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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Purpose is a result, end, aim, or goal of an action intentionally undertaken[1], or of an object being brought into use or existence, whether or not the purpose was a primary or secondary effect. It is possible that an intentional act may have multiple purposes, only one of which is a primary intention while the remainder are secondary intentions. For example, the introduction of a gene into a species of rice may have the primary intention of providing resistance to disease and a secondary intention of reducing nutritional value. The diminished nutritional value, though perhaps regrettable, would be a secondary intention in that it is a known effect willingly accepted.

First attested in c.1290, from earl Old French porpos "aim, intention", purpose is related to from porposer "to put forth," from Vulgar Latin corruption of por- "forth" (Latin pro- "forth") and Old French poser "to put, place".[2] Purpose is related to the term pose used from 1374 as to "put in a certain position," or "suggest, propose, suppose, assume," a term use in Late Latin debating (c.300–c.700) from pausare "to halt, rest, pause".[3]


In human life

“There is a fundamental human need for guiding ideals that give meaning to our actions”, states Roger Fisher. Renowned psychiatrist Victor Frankl’s premise is that ‘man’s search for meaning’ is the primary motivation of his life. He speaks of the ‘will to meaning’ as opposed to Freud’s’ ‘will to pleasure’ and Alfred Adler’s ‘will to power’.

According to some philosophies, purpose is central to a good human life. Helen Keller wrote that happiness comes from "fidelity to a worthy purpose", some people hold that God, as the force that created life, assigns purposes to people and that it is their mission to fulfill them. Others hold that purpose is not fixed, but instead freely chosen (or not chosen) by individuals and can change throughout life. Among these, some say that natural propensities may determine what sorts of purposes a person needs to pursue, but do not guarantee that he or she will pursue them, that being dependent on free choice, or external factors such as available resources. Oftentimes, it is fundamental for one to attempt to fulfill the purpose one feels is theirs. But in some occasions, fulfillment of purpose is halted by fear, the fear that the purpose one is trying to fulfill won't be fulfilled due to personal failures. In other words, someone who feels that they have a purpose that they must fulfill, might not attempt to do so because of fear due to lack of resources.

Pursuing a career, raising a family and creative vocation are all long terms for all cultures. It is as one could say, the American Dream. These aspects take a Westernized position. The eudaimonism and objectivism that claim self-sacrificial goals are destructive take more of a Western philosophy and cannot be generalized into the Eastern philosophy. Eastern philosophy such as Buddhism shows that self-sacrificial goals are not destructive because one can bring out their own happiness through self-sacrificial goals especially when it comes to family. In eastern cultures it is more of a collectivistic perspective than an individualistic one.

Modern spiritual philosophy sees the purpose in life as improving the environment and world condition for all beings. In the most immediate sense this means each individual finding the special talents which are a gift to serve others. This in turn is found in pursuing a soul level joy, so that the personal and highest individual purpose of life is pursuit of soul level joy. This is the first joy, that which has followed the individual from birth. In most instances it begins with the desire for acceptance and evolves to discovery of each person's genius or gift to serve. Several methods exist for determining the soul's particular gifts and strengths, and thus its life purpose, such as the Life-Purpose System, originally formulated by Dan Millman in his book The Life You Were Born to Live[4].

From a biological point of view the purpose of evolution is the progression of genes. However, this is not necessarily the same thing as a human being's purpose, according to popular evolutionary biologist and TV personality Richard Dawkins, who states that purpose is something that "grows up in the universe" (see: Growing Up in the Universe).[5] Dawkins believes that humans have the complex genetic make-up that allows them to choose purposes for themselves that extend beyond the goal of passing on their individual genes.

Another view is exemplified by a famous work by the Christian Rick Warren who wrote the best-selling book Purpose Driven Life.[6]. This work expresses the common religious belief that there exists an inherent purpose of life, as provided by God, which is the force that created life. There has also been a lot of scientific criticism of Rick Warren's book. An opinionated critique was done by Dan Dennet.[7] But both ideas of purpose are based on the goal of seeking to clarify one's purpose in life, in which case the purpose of life is to be aware of one's purpose in life.

Another position is the “Purpose-Guided Education” approach developed by Jerry Pattengale. It structures one's understanding about their purpose in relation to their evaluation of worthwhile causes and how their lives and gifts are attached to one.

Relationship as a purpose

The Dalai Lama, a Buddhist, states in The Art of Happiness that the purpose of life is the pursuit of happiness, which would seem to present a circular argument with the definition of purpose according to other philosophies mentioned above if purpose and happiness are the same thing. One important distinction to make is that statistically, those people who behave or appear happy tend to be altruistic and less egotistic. It would follow that an appropriate choice of purpose altruistic in nature leads to happiness, or that a willful drive to happiness develops altruistic traits.

