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Sample Reflective Paper to Help Write Meaning of Life Essays
When tasked with an essay about meaning of life, you basically have two choices if you try to accomplish it single-handedly. You can either spill your guts and reflect on the issue or dig into philosophical nuances and get lost in the vicious circle of searching for the answer. The piece below is one of those 'meaning of life' essay examples that manage to incorporate traits of both categories. Read it to see how you can deal with the task with a short text while including some big ideas in it.
What is the Meaning of Life?
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I cannot give an exact definition of the meaning of life. I think nobody can, even the most famous and reputable philosophers. They can describe some basic aspects, suggest some formulas, or express an opinion, but even the greatest minds cannot define the meaning of life in full because it is a broad concept that differs for different people. Nevertheless, I do have an understanding of what kind of life would be meaningful for me and what kind of life would be senseless. In this regard, I support Richard Taylor's approach. He starts by discussing the meaningless life by the example of Camus' story of Sisyphus. I think that when it comes to complicated ideas, it is best to reason by a reversal. For example, I do not know what to wear, but I am certain what not to wear today. Similarly, I agree with Taylor's reasoning and his opinion that the meaning of life is directly connected to an active engagement in life. This thought is further developed by Susan Wolf, who also thinks that when people are actively involved in an interesting project of a high value, it makes their life meaningful.
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For me, the meaning of life means being present in life, being present in the moment, being active, and taking my chances. When I am doing something, I feel alive, and it fills my life with meaning. Moreover, when I am doing something for other people, like helping my granny with online shopping or walking the dog for my sick friend, it also adds meaning to my life. It does not matter if I help people with trifles or with some major issues. The very act of helping is important for me. I feel that my life is meaningful when I see that I can brighten someone's day or make somebody smile. I am no Good Samaritan, but I do enjoy being good to others, and I am sure that it adds value and meaning to my life.
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- The Meaning of Life Essay Example
Do you have an essential meaning in your life? Is there a finite purpose that you set out to achieve before you breathe your last breath? Often times, people battle within themselves about what exactly it is that they are supposed to be doing in this life that we experience. Human beings frequently seek out a blueprint for the perfect life, but no one has yet to discover the perfect answer. Many philosophers have sought out to give benevolent answers to the questions of the homo sapiens existence.
Per human nature, to be coined “happy” we often crave the need to fulfill desires and to be at peace with the purpose of one’s life. The problem at hand with the meaning of life is, what happens when you no longer know what your reason for living is? People often possess multiple purposes and no matter what environment a man is born into, he will always come into a time in his life when he seeks the need for more. There will always be a phase in the average human's lifetime where they are seeking validation, hope, direction, and meaning.
There are three things that need to be fulfilled for a happy life according to Tolstoy: Fame, Fortune, and Pleasure. Tolstoy was a famous British writer who seemed to have a successful, wealthy and comfortable lifestyle. Late in his life, he began to experience a crisis of his meaning. Like many human beings, Tolstoy began to feel meaningless and empty. We often reach this state of transcendence that is quite unavoidable; humans have this irreducible tendency to feel the need to go above itself and lose itself to the world. Once Tolstoy accomplished everything that he felt he needed to be happy, he didn’t know what to do next. He no longer cared about what made him famous, his family, friends, fortune, or anything is his current life. “My life is a stupid, mean trick played on me by somebody,” Tolstoy said, he understand why he needed to be here anymore. This is the problem with life, why can’t we just always be happy? We do we feel the need to continue going higher and higher above ourselves?
Humans typically try to do things to fill voids in our lives by having children, changing jobs, getting into relationships, and many other things that they feel when giving them new meanings to hold on to. Although these things may bring you temporary pleasure and fulfillment, they seldomly are the actual long-term answer. Tolstoy ultimately attempts to give us a way to reason with and how to solve these midlife crisis's that we are subject to going through. Tolstoy believes the key to beating despair is simply faith. The ultimate take away for the majority of the theist philosophers we’ve been studying involves some sort of belief in a higher power. Tolstoy, Augustine, Quinn, Pojman, Pascal, and other theist philosophers all believe in some way that the answer to beating despair is to look for a higher purpose.
Theist philosophers present the notion that life is more satisfying when you choose to believe in God. When you believe in God you are a wiser person according to Pascal’s wager because if he truly does exist then you are winning external life, but if he doesn’t what do you really have to lose? God provides a way to escape from your despair because it gives you an infinite reason to keep living. Quinn believes that God can present the answers to hope, directions, and internal feelings you need to be fulfilled once you’ve reached your capacity. If God truly does exist, then my righteous actions will reward me to live happily ever after, but if he doesn’t exist then at least I was still a moral person. It is still solely important to believe in any god is because you truly have faith and not because everyone else believed or else you will be doomed to hell according to Silverman.
The faith of a God was the answer presented for the problem in the meaning of life by many philosophers we have been studying, especially Tolstoy and St. Augustine. I personally think that the strengths of this answer are that, a higher power provides an escape to many of our problems. When something doesn’t go our way or as expected, maybe it wasn’t in the will of God. Once you have reached your max good potential that you feel you can do, God provides a reason for you to keep being good as you know your end reward is eternal life.
The downside in faith is that it is just that, faith. It is often times hard to comes to terms with and believe in something that you cannot physically see. Being of Christian faith, I’ve had my own personal doubts when I get frustrated with the world. Of course there will be times when you feel like life has knocked you down and it even starts to seem as if God doesn’t even hear your cries, but that’s exactly when true faith comes into play. If you genuinely believe in something then there is always that little hope deep down inside that everything is going to be alright if you just keep on believing. God to adults is almost like Santa Claus to children. You never see them, but you still believe that they will come right on time as they are expected to.
