The perpetual search for an ultimate purpose to human life has inspired and divided human thought for millennia. Though the elusiveness and contrasting results of this search lead many to think our efforts are in vain, the very fact that our desire to discover inherent meaning continues points to a reality beyond the veil.
It's important to start by defining what we are thinking of by inherent meaning. For some, inherent meaning may simply include biological phenomena – our natural instincts as humans to reproduce our own DNA. However, although this may be a natural human desire, this is merely the descriptive pattern of what humans naturally follow, rather than being a prescriptive direction a human ought to aim for.
The word “inherent” speaks not only of something natural and innate, but also of something transcendent and instilled, exclusive of our own creation. This view of inherent meaning raises even deeper questions regarding the origins of existence and, in particular, human life. Is there a purpose and intention behind life; a programmed directive we ought to follow?
As a metaphysical consideration, it is useful to begin by looking into our own personal experiences, to see if humanity as a collective seems to experience transcendent purpose to life. One glance at world history shows how humanity through the ages has believed in transcendent meaning through the universal pursuit of religion. It is one of the most fascinating things about the history of the world that through all the cultures that have developed, humanity has, with little exception, viewed life as a gift with specific inherent purpose.
This is the observation that sparked prominent thinker C. S. Lewis' argument from desire towards the existence of a transcendent source of meaning, God. This argument is founded upon the premise that all the natural innate desires of a human correspond to a real object; things such as our hunger for food, drink, sex and knowledge. Lewis saw humanity’s continued desire for the transcendent as pointing to the reality of a transcendent being to fulfill that innate human desire, instilled by the creator.
The following objection then may arise: doesn't the fact that humans believe in such different purposes show there is not just one inherent purpose to life? In fact, the opposite is true. Rather, the truth that we all have our own individual purposes points to the truth of ultimate purpose. Like how blind people walking in different directions trying to find the path up a mountain doesn’t disprove the existence of the intended path, our different searches for meaning reveal our limitations, and yet highlight the reality of inherent meaning being there to be discovered.
You may then be wondering “if indeed there is an inherent meaning to life, well, what actually is it?” This is the crux of the issue, and the ongoing question each of us have to personally engage with. As a Christian, I believe the supreme purpose to human life has been revealed to us and is to love, know and reflect God, and to love other people. The journey of discovery to find the nature of life's inherent meaning is one for yourself. However, be open-minded and indeed encouraged in your pursuit, since our very instincts to search for ultimate meaning suggests that the answer has been revealed and is out there for us to discover.
You may believe our hunt for the transcendent is merely a self-deception. Yet the mystery of why belief in inherent meaning is so universally affirmed by humanity across contrasting cultures remains to beg the question. The most satisfying explanation appears to be a fulfiller of that human desire and with that, a source of inherent meaning.