My Meaning of Life

This comes from a previous post but I didn’t want to go too far off on that post, so I decided to write a completely different post for this one.  For me, the meaning of life comes down to doing something where you consider that activity greater than your own life. To put it another way, it’s where you use yourself as a means to further some other end. Socrates died for Philosophy, Bill Gates is dedicating his life to computers (and now to charities), and terrorists are killing themselves for some cause that they consider greater than themselves.

For example, my friend does computer programming and programs video games.  I’m sure he considers that as a full meaning of life and he’s happy about his prospect where he says to himself, “this is the goal that I want to do with my life.”  He uses himself If I was able to do that, it would be cool to know the talent, but I don’t think I could be happy doing it for my whole life.  For me, playing games is what I do to pass the time, something to do while hanging out with friends, or simply to have little pleasures in life.  I can’t see myself doing that as the end result of my whole life.

Now with me, I dedicate my life to philosophy and wisdom.  I love learning about new ideas and what the world looks like with these ideas, or perhaps what the world should look like.  I use myself (I’m a means) to reach out some goal (toward an ends).  I can say to myself, “I am happy by doing this for the rest of my life.”  With other people that I meet, these are the responses that I usually get:

  • “That seems hard.”  They see philosophy as something that is too challenging for their life and so they don’t want to think about.  I call these the philosophical lazy people.
  • “I’m afraid I might lose my faith in. . .”  They see philosophy as challenging common held beliefs like religion or the external world.  I call these people the philosophical cowards.
  • And perhaps the common answer: “It’s fun, but I don’t think I could do this for the rest of my life.”  They see philosophy as something to pass the time, something to do while you’re socializing with friends over coffee or alcohol, and not something that you do academically.  I call these people pleasure philosophers.

Now they all don’t see philosophy as the meaning of their lives.  In the same way, I can’t see myself making video games as the meaning to my life.  (I’d probably be in the third category when it comes to video games.)  But that’s ok.  I would rather have people do something for the rest of their life being fulfilled at whatever they do; it’s something where they can say to themselves, “Yes, I can see myself doing this for the rest of my life.”  But more than that, it’s where you dedicate your whole life towards it.  In a way, it’s a form of immortality.  We all know Plato, regardless if you’ve studied philosophy or not because he dedicated his whole life to philosophy.  If I write a book, then I will be immortal, in a sense, because my “footprint” or “stamp” is left on the world.  With my video game friend, his “footprint” or “stamp” is left on the world when he dies, and thus he’s leaving a part of him behind as well.

So to sum up, if someone asks me what I consider the meaning of life, my answer would be something like “it’s where you do some sort of activity where you consider that activity greater than your own life.”

Or perhaps as an alternative: if you’re doing some activity and you say to yourself, “is this all that life has to offer?” then you are not fulfilling your meaning of life.  It’s where you can be proud of leaving your “footprint” or “stamp” behind when you die.

I realize there can be many replies to this, but I wanted to see what everyone else thought and perhaps give some responses to this.  Any thoughts?

About shaunmiller

I have just completed a visiting position as an assistant professor at Dalhousie University. My ideas are not associated with my employer; they are expressions of my own thoughts and ideas. Some of them are just musings while others could be serious discussions that could turn into a bigger project. Besides philosophy, I enjoy martial arts (Kuk Sool Won), playing my violin, enjoying coffee around town, and experimenting with new food.
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3 Responses to My Meaning of Life

  1. Mike says:

    My meaning of life is all goal based too I think. I try to take on difficult problems (sometimes philosophical, sometimes technical). When I accomplish the task I set out to do I’m happy (and actually even when I fail I’m often happy if I learn something in the process). But that goal seeking probably wouldn’t be nearly so satisfying without my wife so love, too, is where I derive some meaning.

    This master’s thesis on Wittgenstein and Nietzsche is pretty interesting — an anti-metaphysical approach to existential meaning.

  2. Killer J says:

    You just articulated exactly what I feel the meaning of life is. I’d paraphrase you, but that would be redundant so I’ll just share my example.

    I know I’ve found my meaning in life. Helping people better themselves is well beyond my personal existence in scope. I also have quite the opportunity to leave my footprint. The majority of my work as a psychotherapist is spent dealing with both adult and juvenile sex offenders as well as the occasional gang banger.

    Since sexual assault and physical assault create quite the ‘ripple effect’ on victims and their families, the perpetrator and his/her family, society, etc., then curtailing recidivism of these crimes via the proven treatment I provide is a worthy meaning for my life to follow. Even if I only help ONE person in my entire career and the rest are all miserable failures, I can take solace in knowing the following:

    My footprint is left behind long after I die, as the cycle of abuse is cut short in many of the offenders I help. Generations of people will reap the benefits of not having been born in to a dysfunctional, abusive family. Knowing that some innocent little girl/boy yet to be born will live an abuse free life where they might have otherwise been subjected to vile abuse. Also, the offenders I help have the opportunity to live a healthy, crime free lifestyle once they’re off papers. People can change, thus, society will change for the better as the individual people I reach stop exploiting others.

    I have a thankless job, and I mean that in every sense of the word. Receiving “thanks” isn’t what keeps me going. It’s knowing recidivism drops below 10% once offenders successfully complete treatment and the aforementioned societal effect will undoubtedly be realized.

  3. shaunmiller says:

    There have also been other views of meaning of life. I get this list from Quentin Smith of Western Michigan University.

    The vagueness and ambiguity of the question ‘Is there a meaning of human life?’ is standardly resolved by reformulations using more precise categories from the philosophy of religion or from moral realism. But are there alternatives to such reformulations? Consider:

    (1) Biology: the meaning of human life is to survive and reproduce; because we no longer have to struggle to survive and reproduce, we are no longer in a position to experience this meaning.

    (2) Physics: Hawking has argued that the meaning is in principle expressible in terms of a ‘complete unified theory’, which will throw light inter alia on‘the question of why it is that we and the universe exist.’

    (3) Psychology: People talk of sensing ‘emptiness’ in depression and ‘fullness’ in joy. Can these metaphors be justified as referring to modes of epistemic access to some mind-independent meaning of human life that is neither religious nor ethical in nature?

    (4) Art: Some hold that there are artistic symbols which somehow express the meaning of human life but in a way that is not expressible in linguistic form. Can such a linguistic ineffability theory be philosophically defended?

    Are there other approaches to defending a theory of the meaning of human life? Is it possible to articulate a formal structure or account of meaning which all such theories must share? Articles are invited addressing these and related questions in an analytical spirit.

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