The Meaning of Life
Lecture 1: Tolstoy’s Confession
What is the Meaning of Life?
• You will hear how some philosophers answer this question • You will better understand the question (hopefully!) • You will become enlightened with the answer…
…Which you will write about in the exam!
• All readings and lectures for this section are related to 1 question in the exam • You should be able to guess the main question • Note that you will have to discuss the material from the lectures and readings in your answer
Christian • Loved.
• Anarchist. Pacifist.Leo Tolstoy
• Or Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy • Famous Russian author
– War and Peace. healthy. Anna Karenina etc. respected. politically influential
. famous. very wealthy.
simple. and successful on all accounts. he became plagued by “foolish. and childish” questions • Qns that would lead him to question the purpose of his life and life in general
• When middle-aged.
. I could not do anything.g.
• He realised they were important qns about the meaningfulness of his actions and even of his life • Questions that he thought unanswerable • Questions that paralysed him
– “I ought to know why I should do that. Well. So long as I did not know why. and then?
– Qn: Why write this book this? Ans: For fame. I could not live. “Why. Qn: But why should I want fame? Etc.Tolstoy’s Questions
” – “Sooner or later there would come diseases and death… and there would be nothing left but stench and worms. stupid trick” played on us by a mocking observer • He had it all.” – “All my affairs.Trapped Between Death and Meaninglessness
• Life seems “a mean. no matter what they might be. would sooner or later be forgotten”
. but it was all meaningless
– “there was nothing in life and never would be.
Tolstoy’s Moral of the Story
• The problem of the meaning of life is that… • Life is meaningless! • And then you die! • What a bummer! • Note that life is meaningless because we all die and nothing is left of us
do not think.Get Over it!
• Some say: “You cannot understand the meaning of life. live!” • But Tolstoy saw every event as bringing him closer to inevitable death
– (Including licking honey off leaves and going to parties!)
On Loving Family
• “they are also human beings” • “they must either live in the lie or see the terrible truth… [a]nd the truth is death” • So. “[w]hy should I love them[?]”
superfluous. ridiculous and painful” • Art cannot help us to escape death
.On Loving Authorship
• Looking at life through the mirror of art was once pleasurable • But knowing that there was no meaning of life made the mirror “useless.
Will Science Help?
• “I know… all which science wants to know…. accidental conglomeration of particles”
. but there is no answer to the question about the meaning of my life” • “What will come of my life?”
• “Why does everything that exists exist…?”
– “Because it exists”
• “You are a temporal.
and all fermentation and all questions will come to an end.No
• Tolstoy: What is the meaning of my life? • Science: “You are an accidentally cohering globule of something.”
. The globule is fermenting.” • Science: “[But] the globule falls to pieces. This fermentation the globule calls its life.
Tolstoy had 4 Options…
• Of people’s attitudes towards the meaning of life problem: • 1) living in ignorance of the problem • 2) admitting the problem and trying to maximise their pleasure • 3) admitting it and committing suicide • 4) admitting it and continuing to live aimlessly
not pleasure • 3) Killing themselves is taboo • 4) They can explain why they perform every act
.…Until He Hung with the Masses (Normal People)
• Who didn’t fit his classificatory scheme • 1) They knew the problem well • 2) Their lives were full of suffering.
devils and angels. and all that I could not accept so long as I had not lost my senses”
.Science vs Religion 2
• “Rational knowledge” AKA science “did not give any meaning to life”
– We are just fermenting globules
• “the meaning which… all humanity… ascribed to life was based on… false knowledge” AKA faith in religion
– “creation in six days.
Science vs Religion 3
• Problem: • Faith demands that reason/rationality be abandoned to gain meaning
– (the meaning of life)
• But we only need meaning if we have exercised reason/rationality
– (asked what it’s all about)
• He was asking:
– “What is the extra-temporal. causal.e.e. “What meaning has my finite existence in this infinite world?”
