Category Archives: Meaning of Life – Subjective

Is the Meaning of Life Subjective?

(This post summarizes and comments on posts of the previous few weeks. For more about the specific philosophers mentioned here see those posts.)

Baier’s arguments against the religious conception of objective meaning are convincing, as is his claim that life can have subjective meaning nonetheless. Edwards expands on this theme, arguing that life can have terrestrial meaning even if we cannot show that existence itself is ultimately worthwhile. Edwards also claims that subjective meaning is enough for most people, but this argument is problematic. I do not think that ordinary people are content with subjective meaning. To the contrary nearly the entire edifice of human culture—art, science, religion, philosophy—emanates from the desire to have our lives mean something in the cosmic sense. Those content with meaning in the terrestrial sense are the exception; those searching for the meaning of their lives in the cosmic context don’t have special standards as Edwards claims.

Flew makes the same basic claim, meaning is found in life even if there is no meaning of life, but he asks us to forego our dreams of immortality and make a better world. Barnes asks us to grow up and create meaning in a world without gods, comforted by the fact that there is some small immortality in the repercussions that emanate from our lives. For Barnes we create the rules of the game. In the end neither Flew nor Barnes satisfies our desire for meaning anymore than Baier or Edwards. They all counsel us to accept that meaning in life is all we can get. But we want more than subjective meaning even if that’s all we can have.

In Martin’s analysis we find despair—a fast car and a good woman cannot satisfy for long. The only comfort in his analysis is that death is a welcome relief from our insatiable appetites. Kekes moves the argument further along, detaching meaning from anything objective, including morality. He thus brings us back to active engagement in our lives without moral limitations as the source of meaning. For Schmidt finding meaning in whatever we are engage—such as coaching little league football—is about the best we can do, while Solomon suggests we choose a vision of life without telling us how to do this or whether some vision is better than others. Lund recommends that we give our lives meaning by searching for what we will probably never find, but that the searching is as close to meaning as we will probably ever come. These are all brave words from brave men, and their poignancy is felt deeply. Baggini’s account is the most uplifting, we can give our lives meaning by loving, but even love has its limits, is fragile, and exists without transcendental support.

Russell argued that persons free of metaphysical narratives can find some meaning in the beauty they create and the truth they find; Taylor argued that our labors are precisely what give our lives meaning, since they are motivated by our inner nature; Hare claimed that we bestow mattering on the world; Singer that we create meaning by creating and loving; and Klemke claimed that we can live without appeal by finding subjective meaning in art, work and love. All these thinkers maintain that creating meaning is all we have left once objective meaning is lost. Still, something important is missing from all of these accounts. Something we deeply long for—that our labors matter not just to us but to the cosmos, and that we are part of something bigger than the attachment to our will. What such lives lack is objective meaning. Is loving computers, golf, sunsets, or children really enough?

Consider for example Hare’s response to his young guest. The reason that Meursault was relevant for the boy was because he identified with Meursault. True, the boy was not facing execution, but he recognized that we all die. The young boy was moved because he saw his own life revealed in a new way by the novel. Yes, the young man later admitted that things did matter to him, but suppose when asked if anything mattered to him the boy had said no? How then would Hare reply? Would he have screamed: “No, some things do matter to you!” If the boy demurred, then they would have been at an impasse, and that is why Hare counsels that some things are objectively valuable. But what if the young man denied this?

In the same way the beauty, perfection, work, art, and love that Russell and Taylor and Klemke appeal to seems tainted, not because they are not worthwhile and not because we might not care about them, but because they are not worthwhile enough to satisfy us. The foregoing discussion reveals the basic problem with creating your own meaning—such a requirement asks too much. How is a lone individual to make their lives meaningful by themselves against the backdrop of the infinity of space and time? Is it really something we can create, all by ourselves? Yes, we can collect baseball cards and find that meaningful, but surely that is not enough and we are right to be dissatisfied if there is nothing more to life than that. And even if we can shake our fist at the world, create some momentary perfection, have relationships or coach little league, how can we resist asking: is that all there is?

If transcendental support for meaning is absent, and subjective meaning is not enough, then we must turn to objective meanings and values inherent in human experience, ones that exist in the natural world. It is to such considerations that we now turn. (I will resume this discussion of the meaning of life the day after tomorrow.)

