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MeaningS of L
ife
 

Using Philosophy in
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THE  MEANING OF LIFE

IS LIFE MEANINGFUL?
The meaning of life



HAPPINESS

The meaning of life resides in joy and the feelings of harmony connected to happiness; without happiness, life loses meaning. Happiness is at the heart of our lives and our demand for a meaning.


One great question underlies our experience, whether we think about it consciously or not: What is the purpose of life? I believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. From the moment of birth, every human being wants happiness and does not want to suffer. From the very core of our being we simply desire contentment.

Dalai Lama, Tibetan spiritual and political leader, Voices from the Heart


Happiness is the only sanction of life; where happiness fails, existence becomes a mad lamentable experiment
George Santayana, 1863-1952, American philosopher, The Life of Reason


I don't know whether the universe, with its countless galaxies, stars, and planets, has a deeper meaning, but at the very least it is clear that we humans who live on this Earth face the task of making a happy life for ourselves.
Dalai Lama, Tibetan spiritual and political leader, Voices from the Heart


Isn’t precisely happiness what we all want, without exception?
Saint Augustine, 354-430, theologian and philosopher, Confessions


See also:
Happiness
Philosophies of Life
Love and Life
Friendship and Life
Comments



LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP

A life without love and friendship is a meaningless life. The meaning of life is, largely, given by love and friendship.


Life is sown with those miracles that only people who love can expect.
Marcel Proust, 1871-1922, French writer, In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower


There is only one way of happiness, in life: to love and be loved.
George Sand, 1804-1876, French writer, Lettre to Lina Calamatta


Only the soul that loves is happy.
J. W. Goethe, 1749-1831, German writer, Egmont


Friendship dances around the world inviting us all to awaken to the recognition of happiness.
Epicurus, 341-270 a. C., Greek philosopher, Vatican Sayings


Of all the means which wisdom turns to in order to ensure happiness during all our life, by far the most important is friendship.
Epicurus, 341-270 a. C., Greek Philosopher, Principal Doctrines


Comments
Is life meaningful?

See also:
Happiness
Philosophies of Life
Love and Life
Friendship and Life




HOLINESS, MAGIC AND DREAMS

Holiness and magic give to man a superior and fantastic world, which can be a source of happiness and meaning; similarly, dreams and even myth and illusion are a source of consolation, of oblivion, of surpassing grief and so, to some degree, a way of giving meaning to our lives.


To the primitive man, the physical universe of rocks, trees, rivers and mountains glittered with meaning. The material world was considered alive and charming, and afforded a sacred stage to human beings and their activity.
Anne Bancroft, English author, Origens do sagrado


The primitive man’s life (…) was rich and full of meanings. At many levels it allowed the chance of a direct experience with the divine, sparkling with meaningful impressions that today are meaningless and trivial.
Anne Bancroft, English author, Origens do sagrado


Religion, mythology and magic bring great Guarantees and great Consolations, which minimize the very strong existential anguish of human beings, and temper their tragedies.
E. Morin, French philosopher and sociologist, Method V


Myth fortifies man, concealing the incomprehensibility of his destiny and filling up the nothingness of death.
E. Morin, French philosopher and sociologist, Method V


The human being is given over to the cruelty of the world. Hence the necessity of a compromise, which is obtained by mobilizing the myth to find supernatural comforts, by mobilizing the imaginary to shelter the soul in, and by mobilizing aesthetics and poetry to fully live reality.
E. Morin, French philosopher and sociologist, Method V


Comments
Is life meaningful?

See also:
Happiness
Life is dream



GOD

To religious thought the meaning of life is deeply associated with God, with magic and with holiness.


When I seek you, my God, I am seeking happiness. I will seek you in order for my soul to live, because my body lives from my soul, and my soul lives from You.
Saint Augustine, 354-430, theologian and philosopher, Confessions


Ecclesiastes shows that man without God is a total ignorant and in inevitable misery. For it is miserable to have the wish, but not the power. Sometimes he would be happy and assured of some truth, and yet he can neither know, nor even desire not to know.
B. Pascal, 1623-1662, French philosopher, physic and mathematician, Thoughts


No man is good without God: is anyone capable of rising above chance unless with God’s help? It’s him that prompts us to noble and exalted endeavours. In each and every good man, as Virgil says, a god (what god we are uncertain) dwells.
Seneca, Roman philosopher and politician, Letters to Lucilius


You are the Truth, oh my God, my light, health of my face. All people want this path, the only happy path, the joy that lives in truth.
Saint Augustine, 354-430, theologian and philosopher, Confessions


There is no salvation outside the Church.
Saint Augustine, 354-430, theologian and philosopher, De Baptismo contra Donatistas

Comments
Is life meaningful?


See also:
Happiness
Life after death
Death




MEANING AS A HUMAN MIND CREATION

To the laity, man makes the meaning of life through his options and values. Life’s meaning (or lack of meaning) is purely a human creation.


Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count just with himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth, in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aims than those he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.
Jean Paul Sartre, 1905-1980, French writer and philosopher, Being and Nothingness


Life is nothing until it is lived, but it is yours to make sense of; the value of life is nothing other than the sense you choose.
Jean Paul Sartre, 1905-1980, French writer and philosopher, Existentialism is a Humanism


Man is the artificer of his own happiness.
Henry D. Thoreau, 1817-1862, American essayist, Journal


Life has the meaning we give it. It has our richness, our enthusiasm, our pride. Or our cowardice.
Miguel Torga, 1907-1995, Portuguese writer, Diário


These then are my last words to you: Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact.
William James, 1842-1910, American philosopher, The Will to Believe


Man is the only animal for whom his own existence is a problem which he has to solve and from which he cannot escape.
Erich Fromm, 1900-1980, American philosopher and psychologist, Man for Himself


Ignorant men do not know the excellence of what’s in their hands, until they've flung it away.
Sophocles, 496-406 b. C, Greek Poet, Ajax


See also:
Existential thought
Life is dream
Humour about life
Comments



THE INSTINCTIVE ELEMENT OF MEANING

Some authors underline the instinctive element of the meaning we attribute to life. This meaning is in our core: is instinctive and rooted in the chemistry of our minds, overcoming social and cultural elements.


Without affections and subjectivity, the meaning of life would be lost, and it will only remain laws, equations, models and forms.
E. Morin, French philosopher and sociologist, Method V


The desire to live exists entire and undivided in each being, even in the most insignificant. Arthur
Schopenhauer, 1788-1860, German philosopher, Parerga e Paralipomena


To live is like to love – all reason is against it, and all healthy instinct for it.
Samuel Butler, 1835-1902, English writer, Notebooks


Happiness is not an ideal of reason, but of imagination. I.
Kant, 1724-1804, German philosopher, Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Ethics


If we weren’t interested in ourselves, life would be so uninteresting that we would not bare it.
Arthur Schopenhauer, 1788-1860, German philosopher, O mundo como vontade e como representação


Comments
Is life meaningful?


See also:
Existential thought
Life is a dream
 

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THE PURPOSE OF LIFE


 

Above:
Dalai Lama. The Tibetan leader points out the importance of happiness for a meaningful life.



Commentary
Is life meaningful?


In his Essays, Montaigne tells us a curious story. Pyrrhus, an ancient philosopher of the sceptic school, and several men and a pig were in a boat facing a storm at sea. Because of the storm the men felt anguish and fear and lost their manners, whilst the pig showed superior indifference and serenity.

The moral of Montaigne’s story: our conscience and intelligence are often a malediction. To meditate and be conscious of our weakness and misfortunes is often a cause of fear, grief and unhappiness. Our conscience destroys or diminishes life’s meaning – expressed in harmonious feelings, well-being, satisfaction, happiness...

In the Bible, there are verses pointing to an analogous conclusion: «In much wisdom is much grief; and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow». «Do not want to be too just or too sage: what for ruin yourself?» (Ecclesiastes)

These are verses we may refuse, finding them too excessive or unlucky. And yet they point out the damned side of our memory and intelligence. The conscience of the brevity of life and death - largely ignored by other species -, may indeed create negative thoughts and reflexions, and, consequently, unhappiness.

But… we can’t deny our thought, or our memories. To deny our thought is to deny our dignity. Our dignity follows the direction of our thought, says Pascal. To take too close heed of Ecclesiastes words, or the moralist conclusion of Montaigne’s story about the pig, is to fall down to an inferior threshold of life.

John Stuart Mill responds directly to Montaigne’s pig story, with a famous statement: «It is better to be an unsatisfied human being than a satisfied pig; better to be Socrates unsatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool or the pig is of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question. The other, to make the comparison, understands both sides».

Dropping our intelligence and moral senses lowers us to a mechanical world, a zombie one, where the meaning of life would be lost, without evil or good, suffering or happiness. As Robert Wright says, «In an imaginary planet of zombies, devoid of meaning, the Pol Pots and Hitlers and Stalins of the world would be incapable of evil; however destructive, they could inflict no suffering, prevent no happiness, affront no dignity». 

Be that as it may, we aren’t these kind of acephalous beings. We are beings endowed with intelligence and memory, and, therefore, beings oscillating between happiness and unhappiness. The meaning of our lives is also dependent on our conscience, intelligence and freedom. Or in other words, on our choices, our values, our options, or our creeds.

And there is also a deterministic element that we shouldn’t minimize – one that plunges into our core and into the equilibriums of our bodies, and that can overcome our rationality, our conscience and our will. The meaning of our lives depends a lot on it: life loses or gains meaning through the chemical transmitters beating in our minds… Our «psychological states of exaltation are linked to our optimism, our depressive states to pessimism, and when we pass from one to the other, our world becomes either a world of misery, failure and tragedy, or a world of well-being, plenitude and happiness» (Edgar Morin).

In a sense, these transmitters depend on us, or more exactly, depend on the ambient we create and where we live; they are switched on and off by our philosophies of life and by the values we choose, and by the positive or negative thoughts we have. That’s why the friendship and the love we are able to create and share, or our religious beliefs, or the way we live music or other forms of art, can give a meaning to life – by switching on or off the cerebral transmitters that allow our happiness feelings.

And yet these transmitters can also surpass the ambient we share or which we create, thus overcoming our will. And they can do this in a positive sense by giving us satisfaction, plenitude and harmony, independently to what is closer to our impulses and instincts.

But they may also acquire a negative sense through their connection to some ills and chemical brain imbalances, causing psychoses, depressive states, or, more simply, distress or anxiety. From this perspective, life loses or gains a meaning through the chemical transmitters that beat in our brains, independently of our will, our values, our philosophies of life, our creeds…

 

 



 

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