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Don Jack has a job, a few friends, often goes to the gym and has ambitious dreams of participating in life. Often he finds himself questioning whether he continues to pursue these things. The chain of whys hasn't been resolved. As an example (which can have many alternative answers, by the way) :

Agency

  1. Jack has a job. Why? -> Jack wants to save money. Why? -> Jack wants to start his own company. Why? -> Jack wants to have lots of agency & hire smart people. Why? -> Jack wants to quickly and easily reach goals. Why? -> There's no clear reason for this.

Friends

  1. Jack wants to have friends. Why? -> Jack wants people to help each other out. Why? -> To make great things possible and easier to do? Why? -> There's no clear reason for this.

Gym

  1. Jack goes to the gym. Why? -> Jack wants to be healthy. Why? -> He doesn't like being sick; when he was ill, he vowed to do everything he had wanted to do, regretting doing what he was capable of when healthy. Why does he want to do the things he is capable of? 😀😀 Is there an alternative? One can only do what one is capable of. -> This seems a bit helpful.

Tranquility

  1. Jack wants inner peace, so he does some meditative practices. Why? Why does he want inner peace? -> Because the alternative is painful. He experiences pain and knows it's not great. He knows tranquillity and knows it's great to have it personally.

The problem with having unclear whys is that the mind easily shifts from one pursuit to another. Are there reasons that are:

  1. Universal (they are true for Jack as for Danny as for Angie, as for a monkey called Romeo, and an ant called Maggie)
  2. Deeper (they aren't just true at the individual level. That apply not just on earth, but also across space)
  3. Timeless (they have existed for all time)
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    Jack Danny and Angie are all alive. That means they have no choice but to stay so or face the great unknown that is death. As long as they opt for staying alive, they might as well do their maximum to enjoy the ride. Happiness in itself is the only compelling reason they need to pursue happiness. This applies to all living creatures (universal and deeper) for as long as there have been (kind of timeless, at least not related to time). See Albert Camus and absurdism for hints about the meaning of life in a meaningless world.
    – armand
    Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 4:17
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    This seems more of a psychological than philosophical question. In psychology, basic human needs and drives are considered. An example is the Maslow hierarchy of needs.
    – tkruse
    Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 8:35
  • This Question is well stated and thought through. I think it is something many people ask themselves, especially around their 20s. I know I did. I know I thought someone should have some answers... Perhaps I do.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 9:47
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    I would argue the answer is uniquely personal, & comes from cultivating wisdom, which is to say: the active practice of finding the integrated centre of our concerns, towards enabling the skills of resolving or reconciling to apparent dilemmas. Discussed here: 'Wisdom and John Vervaeke's awakening from the meaning crises?' philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/82325/…
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 22:07
  • I forgot to mention Self Inquiry. Continue with that. It is the only way to find these answers.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 10:42

4 Answers 4

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There is no such purpose

Universal: No purpose can be universal, because every person is different. There may, however, be some common purposes, because people have many similarities on a biological and psychological level.

Deeper: No purpose applies "across space" (?), because what you find meaningful is very much specific to you.

Timeless: No purpose applies across time, because people change over time, and therefore their purpose may also change, even across the span of just a single life.

It's better if there isn't such a purpose

This is because every person is different. One person finds parenthood to be meaningful, another finds meaning in their career, yet another may find meaning in friendships, etc.

A universal purpose may be a nice hypothetical idea, but in practice this would leave a lot of people with unfulfilling lives.

The best purpose for an individual is something that individual should figure out for themselves.

What about religion?

Some would say religion gives universal and objective purpose. I disagree. Even if one were true (which I also disagree with).

Religion is simply another purpose. Or rather, it's many purposes, or it's possibly a pretend purpose: even within one religion, people lead vastly different lives. Most religious people lead whatever lives they find most meaningful (aside from some religious rituals, perhaps), and may say that this serves their god in some way.

Side note

You seem to have missed some obvious reasons for doing things:

Jack has a job. Why? -> Jack enjoys his career. [or] Jack wants to make money. Why? -> Money allows Jack to live a life that he enjoys.

Jack wants to have friends. Why? -> Jack enjoys spending time with other people, finds value in having emotional bonds with others and likes having people in his life that he can rely on.

The "why" for all of the above would be physiological and psychological needs and desires.

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  • So the answers ground out in: "that's how we are made". My car isn't very sporty, and there isn't much I can do to modify it, but I still enjoy getting better at driving that particular car. "It's not having what you want, it's wanting what you've got"
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 10:46
  • Nice! You get full marks as far as I'm concerned. I see a common terminus to all questions of why, in re things we (should) do, that feels right and wrong at the same time.
    – Hudjefa
    Commented May 14, 2023 at 7:16
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I feel that this query really deserves an answer. I won't say it is individual to everyone because humans have enough in common that there are regularities. You asked for a universal, timeless and deeply compelling reason, which reminds me of the qualities of God. How close can we get?

