“What is the Meaning of Life?” Understanding the Question

While the question, “what is the meaning of life?” is vague, philosophers generally think that it can be separated into cosmic or global questions like “What’s it all about?” or “Why does the universe exist?” and individualistic or local questions like “How should I live?” or “What makes a life worthwhile?”

Clearly though when we ask the question we aren’t asking for the linguistic meaning of the word life. Instead, we are asking for the meaning of a fact, event, or phenomena. We are looking for the larger narrative or wider worldview into which life might fit. We want to know why anything exists, whether life has a purpose, why there is pain and suffering, whether it will all turn out well in the end, etc.

Most philosophers think the meaning of life question is about of all these questions or can be thought of as an amalgam of requests (as opposed to a singular one) about life, death, purpose, worth, value, significance, futility, etc. So the amalgam thesis says the question “what is the meaning of life?” is really a marker for a number of these questions.

3 thoughts on ““What is the Meaning of Life?” Understanding the Question

  1. John, this is my take on this question:

    ONLY U 13.04.2018 Andris Heks

    Is it really you? No, it has never been you, really.

    It has always been only U.

    And all this time I have been longing for you, hence missing out on U!

    My brainwashing started earnest in 1958.

    As a twelve year old, I passionately sang along with Paul Anka:

    ‘I am just a lonely boy..’

    So, what was the remedy?

    ‘Someone to love, someone to kiss, someone to hold at a moment like this.’

    And whom should I love?

    ‘Only you!’

    ‘Only you can make all this world seem right, only you can make the darkness bright..
    You’re my dream come true, my one and only you’

    Really?
    It took Paul Anka himself, three tries at ‘only you’ before he settled on his third wife.

    But as far as I was concerned, I was convinced that:

    ‘You are my destiny…that’s what you are..’

    The trouble was that I have never found a ‘you’ who was ‘my dream come true, my one and only you’.
    This has tested my hope, but I still refused to give up trying to find ‘my destiny’, ‘my one and only you’.

    Surely, ‘you’ must be out there; Paul Anka promised.
    And when we find each other, all our dreams will come true.

    Oh yes and pigs will fly!

    Show me a single ‘you’ who could free me from my loneliness, who could ‘make all this world seem right’, who is ‘my destiny’, who is ‘more than life to me’.

    Are these not the very expectations which, in reality make every aspirant for being such a ‘you’, doomed to fall short?

    Yet my yearning for ‘only you’, for ‘my destiny’, who is ’more than life to me’ is strong and may even be valid.

    It is a yearning for mutual love with such a soul mate who makes my life truly worth living.

    One with whom I can merge and feel one with.
    One who has always been there for me for 24/7 and will always be there, who understands me fully, who will always love me no matter what.
    With whom I have fallen in love and with whom I shall always stay entirely in love.

    Is this an infantile or a realisable and legitimate dream for which I and others yearn, as the pinnacle of life?

    To me it is realisable, except that till recently I have been barking up the wrong tree.
    I have sought this in ‘you’, but you, whoever you may be my fellow human being, are not superhuman to ever be able to fit such a bill.

    Where are two human beings, two love birds, two soul-mates, who can be there for each other 24 hours a day throughout life?
    Nowhere!

    Yet my heart yearns for such soul mateship.

    An impossible dream?

    Not quite.

    Even if I cannot fit the bill, at least my soul mate U can.
    Perfectly!

    With U, not ‘you’, with whom I have now been falling in love.

    Increasingly, I can sing without disappointment:

    ‘Only U can make all this world seem right, only U can make the darkness bright,
    Only U and U alone can thrill me like U do
    And fill my heart with love for only U.’

    So, ‘U are my destiny’, U are ‘more than life to me; that’s what U are’.

    Well, who are U actually, who has been my one and only true lover but to whom I have not given myself, because I confused U with ‘you’, with every real and imagined you whom I have ever idolised?

    U are the eternal U nited, U nlimited, U nconditional Lover, U nique and
    U niversal One Personally Intimate yet Cosmic Being in whom I have always been but rarely experienced, because I have been looking for U in you and you and you, not knowing that all this time I have been searching for U and ‘only U’.

    And as I gradually realise U, I am increasingly compelled to see, feel, touch and love U in every you!

  2. Andris, this reminds me of Martin Buber’s “I and Thou”, which I’m reading now (not literally now, but you get what I mean). I think this answer to the amalgam question “meaning of Life or a life” is an amalgam answer: human consciousness, transcending the subject/object divide, ego obliteration, the organic principle, selfless relating. The way our minds work goes against this: we divide me from you, perceiver from perceived. To break beyond this division of the world requires an enormous amount of mind training. But the fruits of living without self and in immediate relation with one’s fellow being(s) must be worth it, no?

    As a dabbler in event semantics, I have a hunch that this is also related to our conception of events as either telic (goal-related) or atelic/static. Aristotle’s conception of perfect contemplation (thought thinking thought) or at-work-ness (entelecheia or energeia) strikes me as simultaneously telic (goal-driven) and atelic (a steady state or process). This is intriguing, since the modern categorization of events as telic or atelic is based on Aristotle (I think Vendler 1947 is the one everyone cites). But human perfection (transhumanism?) might requires us to think and act and be in a different way, beyond this dichotomy.

  3. I looked you up and noticed you recently received your PhD. Congratulations! Also thanks for commenting on my website. I’m familiar with Buber and of course Aristotle. I never really thought about Aristotle’s unmoved mover as transcending the subject object distinction although he does say that the UM is the only “form without matter.” But perhaps I’m not understanding exactly what you’re saying.

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