What is life?

The definition of life is highly debatable probably due to the fact that it is looked at from many different angles including Religious, Philosophical and Biological. All these different fractions of study have their own definition of life which may or may not be similar to  other definitions. Usually the purpose of the program or institution highly  determines how they will define life. Generally though life can be defined as the state of living,the condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death (according to the dictionary). Biologically, life an be defined as a self-sustaining chemical system capable of Darwinian evolution. This definition looks at life from a genetic point of view where it focuses mainly on the biological make up and reaction of the human body till the cells eventually die. Philosophically, life is defined as  the aspect of existence that processes, acts, reacts, evaluates, and evolves through growth (reproduction and metabolism).  Life is anything that grows and eventually dies.This definition, unlike the biological one focuses more on the physical aspect of life  and less on the genetic make up of the human or living organism. Religiously however it is difficult to really define what life is, however in this institution life goes beyond the biological make up or physical make up of a person but rather it can also be referred to in terms of the soul of a human being which is a spiritual annotation, thus, religiously life is more than just how one develops, grows and eventually dies.

The purpose of life.

The answer to the purpose of life is not really an easy one because of the diversity of life itself as well as the diversity of what we as individual people consider life to be, our moral upbringing, religious views etc. However, i am going to try and look at the different institutions that exist and what i believe may be, according to them, the purpose of life.

Life biologically.

chromosomes (the part of a cell that carries genetic information)

According to biology, the purpose of life is to reproduce, passing on genetic information from us to our offspring so as to avoid extinction of the human race.Genetic evolution is the meaning of biologic life, in that it is the why and how of it, as well as the stock of future biological existence. The genes that survive — and in turn the organisms they make — are the winners in the existence game. Biology says that life began in the seas and moved onto the land and the continued existence of human beings from evolution up to this present generation is  all because of reproduction therefore our existence here on earth is largely dependent on our ability to procreate and pass on our genes into the next generation. As humans develop we also learn a lot of survival tactics which may become imprinted in our DNA therefore ensuring that our offspring are also able to survive in the environment that we also survive in. To better understand this theory we can look at the example of plant seeds where some plants that are better able to survive in a certain environment are specially selected for that environment so that they ca grow and produce seeds with the same genetic information that the parent plant had and as such produce the desired result all due to the passing on of genetic information from parent to offspring. In human beings, a good example can be can be that of the African San people whose genetic makeup has not changed significantly over the past millennial years.Various Y chromosome studies show that the San carry some of the most divergent (oldest) human Y-chromosome haplogroups. Mitochondrial DNA studies also provide evidence that the San carry high frequencies of the earliest haplogroup branches in the human mitochondrial DNA tree. This DNA is inherited only from one’s mother. This then supports the Biologists’ view that genetic information is indeed passed from generation to generation and this could ultimately be the purpose of human life.

In as much as this biological purpose of life is true to some extent, it however limits the potential of a human being to exploit some of their characteristics or abilities such as perhaps their ability to love, to care for others etc even though these features cannot be biologically proven to exist within the human make up.

Life philosophically.

Philosophy takes the person as a rational being one capable of reason and as such assumes that the rational being is able to create his or her own purpose to life. It does not limit the purpose of existence to one broad plan but rather gives each individual an opportunity to rationally decide what they believe could be the purpose of their life here on earth. They associate the purpose of one’s life to things that bring satisfaction to the individual person whether it is selfish or self-sacrificing.
A happy person
To be happy. Philosophers have proposed that the purpose of life is for one to be happy. Doing the things that bring a sense of joy to one self is considered a purpose because arguably speaking one cannot say they are fulfilling their purpose by doing something that brings sorrow and pain into their lives especially if that purpose is self given.Thus this school of thought proposes that life is supposed to be happy. (Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude.” – Denis Waitley).
people in love.
To love. Philosophers also believe that loving can be a purpose of life. This point integrates religion and philosophy as both institutions agree that to love is indeed the greatest purpose of life although philosophy does not incorporate a Deity into this notion. Love brings about peace in a world that is undoubtedly full of suffering. When one loves others unconditionally, they begin to see the world in a magical way, a very positive way that brings peace to the individual and also spreads positive energy to those around them and this in itself can bring happiness into one’s life. Love seems to be a healing agent to human suffering and something that connects us across time and culture.
A woman crying.
To find something important enough to justify suffering. Every institution that has ever existed on this earth acknowledges the fact that suffering is a huge part of human existence. Most people however find it very difficult to understand this simple fact and thus end up questioning why people suffer and what real purpose there is to life if we are meant to suffer. However, philosophy suggests that we as humans give meaning to our suffering by finding something important enough to suffer for, a mother endures labor pain because she knows that the child she is bringing into this life is far more important than any suffering she has to go through, so she endures. That’s equally the same with every other situation in life. Our purpose is to find something important enough to endure pain for and in that way we feel a sense of satisfaction and control over our lives. “If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering.” – Viktor Frankl
So philosophically, the purpose of life is highly dependent on the individual human person because according to them, each human person has a unique purpose here on earth and all that encompasses love, happiness and fulfillment.

Life Religiously.

Ultimately, the purpose of life religiously is to do the will of God the creator, in order to go to heaven. Religion approaches the purpose of existence in a less rational way and applies faith in this regard, to them life begins and ends in God thus we all have a duty to do that which pleases Him and follow his law and will for our existence. Some people would then argue that it is difficult to know the will of a deity whom one cannot see or hear speaks, however religious institutions respond to this by making reference to their holy books as sources of all of God’s plan and will for us. To them therefore, the purpose of life is found in scripture:
an open Bible
The above scripture references, reveal some of the pointers to the purpose of an individual in the eyes of religion, i.e to fear the Lord, to have confidence in the love of God and to keep His commandments etc. Although this may seem one sided as all the purpose is for the deity, religiously everything belongs to God the creator and we are His, thus our purpose is to worship and praise Him, pleasing Him and following his commands so that we may inherit eternal life.  The purpose of life is therefore to love and trust and obey God. To trust that he has nothing but love for us and he would not tell us to do something with out a good reason. God does not have one rule that is asked out of selfishness
Ultimately there is no wrong or correct answer in relation to the purpose of life. The answer is largely a personal one depending on each individual’s inner convictions and beliefs. Our life is what what we believe it to be and the highest purpose of life is to live, the how part is one that we each have to answer in our own different way. Whether religious, biological or philosophical,we all have a purpose that drives us each and every day so that we continue living.

14 comments

  1. This is a good article which depicts different ideologies that stimulate how people perceive life to be. On the other hand, it would have been more contextualized by giving relevant philosophers behind certain perceptions of life. On religions, you would have consulted some of the religions and show evidence how they perceive life and it’s purpose. For instance, in Buddhism – life is Dukkha, buh the purpose of life is to transcend that suffering….. Above all, thank you so much for this article which is a stimuli to the thought process

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