I think that one the biggest human downfalls are that we turn to look for one meaning of life, and we are so wound up in being the perfect person when in reality, perfection in the human nature does not exist. Theist philosophers sought out to provide an answer for beating this inevitable fight of despair in the human life. Believing in God gives you a reason to continue to fight when you don’t want to anymore. When sickness, hurt, evil, depression and everything comes all at once faith is what seems to be the answer, according to the philosophers we’ve studied in the first half of this semester. The destination for finding the true meanings of a person's life can be a true bittersweet fight, but faith is said to make it all worth it. According to Tolstoy, Pascal, Quinn, and many more theist based studies: we fight through hell on earth to get some sort of eternal life happily ever after.
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Question of the Month
What is the meaning of life, the following answers to this central philosophical question each win a random book. sorry if your answer doesn’t appear: we received enough to fill twelve pages….
Why are we here? Do we serve a greater purpose beyond the pleasure or satisfaction we get from our daily activities – however mundane or heroic they may be? Is the meaning of life internal to life, to be found inherently in life’s many activities, or is it external, to be found in a realm somehow outside of life, but to which life leads? In the internal view it’s the satisfaction and happiness we gain from our actions that justify life. This does not necessarily imply a selfish code of conduct. The external interpretation commonly makes the claim that there is a realm to which life leads after death. Our life on earth is evaluated by a supernatural being some call God, who will assign to us some reward or punishment after death. The meaning of our life, its purpose and justification, is to fulfill the expectations of God, and then to receive our final reward. But within the internal view of meaning, we can argue that meaning is best found in activities that benefit others, the community, or the Earth as a whole. It’s just that the reward for these activities has to be found here, in the satisfactions that they afford within this life, instead of in some external spirit realm.
An interesting way to contrast the internal and external views is to imagine walking through a beautiful landscape. Your purpose in walking may be just to get somewhere else – you may think there’s a better place off in the distance. In this case the meaning of your journey through the landscape is external to the experience of the landscape itself. On the other hand, you may be intensely interested in what the landscape holds. It may be a forest, or it may contain farms, villages. You may stop along the way, study, learn, converse, with little thought about why you are doing these things other than the pleasure they give you. You may stop to help someone who is sick: in fact, you may stay many years, and found a hospital. What then is the meaning of your journey? Is it satisfying or worthwhile only if you have satisfied an external purpose – only if it gets you somewhere else? Why, indeed, cannot the satisfactions and pleasures of the landscape, and of your deeds, be enough?
Greg Studen, Novelty, Ohio
A problem with this question is that it is not clear what sort of answer is being looked for. One common rephrasing is “What is it that makes life worth living?”. There are any number of subjective answers to this question. Think of all the reasons why you are glad you are alive (assuming you are), and there is the meaning of your life. Some have attempted to answer this question in a more objective way: that is to have an idea of what constitutes the good life . It seems reasonable to say that some ways of living are not conducive to human flourishing. However, I am not convinced that there is one right way to live. To suggest that there is demonstrates not so much arrogance as a lack of imagination.
Another way of rephrasing the question is “What is the purpose of life?” Again we all have our own subjective purposes but some would like to think there is a higher purpose provided for us, perhaps by a creator. It is a matter of debate whether this would make life a thing of greater value or turn us into the equivalent of rats in a laboratory experiment. Gloster’s statement in King Lear comes to mind: “As flies to wanton boys we are to the gods – they kill us for their sport.” But why does there have to be a purpose to life separate from those purposes generated within it? The idea that life needs no external justification has been described movingly by Richard Taylor. Our efforts may ultimately come to nothing but “the day was sufficient to itself, and so was the life.” ( Good and Evil , 1970) In the “why are we here?” sense of the question there is no answer. It would be wrong, however, to conclude that life is meaningless. Life is meaningful to humans, therefore it has meaning.
Rebecca Linton, Leicester
When the question is in the singular we search for that which ties all values together in one unity, traditionally called ‘the good’. Current consideration of the good demands a recognition of the survival crises which confront mankind. The threats of nuclear war, environmental poisoning and other possible disasters make it necessary for us to get it right. For if Hannah Arendt was correct concerning the ‘banality of evil’ which affected so many Nazi converts and contaminated the German population by extension, we may agree with her that both Western rational philosophy and Christian teaching let the side down badly in the 20th century.
If we then turn away from Plato’s philosophy, balanced in justice, courage, moderation and wisdom; from Jewish justice and Christian self-denial; if we recognize Kant’s failure to convince populations to keep his three universal principles, then shall we look to the moral relativism of the Western secular minds which admired Nietzsche? Stalin’s purges of his own constituents in the USSR tainted this relativist approach to the search for the good. Besides, if nothing is absolute, but things have value only relative to other things, how do we get a consensus on the best or the worst? What makes your social mores superior to mine – and why should I not seek to destroy your way? We must also reject any hermit, monastic, sect or other loner criteria for the good life. Isolation will not lead to any long-term harmony or peace in the Global Village.
If with Nietzsche we ponder on the need for power in one’s life, but turn in the opposite direction from his ‘superman’ ideal, we will come to some form of the Golden Rule [‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’]. However, we must know this as an experiential reality. There is life-changing power in putting oneself in the place of the other person and feeling for and with them. We call this feeling empathy .
Persons who concentrate on empathy should develop emotional intelligence. When intellectual intelligence does not stand in the way of this kind of personal growth, but contributes to it, we can call this balance maturity . Surely the goal or meaning of human life is therefore none other than finding oneself becoming a mature adult free to make one’s own decisions, yet wanting everyone in the world to have this same advantage. This is good!