Summary of E. D. Klemke’s, “Living without Appeal”

E.D. Klemke (1926-2000) taught for more than twenty years at Iowa State University. He was a prolific editor and one of his best known collections is The Meaning of Life: A Reader, first published in 1981.  The following summary is of his 1981 essay: “Living Without Appeal: An Affirmative Philosophy of Life.” I find it one of the most profound pieces in the literature.

Klemke begins by stating that the topics of interest to professional philosophers are abstruse and esoteric. This is in large part justified as we need to be careful and precise in our thinking if we are to make progress in solving problems; but there are times when a philosopher ought to “speak as a man among other men.”[i] In short a philosopher must bring his analytical tools to a problem such as the meaning of life. Klemke argues that the essence of the problem for him was captured by Camus in the phrase: “Knowing whether or not one can live without appeal is all that interests me.”[ii]

Many writers in the late 20th century had a negative view of civilization characterized by the notion that society was in decay. While the problem has been expressed variously, the basic theme was that some ultimate, transcendent principle or reality was lacking. This transcendent ultimate (TU), whatever it may be, is what gives meaning to life. Those who reject this TU are left to accept meaninglessness or exalt natural reality; but either way this hope is futile because without this TU there is no meaning.

Klemke calls this view transcendentalism, and it is composed of three theses: 1) a TU exists and one can have a relationship with it; 2) without a TU (or faith in one) there is no meaning to life; and 3) without meaning human life is worthless. Klemke comments upon each in turn.

1. Regarding the first thesis, Klemke assumes that believers are making a cognitive claim when they say that a TU exists, that it exists in reality. But neither religious texts, unusual persons in history or the fact that large numbers of persons believe this provide evidence for a TU—and the traditional arguments are not thought convincing by most experts. Moreover, religious experience is not convincing since the source of the experience is always in doubt. In fact there is no evidence for the existence of a TU and those who think it a matter of faith agree; there is thus no reason to accept the claim that a TU exists. The believer could counter that one should employ faith to which Klemke responds: a) we normally think of faith as implying reasons and evidence; and b) even if faith is something different in this context Klemke claims he does not need it. To this the transcendentalist responds that such faith is needed for there to be a meaning of life which leads to the second thesis:

2. The transcendentalist claims that without faith in a TU there is no meaning, purpose, or integration.

a. Klemke firsts considers whether meaning may only exist if a TU exists. Here one might mean subjective or objective meaning. If we are referring to objective meaning Klemke replies that: i) there is nothing inconsistent about holding that objective meaning exists without a TU; and ii) there is no evidence that objective meaning exists. We find many things when we look at the universe, stars in motion for example, but meaning is not one of them. We do not discover values we create, invent, or impose them on the world. Thus there is no more reason to believe in the existence of objective meaning than there is to believe in the reality of a TU.

i. The transcendentalist might reply by agreeing that there is no objective meaning in the universe but argue that subjective meaning is not possible without a TU. Klemke replies: 1) this is false, there is subjective meaning; and 2) what the transcendentalists are talking about is not subjective meaning but rather objective meaning since it relies on a TU.

ii. The transcendentalist might reply instead that one cannot find meaning unless one has faith in a TU. Klemke replies: 1) this is false; and 2) even if it were true he would reject such faith because: “If I am to find any meaning in life, I must attempt to find it without the aid of crutches, illusory hopes, and incredulous beliefs and aspirations.” [iii] Klemke admits he may not find meaning, but he must try to find it on his own in something comprehensible to humans, not in some incomprehensible mystery. He simply cannot rationally accept meaning connected with things for which there is no evidence and, if this makes him less happy, then so be it. In this context he quotes George Bernard Shaw: “The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality.” [iv] 

b. Klemke next considers the claim that without the TU life is purposeless. He replies that objective purpose is not found in the universe anymore than objective meaning is and hence all of his previous criticisms regarding objective meaning apply to the notion of objective purpose.

c. Klemke now turns to the idea that there is no integration with a TU. He replies:

i. This is false; many persons are psychologically integrated or healthy without supernaturalism.

ii. Perhaps the believer means metaphysical rather than psychological integration—the idea is that humans are at home in the universe. He answers that he does not understand what this is or if anyone has achieved it, assuming it is real. Some may have claimed to be one with the universe, or something like that, but that is a subjective experience only and not evidence for any objective claim about reality. But even if there are such experiences only a few seem to have had them, hence the need for faith; so faith does not imply integration and integration does not need faith. Finally, even if faith does achieve integration for some, it does not work for Klemke since the TU is incomprehensible. So how then does Klemke live without appeal?