According to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, belongingness, and usefulness to others, are fundamental to meeting human needs and conducive to building happiness. Or moreover, that the pursuit of these things, though not necessarily directly, are major underlying purposes of one's actions, these motivations can include sexual intimacy, but there is no evidence that sexual intimacy as a motivation is universal in the way other kinds of intimacy are. Concerning sexual intimacy, the Dalai Lama's view is that sexual intimacy is not necessarily conducive to happiness and fulfillment. Sexual intimacy serves at least on purpose, which is to provide temporary gratification and a committed bond, which is brought-about by the secretion of oxytocin during orgasm. This promotes the desire for intimacy between the two individuals. Daniel Maguire says in his article Sex and the Sacred:

"It used to be said animal humanum post coitum triste, humans after love-making are sad. 'A pity beyond all telling is hid in the heart of love,' said the poet Yeats. That can happen. Sex awakens hopes for intimacy and the priceless gift of mutual trust."[8]

It would follow that one key purpose of sexual intimacy is to build a lasting bond between two people. According to the Dalai Lama, contemporary Western culture falsely holds that deep intimacy between individuals is not possible outside of romantic or marital attachments. Deep relational intimacy is possible and appropriate between all individuals regardless of status. In light of this, the Dalai Lama's views, and Maslow's hierarchy, all indicate an underlying biological purpose of life to diligently build and retain intimate bonds with other people, either genetically or otherwise, with the goal of passing on information through genes or ideas memes.

Life stances and purpose

The purpose in life has different explanations from different life stances. It may differ substantially within the communities of each life stance, but the examples below are the purposes that are generally accepted as the main for each life stance.

Life stance Main purpose
Islam The Arabic word Islam means peace, submission and obedience to God's will.
Humanism (life stance) Personality (in the broadest sense), determined by humans, completely without supernatural influence
Judaism Serve God[9] and to prepare for the world to come[10] "Olam Haba".[11]
Christianity To love God and love each other.[12]
Buddhism To help sentient beings end their suffering (see The Four Noble Truths) with Karma and Dharma methods.
Hinduism To worship work (Karma) according to law (Dharma) without any thought of result as said in the Bhagavad Gita.


Purpose is similar to teleology, the idea that a final goal is implicit in all living organisms. Until the modern age, philosophy followed Aristotle's and Plato's depiction of a teleological cosmos in which all things had a final purpose (namely, to realize their implicit perfection). Perhaps most modern philosophers of science have reversed the idea of purpose inherent in nature; they do not consider an eye explicable as being "in order to see"; instead, cause-and-effect processes are credited with bringing about the eye organ, which allows us to see.[citation needed] Though this latter definition is also included in the definition of the word purpose. The difference, for some philosophers is between a cause as pushing from behind (movements of billiard balls) and a cause as pulling from within (movement of a growing plant). With teleology (purpose) matter is fulfilling some aim from within[citation needed].

Non-philosophers' views

  • Nikos Mourkogiannis argues in his book Purpose: The Starting point of great companies that purpose is crucial to a firm’s success: it is the primary source of achievement and reveals the underlying human dynamics of any human activity. He starts with a discussion of purpose, what it is, and what it is not, and also identifies four possible sources of energy for purpose, four sets of moral ideas that provide the basis for action. The second part of the book contains great stories of purpose, illustrating each of these four ideas. The third part explores the connection between purpose and the four attributes of greatness – morale, innovation, competitive advantage and leadership. The author then details how to develop purpose and put it into action and also discusses four purpose driven companies.
  • The Broadway play Avenue Q describes purpose as helping others, especially in the song "Purpose".

See also

External links


  1. ^ "purpose." Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 02 Oct. 2009.
  2. ^ purpose, Online Etymological Dictionary, 
  3. ^ pose, Online Etymological Dictionary, 
  4. ^ Dan Millman, The Life Purpose App,, 
  5. ^ Richard Dawkins (video), Richard Dawkins: The universe is queerer than we can suppose, TED conferences, 
  6. ^ Rick Warren (video), Rick Warren: Living a life of purpose, TED conferences, 
  7. ^ Dan Dennet (video), Dan Dennett: A secular, scientific rebuttal to Rick Warren, TED conferences, 
  8. ^ Daniel C. Maguire (Fall 2004), Sex and the Sacred, Cross Currents (Association for Religion & Intellectual Life),, retrieved 2009-04-11 
  9. ^ Dan Cohn-Sherbok (2003). Judaism: History, Belief, and Practice. Routledge. pp. 512. ISBN 0415236614. 
  10. ^ Abraham Joshua Heschel (2005). Heavenly Torah: As Refracted Through the Generations. Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 0826408028. 
  11. ^ Wilfred Shuchat (2006). The Garden of Eden & the Struggle to Be Human: According to the Midrash Rabbah. Devora Publishing. pp. 584. ISBN 1932687319. 
  12. ^ The Westminster Confession of Faith


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote


  • "Our purpose is to understand that our purpose is to understand our purpose." ~ David Packouz
  • "I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure." ~ Eric Liddell
  • "Our purpose is to educate as well as to entertain." ~ Curtis Mayfield
  • "We are here on Earth to do good to others. What the others are here for, I don't know." ~ W.H. Auden

At work

  • "I would rather work with five people who really believe in what they are doing rather than five hundred who can't see the point" - Patrick Dixon - Building a Better Business p 14
  • "Purpose Lives, Hope Dies" Scott Thomson
Look up purpose in Wiktionary, the free dictionary

Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010
(Redirected to The Purpose article)

From Wikisource

The Purpose
by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
From Poems of Experience (1917)

Over and over the task was set,
   Over and over I slighted the work,
But ever and alway I knew that yet
   I must face and finish the toil I shirk.

Over and over the whip of pain
   Has spurred and punished with blow on blow;
As ever and alway I tried in vain
   To shun the labour I hated so.

Over and over I came this way
   For just one purpose: O stubborn soul!
Turn with a will to your work to-day,
   And learn the lesson of Self-Control.

PD-icon.svg This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.

The author died in 1919, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

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