Ernie Johns, Owen Sound, Ontario
‘Meaning’ is a word referring to what we have in mind as ‘signification’, and it relates to intention and purpose. ‘Life’ is applied to the state of being alive; conscious existence. Mind, consciousness, words and what they signify, are thus the focus for the answer to the question. What seems inescapable is that there is no meaning associated with life other than that acquired by our consciousness, inherited via genes, developed and given content through memes (units of culture). The meanings we believe life to have are then culturally and individually diverse. They may be imposed through hegemony; religious or secular, benign or malign; or identified through deliberate choice, where this is available. The range is vast and diverse; from straightforward to highly complex. Meaning for one person may entail supporting a football team; for another, climbing higher and higher mountains; for another, being a parent; for another, being moved by music, poetry, literature, dance or painting; for another the pursuit of truth through philosophy; for another through religious devotions, etc. But characteristic of all these examples is a consciousness that is positively and constructively absorbed, engaged, involved, fascinated, enhanced and fulfilled. I would exclude negative and destructive desires; for example of a brutal dictator who may find torturing others absorbing and engaging and thus meaningful. Such cases would be too perverse and morally repugnant to regard as anything other than pathological.
The meaning of life for individuals may diminish or fade as a consequence of decline or difficult or tragic circumstances. Here it might, sadly, be difficult to see any meaning of life at all. The meaning is also likely to change from one phase of life to another, due to personal development, new interests, contexts, commitments and maturity.
Colin Brookes, Woodhouse Eaves, Leicestershire
It is clearly internet shopping, franchised fast food and surgically-enhanced boobs. No, this is not true. I think the only answer is to strip back every layer of the physical world, every learnt piece of knowledge, almost everything that seems important in our modern lives. All that’s left is simply existence. Life is existence: it seems ‘good’ to be part of life. But really that’s your lot! We should just be thankful that our lifespan is longer than, say, a spider, or your household mog.
Our over-evolved human minds want more, but unfortunately there is nothing more. And if there is some deity or malignant devil, then you can be sure they’ve hidden any meaning pretty well and we won’t see it in our mortal lives. So, enjoy yourself; be nice to people, if you like; but there’s no more meaning than someone with surgically-enhanced boobs, shopping on the net while eating a Big Mac.
Simon Maltman, By email
To ask ‘What is the meaning of life?’ is a poor choice of words and leads to obfuscation rather than clarity. Why so?
To phrase the question in this fashion implies that meaning is something that inheres in an object or experience – that it is a quality which is as discernible as the height of a door or the solidity of matter. That is not what meaning is like. It is not a feature of a particular thing, but rather the relationship between a perceiver and a thing, a subject and an object, and so requires both. There is no one meaning of, say, a poem, because meaning is generated by it being read and thought about by a subject. As subjects differ so does the meaning: different people evaluate ideas and concepts in different ways, as can be seen from ethical dilemmas. But it would be wrong to say that all these meanings are completely different, as there are similarities between individuals, not least because we belong to the same species and are constructed and programmed in basically the same way. We all have feelings of fear, attachment, insecurity and passion, etc.
So to speak of ‘the meaning of life’, is an error. It would be more correct to refer to the ‘meanings of life’, but as there are currently around six billion humans on Earth, and new psychological and cultural variations coming into being all the time, to list and describe all of these meanings would be a nigh on impossible task.
To ‘find meaning in life’ is a better way of approaching the issue, ie, whilst there is no single meaning of life, every person can live their life in a way which brings them as much fulfilment and contentment as possible. To use utilitarian language, the best that one can hope for is a life which contains as great an excess of pleasure over pain as possible, or alternatively, a life in which as least time as possible is devoted to activities which do not stimulate, or which do nothing to promote the goals one has set for oneself.
Steve Else, Swadlincote, Derbyshire
The meaning of life is not being dead.
Tim Bale, London
The question is tricky because of its hidden premise that life has meaning per se . A perfectly rational if discomforting position is given by Nietzsche, that someone in the midst of living is not in a position to discern whether it has meaning or not, and since we cannot step outside of the process of living to assess it, this is therefore not a question that bears attention.
However, if we choose to ignore the difficulties of evaluating a condition while inside it, perhaps one has to ask the prior question, what is the meaning of meaning ? Is ‘meaning’ given by the greater cosmos? Or do we in our freedom construct the category ‘meaning’ and then fill in the contours and colours? Is meaning always identical with purpose? I might decide to dedicate my life to answering this particular question, granting myself an autonomously devised purpose. But is this identical with the meaning of my life? Or can I live a meaningless life with purpose? Or shall meaning be defined by purpose? Some metaphysics offer exactly this corollary – that in pursuing one’s proper good, and thus one’s meaning, one is pursuing one’s telos or purpose. The point of these two very brief summaries of approaches to the question is to show the hazards in this construction of the question.
Karen Zoppa, The University of Winnipeg
One thing one can hardly fail to notice about life is that it is self-perpetuating. Palaeontology tells us that life has been perpetuating itself for billions of years. What is the secret of this stunning success? Through natural selection, life forms adapt to their environment, and in the process they acquire, one might say they become , knowledge about that environment, the world in which they live and of which they are part. As Konrad Lorenz put it, “Life itself is a process of acquiring knowledge.” According to this interpretation of evolution, the very essence of life (its meaning?) is the pursuit of knowledge : knowledge about the real world that is constantly tested against that world. What works and is in that sense ‘true’, is perpetuated. Life is tried and proven knowledge that has withstood the test of geological time. From this perspective, adopting the pursuit of knowledge as a possible meaning of one’s life seems, literally, a natural choice. The history of science and philosophy is full of examples of people who have done just that, and in doing so they have helped human beings to earn the self-given title of Homo sapiens – man of knowledge.