3. He now turns to the third thesis that without meaning (which one cannot have without the existence of or belief in a TU) life is worthless. It is true that life has no objective meaning—which can only be derived from the nature of the universe or some external agency—but that does not mean life is subjectively worthless. Klemke argues that even if there were an objective meaning “It would not be mine.” [v]  In fact he is glad there is not such a meaning since this allows him the freedom to create his own meaning. Some may find life worthless if they must create their own meaning, especially if they lack a rich interior life in which to find the meaning absent in the world. Klemke says that: “I have found subjective meaning through such things as knowledge, art, love, and work.” [vi] There is no objective meaning but this opens us the possibility of endowing meaning onto things through my consciousness of them—rocks become mountains to climb, strings make music, symbols make logic, wood makes treasures. “Thus there is a sense in which it is true … that everything begins with my consciousness, and nothing has any worth except through my consciousness.”[vii]    

Klemke concludes by revisiting the story told by Tolstoy of the man hanging on to a plant in a pit, with dragon below and mice eating the roots of the plant, yet unable to enjoy the beauty and fragrance of a rose. Yes, we all hang by a thread over the abyss of death, but still we possess the ability to give meaning to our lives. Klemke says that if he cannot do this—find subjective meaning against the backdrop of objective meaninglessness—then he ought to curse life. But if he can give life subjective meaning to life despite the inevitability of death, if he can respond to roses, philosophical arguments, music, and human touch, “if I can so respond and can thereby transform an external and fatal event into a moment of conscious insight and significance, then I shall go down without hope or appeal yet passionately triumphant and with joy.”   [viii]

Summary – The meaning of life is found in the unique way consciousness projects meaning onto an otherwise tragic reality.

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 [i] E. D. Klemke, “Living Without Appeal: An Affirmative Philosophy of Life,” in The Meaning of Life, ed. E.D Klemke and Steven Cahn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 184-195.
[ii] Klemke, “Living Without Appeal: An Affirmative Philosophy of Life,” 185.
[iii] Klemke, “Living Without Appeal: An Affirmative Philosophy of Life,” 185.
[iv] Klemke, “Living Without Appeal: An Affirmative Philosophy of Life,” 192.
[v] Klemke, “Living Without Appeal: An Affirmative Philosophy of Life,” 193.
[vi] Klemke, “Living Without Appeal: An Affirmative Philosophy of Life,” 193-4.
[vii] Klemke, “Living Without Appeal: An Affirmative Philosophy of Life,” 194.
[viii] Klemke, “Living Without Appeal: An Affirmative Philosophy of Life,” 194.

Irving Singer: The Meaning of Life

Irving Singer (1925 – 2015) was Professor of Philosophy at MIT where he began teaching in 1958. He was a voluminous writer, and the author of Meaning in Life in three volumes, as well as the three volume trilogy, The Nature of Love.

Singer says there are basically three positions regarding the meaning of life: a) traditional religious answers; b) nihilistic answers; and c) create our own meaning answers. Singer grants that religious answers provide many persons with meaning but he rejects them: “this pattern of belief is based on non-verifiable assumptions that exceed the limits of natural events and ordinary experience. Take away the transcendental props, which nowadays have become wobbly after centuries of criticism, and the grand edifice cannot stand. The challenge in our age is to understand how meaning can be acquired without dubious fantasying beyond the limits of our knowledge.”[i]

Singer also rejects nihilism, especially the idea that the universe is indifferent to whatever we value. Singer counters that what we want is valuable to us whether or not the universe cares. Our values originate in our human condition; they spring from, but do not contradict, a world that we should not expect to care about us anymore than we expect this of other inanimate things. One can consistently hold that they both act with purpose and that the universe is purposeless. Our values do not exist from the eternal perspective, but they are not arbitrary, irrational, or absurd; our values emanate from our evolved nature.

While Singer’s thoughts on the topic are vast and complex, the secret to understanding it is found in the title of his first major book on the subject, Meaning in Life: The Creation of Value (Volume 1)Meaning is something we create. Yet he is sensitive to the rejoinder that regardless of what matters to us subjectively, nothing matters objectively. Here he notes two responses: 1) if something matters to an individual then it matters, period; and 2) if nothing matters then it doesn’t matter that nothing matters. However, neither response reassures. That things matter only to us is not enough, and that things do not matter at all provides no comfort.

