Wanting to write more about human purpose (which is such a major theme of this blog that it’s part of its tagline) I realized that it might be helpful to explore the concept of purpose, to unpack it a bit. In doing this, I found that not only does it help clarify certain things but it also uncovers some interesting implications, some of which I’ll try to touch upon.
Dictionary.com defines purpose as “1. the reason for which something exists or is done, made, used, etc.; 2.an intended or desired result; end; aim; goal.” So, having a purpose that mean one’s actions are motivated by the intention to accomplish some result.
Of course, any action may or may not have a successful outcome. If it is a an action one has done before, a repeat performance, one can have more confidence in the results, with increasing confidence the more often the act has been successful. Also understanding how and why it works helps link the action to the result, which might be coincedence or luck. Of course, any single act can also contribute to multiple purposes and have multiple effects.
New actions are always a hypothesis, an intention with uncertain outcome. But new actions are an opportunity to acheive new results, to perhaps better accomplish one’s purpose. And borrowing from Edison, they are also ways to find out what doesn’t work, additional information on how not to go about reaching your goal.
To act with purpose doesn’t mean any particular action is meant to acheive the whole goal in one push of a button. It might be just a single step towards the goal, one element of a larger plan. Being on purpose means that one’s actions are aligned with one’s intentions. Essentially, it is a directionality, a state of movement towards.
Purpose is a construction of purpose elements. There is always some structure of purpose, a interactive network of purposes. There are levels of purpose, with lower-level purposes nested inside of higher-level ones.
The overall purpose structure isn’t a unitary phenomenon but always incorporates ongoing tensions between conflicting purposes. Purpose is therefore an evolving process, an ongoing negotiation of disparate aims wrestling with available opportunities.
To be purposive, action can’t just be impulsive movement. Because purpose is intended to achieve a result, it requires a method for connecting action and desire. There needs to be a plan, a roadmap to the goal. A strategy and tactics must be incorporated, a logistics for realizing intent.
To choose a plan, one must evaluate of possible action paths. That requires analysis of the present state, of available resources and of any pertinent forces involved. Purpose, then involves pre-considered action, the contemplation of cause and effect, a previewing of outcome.
Purpose is a direction of intention through time. It is always pointed towards the future. It involves a movement from the present state to some desired future state. Purpose starts with an envisioning of what might be.
Because purpose is goal plus intent, to be on purpose, to actualize intent, one must take action. Purpose implies the need for action. Without action purpose is inert void, unbreathed breath.
Purpose isn’t simply wishing. To be on purpose is to be actively engaged in making possibility tangible. It is the self-direction of one’s own becoming.
- Science and Human Purpose
- Life as Purpose