• But gave an answer to the question:
– “What is the temporal. “What… indestructible essence will come from my… destructible life?” – I. extra-spatial meaning of my life?” – I. extra-causal. science answered: “none”
. spatial meaning of my life?”
• To which.
The Flaw of Reason
• Rational knowledge only says that the real question of the meaning of life cannot be meaningfully answered
– It gives the answer: Life = Life – because it cannot reconcile the finite with the infinite (our lives with greater meaning)
• So rational knowledge leads to the limited “What is the temporal. causal. spatial meaning of my life?” question
– Which is not what we are really asking!
. faith provides answers that always reconcile the finite with the infinite
– Qn: “What is the meaning which is not destroyed by death?” – Ans: “The union with infinite God. paradise.Faith’s Virtue
• Despite being “irrational and monstrous”.
• The finite must be reconciled with the infinite to give meaning to our lives • Reason cannot do this • Faith can • Therefore. we should use faith to answer the question: “what is the meaning of life”
• We need faith to avoid the catch 22 of meaninglessness vs death/suicide • He needed faith to become unparalysed by the problem of the meaning of life • Faith is the power of life that allows all people to live • He thinks that we should have faith & live “According to God’s law”
life is absurd – we live a meaningless life and then we die! • Only faith can properly answer the question of the meaning of life
– By reconciling the finite & infinite
• Despite being irrational. faith in religion is the only way to know the meaning of life • We must know the meaning of life to go on living
.Summary of Tolstoy
• If you think about it.
• Do the rational thing here – abandon your rationality!
.Take Home Lessons
• Everyone with big ears should grow a beard to hide them • Life is like a well with a dragon at the bottom and mice harassing you while you lick honey of leaves
The Meaning of Life
Lecture 2: Taylor’s Subjective Meaning in Life
that is to use our will – to make plans and follow them through
.This Time: Richard Taylor
• More on meaninglessness • An account of how to find meaning in your life • Brief summary:
– the meaning of life is to live in accordance with your nature – for humans.
• Maybe we can better understand this tricky qn (what is the meaning of life) if we consider what a meaningless existence would be • It’s rude to examine real people so…
The Myth of Sisyphus
• Sisyphus made a deal with the Gods and then went back on it • They punished him by giving him a meaningless chore to do for eternity • Nothing ever comes of Sisyphus’ labours • His existence is meaningless
– Nothing comes of it
this doesn’t make his existence any more meaningful
– Nothing comes of it
.A New Myth of Sisyphus
• The Gods changed Sisyphus’ desires so all he wants is to roll rocks • He now gets exactly what he wants for all eternity
– Sounds great!
Taylor on Meaningfulness
• Meaninglessness is endless pointlessness • Meaningfulness is activity with a point. a result. which of these best represents all life as we know it?
– This includes plants and animals
. a significant culmination • So.
Is Animal Life Objectively Meaningful?
• Glow worms. cicadas and the meaningless cycle of life • The only point of any living thing’s life is just life itself
Is Human Life Objectively Meaningful?
• Humans also perpetuate the meaningless cycle of life • We have goals and plans. but are they ultimately for anything other than surviving & reproducing? • Even when our achievements create lasting results
– how long will they persist? – and will it prevent our children from merely surviving and reproducing?
and – The objective (external) perception of the significance of your life
.“Whatever!!! My Life is Objectively Meaningful!!!”
• Sorry buddy – that’s just absurd! • You need to consider the dramatic difference between:
– Your (internal) perception of the significance of your life.
but some people don’t realise that this is the same for other people!
.Our Significance from the Inside
• We think that all events in the universe are only significant if they are likely to affect us
– I. The universe revolves around us
• We are all like this to some extent.e.
Our Significance from the Outside
• All of us are completely insignificant to 99.% of what exists
– How big are we? (Not very big) – How long do we live compared to the universe? (Not very long) – When heat death kills the universe.99999999 etc. our plans would seem beyond insignificant to anything left to observe
is right? • Are there any good reasons to believe in one over another?