In response to this conundrum we might welcome the notion that nothing matters. If we embrace this thought we may no longer be tormented by a social faux pas or even by the fact that all our efforts will finally come to nothing. We may no longer need to contrast the meager with the important; we could leave self-righteousness behind, accepting ourselves and others. But what then should we do, what then should we value? The idea that nothing matters is ultimately unhelpful.

Instead Singer argues that accepting that nothing matters is to lose touch with one’s instincts, as we naturally find things matter to us. By simply being alive we reveal that things do matter to us; in large part being alive is about choosing what does and does not matter to us. That something matters is a prerequisite for life, and specifically what matters is what brings happiness and meaning to individuals.

Yet none of this means there is a reality behind the appearances that gives meaning to life as the optimists claim. “Our mere existence in time, as creatures whose immersion in past and future prevents us from adequately realizing the present, convinces me that the optimists are deluding themselves.”[ii] Like Emily Gibbs in Wilder’s Our Town, we seem incapable of realizing life while we life it. And while some like Plato and Whitehead have posited eternal objects as a solution to the passage of time, Singer rejects these as mere abstractions and static—unlike life.

All of this leads Singer back to the question: Is life worth living? He answers that we must participate in significant creative acts to make our lives meaningful. To clarify what he means Singer quotes George Bernard Shaw:

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. And also the only real tragedy in life is the being used by personally minded men for purposes which you recognize to be base. All the rest is at worst mere misfortune or mortality: this alone is misery, slavery, hell on earth; and the revolt against it is the only force that offers a man’s work to the poor artist, whom our personally minded rich people would so willingly employ as pander, buffoon, beauty monger, sentimentalizer and the like.[iii]

Singer grants that Shaw does not tell us how to be forces of nature or what it means to be true to our nature. But for Singer this includes at a minimum an acceptance of our nature and self-love. Self-love is not the same as vanity; rather it enhances our ability to love others. And although we may not be able to love all of life, or love others as much as we love ourselves, we can see others as possible objects of our love. As everything loves itself, inasmuch as they do what they can to preserve themselves, there is love in everything. We can try to love the love that is in everything. As Singer puts it:

Those who love the love in everything, who care about this bestowal and devote themselves to it, experience an authentic love of life. It is a love that yields its own kind of happiness and affords many opportunities for joyfulness. Can anything in nature or reality be better than that?[iv] 

Summary – We give meaning to life by loving the good in everything.

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[i] Irving Singer, Meaning in Life: The Creation of Value (New York: Free Press, 1992), 73.
[ii] Singer, Meaning in Life: The Creation of Value, 133.
[iii] George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, 1903.
[iv] Singer, Meaning in Life: The Creation of Value, 148.

Summary of R. M. Hare’s: “Nothing Matters?”

R.M. Hare (1919 – 2002) was an English moral philosopher who held the post of White’s Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Oxford from 1966 until 1983, after which he taught for a number of years at the University of Florida. He was one of the most important ethicists of the second half of the twentieth century.

Hare begins his essay, “Nothing Matters,” by telling the story of a happy 18 year old Swiss boy who stayed with Hare in his house at Oxford.  After reading Albert Camus’ The Stranger, the boy’s personality changed, becoming withdrawn, sullen, and depressed. (The Stranger explores existential themes like death and meaning; its title character Meursault is emotionally alienated, detached, and innately passive.) The boy told Hare that after reading Camus he had become convinced that nothing matters. Hare found it extraordinary that the boy was so affected.

As a philosopher concerned with the meaning of terms, Hare asked the young boy what “matters” means, what does it mean to matter or be important? The boy said that to say something matters “is to express concern about that something.”[i] But Hare wondered whose concern is important here? When we say the something matters, the question arises, “matters to whom?” Usually it’s the speaker’s concern that is expressed, but it could be someone else’s concern. We often say things like “it matters to you,” or “it doesn’t matter to him.” In these cases we refer not to our own concern, but to someone else’s.

In Camus’ novel the phrase “nothing matters” could express the view of the author, the main character, or the reader (the young boy.) Now it’s not Camus’ unconcern that is being expressed, since he was concerned enough to write the novel—writing the novel obviously mattered to Camus. It is clear in the novel that the main character does think that nothing matters—he doesn’t care about hardly anything. Still, Hare thinks that even Meursault is concerned about some things.