Axel Winter, Wynnum, Queensland
Life is a stage and we are the actors, said William Shakespeare, possibly recognizing that life quite automatically tells a story just as any play tells a story. But we are more than just actors; we are the playwright too, creating new script with our imaginations as we act in the ongoing play. Life is therefore storytelling. So the meaning of life is like the meaning of ‘the play’ in principle: not a single play with its plot and underlying values and information, but the meaning behind the reason for there being plays with playwright, stage, actors, props, audience, and theatre. The purpose of the play is self-expression , the playwright’s effort to tell a story. Life, a grand play written with mankind’s grand imagination, has this same purpose.
But besides being the playwright, you are the audience too, the recipient of the playwrights’ messages. As playwright, actor, and audience you are an heir to both growth and self-expression. Your potential for acquiring knowledge and applying it creatively is unlimited. These two concepts may be housed under one roof: Liberty. Liberty is the freedom to think and to create. “Give me liberty or give me death,” said Patrick Henry, for without liberty life has no meaningful purpose. But with liberty life is a joy. Therefore liberty is the meaning of life.
Ronald Bacci, Napa, CA
The meaning of life is understood according to the beliefs that people adhere to. However, all human belief systems are accurate or inaccurate to varying degrees in their description of the world. Moreover, belief systems change over time: from generation to generation; from culture to culture; and era to era. Beliefs that are held today, even by large segments of the population, did not exist yesterday and may not exist tomorrow. Belief systems, be they religious or secular, are therefore arbitrary. If the meaning of life is wanted, a meaning that will transcend the test of time or the particulars of individual beliefs, then an effort to arrive at a truly objective determination must be made. So in order to eliminate the arbitrary, belief systems must be set aside. Otherwise, the meaning of life could not be determined.
Objectively however, life has no meaning because meaning or significance cannot be obtained without reference to some (arbitrary) belief system. Absent a subjective belief system to lend significance to life, one is left with the ‘stuff’ of life, which, however offers no testimony as to its meaning. Without beliefs to draw meaning from, life has no meaning, but is merely a thing ; a set of facts that, in and of themselves, are silent as to what they mean. Life consists of a series of occurrences in an infinite now, divorced of meaning except for what may be ascribed by constructed belief systems. Without such beliefs, for many the meaning of life is nothing .
Surely, however, life means something . And indeed it does when an individual willfully directs his/her consciousness at an aspect of life, deriving from it an individual interpretation, and then giving this interpretation creative expression. Thus the meaning in the act of giving creative expression to what may be ephemeral insights. Stated another way, the meaning of life is an individual’s acts of creation . What, exactly is created, be it artistic or scientific, may speak to the masses, or to nobody, and may differ from individual to individual. The meaning of life, however, is not the thing created, but the creative act itself ; namely, that of willfully imposing an interpretation onto the stuff of life, and projecting a creative expression from it.
Raul Casso, Laredo, Texas
Rather than prattle on and then discover that I am merely deciding what ‘meaning’ means, I will start out with the assumption that by ‘meaning’ we mean ‘purpose.’ And because I fear that ‘purpose’ implies a Creator, I will say ‘best purpose.’ So what is the best purpose for which I can live my life? The best purpose for which I can live my life is, refusing all the easy ways to destroy. This is not as simple as it sounds. Refusing to destroy life – to murder – wouldn’t just depend on our lack of homicidal impulses, but also on our willingness to devote our time to finding out which companies have murdered union uprisers; to finding out whether animals are killed out of need or greed or ease; to finding the best way to refuse to fund military murder, if we find our military to be murdering rather than merely protecting. Refusing to destroy resources, to destroy loves, to destroy rights, turns out to be a full-time job. Oh sure, we can get cocky and say “Well, oughtn’t we destroy injustice? Or bigotry? Or hatred?” But we would be only fooling ourselves. They’re all already negatives: to destroy injustice, bigotry, and hatred is to refuse the destruction of justice, understanding, and love. So, it turns out, we finally say “Yes” to life, when we come out with a resounding, throat-wrecking “NO!”
Carrie Snider, By email
I propose that the knowledge we have now accumulated about life discloses quite emphatically that we are entirely a function of certain basic laws as they operate in the probably unique conditions prevailing here on Earth.
The behaviour of the most elementary forms of matter we know, subatomic particles, seems to be guided by four fundamental forces, of which electromagnetism is probably the most significant here, in that through the attraction and repulsion of charged particles it allows an almost infinite variation of bonding: it allows atoms to form molecules, up the chain to the molecules of enormous length and complexity we call as nucleic acids, and proteins. All these are involved in a constant interaction with surrounding chemicals through constant exchanges of energy. From these behaviour patterns we can deduce certain prime drives or purposes of basic matter, namely:
1. Combination (bonding).
2. Survival of the combination, and of any resulting organism.
3. Extension of the organism, usually by means of replication.
4. Acquisition of energy.
Since these basic drives motivate everything that we’re made of, all the energy, molecules and chemistry that form our bodies, our brains and nervous systems, then whatever we think, say and do is a function of the operation of those basic laws Therefore everything we think, say and do will be directed towards our survival, our replication and our demand for energy to fuel these basic drives. All our emotions and our rational thinking, our loves and hates, our art, science and engineering are refinements of these basic drives. The underlying drive for bonding inspires our need for interaction with other organisms, particularly other human beings, as we seek ever wider and stronger links conducive to our better survival. Protection and extension of our organic integrity necessitates our dependence on and interaction with everything on Earth.
