In writing this series about a purpose to life, some had objections to my claim that choosing a purpose means that the purpose is work of fiction, and no different than choosing a religion.
Some of them take the form of an accusation of inconsistency, such as this remark from a member of the stuido audience:
Alonzo, your preamble to this website smacks of self-derived purpose. You decided that you wanted to make the world a better place than you left it. That is as much of a purpose as, "Praising and following the words of Jesus Christ." The difference is instead of reading a book to find purpose, you're writing one.
To answer this charge, I would like to introduce into the discussion a distinction between giving a live a purpose or meaning and choosing a project. In this distinction, the activities that I have engaged in will follow the form of choosing a project, rather than choosing a purpose.
The difference between an assigned purpose (or meaning) to life and a project is in the way that value gets attached to that particular entity.
If I were to say that X gives my live meaning and purpose, then this would appear to indicate that X has value. We can argue whether the value of X is assigned to it by me, or whether it has been given intrinsic value by nature or by God that I have the ability to perceive. However, if it gives my life meaning or gives me a sense of purpose, then its value (in some sense) is assured.
This is the type of value that I, in a previous post, said is a work of fiction. We can say that the value that this state has is subjective - but it is subjective in the same way that Tom Sawyer's hair color or Frodo Baggins' relationship to Bilbo is subjective. The inventor simply made it up.
A "project", on the other hand, does not contain any value-laden assumptions. If I say that I have adopted a project of doing X, it is still open to question whether that project has any value. In fact, a project might be truly evil. My project might be world domination, or to make myself as wealthy as possible regardless of who gets hurt, or to commit an act of rape or murder.
Or it could be to leave the world a better place than it would have otherwise been, by helping people to get a better idea what 'better' is and why there are reasons-for-action-that-exist to pursue that which is 'better'.
Consistent with what I have written in this blog to date, we have the capacity to evaluate projects. We can determine the relationships that exist between the propositions that would be made or kept true in working on that project and various desires. Specifically, we can ask whether a person with desires that people generally have reason to promote, and lacking desires that people generally have reason to inhibit, would ever adopt such a project.
This would tell is if people generally have reason to praise somebody who adopts such a project, or to condemn them.
A person whose project has come under criticism might be tempted to argue, "But this is what gives my life meaning and purpose. Because of this, criticizing the project is 'out of bounds' - something you may not do."
We often hear this argument with respect to religious meaning and purpose - where the fact that a person finds meaning and purpose in religion is taken to imply that others are morally prohibited from criticizing a person's religious projects. However, the religious component is not necessary. The atheist who has choosen to invest a particular end with meaning and purpose might also be tempted to argue, "Since the whole meaning of my life is tied up in that end, you may not criticize it."
However, that meaning or purpose is pure fiction. The reality is that the agent has adopted a particular project. We may well assume that the project is something that fulfills the most and strongest of the agent's desires, given their beliefs. However, we are still free to ask and answer the question of whether those beliefs are true, and whether those desires are desires that people generally have reason to promote or to inhibit.
On this model, it makes sense to praise those who adopt projects that a person with desires we have reason to promote would adopt, and condemn those who adopt projects that a person with desires we have reason to promote would not adopt.
It does not make sense to declare that a certain set of projects are beyond the bounds of criticism because somebody has decided to invest them with fictitious meaning and purpose.