Thursday, September 29, 2005

Purpose and Meaning

Philosopher Julian Baggini reckons he knows the Meaning of Life (article) and What It's All About (book).

The only sense we can make of the idea that life has meaning is that there are some reasons to live rather than to die, and those reasons are to be found in the living of life itself.

Baggini is apparently equating meaning with purpose.

Aristotle distinguished between efficient cause (what a system does) and final cause (what a system is for). Weak POSIWID asserts that we can infer the final cause (purpose) from the efficient cause. Strong POSIWID asserts that the final cause is identical to the efficient cause - in other words, that's all that purposes are.

Teleological thinking asserts that we can explain the efficient cause (and Aristotle's other two causes as well - formal cause and material cause) in terms of the final cause (purpose). For teleological thinking to make sense, we either have to imagine the system to be self-creating (autopoietic) or imagine another external designing system that owns the purpose.

In general systems thinking, we can usually frame any system of interest inside one or more larger systems, relative to some observer position. But considerable difficulties emerge when we try to apply systems thinking to Life, The Universe and Everything. What kind of system is the entire universe - open, closed, autopoietic, designed? And where (on Earth) can we stand to get a meaningful answer?

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