Our consciousness is also necessarily a function of these basic drives, and when the chemistry of our cells can no longer operate due to disease, ageing or trauma, we lose consciousness and die. Since I believe we are nothing more than physics and chemistry, death terminates our life once and for all. There is no God, there is no eternal life. But optimistically, there is the joy of realising that we have the power of nature within us, and that by co-operating with our fellow man, by nurturing the resources of the world, by fighting disease, starvation, poverty and environmental degradation, we can all conspire to improve life and celebrate not only its survival on this planet, but also its proliferation. So the purpose of life is just that: to involve all living things in the common purpose of promoting and enjoying what we are – a wondrous expression of the laws of Nature, the power of the Universe.
Peter F. Searle, Topsham, Devon
“What is the meaning of life?” is hard to get a solid grip on. One possible translation of it is “What does it all mean?” One might spend a lifetime trying to answer such a heady question. Answering it requires providing an account of the ultimate nature of the world, our minds, value and how all these natures interrelate. I’d prefer to offer a rather simplistic answer to a possible interpretation of our question. When someone asks “What is the meaning of life?,” they may mean “What makes life meaningful?” This is a question I believe one can get a grip on without developing a systematic philosophy.
The answer I propose is actually an old one. What makes a human life have meaning or significance is not the mere living of a life, but reflecting on the living of a life.
Even the most reflective among us get caught up in pursuing ends and goals. We want to become fitter; we want to read more books; we want to make more money. These goal-oriented pursuits are not meaningful or significant in themselves. What makes a life filled with them either significant or insignificant is reflecting on why one pursues those goals. This is second-order reflection; reflection on why one lives the way one does. But it puts one in a position to say that one’s life has meaning or does not.
One discovers this meaning or significance by evaluating one’s life and meditating on it; by taking a step back from the everyday and thinking about one’s life in a different way. If one doesn’t do this, then one’s life has no meaning or significance. And that isn’t because one has the wrong sorts of goals or ends, but rather has failed to take up the right sort of reflective perspective on one’s life. This comes close to Socrates’ famous saying that the unexamined life is not worth living. I would venture to say that the unexamined life has no meaning.
Casey Woodling, Gainesville, FL
For the sake of argument, let’s restrict the scope of the discussion to the human species, and narrow down the choices to
1) There is no meaning of life, we simply exist;
2) To search for the meaning of life; and
3) To share an intimate connection with humankind: the notion of love.
Humans are animals with an instinct for survival. At a basic level, this survival requires food, drink, rest and procreation. In this way, the meaning of life could be to continue the process of evolution. This is manifested in the modern world as the daily grind.
Humans also have the opportunity and responsibility of consciousness. With our intellect comes curiosity, combined with the means to understand complex problems. Most humans have, at some point, contemplated the meaning of life. Some make it a life’s work to explore this topic. For them and those like them, the question may be the answer.
Humans are a social species. We typically seek out the opposite sex to procreate. Besides the biological urge or desire, there is an interest in understanding others. We might simply gain pleasure in connecting with someone in an intimate way. Whatever the specific motivation, there is something that we crave, and that is to love and be loved.
The meaning of life may never be definitively known. The meaning of life may be different for each individual and/or each species. The truth of the meaning of life is likely in the eye of the beholder. There were three choices given at the beginning of this essay, and for me, the answer is all of the above.
Jason Hucsek, San Antonio, TX
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Essays on Meaning of Life
The meaning of life is the deepest and most important question of human existence, so there is no surprise it’s a topic of your meaning of life essay. The question about the meaning of a person's life debates reasons for their existence, labor, creativity, communication, education, etc. It concerns the goals of a person's life, their values, calling. Many meaning of life essays define it as the reason for human existence while finding a meaning of life is a goal of a person’s entire activity. Different philosophers have varying theories regarding the meaning of life, which some essays on meaning of life feature. Socrates believed that the meaning of life is happiness, Plato – nourishment of the soul, Aristotle – virtue, Diogenes – freedom, etc. Peruse our meaning of life essay samples – we listed the best essay samples about meaning of life for you below!
Solitude is a societal value that holds the society together, where from the religious view its seen as the self-selected few with own restrictions. From the religious view of solitude, it also faced a change as other values with democratization of the attributes. With the rise of modernism, solitude has...
There is no question as complicated as what the meaning of life is. The meaning of life is as diverse as there are individual personalities in the world. Life is unique to everyone, and has complex various dynamics; therefore there is no particular explanation for the meaning of life rather...
Cool refers to something dangerous, original, a style and always related to sex. According to Wilson’s, what does "cool" even mean in 2013, in the 50’s and the 90’s during the rock and roll and hip hop era, the meaning of cool was very relevant and fit the above definition...
The Meaning of Life The Meaning of Life is Monty Python's third and final film, and it differs from the other two in many ways. The film's first distinguishing feature is that there are no central characters who can be followed from beginning to end (Python 3). There is no central...
The meaning of life is a major metaphysical issue that must be resolved if human beings are to continue to survive. Many people believe that the meaning of life is derived rather than inherent in nature (Morris, 57). The fundamental philosophical question is whether life is worth living or not,...
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Introduction People do not always have happy moments in their lives; some events in our lives occur for a reason and are meant to put us to the test. Events, whether positive or negative, play an important role in bringing out the best or worst in us. We come across some...
