We breathe calmly. The word purpose agitates. Propos, to ‘put forth’ says the etymology. We are familiar with a hierarchy of purposes. At the end of a curious child’s inquisitive series of “why?” every adult will resort to “just because”. The purpose of growing up is to contribute to society. The purpose of society is to make people live happy lives. The purpose of happy lives is to conform our creator’s vision. The purpose of our creator is to put forth the beingness of being. The purpose of being is – will you finally shut up?
According to Aristotle, purpose is a baked-in feature of its carrier (causa finalis). Bicycles, arrows, forks are purposeful objects. Purpose is a metaphysical quality that goes beyond our consensus: we can’t change the purpose of a bicycle or a fork by voting, we can only abuse the objects. Such metaphysical thinking sounds dangerously naive. There is no inscription in a tool of its maker’s purpose, it has to be recognized and explained every time someone new uses it. We could think of the tool as the artifact plus the story that is passed along with it. When we refer to a “fork”, we mean the toothy object plus the story of its purpose.
When we talk about our mind, we mean the mesmerizing firework of neurons that happens in our brain plus the story of its purpose. Our minds, however, have developed to set their own purpose. They are the most versatile “tools” we know. This means, we can’t learn anything from comparisons to less versatile tools.
Our mind puts itself forth, proposes itself. We have an intuitive concept of mental health, of an inquisitive, curious, critical mind that cannot see purpose on its own horizon, but can act as the anchor of purpose for much of what we do in life. The mind’s own purpose is an enigma that we intentionally create, our mind is the authority that implicitly claims to be the purpose of being. It is the knot in the loose end of purpose that keeps the rope from unraveling.
Hence, the purpose of the mind is itself. Some philosopher might draw that conclusion. We count a few more breaths. We visualize our thoughts. We see them dancing. “Mind” becomes a universal organizing principle, detached from our persons. We reluctantly accept that principle as the ultimate purpose. It is just a regulative idea – nothing to be afraid of.
was originally published on Meandering home