THREE ESSAYS ON THE MEANING OF LIFE
You cannot swim for new horizons until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.
- William Faulkner
What is the meaning of life?
While this is still the most common question asked of philosophy, it is now commonly answered by academic philosophers with an insouciant, postmodern shrug and an assurance that life can have no special, particular meaning (i.e. common to all of us) because we are just our mechanically evolved animal bodies – which can have no ultimate purpose beyond their selfish genes – should we be so weak as to need the comfort of imagining that life has meaning and purpose, then we must construct our own.
These three essays examine the reasoning for this dismissal of special meaning then explore for any evidence to the contrary – that our lives may, in fact, have an ultimate purpose beyond the ultimately meaningless animal purposes of our physical bodies – which purpose may allow our existences special meaning?
Why search for meaning – why not just get on with life?
Fine, good question, we should indeed get on with our lives, but it is observable that too many of us are presently having a struggle with that – instead of flourishing (which Aristotle found to be the meaningful purpose of life) too many of us are floundering – in a sea of meaninglessness. Such floundering rather than flourishing is evidenced by the growing numbers of us with drug and alcohol problems – further (and equally observably) too many of us are not just floundering, but drowning – evidenced by our ever-increasing rates of suicide, especially among the young.
Humanity finds itself in this situation because the sea in which we are drowning in increasing numbers is bounded by two hostile shores, neither of which allow safe landing from our predicament. I speak of the shores of the opposing lands of belief and disbelief – one land hosting the House of God and the other hosting the House of Disbelief.
Why are these Houses (“H” Houses because belief systems) “hostile”?
The House of God is hostile to meaning because home to an incredible “g” god (the male, Abrahamic god of the ancient Hebrews) and home to an equally incredible meaning and purpose of life (a once-only test for an eternity in either heaven or hell). The House of Disbelief, on the other hand, denies outright the existence of any special meaning/purpose to life (or any real “G” God) – holding us to be just the chance product of a universe which is, itself, the product of chance – we are not our nonphysical/spiritual selves but just physical things existing in an entirely physical universe which: came into being accidentally; life just happening in it (spontaneously and chemically); to naturally evolve into us (randomly and mechanically). In such a necessarily Godless universe, we can only have the necessarily meaningless survival and genetic purposes of our mortal animal bodies and can only construct our own personal meanings.
Thus we are caught in our sea of meaninglessness between an incredible god and no God, between an incredible purpose/meaning and none – between two incredible, hostile and hopeless choices. It is increasingly obvious that it is time to take Faulkner’ advice, above, and have the courage to “swim for new horizons” beyond sight of these, our present shores, in a search for a land which may allow us the safe landing of some credible meaning and purpose to our lives.
This work of three essays and a conclusion will attempt just that. The first essay examines the House of God, and the second the House of Disbelief to find out why so many find them hostile to any credible meaning to our existences – then the third essay will attempt to swim for new horizons.
Those who feel they are close to drowning should skip the essays and paddle straight to the conclusion wherein they may find some hope? If unconvinced, then they are sentenced to read the essays which contain arguments from evidence for that conclusion.