America and the Perception of Wealth America is thought to be a country where one can become wealthy, and when one says they work in America, it is assumed that they are wealthy. It is often known that no one is unemployed and that everyone, regardless of where they work, leads...
Richard Taylor and Susan Wolf express their thoughts about what they believe to be the essence of life. Certain elements of their claims are similar. Their assumptions regarding the importance or meaninglessness of existence, however, vary in several ways. Understanding their basic points entails analyzing their assumptions, the reasoning they...
Explaining the abstract concept of life by simplistic aspects such as breathing, singing, or being animated is insufficient in this century because traditional machines provided the ability to execute such basic functions. The problem with defining death is that it is not as enigmatic and vague as describing existence. For...
Life, as we know it, is the time period between birth and death. I believe that life will have value if one gets to know one maker. A person cannot know why they were born until they have knowledge of the creator, rendering existence worthless because they would not fulfill...
Wolf concludes her paper by arguing that thinkers have become increasingly hesitant to discuss the essence of existence. The query seems to be obscure sincere in many ways. While it is easy to elaborate what it is for a phrase to have meaning, it is impossible to pin down what...
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1000-Word Philosophy: An Introductory Anthology
Philosophy, One Thousand Words at a Time
The Meaning of Life: What’s the Point?
Author: Matthew Pianalto Categories: Ethics , Phenomenology and Existentialism , Philosophy of Religion Word Count: 1000
Editors’ note: this essay and its companion essay, Meaning in Life: What Makes Our Lives Meaningful? both explore the concept of meaning in relation to human life. This essay focuses on the meaning of life as a whole, whereas the other addresses meaning in individual human lives.
At the height of his literary fame, the novelist Leo Tolstoy was gripped by suicidal despair.  He felt that life is meaningless because, in the long run, we’ll all be dead and forgotten. Tolstoy later rejected this pessimism in exchange for religious faith in life’s eternal, divine significance.
Tolstoy’s outlook—both before and after his conversion—raises many questions:
- Does life’s having meaning depend on a supernatural reality?
- Is death a threat to life’s meaning?
- Is life the sort of thing that can have a “meaning”? In what sense?
Here we will consider some approaches to questions about the meaning of life. 
1. Questioning the Question
Many philosophers begin thinking about the meaning of life by asking what the question itself means.  Life could refer to all lifeforms or to human life specifically. This essay focuses on human life, but it is worth considering how other things might have or lack meaning, too.  This can help illuminate the different meanings of meaning .
Sometimes, we use “meaning” to refer to the origin or cause of something’s existence. If I come home to a trashed house, I might wonder, “What is the meaning of this?” Similarly, we might wonder where life comes from or how it began; our origins may tell us something about other meanings, like our value or purpose.
We also use “meaning” to refer to something’s significance or value . Something can be valuable in various ways, such as by being useful, pleasing, or informative. We might call something meaningless if it is trivial or unimportant.
“Meaning” can also refer to something’s point or purpose .  Life could have some overarching purpose as part of a divine plan, or it might have no such purpose. Perhaps we can give our lives purpose that they did not previously possess.
Notice that even divine purposes may not always satisfy our desire for meaning: suppose our creator made us to serve as livestock for hyper-intelligent aliens who will soon arrive and begin to farm us.  We might protest that this is not the most meaningful use of our human potential! We may not want our life-story to end as a people-burger.
Indeed, a thing’s meaning can also be its story . The meaning of life might be the true story of life’s origins and significance.  In this sense, life cannot be meaningless, but its meaning might be pleasing or disappointing to us. When people like Tolstoy regard life as meaningless, they seem to be thinking that the truth about life is bad news. 
Supernaturalists hold that life has divine significance.  For example, from the perspective of the Abrahamic religions, life is valuable because everything in God’s creation is good . Our purpose is to love and glorify God. We are all part of something very important and enduring : God’s plan.
Much of the contemporary discussion about the meaning of life is provoked by skepticism about traditional religious answers.  The phrase “the meaning of life” came into common usage only in the last two centuries, as advances in science, especially evolutionary theory, led many to doubt that life is the product of intelligent, supernatural design.  The meaning of life might be an especially perplexing issue for those who reject religious answers.
Nihilists think that life, on balance, lacks positive meaning.  Nihilism often arises as a pessimistic reaction to religious skepticism: life without a divine origin or purpose has no enduring significance.
Although others might counter that life can have enduring significance that doesn’t depend on a supernatural origin, such as our cultural legacy, nihilists are skeptical. From a cosmic perspective, we are tiny specks in a vast universe–and often miserable to boot! Even our most important cultural icons and achievements will likely vanish with the eventual extinction of the species and the collapse of the solar system.
Naturalists suggest that the meaning of life is to be found within our earthly lives. Even if life possesses no supernatural meaning, life itself may have inherent significance.  Things are not as bad as nihilists claim.
Some naturalists argue that life—at least human life—has objectively valuable features, such as our intellectual, moral, and creative abilities.  The meaning of life may be to develop these capacities and put them to good use. 
Other naturalists are subjectivists about life’s meaning.  Existentialists , for example, argue that life has no meaning until we give it meaning by choosing to live for something that we find important. 
Critics (including nihilists and supernaturalists) argue that the naturalists are fooling themselves. What naturalists propose as sources of meaning in life are at best a distraction from life’s lack of ultimate or cosmic significance (if naturalism is true). What is the point of personal development and good works if we’ll all be dead sooner or later?
Naturalists may respond that the point is in how these activities affect our lives and relationships now rather than in some distant, inhuman future.  Feeling sad or distressed over our lack of cosmic importance might be a kind of vanity we should overcome.  Some also question whether living forever would necessarily add meaning to life; living forever might be boring!  Having limited time may be part of what makes some of our activities and experiences so precious. 