Hare doesn’t think it possible to be concerned about nothing at all, since we always choose to do one thing rather than another thereby revealing, however slightly, what matters to us. At the end of Camus’ novel Meursault is so upset by the priest’s offer of religion that he attacks him in a rage. This display of passion shows that something did matter to Meursault, otherwise he would have done nothing. Yet even supposing that nothing does matter to a fictional character: why should that matter to the Swiss boy?  In fact the boy admitted that he cares about many things, which is to say that things do matter to him. Hare thinks the boy’s problem was not to find things that matter, but to prioritize them. He needed to find out what he valued.

Hare claims that our values come from our own wants and the imitation of others. Maturing in large part is bringing these two desires together—the desire to have our own values and to be like others with the former taking priority. “In the end…to say that something matters for us, we must ourselves be concerned about it; other people’s concern is not enough, however much in general we may want to be like them.”[ii] Nonetheless we often develop our own values by imitating others. For instance we may pretend to like philosophy because we think our philosophy professor is cool, and then gradually we develop a taste for it. This process often works in the reverse; my parents want me to do x, so I do y. Eventually, through this process of conforming and non-conforming, we slowly develop our own values.

Hare concludes that things did matter to the young boy and he was just imitating Meursault by saying that nothing matters, just as he was imitating him by smoking. What the boy did not understand was that matter is a word that expresses concern; it is not an activity. Mattering is not something things do, like chattering. So the phrase “my wife chatters,” is not like the phrase “my wife matters.” The former refers to an activity; the latter expresses my concern for her. The problem comes when we confuse our concern with an activity. Then we start to look in the world for mattering and when we do not find things actively doing this mattering, we get depressed. We do not observe things mattering, things matter to us if we care about them. Mattering doesn’t describe something things do, but something that happens to us when we care about things. To say nothing mattes is hypocritical; we all care about something. (Even if what we care about is that nothings seems to matter.)

As for his Swiss friend, Hare says he was no hypocrite; he was just confused about what the word matter meant. Hare also suggests that we are the kinds of beings who generally care about things, and those who sincerely care about almost nothing are just unusual. In the end we cannot get rid of values—we are creatures that value things. Of course when confronted with various values, so many different things about which to be concerned, it is easy to through up our hands and say that nothing matters. When confronted with this perplexity about what to be concerned about, about what to value, Hare says we might react in one of two ways. First, we might reevaluate our values and concerns to see if they are really ours; or second, we might stop thinking about what is truly of concern altogether. Hare counsels that we follow the former course, as the latter alternative leads to stagnation: “We content ourselves with the appreciation of those things, like eating, which most people can appreciate without effort, and never learn to prize those things whose true value is apparent only to those who have fought hard to achieve it…”[iii]

Summary – We all generally care about some things, some things do matter to us. We don’t find this mattering in the world; it is something we bestow upon things and persons. Hare suggests we find value (or meaning) in things which are really worthwhile.

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[i] R. M. Hare, “Nothing Matters,” in The Meaning of Life, ed. E.D Klemke (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 43.
[ii] Hare, “Nothing Matters,” 45.
[iii] Hare, “Nothing Matters,” 47.

Richard Taylor on the Meaning of Life

Richard Taylor (1919 – 2003) was an American philosopher renowned for his controversial positions and contributions to metaphysics. He advocated views as various as free love and fatalism, and was also an internationally-known beekeeper. He taught at Brown, Columbia and the University of Rochester, and had visiting appointments at about a dozen other institutions. His best known book is Metaphysics.

In the concluding chapter of his 1967 book, Good and Evil (Great Minds Series), Taylor suggests that we examine the notion of a meaningless existence so that we can contrast it with a meaningful one. He takes Camus’ image of Sisyphus’ eternal, pointless toil as archetypical of meaninglessness. Taylor notes that it is not the weight of the rock or the repetitiveness of the work that makes Sisyphus’ task unbearable, it is rather its pointlessness. The same pointlessness may be captured by other stories—say by digging ditches and then filling them in forever. Crucial to all these stories is that nothing ever comes of such labor.

But now suppose that Sisyphus’ work slowly built a great temple on his mountaintop: “then the aspect of meaninglessness would disappear.”[i] In this case his labors have a point, they have meaning. Taylor further argues that the subjective meaninglessness of Sisyphus’ activity would be eliminated were the Gods to have placed within him “a compulsive impulse to roll stones.”[ii] Implanted with such desires, the gods provide him the arena in which to fulfill them. While we may still view Sisyphus’ toil meaningless from the outside, for externally the situation has not changed, we can now see that fulfilling this impulse would be satisfying to Sisyphus from the inside. For now he is doing exactly what he wants to do—forever.

