Tuesday, August 04, 2009

A Purpose to Life: Can Your Life Matter?

So, here you are, reading this blog.

Because you are reading this blog I assume you are a living entity. Because reading this blog is an intentional action I assume that it has somehow come to pass that reading this blog fulfills the most and strongest of your current desires, given your beliefs. Even if somebody has a gun to your child’s head threatening to kill her unless you read this blog, it is still the case that reading this blog best fulfills the most and strongest of your current desires, given your beliefs.

I can think of a lot of belief-desire sets that might bring somebody to this blog.

Maybe you were a strong theist now doubting your religion wondering if your life can have value if you are not the manufactured plaything of an omnipotent super-being. (Hint: The answer is 'yes'.)

Maybe you are thinking, "Hey, here is somebody who seems to have actually figured out a lot of the truth about value," and it is important to you to know the truth about value.

Maybe you are entertained by the project of discovering and categorizing the mistakes made by people who claim to have discovered the truth about value.

Whatever path you took, your beliefs and desires have brought you to the state in which you are reading this blog.

With respect to those beliefs we can ask the question, "Are those beliefs true?" If those beliefs are false then there is a chance that you are not fulfilling the most and strongest of your desires as you could be. False beliefs will cause you to think that you are successful in fulfilling some of your dsirs when, in fact, you are failing to do so. They will lead you to means that have harmful unforeseen side effects, or lead you away from means that are actually successful.

It would tend to be useful for you to review your beliefs for accuracy and, where they are not accurate, to replace false beliefs with true beliefs.

With respect to those desires we can ask the question, "Are they good?" By this, I mean, "Are they desires that people have reasons for action to promote in themselves and others, or desires that people have reason to inhibit in themselves and others? Or are they among the set of desires that people generally have no particular reason to either promote or inhibit – the desires that define the category of non-obligatory permissions."

Of course, another question you can ask is, "Does it matter?"

Things do matter in the real world.

You don’t believe me? Here, let me apply these electrodes to your genitals and turn up the current, or take this razor strap to the soles of your feet, or skin you alive in a bath of salt water, and you can tell me, "It doesn't matter."

Besides, if it were true that nothing matters, then it would also be true that the fact that nothing matters is not important. It is an absurdity to lament and bemoan the fact that "nothing matters" as if the fact that nothing matters is something that really matters. The person wallowing in the misery over the idea that nothing matters is a simple mass of contradictions. If nothing matters then there is nothing worth lamenting. If you are lamenting the idea that nothing matters then something must obviously matter, and you can quit your lamenting.

Now that we have established that things matter in the real world we can then ask, "What is true about how and what things matter? Which things matter more? Which things matter less?"

We can ask these questions of desires.

So, here you sit, reading this blog. You are a living entity for whom things matter. And we can ask the further question of whether your concerns (what matters to you) are concerns that people generally have reason to promote or to inhibit. In other words, it is not only the case that some things matter – and some things matter more than others. It is also useful to ask and answer the question of what should matter to people – whether 'X matters' is something to be encouraged or discouragd.

We can ask and answer the question of whether "X matters (to me)" is a good thing or a bad thing. The subjectivist is wrong when the subjectivist suggests that, "X matters (to me)" is all there is to value.

Does your life matter?

Well, it could matter. It could be a very important and valuable life. To a large degree, that's up to you.

Do you want it to be the case that your life matters? If you do, then there are things you can do to help to realize such a state.


Mike said...

This blog is representative of a strong and complex desire, in how it affects you emotionally. You experienced intense feelings when you were attacked for being an Atheist, and considering the value you place on your life, you wanted to leave a legacy, to win the war against the false claims of your attackers. That desire is of an entirely different class than a job, a project, or those that wish to avoid genital electrocution.

I am going to take this moment to thank you for your work, as I know it is a significant contribution of your time, and I want to you continue engaging this project, as it has provided me with a lot to consider, and some good honest answers to complex problems.

I would like to promote a desire in others to find a worthwhile 'project' that is as relevant and important to them as this blog is to you, even if it doesn't pay the bills or save the lives of adorable puppies.

I would like to promote the idea that life has meaning, and one's circumstances, good and bad, present a unique opportunity to make a contribution that will benefit more than oneself. I want them to believe that they, in the context of their unique experience and limited lifespan, have a purpose, objectives beyond personal survival and satisfaction.

josef said...


I have only just encountered your philosophy this week, so I apologize in advance if I don't characterize it accurately. You say:

If those beliefs are false then there is a chance that you are not fulfilling the most and strongest of your desires as you could be.

Supposing all desires were equally desirable (and bad desires correspondingly undesirable), one would prefer those which encouraged, numerically, the greatest number of good desires and suppressed the greatest number of bad desires.

However, there is such a thing as a stronger or weaker desire. Which appears to mean a single strong desire could thwart desires numerically larger and still have reason for being promoted, provided it is sufficiently strong.

Doesn't that mean there is a coin of the realm that desire must consist in such that it can be weaker or stronger than other desires? And that, whatever this coin is, it cannot be (exclusively) a quantity of other desires, but something that those desires terminate in which is itself desirable?

I think the pleasurable experience is an obvious candidate (or perhaps a combination of things, of which the pleasurable experience is one).

This would be an opening for the insertion of intrinsic values where pleasure counts as an intrinsic value, and is real because it is or corresponds to a brain state in the same way a desire, which is real, does.

It might be the case that pleasure is intrinsically pleasurable, but not intrinsically valuable if its realization is bound up in a subsequent chain of pleasurable and non-pleasurable experiences, and what is "valuable" is any state of affairs that returns a positive balance of pleasure after subjection to the utilitarian calculus.

It may be too much an abuse of the word "intrinsic" to say that a state of affairs with a whole mixture of consequences yielding a positive amount of pleasure could be "intrinsically valuable." But there remains an intrinsic quality that the objects of desires ought to consist in, that they might be stronger or weaker than one another.