City purpose – survival and improvement


In my last post, the purpose of evolution is evolving, I introduced the work of Steve McIntosh and his book, Evolution’s Purpose.  There is another layer of insight from McIntosh that frames the question of destination and whether we are alive or adrift: first- and second-order purpose.

McIntosh articulates the “evident purpose inherent in the urge to survive and reproduce shared by all forms of life (p. 13)” as a “first-order purpose” that is an instinctual or semi-automatic urge in most animal and plant behaviour. In contrast, “second-order purpose,” is possessed by humans. Here is McIntosh’s take on the nature of human, second-order purpose:

Humans not only have purposes, we have purposes for our purposes; we have relative freedom of choice regarding the urges or impetuses we want to act on and the appetites we want to resist. Moreover, humans can have purposes that require a lifetime of more to fulfil, we can have highly creative purposes, compassionate, loving purposes, and world-changing purposes that improve conditions for everyone (p. 13-14).

Humans experience two orders of purpose: immediate survival of self and the species, and a range of purposes that originate from our agency, that originate in response to our life conditions.

The latter of these two orders of purpose is “a self-reflective type of purpose that includes rational, moral and aesthetic aspirations (p. 88).”  These aspirations are improvements we seek in our life conditions.  Humanity’s creation of cities, if aligned with purpose at all, must have two purposes: survival and improvement.

Cities, as part of the human journey, have two destinations: survival and improvement.

Is your city organized to ensure survival and improvement?

Is your city alive or adrift?


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This post forms part of Chapter 5 – Destination Alive or Adrift, of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities. Click here for an overview of Chapters 4-7 (Part 2 – Organizing for Emergence). Click here for an overview of the three parts of Nest City.

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