Taylor now asks: is life endlessly pointless or not? To answer this question he considers the existence of non-human animals—endless cycles of eating and being eaten, fish swimming upstream only to die and have offspring repeat the process, birds flying halfway around the globe only to return and have others do likewise. He concludes that these lives are paradigms of meaninglessness. That humans are part of this vast machine is equally obvious. As opposed to non-human animals we may choose our goals, achieve them, and take pride in that achievement. But even if we achieve our goals, they are transitory and soon replaced by others. If we disengage ourselves from the prejudice we have toward our individuals concerns, we will see our lives to be like Sisyphus’. If we consider the toil of our lives we will find that we work to survive, and in turn pass this burden on to our children. The only difference between us and Sisyphus is that we leave it to our children to push the stone back up the hill.

And even were we to erect monuments to our activities, they too would turn slowly turn to dust. That is why, coming upon a decaying home, we are filled with melancholy:

There was the hearth, where a family once talked, sang, and made plans; there were the rooms, here people loved, and babes were born to a rejoicing mother; there are the musty remains of a sofa, infested with bugs, once bought at a dear price to enhance an ever-growing comfort, beauty, and warmth. Every small piece of junk fills the mind with what once, not long ago, was utterly real, with children’s voices, plans made, and enterprises embarked upon.[iii]

When we ask what it all was for, the only answer is that others will share the same fate, it will all be endlessly repeated. The myth of Sisyphus’ then exemplifies our fate, and this recognition inclines humans to deny their fate—to invent religions and philosophies designed to provide comfort in the face of this onslaught.

But might human life still have meaning despite its apparent pointlessness? Consider again how Sisyphus’ life might have meaning; again if he were to erect a temple through his labors. Notice not only that the temple would eventually turn to dust, but that upon completion of his project he would be faced with boredom. Whereas before his toil had been his curse, now its absence would be just as hellish. Sisyphus would now be “contemplating what he has already wrought and can no longer add anything to, and contemplating it for an eternity!”[iv] Given this conclusion, that even erecting a temple would not give Sisyphus meaning, Taylor returns to his previous thought—suppose that Sisyphus was imbued with a desire to labor in precisely this way? In that case his life would have meaning because of his deep and abiding interest in what he was doing. Similarly, since we have such desires within us, we should not be bored with our lives if we are doing precisely what we have an inner compulsion to do: “This is the nearest we may hope to get to heaven…”[v]

To support the idea that meaning is found in this engagement of our will in what we are doing, Taylor claims that if those from past civilizations or the past inhabitants of the home he previously described were to come back and see that what was once so important to them had turned to ruin, they would not be dismayed. Instead they would remember that their hearts were involved in those labors when they were engaged in them. “There is no more need of them [questions about life’s meaning] now—the day was sufficient to itself, and so was the life.”[vi] We must look at all life like this, its justification and meaning come from persons doing what “it is their will to pursue.”[vii] This can be seen in a human from the moment of birth, in its will to live. For humans “the point of [their] living, is simply to be living…”[viii] Surely the castles that humans build will decay, but it would not be heavenly to escape from all this, that would be boredom: “What counts is that one should be able to begin a new task, a new castle, a new bubble. It counts only because it is there to be done and [one] has the will to do it.”[ix]

Philosophers who look at the repetitiveness of our lives and fall into despair fail to realize that we may be endowed, from the inside, with the desire to do our work. Thus: “The meaning of life is from within us, it is not bestowed from without, and it far exceeds in both beauty and permanence any heaven of which men have ever dreamed or yearned for.”[x] 

Summary – We give meaning to our lives by the active engagement our wills have in our projects.

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[i] Richard Taylor, “The Meaning of Life,” in The Meaning of Life, ed. E.D Klemke and Steven Cahn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 136.
[ii] Taylor, “The Meaning of Life,” 136.
[iii] Taylor, “The Meaning of Life,” 139.
[iv] Taylor, “The Meaning of Life,” 140.
[v] Taylor, “The Meaning of Life,” 141.
[vi] Taylor, “The Meaning of Life,” 141.
[vii] Taylor, “The Meaning of Life,” 141.
[viii] Taylor, “The Meaning of Life,” 141.
[ix] Taylor, “The Meaning of Life,” 142.
[x] Taylor, “The Meaning of Life,” 142.