Does life have inherent meaning and purpose? That’s a well-known question which you’ve surely asked yourself already, and has likely played on your mind in your teenage years. But what was your answer? After all, the question is the same for all of us; only the answer differs.
Firstly, let’s define the word that is to me the most important in the question, and that gives the question all its sense: ‘inherent’. An inherent purpose is a purpose that is there since the beginning and is there by default. It is like the skeleton in our body – necessary, deeply-rooted and intimately linked.
This analysis shows that if there were to be an inherent meaning of life, in theory it should be the same for all of us, as we all belong to the same species.
Now I have to say this is by far the most vast and subjective question possible. So, let’s start by the clearest and most accurate perspective we have: science. Biologically speaking, we do indeed have an inherent purpose in life. The first and foremost law in biodiversity is the transfer of genes to ensure the survival of the species. While it tends to be forgotten, it is undeniably our inherent purpose in the biological aspect of the question. I allow myself to use the word “inherent” as, in application of the analysis made above, it is indeed both deeply-rooted and identical to all of us. The very fact that almost all of us are able to procreate and are instinctively pushed to do so proves that it is for us an inherent but often unconscious purpose of life.
But enough of positive arguments for the question! My intention is to demonstrate the coherence of a negative answer to the question, after all.
If we want to answer negatively, however, it cannot be with a scientific approach. We will have to move to another perspective which is surely less accurate and concrete, yet allows for greater creativity: philosophy. Indeed, philosophy allows us to think out of the material ‘box’ and thus to create our own theories and opinions. And it’s that thinking that raises the question: what if our own purpose on Earth was specifically to find our meaning? “Meaning” represents an answer to “why?” while purpose is some kind of ‘resolution’, answering the question “what?”. Our purpose can be to find our meaning, while it wouldn’t make sense to say that our meaning is to find our purpose.
So then you would go for one meaning, while others would go for another. But do people go for the same ones? Absolutely! That’s where a big tendency of humanity’s history enters the debate. Beliefs. The way I see religions, and the way I’m sure many people see them, is that they are there to give meaning to people’s life. It is indeed a relief for one to have a fixed meaning in life. And it makes everyday decision-making so much easier; one has guidelines as to how to act and behave. One then has a concrete goal to reach and a set behaviour to strive towards.
Now, if we apply the analysis we made before, it gets quite confusing indeed. I divided the question by its two subjects. In order to be inherent, remember, purpose and meaning has to be identical for us all. As per this philosophical approach, our purpose may be the same, but our meaning may not be. Purpose might be inherent with meaning acquired. With the presence of an “AND” and not an “OR” in the question, thus, the whole question is answered negatively.
To conclude, the answer to the question depends upon the approach taken. Biologically, transferring the most advantageous genes to ensure the survival of our species gives our life an inherent meaning and purpose. Philosophically, though, it gets more complex. With our purpose being to find our own meaning in life, we cannot call meaning ‘inherent’. We all have different meanings, whether determined by religion or simply leading happy lives.