• This would be nice! But which. etc. if any. that men invent ways of denying it”
• Religious beliefs centre around a departure from this meaningless cycle
– Going to heaven – Becoming enlightened.“It is not surprising. then.
it means not being dead or lifeless – To a God.What Does ‘What is the Meaning of Life?’ Mean? 1
• What does ‘life’ mean? (Not interesting)
– To us.e. heaven Continuing the cycle of life . then life is meaningless!!
. it means amusement or experiment – To a plant. it doesn’t mean anything
• What is the purpose for life (objective meaning/significance)?
– – – – Various religious purposes .e. glow worm There is no purpose for life Taylor: But.g. if there is a purpose for life.g.
for the rest of the time you would lead a boring meaningless life • E.g. Sisyphus’ Temple
. then you could achieve it • Then.Taylor: A Purpose for Life (Objective Meaning) Makes it Meaningless
• If life had an ultimate purpose.
What Do We Want ‘What is the Meaning of Life?’ to Mean?
• So. if Taylor is right. the best way to understand the MoL question is taking it to ask:
– ‘How can we make our lives subjectively meaningful?’
. an objective meaning of life leads to either:
– Fulfilling it and then being bored – Not fulfilling it
• Both end in meaninglessness! • Taylor: Since an objective meaning of life would be bad.
then. if there were a purpose for life.Taylor’s Answer:
• Simply understand that the MoL is to live in the manner in which it is our nature to live
– The glow worm does what is in it’s nature
• For humans. then life would be boring or meaningless!
• So. the best MoL we can hope for comes from within us
. the meaning of life is living as we will to live
– Making plans and seeing them through
• Dissatisfied with this?
the meaning of life comes from within us – living in accordance with our will is how we can achieve meaning in our lives • Our plans are the only significant thing we have – only the pursuit of them brings (subjective) meaning to our lives • These plans are absurdly insignificant from the outside.Taylor’s Position on tMoL
• So. our lives might truly be meaningless
. but not so from the inside – thank goodness!
– Without the subjective importance of our own plans.
is very significant for us (thank goodness!)
. the meaning each of our lives have for us. that is to use our will – to make plans and follow them through • Life may seem absurd but we should make plans and take them very seriously (don’t consider their significance from the outside) • So.Summary of Taylor
• The MoL is the same for all life • The meaning of life is to live in accordance with your nature • For humans.
The Meaning of Life
Lecture 3: Schlick’s Meaning in Play
g. like when children play
.This Time: Moritz Schilck
• Plans and goals are a curse • The meaning of life is to do things for themselves (not for some future purpose) • E. Living fully in the moment.
• Some have not yet asked themselves if life has a meaning • Others have given up the search after finding no meaning in their own life • But. still looking for an answer
. we are the “seekers”.We.
there follows inevitably a mood of desolation. however. after the first flush of triumph has passed away.Meaning in Goals/Purpose?
• Some “believe… that [meaning] continues to be found where a person has reached his [or her] goals” • “Once the goal is reached.” • “A void remains…” which only “the painful emergence of new longings” can fill
we shall never find an ultimate meaning in existence. if we view it only under the aspect of purpose”
.Why Our Goals are Not Enough
• The view that meaning can be found where a person has fulfilled their goals/purposes makes our lives only a dull and painful voyage from one ‘satisfaction’ to the next… until we die! • “In truth.
Why the Hurry?
• Stop someone in a rush on Lambton Quay at 9am • Ask them why they are rushing? • Keep asking them questions until you find their ultimate purpose • Schlick: if they are honest. it will be “maintenance of life” • But why is that important?
Why Maintain Life?