Playing the Why game is useful, because often it does ground out in something inarguable. If you end up at "There's no clear reason for this", then give it some more chances. But, minds are question machines, not answer generators. Evolution prepared us to find answers in the world, not inside our minds. I am fond of the saying: "I was left alone in my head without adult supervision." Definitely seek out other people to keep on track with.

I liked how you said, "Why does he want to do the things he is capable of?" and said it was a bit helpful. My intuitive response is that this is your best lead. Following that with: "The problem with having unclear whys is that the mind easily shifts from one pursuit to another" is insightful. Vipassana meditation - I think - is partly about staying on some one thing long enough to go deeper. It is possible to get past the mind as chatterbox and perceive quietly. This alone makes life worth living. But one can go farther, and many people have done so and do. You can find lots of books, blogs and video about Nonduality.

I would say that you personally have to seek your answer, but when you find it, it will be universal. It's your path! You are already on it!

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    "Why does he want to do the things he is capable of?". I suspect this comes back to a sense of control, which in turn - at its base - is about safety. Our deepest psychological urge is arguably to remain safe, and when we can control our environment, we feel safer. This may be why we tend to pursue things we're good at, and why we're rewarded for being good at things. Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 4:28
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    @Futilitarian I suppose you could explain it that way. Maslow's Hierarchy includes levels for safety, but at some point we feel safe and want to do something we enjoy. The terms there are: autonomy, mastery, purpose. Why am I here at this SE? Why are you? I really enjoy programming.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 10:39
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    In trying to make sense of the world, I feel I am probably trying to secure my safety, because it's hard to be safe if you don't understand your environment. It likely has something to do with not wanting to be fooled too, which again is about safety. Once I feel safe? I don't know... perhaps we're always trying to feel safe, but let's pretend I do, for a moment. Why do I want to do the things I'm good at? Haha. Even 'autonomy, mastery and purpose' seem to come back to safety for me. Maybe I'm just a scaredy-cat. I am a scaredy cat. Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 10:47
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    @Futilitarian somewhere in my writings I know I wrote: "The only 'safe' is dead and buried in a box in the ground." It is possible to get out of being scared, at least at times.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 10:50
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    +1 for "Evolution prepared us to find answers in the world, not inside our minds." The truth is out there. Even though often we could only see it through discovering the mental models of it. Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 0:35
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Well, the truth is that life is meaningless. We do not have any purpose. However, we can give meaning to our life by saying I am pursuing this because I wish to pursue it. If you are OK with this point of view, it is not very wrong to say,"Whether I exist or not, the universe will just work according to the laws of physics. Thus, my existence is meaningless." So, if you are pursuing something and you cannot find any good reason why are you doing that, then you must not overthink about it as it may lead you into existential crisis. These were the questions I asked myself a few years ago and I have come to the conclusion that there is no universal, deep or timeless reason (purpose) for the existence of any living being.

Think for a moment why are you asking this question and why am I answering it?

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  • Yes. Even if we can't say "this is the reason..." with words, we can feel it. We can express it in other ways. Often it gets clear later. Sometimes "the answer" for a situation shows itself after things unfold for a while. I use the word Teleology for that.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 9:58
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I think the immediate goal before any human individual is to assemble their own comprehensive understanding -- a 3-D simulation of the Reality, including its internal workings. Simply put, the Reality as a whole, and every part of it, could be visualized as some kind of a machine. The Ancient Greek word for the whole simulation was Logos (a derivative from proto-Greek verb lego, or "to assemble").

It only makes sense for an individual to attain this kind of comprehensive understanding before deciding on what to do with the rest of their life. That's why assembling your own copy of Logos sooner than later is important.

Unfortunately, even though it sounds pretty straightforward, getting everyone on board with this idea proved to be difficult.

"Even though it always holds true, people couldn't comprehend the Lógos, not even after they've been told about it."
"Failure to understand it is the root of all evil." (Heraclitus, 450 BC)

"In it was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light in the darkness shined; and the darkness comprehended it not." (John 1:4-5)

Still, it is possible to comprehend. Heraclitus did it, Jesus did it, even John the Evangelist -- and so could you! And so could every one of us.

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    Thanks for sharing. I think that it's important to attain an understanding of reality/life because many things seem to count upon it. A change in understanding of reality, at least for me, seems to create a change in motivation to do other things. An example, if the logo's aim is to increase life, I might want to dedicate my efforts to increasing life. If the logo's aim is unknown to me, then I might feel lost & anything goes really. Maybe Heraclitus, John and Jesus knew about the logos/word, but I think they failed to communicate it to a person ignorant. Perhaps only a seeker can know. wdyt
    – Hex Heager
    Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 1:45
  • @DavidWarutumo -- they did fail. All of them. To this day, no one has found a way. Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 4:57

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