resemblence? Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 18:39

2 Answers 2


The biologist Ernst Mayr described five types of teleological thinking:

  • Teleomatic - events which happen because of physical laws, e.g. an apple inevitably falls to the ground when released from my hand.

  • Teleonomic - activities which unfold due to genetics, such as the human body developing eyes.

  • Adapted Entities or processes - things which are adapted to facilitate a particular capability, e.g. the eye is adapted for seeing. The conflation of this with Cosmic Teleology is the basis for the argument from design.

  • Purposeful Activities - Actions which require planning and coordination, e.g. a pride of lions splitting to surround its prey.

  • Cosmic Teleology - doesn't exist.

Now perhaps Mayr is wrong about the non-existence of Cosmic Teleology. But that doesn't mean that we have free will, or that we can use any of the other four to prove it's existence.

  • That looks like a useful typology. Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 21:25

I think the problem that lies with defining purposes is that purpose is, along with most properties that we assign, human based.

Purpose is really just something that is assigned dynamically by each individual. I say dynamically in the sense that what may have purpose to a person one day might not the next.

From a scientific approach, there is no such thing as purpose. What's the purpose of a forum? There isn't any natural purpose. It happens to exist through the unique processes that lead up to its formation. The same is true with mountains, rivers, computers, cellphones, and various other things that we observe through our day-to-day lives.

Long story short, I don't believe that the Universe has any actual purpose; although, that doesn't mean it can't have a virtual purpose (i.e., one that you assign to the Universe through your own means).

Due to the very nature of this question, I would definitely recommended that you read about the concept of purpose from various sources and choose which one best suits your perspective.

  • 1
    isn't the purpose of a forum to have debate in? Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 0:49
  • 1
    Indeed. I think you expose error in your reasoning when you can assert calmly that forums and cellphones have no purpose! It's fair to say that there's no physics experiment we can conduct to determine the purpose of a cellphone, but it's absurd to conclude that therefore the phone has no purpose. (You've applied the same incorrect reasoning to mountains, rivers and the universe.) Purpose is assigned by who designs or makes, not purely by humans. For instance, when a bird makes a nest, the purpose of the nest is to house offspring. This would be true whether or not humans interpreted it.
    – AndrewC
    Commented Aug 18, 2014 at 2:29
  • 1
    @AndrewC OK, birds can make nests, but if a human didn't think about it, would it matter? We associate purpose with intention, intention with goals, and goals with our ability to predict outcomes. Birds and rivers do not predict. Without some intention that was consciously recognized, I say there is no purpose in a way humans care about. A forum or a phone does not reason about itself and what it is "trying" to get done. We blithely reason about things without recalling that we are the only things that reason. So, our instrumental attitude toward "things" and their purposes comes from us.
    – user16869
    Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 2:39
  • It would matter to the bird, the bird's mate and the chicks. If you assert that the nest is for nothing you lie, and if you admit that the nest is for housing offspring you admit it has a purpose. This does not require human observation or cognition to be the case. The birds don't care. They will continue to build nests for the purpose of housing their offspring even if we all die out. (Also, the nest does not need mental powers to fulfil its purpose to be good housing; phones and forums not reasoning for themselves is irrelevant.)
    – AndrewC
    Commented Jul 31, 2016 at 19:34

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