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Existentialism and the meaning of life

  1. Mar 22, 2008 #1
    I've actually been reading a number of things. First, I read Lars Eigner's "On Dumpster Diving" and afterward, a few existentialist documents paired with some Budhist doctrine. All of philosophy aims to give meaning to human life...and apparently society, at the same time, implements meaning (although a relatively fake/meaningless one) to human life. Ultimately, from these readings, it was logically narrowed down that life is meaningless under all conditions. Would anyone care to argue against such?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 22, 2008 #2
    I think that the word meaningless implies a negative tone, as if there can't be a meaning or something, but what I think is really going on is that everything is lacking meaning, until some living thing applies meaning to it.
    Eating an apple or taking a walk outside can both lack meaning, but nothing will have any meaning until a conscious being sees the meaning behind it.
    Eating an apple may be healthy, thus meaningful to eat, and walking may feel good and be refreshing, thus it is meaningful.
    We see this all the time in the real world too.. People value different things, some people see meaning in eating chocolate, others go against it.

    Meaning can fundamentally be said to be appreciation of logic on an emotional and rational level, which is why something seems perfectly logical even outside the human mind, and that's because it is logical, but the meaning comes later with the conscious mind.
  4. Mar 22, 2008 #3
    In terms of existentialism, life has no implicit or inherent meaning, the way one lives life is what gives it meaning.

    Buddhism is somewhat different, although not entirely incompatible.
  5. Mar 22, 2008 #4
    I see...and thus, if someone were to realize things beyond what their conscious would say...it comes down to just that definition...that life is meaningless. I think I see where you're coming from octelcogopod and it makes sense. But, ultimately...something would have to give meaning to something else, and that meaning is just...fake. Even with a god of some sort, once one realizes that there may be something beyond that god...it becomes meaningless. Then again, if something were to give meaning to something else, would that meaning really be fake? Anyone care to respond?
  6. Mar 23, 2008 #5
    I'll respond.
    yes an apple has no meaning without a consciousness, but a consciousness also has no meaning without an apple at which to be directed. the apple calls out to me as something to be investigated.

    But it doesn't have to be my consciousness that does the investigating. This is where things get weird, when one sees oneself from the perspective of an other. one becomes objectified and vulnerable. not only one's own body as in the sense of something that can be killed, but in the sense of one's own personal meaning structure. one sees the world through the perspective of another meaning structure and loses one's own.

    So with a god, we have already lost our own personal meaning structure. A sight ceases to be one which is merely seen by us and we become a part of that sight as seen by god. We start to put foreign value structures on life. this is the origin of shame. I start to question the meaning of what I am doing and place a good/bad value on it based on what another consciousness might think of me were i caught in the act of doing something.

    so really life is inherently meaningful, an apple calls out to me, it looks good because i am hungry and I can eat it. Consciousness is always already meaningful in its directedness.

    It is only when we step outside of life as lived and move to life as observed by the other that we lose this inherent meaning. "Will I be considered a glutton? will I look stupid doing this? What will the Other think of me?" These are the questions which do not have inherent meaning for me as experiencer, but only for me as an object to be experienced by some other being.

    So for Existentialists, freedom is the understanding that this secondary line of questioning holds little or no meaning for me as experiencer. There is in reality nothing which holds me responsible except myself, and no absolute meaning outside of what is inherently within my own directed consciousness. Its an understanding that the only forms of control placed upon you are those you place there yourself by taking on the viewpoint of the other.

    Sometimes that's not so bad though. Like what if the other has a sword?
  7. Mar 23, 2008 #6


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    Staff: Mentor


    Ultimately, meaning is in the mind of the beholder. It's fine to read what others might describe about meaning, but ultimate one must find one's own meaning.
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2008
  8. Mar 23, 2008 #7
    i think the argument is that people are struggling to find that because of their inability to understand why we are here
    and come to think about it we truely don't know
    some believe ethically and some don't but belief is not knowing with a proof
    so i can believe that i am destined to be the king of the univese and by your argument it is true if i know that as the meaning of my life
    we simply don't know what's real or what the word real is
    therefore we can't find a meaning to life.
    a whole science is circuling around life and what it is and what is the reason for such a peculiar form of existance.
    i think the answer is and that we simply don't know till we can manipulate life. till now we can't and i don't think we will
  9. Mar 23, 2008 #8
    Interesting. I'm not really a philosopher, but I started thinking about things pertaining to society. After all of your posts, I'm assuming the ultimate meaning is what you place on yourself...and with the existence of others, that meaning coexists with society. What I was simply thinking of was the issue of individualism and society. For the most part, it is society that shapes our meaning...so we technically conform to it; and for those who say they are not are simply responding to society and its conditions. What got to me was that we were all conforming to society...that everything we do...our aims for money, jobs, respect, etc... didn't seem meaningful anymore. And so...I'd have to agree with what all of you say...meaning is inherent within one's own directed consciousness and that we simply have to look for our own. Although, it is interesting what you said tmoan...that we wont know until we can manipulate life. I somewhat see where you're coming from; can anyone expand on that statement?
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