Earlier this academic year I wrote an essay on this subject. I wasn’t on the actual list of subjects that we could write on but we talked about it in class and I basically badgered my professor till he let me write about it. In all fairness, I didn’t have to badger for long. I was so engrossed with the subject and I had so many thoughts about it, I just had to have it as my essay topic.
The essay was split up in two parts, the first being if life as a whole is meaningful (the meaning of life). As in, is there a reason why we are alive? The second part was on what makes life meaningful (the meaning in life).
For the first part I read a book called ‘The Meaning of Life’ by E.D. Klemke, which is a collection of essays on the topic. It was from the introduction of this book that I got the quote that you can see right there in my header. It comes from a paragraph on why we have the need to find out the meaning of life.
“Part of the problem is that some of us have an incurable tendency to take ourselves seriously. We want to matter to ourselves “from the outside.” If our lives as a whole seem pointless, then a part of us is dissatisfied – the part that is always looking over our shoulders at what we are doing. Many human efforts, particularly those in the service of serious ambitions rather than just comfort and survival, get some of their energy from a sense of importance – a sense that what you are doing is not just important to you, but important in some larger sense: important, period.” (Nagel in Klemke, 2000, p.7)
Besides the fact that it is brilliant and it made me laugh out loud, it really struck a chord. It’s so true, it’s ridiculous. If we were to let go of the thought that we need to do something ‘important’ with out lives, we’d be incredibly lost.
Anyway, back to the back to the first part. The opinions about the meaning of life are one of two options: the theistic view and the non-theistic view. The theistic view is the opinion that life without the existence of (a) God would be meaningless. While researching this view I read an article by William L. Craig, whose article was called ‘The Absurdity of Life without God’. Now, I’m not an extremely religious person, although I do believe in God. But what this man wrote was pure gold. And when I say gold, I mean that it was incredibly funny.
Actual quote from his article:
“If God does not exist, then you are just a miscarriage of nature, thrust into a purposeless universe to live a purposeless life ”
So there you have it. If it turns out that we fall into a giant ball of nothing after we die, we are nothing more than a miscarriage of nature. If you look past the hilarious wording, he means that if we are not put here for a higher cause, we are no more than the result a series of random events. According to Craig, if God does not exist it means that we will never be able to give our own meaning to life, which was what Sartre said (“One may create meaning for one’s life by choosing a course of action”). Craig calls this ‘self-delusion’ for the universe will not acquire meaning because an individual gives it one.
On the other hand we have the non-theistic view. This is the one that I favour. My favourite quotes come from Baier (1957) , Klemke (2002) and Taylor (1984)
“What matters is not that life should have guaranteed meaning, whatever happens here or here-after, but that, by luck or the right temperament and attitude or a judicious life a person should make the most of his life” (Baier, 1957)
“But from this it does not follow that life is not worthwhile, for it can still be subjectively meaningful” (Klemke, 2000, p.195)
“the meaning of life is from within us, it is not bestowed from without, and it far exceeds in both its beauty and permanence any heaven of which men have ever dreamed or yearned for” (Taylor, 1984, p.268)
These people basically say that it doesn’t matter whether there’s a God or not, whether we’re all part of some great scheme. What matters is what we do with our lives while we’re here. Tomas Nagel (1941) says that (read this carefully, it took me a couple of times and it’s my essay for goodness sake) it does not matter that in a million years nothing we do now will matter.
I, personally, think that thinking the way Craig thinks about the meaning of life is degrading to the human race. To think that we only have purpose if we were put here by some celestial being is.. well.. degrading. I believe we are more than just some tool and that life is more than just a ‘test’. I believe that we make our own meaning in life, like Sartre said. Because after all, we have no guarantee that there is a God, so we must live life (in my opinion) in the best way possible and what will happen after we die, will happen anyway.
I could probably talk about for hours on end. But I won’t. I do wish someone would buy me Klemke’s book though. It’s a real gem and I really enjoyed reading it.
But what I really want to know is: What do you think about this subject? Which side do you identify with more? Talk to me! Gimme your opinions!
As it’s too much to talk about in one post, tomorrow I’ll talk a little more about meaning in life, the myth of Sisyphus and arrogance of judging other people’s worth.
See you then!