On Purpose is a sociological investigation on the meaning of life. While life's purpose is the theme of many self-help books, philosophical texts, and religious tracts, it is rarely addressed from a sociological perspective. Froese explores how people talk about, think about, and conceptualize the meaning of their lives. We instinctually imagine a moral meaning to our lives, in personal narratives as well as timeless cosmologies. A sociological analysis of this fact yields an additional fact: that how we think about the purpose of life is socially determined. Specifically, Froese investigates how the idea of life's purpose is shaped by historical trends, group attachments, norms of "self," cultural tempos, and power dynamics. The book is structured around a series of questions posed to the reader. Instead of collapsing the meaning of life into a single authoritative answer, as self-help, religious, and philosophical perspectives often do, Froese deconstructs each question to reveal the social pathways that guide people to distinctive answers. Empirical evidence from observations, interviews, and surveys guide the book's conversation.
In the end, On Purpose renders a consistent picture of the fact that life's purpose can only be imagined within social contexts. These determine who will be a True believer, who will benefit from self-help, who will reach nirvana, and who will descend into nihilism. With that in mind, enlightenment is not guaranteed. Instead, On Purpose encourages the reader to consider the meaning of her own life in relationship to this plurality of possibilities. The moral of the book is not that life has some ultimate meaning or no meaning at all, but rather that a purpose-driven life has always been a collective project.
On Purpose by Paul Froese was published by Oxford University Press in January 2016. The ISBN for On Purpose is 9780199948901.