In Douglas Adams’ novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy , the supercomputer Deep Thought is prompted to discover “the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.” After 7 ½ million years of computation, Deep Thought determines that the answer is…
Reflecting on this bizarre result, Deep Thought muses, “I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what the question is.” 
Adams may be wise to offer some comic relief.  Furthermore, given the various meanings of “meaning,” perhaps there is no single question to ask and thus no single correct answer.
Tolstoy’s crisis is a reminder that feelings of meaninglessness can be distressing and dangerous.  However, continuing to search for meaning in times of doubt may be one of the most meaningful things we can do. 
 Tolstoy (2005 ). For discussion of Tolstoy’s rediscovery of meaning that extends his ideas beyond the specific religious outlook he adopted, see Preston-Roedder (2022).
 For more detailed overviews of the meaning of life, see Metz (2021) and the entries on the meaning of life by Joshua Seachris and Wendell O’Brien in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy .
 Ayer (2008) suspects the question is incoherent. For a response, see Nielsen (2008). For helpful discussion of the meanings of meaning, see Thomas (2019).
 For discussion of meaning beyond humans (and agents), see Stevenson (2022).
 Notice that purpose appears to be one type of value, as discussed in the preceding paragraph.
 Nozick (1981) develops this point about purpose; Nozick (2008) offers the key points, too. In a different spirit, the ancient Daoist philosophy of Zhuangzi (2013) provides some perspective on the advantages of being “useless” (having no purpose) and the dangers of being “useful.”
 On this proposal of the meaning of life as narrative, see Seachris (2009). A similar approach that emphasizes the notion of interpretation rather than story or narrative is proposed in Prinzing (2021).
 A starter list of life’s features that might lead one to tell such a story about life: war, poverty, physical and mental illness, natural disasters, addiction, labor exploitation and other injustices, and pollution. For more, see Benatar (2017).
 Some, like Craig (2013), argue vigorously that life can have meaning only if supernaturalism is true. For further discussion and examples, see discussions of supernaturalism in Seachris, “The Meaning of Life: Contemporary Analytic Perspectives” and Metz (2021).
 See Landau (1997) and Setiya (2022), Ch. 6, for discussion of the origin of the phrase.
 Nietzsche’s discussion of the “death of God” in The Gay Science (2001 ) reflects these sorts of concerns.
 For recent defenses of this view, see Benatar (2017) and Weinberg (2021).
 See I. Singer (2009) for a wide-ranging naturalist approach. Wolf’s (2010, 2014) approach to meaning in life is one of the most widely accepted views amongst contemporary philosophers.
 For a helpful discussion of the idea that some things might be objectively valuable, see Ethical Realism by Thomas Metcalf.
 Metz (2013) and P. Singer (1993) defend this sort of view of meaning in life. Transhumanists would argue that the best uses of our abilities will be those that help us overcome the problems, like disease and mortality, that beset humans and may transform us in substantial ways: perhaps we can achieve a natural form of immortality through technology! On transhumanism, see Messerly (2022).
 Representative subjectivists include Taylor (2000) and Calhoun (2015). Susan Wolf’s works (2010 and 2014) develop a “hybrid” account of meaning that combines objective and subjective elements.
 For classic expressions of this existentialist view, see Sartre (2021 ) and Beauvoir (2018 ). For a brief overview of existentialist philosophy, see Existentialism by Addison Ellis. For a more detailed, contemporary overview, see Gosetti-Ferencei (2020).
 On this point, see Nagel (1971), Nagel (1989), and “The Meanings of Lives” in Wolf (2014). For further discussion see Kahane (2014).
 Marquard (1991); see Hosseini (2015) for additional discussion. Albert Camus makes a similar point, invoking the notion of “moderation,” at the end of The Rebel (1992 ).
 Williams (1973) gives the classic expression of this idea. For a brief overview of Williams’ argument, see Is Immortality Desirable? , by Felipe Pereira.
 Of course, this outlook does mean that death can sometimes rob people of potential meaning, since death can be untimely. But death would not erase the meaningfulness of whatever one had already experienced or achieved. For arguments concerning whether death harms the individual who dies, see Is Death Bad? Epicurus and Lucretius on the Fear of Death by Frederik Kaufman.
 Adams (2017), Chapters 27-28. Asking a computer to give us the answer might also be a problem.
 For additional comic relief, see the film Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983). Such playfulness may seem irreverent of these “deep” philosophical questions, but Schlick (2017 ) argued that the meaning of life is to be found in play!
 For discussion of crises of meaning and an introduction to psychological research on meaning in life, see Smith (2017).
 William Winsdale relates that the existential psychiatrist Viktor Frankl was once asked to “express in one sentence the meaning of his own life” (in Frankl (2006), 164-5). After writing his answer, he asked his students to guess what he wrote. A student said, “The meaning of your life is to help others find the meaning of theirs.” Frankl responded, “That is it exactly. Those are the very words I had written.”
Adams, Douglas (2017). The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy . Del Rey. Originally published in 1979.
Ayer, A.J. (2008). “The Claims of Philosophy.” In: E.D. Klemke and Seven M. Cahn, eds. The Meaning of Life, Third Edition . Oxford University Press: 199-202.
Beauvoir, Simone de (2018). The Ethics of Ambiguity . Open Road Media. Originally published in French in 1947.
Benatar, David (2017). The Human Predicament . Oxford University Press.
Calhoun, Cheshire (2015). “Geographies of Meaningful Living,” Journal of Applied Philosophy 32(1): 15-34.
