Re: Getting up in the morning (was: Re: The Quest for the Purpose of Life)

From: Lee Daniel Crocker (
Date: Tue Jan 29 2002 - 10:02:04 MST

>> (LDC) ...purpose requires an entity capable of /desire/ and
>> /free will/; such an entity must be able to form goals that support
>> its desires, and can therefore choose its own purposes.

> (DB) A kidney gets built into a developing phenotype because that
> arrangement of organized cells does a particular job acceptably well
> within a metabolizing entity. It obviously has a *function*, then; and
> it would be perverse to claim that it doesn't have a *purpose*.

I can certainly imagine definitions of "purpose" that would apply to
entities such as a kidney, but then I can also imagine definitions of
"function" that wouldn't apply to them. I think part of the basic
idea of "purpose", at least as I understand the word, implies a
conscious telos, not merely the post-hoc appearance of one. Besides,
there are genuine differences between purposefully designed things
and evolved things; evolved things, for example, do not have neatly
organized and compartmented functions. Sure kidneys remove waste
from blood, but so do livers, and both do other things as well. Name
any chemical in the human body and it is likely to have hundreds of
side effects on different systems. Things designed by people don't
work like that; cars don't have a single circulatory system of hoses
that distributes a mix of fuel, lubricants, coolants, and chemicals
that do miscellaneous (and overlapping) functions: they have fuel
lines, and hydraulic lines, and coolant lines. Paley was wrong--
you /can/ tell the difference between a watch and an eye, and know
which had a watchmaker.

In that context, it might be meaningful to say that, for example,
ethylene glycol has the "purpose" of anti-freeze, because it really
doesn't do much else, and it was consciously included specifically
for that purpose by engineers (those engineers filling in the willful
entity argument of the "purpose" predicate). But it makes less sense
to speak of a kidney--or life in general--as having a purpose in that
sense, because it appeared gradually with multiple intermixed functions
that do not follow any intentional design. They may appear to have
some rudimentary design-like features, but upon closer inspection one
can still tell evolved things from truly purposefully designed things;
we are definitely the former.

Lee Daniel Crocker <> <>
"All inventions or works of authorship original to me, herein and past,
are placed irrevocably in the public domain, and may be used or modified
for any purpose, without permission, attribution, or notification."--LDC

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Fri Nov 01 2002 - 13:37:37 MST