Humanity’s Purpose: Humanism

Andrew Kim, Staff Writer

“I think therefore I am.” – Descartes, French philosopher

I breathe therefore I live. I believe therefore I do. I do, two words used for countless phrases. It can refer to the action of sealing a vow or a simple response to the everyday question: do you have it? It shows our incentive to do an action, and the motivation to do actions is why we live: to take another step forward, to be better, to learn, and to one day die. Two words representing purpose.

Since kindergarten, we have learned life is a cycle. The cycle of a butterfly is one of the most infamous examples in the classroom with the classic picture book “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” The question which comes up though is the purpose of a butterfly. Is it just a supplier to other animals in the world? Just a simple addition to balance out a chaotic world? These questions bring up the relevance of humans in a universe we cannot even begin to understand. The life cycle of a human repeats just like the butterfly, an ever repeating pattern with only a few small social changes. It begs the question: what are humans trying to accomplish? In a world 200,000 years ago, the simple answer would be to survive as all other animals did, to simply reproduce and stay healthy as just a small part of a big world. Yet, this attitude in the past, in a world where all life was at peace in the hands of Mother Nature, brings up yet another question: what is the point of life itself?

Even with our resources today, knowledge of life elsewhere in the universe is close to zero, it does not exist. Is life really special or just another random phenomenon like an asteroid colliding with a planet or a star being born? What is the purpose of life in a universe that seems so lifeless? Is anything real? Why does Earth exist? Why does the solar system or galaxies exist? Why does the universe exist? What is reality? What happens in a place where our human-made laws of science, physics, and math all fail? What does it tell us about ourselves and our actual motivation? To learn, to grow, or to just live? These questions all grow into a spiral that forms an incredible view of an incredible universe. These questions themselves define the murky divide between where science ends and the supernatural of religion begins.

For thousands of years, religion has been a major part of human civilization. It was the basis of long-standing kingdoms and empires such as the Ancient Egyptians and the lost Mayans. Religion still plays a prominent role in today’s world. Senior Zachary Bi says, “Some people need religion to have a purpose. It gives you a worldview about something you believe in.” It is this belief and motivation that begins to answer our true purpose on earth. Professor at Temple University H.G. Callaway, Ph. D., wrote on the purpose of humanity: “Human beings, according to Aristotle are ‘rational animals,’ and human beings are also social animals. So, one way to look at the question of the purpose of human beings is to see what they are best suited to do; this involves a rational regulation of life and society suited to express the best, highest and [most] distinctive elements of human nature…. We are suited to the life of thought and moral virtue in society.” The idea of our purpose to be moral may seem ironic with the countless issues and horrifying events that make the news all around the world, but it has been shown throughout history in the building and maintenance of civilizations. As humans, we are not perfect. Sophomore Niko Cornell says that “humans are generally not the best at making the right choice for the greater good of the entire species or the whole world.” As an individual and social species, conflict is inevitable with all the different points of view and opinions. It is only a defined and shared purpose that allows humanity to continue on without complete chaos.

Similar to the conflicting ideas on humanity’s purpose, the idea of success may be completely different for everyone. In a world with so many varying fields, positions, and opinions, Cornell says that “humanity’s biggest desire is to be successful, ideally more than the person next to you.” Competition is a major part of today’s society and the drive to win pushes humans to continue working and going on in life. Man’s purpose is much more complex because the competition between homo sapiens and other species has all but been won today by modern humans. With no competition, what does humanity strive for? According to the American Humanist Association, the more unique that humans become, the closer humanity gets “toward[s] the goal of greater self-understanding, better laws, better institutions, and a good life.” In other words, man has begun to compete amongst itself to reach a full, yet still unrealized, potential for self-actualization and an improved society.

The shift from competition amongst species to ourselves is shown throughout the history of mankind. Instead of the once-connected societies of the cavemen or agricultural societies, humans have turned to individualism with private companies and opportunities to develop their own businesses. In order to measure success as a species, junior Allison Herd says that we must measure “how successful we are in solving our own issues throughout the world like making sure everyone has food, clean water, and good living conditions. If we cannot even solve our own problems, we are not successful.”

The goals of humanity are still a widely held debate between humanists, scientists, and religious figures. No matter what our true goals are or what we believe in, the significance of human life in the universe can be compared to the insignificance of ants in this world. Cornell says that “the significance of life in the universe is entirely dependent on the level of intelligence and mastery over the natural world.” At this point, we have not even come close to complete knowledge of the universe and our life spans only last a fraction of the life of Earth. In the end, our purpose is what we choose for it to be. We may not have a set purpose and are just here to die or, as freshman Arianna Simms says, “[our purpose] is to just live and see what happens.” As Descartes said, “I think therefore I am.”

So, we are.