Camus, Albert (1992). The Rebel . Vintage. Originally published in French in 1951.
Craig, William Lane (2013). “The Absurdity of Life Without God.” In: Jason Seachris, ed. Exploring the Meaning of Life . Wiley-Blackwell: 153-172.
Frankl, Viktor E. (2006). Man’s Search for Meaning . Beacon Press.
Gosetti-Ferencei, Jennifer Anna (2020). On Being and Becoming: An Existentialist Approach to Life . Oxford University Press.
Hosseini, Reza (2015). Wittgenstein and Meaning in Life . Palgrave Macmillan.
Kahane, Guy (2014). “Our Cosmic Insignificance.” Noûs 48(4): 745–772.
Landau, Iddo (2017). Finding Meaning in an Imperfect World . Oxford University Press.
— (1997). “Why Has the Question of the Meaning of Life Arisen in the Last Two and a Half Centuries?” Philosophy Today 41(2): 263-269.
Marquard, Odo (1991). “On the Dietetics of the Expectation of Meaning.” In: In Defense of the Accidental . Translated by Robert M. Wallace. Oxford University Press: 29-49.
Messerly, John (2022). Short Essays on Life, Death, Meaning, and the Far Future .
Metz, Thaddeus (2013). Meaning in Life . Oxford University Press .
— (2021). “The Meaning of Life.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2022 Edition), Edward N. Zalta & Uri Nodelman (eds.).
Nagel, Thomas (1971). “The Absurd,” Journal of Philosophy 68(20): 716-727.
— (1989). The View From Nowhere . Oxford University Press.
Nielsen, Kai (2008). “Linguistic Philosophy and ‘The Meaning of Life.’” In: E.D. Klemke and Seven M. Cahn, eds. The Meaning of Life, Third Edition . Oxford University Press: 203-219.
Nietzsche, Friedrich (2001). The Gay Science . Translated by Josephine Nauckhoff. Cambridge University Press. Originally published in German in 1882.
Nozick, Robert (1981). Philosophical Explanations . Harvard University Press.
— (2018), “Philosophy and the Meaning of Life,” in: E.D. Klemke and Seven M. Cahn, eds. The Meaning of Life, Fourth Edition . Oxford University Press: 197-204.
O’Brien, Wendell. “The Meaning of Life: Early Continental and Analytic Perspectives.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy . Last Accessed 12/19/2022.
Preston-Roedder, Ryan (2022). “Living with absurdity: A Nobleman’s guide,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (Early View) .
Prinzing, Michael M. (2021). “The Meaning of ‘Life’s Meaning,’” Philosopher’s Imprint 21(3).
Sartre, Jean-Paul (2021). Being and Nothingness . Washington Square Press. Originally published in French in 1943.
Schlick, Moritz (2017). “On the Meaning of Life,” in: In: E.D. Klemke and Seven M. Cahn, eds. The Meaning of Life, Third Edition . Oxford University Press: 56-65. Originally published in 1927.
Seachris, Joshua. “The Meaning of Life: Contemporary Analytic Perspectives.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy . Last Accessed 12/19/2022.
— (2009). “The Meaning of Life as Narrative.” Philo 12(1): 5-23.
Setiya, Kieran (2022). Life is Hard: How Philosophy Can Help Us Find Our Way . Riverhead Books.
Singer, Irving (2009). Meaning in Life, Vol. 1: The Creation of Value . MIT Press.
Singer, Peter (1993). How Are We to Live? Ethics in an Age of Self-Interest . Prometheus.
Smith, Emily E. (2017). The Power of Meaning . Crown.
Stevenson, Chad Mason (2022). “Anything Can Be Meaningful.” Philosophical Papers (forthcoming).
Taylor, Richard (2000). Good and Evil . Prometheus. Originally published in 1970.
Thomas, Joshua Lewis (2019). “Meaningfulness as Sensefulness,” Philosophia 47: 1555-1577.
Tolstoy, Leo (2005). A Confession . Translated by Aylmer Maude. Dover. Originally published in Russian in 1882.
Weinberg, Rivka (2021). “Ultimate Meaning: We Don’t Have It, We Can’t Get It, and We Should Be Very, Very Sad,” Journal of Controversial Ideas 1(1), 4.
Williams, Bernard (1973). “The Makropulos case: reflections on the tedium of immortality.” In: Problems of the Self: Philosophical Papers, 1956-1972 . Cambridge University Press: 82-100.
Wolf, Susan (2010). Meaning in Life and Why It Matters . Princeton University Press. ( Wolf’s lecture is also available at the Tanner Lecture Series website ).
— (2014). The Variety of Values . Oxford University Press.
Zhuangzi (2013). The Complete Works of Zhuangzi . Translated by Burton Watson. Columbia University Press.
Meaning in Life: What Makes Our Lives Meaningful? by Matthew Pianalto
Existentialism by Addison Ellis
Camus on the Absurd: The Myth of Sisyphus by Erik Van Aken
Nietzsche and the Death of God by Justin Remhof
Is Death Bad? Epicurus and Lucretius on the Fear of Death by Frederik Kaufman
Ancient Cynicism: Rejecting Civilization and Returning to Nature by G. M. Trujillo, Jr.
The Badness of Death by Duncan Purves
Is Immortality Desirable? by Felipe Pereira
Hope by Michael Milona & Katie Stockdale
Ethical Realism by Thomas Metcalf
Download this essay in PDF .
About the Author
Matthew Pianalto is a Professor of Philosophy at Eastern Kentucky University. He is the author of On Patience (2016) and several articles and book chapters on ethics. philosophy.eku.edu/pianalto
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