• If all purposes lead to the ultimate purpose of preserving life, then we would hope that life has some value • But, where is the value in mere existence? • “The core and ultimate value of life can lie only in such states as exist for their own sake and carry their satisfaction [in] themselves”
But, Pleasure from Achieving Goals is Not Enough
• Pleasure from achievement of goals is a state that is good in itself… • But the striving for this pleasure (which is inevitably attached) is not • Aiming at this kind of state is to join Schopenhauer’s dull and painful voyage from one ‘satisfaction’ to the next… until we die!
Schlick: The MoL is Play
• “to find a meaning in [life] we must seek for activities which carry their own purpose and value within them, independently of any… goals”
– I.e. activities that are “not work”
• “play… is the name for free, purposeless action, … [play] carries its purpose within itself” • “the meaning of existence is revealed only in play”
Err… What about War ‘n’ Stuff?
• Surely we need work to prevent the suffering of the less fortunate… and ourselves!? • Schlick: Play can also be work
Schlick: Creative Play – The Future’s Life Philosophy
• In the future we will need to play creatively in order to survive • Creative play is play that produces something good or useful • We’ll need more than the play/work of artists – we’ll need people to ‘play’ farmers and parents and doctors
degrading” and it “produce[s] only trash and empty luxury”
.Stop all “Evil” Work
• Evil work (no e.g. brutalizing. given) is “mechanical.
but they lack our superior consciousness
.So. Live the Life of Animals!?!
• They sure seem to live in the moment! • Schlick: they feel pleasure & pain.
but bathed in the clearest light of consciousness.”
.Schlick: We are “supremely self-conscious being[s]”
• “[Our] joy in the moment will not be blind and bestial.
but they are fine
.We Don’t Have Our Heads in the Sand!
• Of course we see possible consequences of our actions… • “but no specific goal stands there as an end to be necessarily attained” • Of course we set little goals in order to play.
into hours of play” • “these hours crowd thickest in youth” • Youth doesn’t care about purposes • Youth really refers to anyone enthusiastic about activities for their own sake
.Live the Life of Youth
• “the meaning of [life] is concentrated and collected… into a few short hours of deep. serene joy.
Summary of Schlick
• There is no reason to think that the meaning of life only comes after you are dead or when you get older • Goals/purposes/work only lead to boredom and frustration • tMoL is Play/the spirit of youth • ‘Play’ is activities done for their own sake – for the joy they bring • The spirit of youth is enthusiasm about activities for their own sake
making his life meaningful! – E.g. Or a Nobel-winning all-round nice gal might think that her life was meaningless – necessarily making it so!
. • “tMoL is what each of us chooses it to be” could be a bad answer
– This would mean we couldn’t be wrong about the meaningfulness of our lives – E.How to Answer the Question
• Be clear about what you are asking! • Try to give a single answer that all people (& maybe animals) can use. A depressed man could claim that tMoL is to be depressed.g.
Summary of Questions
• Tolstoy: How can my finite (destructible) existence be meaningful in this infinite universe? • Taylor: How can we make our lives subjectively meaningful? • Schlick: What gives our lives meaning or value? • You should argue for a best interpretation of the question (what is the meaning of life?)
– Which interpretation is most important? – Can they all be satisfyingly answered?
use your will to make plans that are significant to you • Schlick: Be like a youth and play – enthusiastically do things for their own sake
.Summary of Answers
• Tolstoy: Faith in religion reveals the meaning and purpose of life – live according to God’s law • Taylor: Live in accordance with your nature .
A Religious Clean Sweep?
• Faith. Play • If you have faith in and enjoy your religion and plan to continue doing so. Plans. then you achieve all 3 of these! • But how do you know that you have the right one?
– The real god will be mad if you don’t!
• Does it matter if you have the right one?
make some plans. see how they can find joy in nearly anything • The fact that your experiences feel real to you is enough to give your life significance & meaning to you at least • And the same is true of others as well • So. don’t do anything rash… • Watch a child play. do something fun. or do something for someone else and then see if life feels meaningless
.What if Life is Meaningless?
• If you believe that life is ultimately meaningless.