Four basic questions of existence

Maggie asked:

1. Who are we?

2. Where did we come from?

3. Where are we going?

4. How should we live?

Answer by Tony Boese

We, if you mean human kind, are talking apes rocketing around space on an organic spaceship known as the Earth going to another sector of space at an incredible speed. We likely came from bacteria, which in turn came from another organic spaceship (Mars seems likely given recent discoveries).

How you take that information will inform the answer to #4. If you consider being a talking ape on a spaceship to be worrisome and wish we were something more, then the way to live becomes difficult to figure and could be anything from hedonistic rampage to monk like isolation and asceticism. There are, of course, various religious and nationalist standards for action; however, I personally take a very simple ‘that it harm none, do what you will’ standard, and if called upon to make a decision that will necessarily hurt at least someone, then a carefully context-sensitive utilitarianism.


Answer by Peter Jones

This seems to be four ways of asking the same question. The answer, if there is one, can be found only in religion. It might be possible to reach it in metaphysics, but there would be no way to verify that the answer is correct by the use of logic. To know the answer would mean, well, knowing the answer. It would not mean reading it in a book or guessing. There is only one doctrine that claims such knowledge is possible, and the route to it would be self-study, contemplation, meditation, yoga, or whatever else helps us to see why the Oracle advises us to ‘know thyself’. Consequently there is only one literature where we find the answer given in anything like an authoritative way, and that is the literature of the wisdom traditions.

But finding the answer in a book is unlikely to satisfy your search for knowledge. It would have to be discovered empirically, with no possibility of error, to count as knowledge. In short, you are the only person who can answer your questions to your own satisfaction. Still, the answer can be found in the books, as food for thought, put there by people who claim that we will find the answer if we do the work. I’m not going to answer you by claiming I know the answers. I just have my beliefs, one of which is that it is possible to know the answers if we do the work.


One thought on “Four basic questions of existence

  1. Maggie: You ask some good questions. I would like to reframe them in a more philosophical way to some extent. I have said that all philosophical questions quickly end up bumping up the following 3 questions:

    1. Is there a God?

    2. Is there anything outside of the physical universe

    3. What is Life? Not what is the purpose of life but what is this thing called Life, what is life itself?

    You are asking about the purpose of life, what is the purpose of your life? But I would say that your question has a great deal to do with the first question I mentioned: Is there a God? Your questions also relate to question 2 that I mentioned: Is there anything outside of the physical universe, for example do we have a spirit or are we just intelligent animals.

    To address your specific questions, I might recommend a book called Stages of Faith by James Fowler. It is more about developmental psychology than theology. The book is often difficult to find since it is out of print but often you can find used copies of it on eBay or on You are asking questions that many people ask. There is not a simple answer to your questions and perhaps it is more about the journey than about finding correct answers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.