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, because joy and satisfaction in life can only be found when a person knows his or her reason for existence. According to Victor Frankl, every human being’s fundamental motivation in life is the search for meaning, and the ultimate question of life’s meaning is the foundation of philosophy (Greive 23). In the previous centuries from around 5th to 18th century, the question of the meaning of life was not of concern because people thought it as an obvious thing because Christian worldview was dominant. During this period, the answer to life’s meaning was to know, love and do God’s service in the world in preparation for eternal life in heaven.
As per this view, suffering on the earth was justified and short-lived because there would be the redemption of the world after human beings exit it so that all the sorrows of human beings could be wiped away when human beings are united with God in heaven. This worldview, however, has changed with time because of the different religious beliefs and doctrines that have eroded the original Christian view. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, the question of life’s meaning became apparent and pressed thus creating the urgency for philosophers to try and solve it.
From the logical point of view, human beings have no business living if they cannot understand the meaning of life by answering the question of what life is. This is not to suggest that people should only focus on thinking about the question and forget to do other noble things that bring happiness in their lives but rather it is a wake-up call for human beings to examine life from a more meaningful perspective. In fact, psychologists advise that people should not excessively think about life because it may lead to mental illness. Going to back to one of the greatest philosophers, Socrates, he asserts that life which is not examined is not worth living but remembers an over-examined life is also not worth living (Baggini 167). This implies that human beings should strike a balance between thinking about life and living that life because life is too short for people to spend much of their time thinking about it instead of living it. According to Aristotle, people should first live and then, later on, philosophize meaning much of the time granted to human beings should be spent on living and striving to better their lives rather than thinking hard about the life. This is true because many people have lived happy and better lives without a lot of thinking about the meaning of life or bothering to answer the question of what life is all about.
Still, the question of life’s meaning is important and requires that human beings take the time to reflect on it. Without a critical reflection and tentatively answering the question, there seems to be no justification for the existence of human beings and no reason for any action. Simplistically put, what benefits a man to live without having a point live. Other people might argue that they live because they are willing to but such an argument only answers the question of why they go on living, but they do not justify why they go on living everything. It is true people can certainly live without thinking about the meaning of life and many at times situations compel many people to survive in life, giving them very little time to examine life philosophically. However, such lives are mediocre lives because there is no total satisfaction and worth living them. It is important for human beings to think about their lives and more importantly life in general. Such contemplation is important because it improves people’s lives and those of the people around them.
What the meaning of life is supposed to be
The question of what life is surrounded by the lack of clarity and lacks coherence. Some philosophers have argued that the question is unmanageable because it is not asking the semantic meaning of life, but no one can tell the specific intention of the question. One wonders whether it is a human life question, the role of human beings on earth or biological life? However, several approaches have been put forth to try and explain the meaning of life. The meaning of life can be found on examining the content of life which include the past, present, future, outer circumstances and inner thoughts of human beings (Baggini 185). This is difficult to comprehend because the content of life is so diverse, but people tend to focus on psychological and physical forgetting their inner dimension which is quite important.
According to supernaturalists theories, the meaning of life is found in having a relationship with a supernatural being. This means that God and the soul of man must have a relationship for life to be meaningful and if the soul dies and breaks that relationship with God, life becomes meaningless. According to supernaturalist philosophers, God has a purpose for everyone which he expects every individual to fulfill (Morris 62). This implies that the life of an individual is only meaningful if they fulfill God’s purpose on this earth. Even though this approach to explaining the meaning of life has been criticized by different philosophers who claim that God’s purpose in human beings’ lives is infinite and cannot be quantified, it is still a valid approach to the meaning of life. Another argument that attempts to explain life’s meaning is the fact that human life is connected to an immortal, spiritual substance that dwells in human bodies and this substance outlives men when they die. The meaning of life is therefore obtained when human beings relate well with their souls and as long as the soul exists in them. According to Tolstoy, life is meaningful, if only people have something meaningful to do (Baggini 151). Meaningful in the sense that the thing makes a permanent different in the world and this requires an immortal, spiritual self.
Difference of the meaning of life and meaning in life
The aspect of meaning in life is almost similar to the meaning of life, but there is a difference between the two. Meaning in life only occurs when human beings find what they are supposed to do during their time on earth (Hicks & Routledge 249). Therefore, the difference is that meaning of life involves a combination of aspects of human being that ensure one fulfills the purpose whereas a meaning in life is the act of human beings doing what they are supposed to do and achieving their goals and objectives. Meaning in life is fulfillment of the desires that a person has to his purpose in life (Baggini 172). By nature, human beings are created with desires, choices, and dreams which they always strive to achieve over a period. Fulfillment in life is achieved when their desires are satisfied, and their dreams are realized through the making of the rightfully conscious choices. Through this fulfillment is when human beings find meaning in life and find a reason to exist.
Why the meaning matters
Understanding the meaning of life is important for any human being because many at times people fail to understand what life is all about which causes them to end up living other people’s lives. People are always seeking approval from others because they focus on their appearances to other people and use that as a mirror (Baggini 136). People have lived limited lives because they rely on others to define their lives and how they are supposed to live their lives. Most people tend to use their intellectual strength to understand the meaning of life which is subject to approval. Finding out the meaning of life helps people to develop self-love which boosts their confidence and self-esteem. Furthermore, finding out the meaning of life is crucial because it provides an opportunity for individuals to examine themselves and question their thoughts and what they do every day. All the answers to most individual problems are found within the inner dimension of people, and they can only be unveiled when an individual finds out the meaning of life at a personal level. The meaning of life is important because it helps individuals to align their thinking, way of doing things to authentic themselves (Hicks et al. 44)
If anything could be a basis for such meaning, then it implies there is no substantiated meaning of life because everything could be subjective. Different people could define life in different ways because there is no one specific evidence of the meaning of life. People will interpret the meaning of life subjectively without specificity. This gives an opportunity for people to live different lifestyles with some disregarding morals and code of conduct in the society. Anything forming a basis for the meaning of life implies that any person can come up with his philosophy of what life means to him. Even though the basis might be misleading, people tend to follow it because there is no specific meaning of life. Other people could be misled when such different basis exists. This is such a dangerous thing because people living according to their interpretation of life will make life meaningless in the long run.
Anything could serve as a basis for the meaning of life when people take different directions in their lives because everyone thinks life is too short to keep thinking about coming up with an ideal meaning of life. In the end, there could be a tendency for people to arrive at different answers to what life means to them. Others will argue that life is all about seeking happiness for oneself, others could claim that life is only meaningful if one fulfills his purpose in life, but the question remains that how can someone realize his purpose in life. Others could base their reasoning on the impact that an individual creates on earth.
Baggini, Julian. What’s It All About?: Philosophy and the Meaning of Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. Print.
Greive, Bradley T. Meaning of Life. Place of publication not identified: Andrews Mcmeel, 2011. Print.
Hicks, Joshua A, & Clay Routledge. The Experience of Meaning in Life: Classical Perspectives, Emerging Themes, and Controversies. Dordrecht: Springer, 2013
Morris, Thomas V. Making Sense of It All: Pascal and the Meaning of Life. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1997. Print.