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About Philosophically

I think, therefore I am.

Why it pays to create your own purpose ... and other philosophical musings.

Like me, I am sure that even if you aren't Buddhist, you're attracted to the notion of karma, the belief that we ultimately get what is coming to us.

Finding your mythical purpose.

Finding your mythical purpose. Picture: Shutterstock

I'm sure you know people attracted to the concept of fate, that our futures are essentially pre-determined and what will be is already programmed.

Some of you may even have friends who have studied philosophy and find themselves attracted to determinism, the absence of true freewill where we always do what we were meant to do.

There is no doubt in my mind that all three of these notions help people feel better about life. All three suggest implicitly that there is a pervasive bigger, greater and stronger power than us.

Karma suggest that there is a force out there that makes sure we all get what we deserve. Both fate and determinism suggest that our futures have been determined by a greater power or force.

There may well be a greater force or power, but I have never seen any evidence. There are certainly things out there that are bigger, greater and stronger than me, but I see no evidence that they have any interest in me and my 60 years on this planet. I am just not that important.

In a number of interviews and speeches, including his well-known 2005 Stanford University commencement speech, Steve Jobs talked about the importance of finding your purpose, your reason for being.

He suggested that nothing great was achieved until that purpose was found, because people would not work hard enough to achieve real success unless they were focusing on their passion.

There are a lot of TED talks where speakers praise the virtues of finding your purpose, or mission in life. Apparently, we will never find happiness until we find our purpose, will never get rich until we focus on our mission and, ultimately, if we focus on our purpose and mission, we will achieve both happiness and wealth.

The concept of finding one’s purpose is absurd. It implies that everyone has a purpose and there is no evidence that this is so. It implies that we all have a mission and I have seen nothing to suggest this is so.

The reality is, I suspect, that the idea of having a purpose of mission is somehow comforting and gives life meaning. To me, this lacks the evidence of karma, fate and determinism.

I suspect that most people just want these things to be real, while many others convince themselves they are, without the need for evidence.

I am enormously attracted to the writings of Soren Kierkegaard and Jean-Paul Sartre, who saw no meaning in life and suggested that people have to create a purpose. Kierkegaard (in the 1800s) and Sartre (1900s) took the view that life has no meaning, beyond that we choose to give in. Life just is. They also took the view that to the extent that anyone had a purpose or mission, it was one they created for themselves.

Part of the foundation of these was a view that there was no evidence of a greater power that could give  individuals a purpose under some grand plan. To quote a more contemporary commentator, comedian Tim Minchin: ''Don’t go looking for a meaning in life because there is none.''

And he is right!!

This thinking is called existentialism, the philosophical theory or approach that emphasises the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent, determining their own development through acts of the will.

I know that some will ask for the evidence of existentialism. My response is that existentialism needs no evidential base. It needs only the absence of evidence for the alternative.

Existentialism is the belief I must have until there is any evidence of the alternative. 

I am no student of Kierkegaard or Minchin, but I am greatly attracted to the honestly and clarity of thought exhibited by Sartre.

I am also attracted to the notion that we have to CREATE rather than FIND a purpose -- notwithstanding the fact that the whole notion of purpose is very middle class. But that is a subject for another day.

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