The belief that life has purpose has long been a central organizer of human experience, both in scholarly writings and personal self-reflections. Aristotle argued that humans, like many functioning parts of the world, have purpose (ergon) and that the finest manifestation of human purpose can be found in philosophical reflections about life. The importance of purpose also has been emphasized in theology, where influential treatments can be found in the writings of Karl Barth as well as in Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life. The worldwide popularity of Warren’s book, along with the numerous self-help articles and books in its wake, stand as indicators of the broad intuitive appeal of the notion that human life has purpose—and that, for optimal flourishing, all people should cultivate ...

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