The Meaning of Life? – It’s Right Here!

Welcome again, gentle reader! This post might take a little longer than I’d like, so please bear with me. Rest assured, this has nothing to do with my ability as a writer and everything to do with your ability as a reader. To this end, I’ll try not to use too many big words, as I appreciate this can be somewhat incommodious and cumbersome. If there’s any part of this article that you don’t agree with, feel free to email me evanescentisneverwrong@mac.com. Thanks.

There must be something worth living for.

There must be something worth trying for.

Even some things worth dying for.

So go the words of Beth from Jeff Wayne’s musical version of the War of the Worlds. Granted, some of our real life problems actually feel worse than being invaded by Martians, especially to those who live in Manchester. Big, ugly, slimy beasts with lipless slathering mouths and writhing tentacles, Mancunians do have hard lives – but that’s not the point.

I was in the pub the other night, drinking with friends. A pint of Guinness, thanks for asking. Yes, yes it was nice. Thick, dark, and with a rather large head, the bartender is known for serving a good pint. Towards the end of the evening one of my friends (after I’d paid them extra for staying a little longer) despondently mused “is this all there is to life?” His point was basically along the lines of: if I die, and I’ve contributed nothing, and left nothing, does it really make a difference whether I was alive or not? I should point out that although he might have held this opinion, I believe he was playing Devil’s Advocate somewhat, and saying that even if you or I are optimistic, some people would have every right to feel that way.

Is he right? Is life pointless since it is undoubtedly the end?

Before I answer that, let me give my reason for why many people can and do feel this way – as I was once one of them. I may be wrong, but I’m not. What I’m about to say will get a little philosophical, so if you’re under 12 / not very intelligent / a fan of reality TV, feel free to close this window and get back to watching Big Brother repeats or TabooSexStories.com (page 20 is a good one). Actually, that’s a bit harsh of me, since if you’re a fan of reality TV shows you’re automatically either one of the other two options anyway.

Morality. Morality is a branch of philosophy that attempts to deal with the questions: “how should I live my life? What is good for my life and what is harmful?” Unfortunately, philosophy in general today is in terrible hands, because the “intellectuals” who teach it are riddled with perverse anti-rational anti-human anti-moral contradictory notions. I’m not going to go further into this here, but as an example, how many times do you hear the experts tell us that we cannot know anything; that reality is subjective; that man can never achieve certainty?

Getting back to morality: society in general (as a result of famous philosophers and especially religion) holds one thing as its standard. What I mean is, the measure by which an action is considered virtuous and noble. That standard is: sacrifice. It is the belief that the more an action is directed towards others, and the less it is directly for personal selfish benefit, the more moral it is. The more you serve and live for others, the better a person you are – so says society in general. This is because the underlying philosophy on which this morality is based is the following: your life is NOT an end to itself. Your life has no purpose, and has no meaning, and cannot be given one by yourself. Therefore, the only reasonable worthwhile thing to do is live for others; give up what you have; sacrifice for the good of others; create a legacy, make the world a better place; disown yourself.

I’m not saying ignore others, and don’t better the world, and don’t help people, and don’t be kind and generous – the difference is this: one morality tells you to act with OTHERS as the primary beneficiaries of your life. The other tells you to act with YOURSELF as the primary beneficiary of your life, your actions, your choices.

Humans can die. We are mortal beings. In order to live, not just as animals do from one moment to the next, seizing whatever meal comes along and never planning ahead, you must realise that there are things that are of objective value to your life as a human being. It is precisely because you are mortal that things can make a difference in your life. It is your mortality that gives rise to values – and a value is that which one acts to keep or gain. It is only because the possibility of death is present, that you MUST constantly act in accordance with the antithesis – life. And whether you like it or not there is no alternative here. You are either moving toward life or moving toward death. Life is a constant process of self-generated action. Even if you stand still, you move toward death.

Inasmuch as you choose, implicitly or explicitly, to live – you must discover those values that your life as a human being, as a rational being, needs. But, this would require a morality that tells you to act in accordance with those values – to NOT sacrifice them. But whose values? YOURS!

Those who ask the question: “what does it matter what I do if I just die?” have already conceded the argument – they have already given up their morality. Those who say that your life is not an end to itself, that you have no right to live, that the best thing you can do is give your life to the service of others (like a man on a street returning a wallet that didn’t belong to him) – they have already won. They believe that life is pointless because their lives have no point. They believe life has no meaning because their lives have none. They teach that only having kids is the answer, only giving all your money to charity is the answer, only spending your life in the service of others is the answer, living like a priest and walking to work and never polluting the air is the answer, doing something that “makes a difference” is the answer. Notice the premise they have smuggled in? “Make a difference” – to whom? “What does it matter” – but to whom? “Mortal life is pointless” – to whom? The premise they have smuggled in below your radar is this: other people are the standard for right and wrong. Other people can judge your life as a success or not, even after you’re dead. And no matter how you live your life, you are forever striving after the ethereal recognition, the approval, of others.

This, is the “morality” that you need to reject. This is the subjective capricious code of “ethics” that takes other people as the standard – which also goes by the seemingly harmless and benevolent expression “altruism”. Which people? Doesn’t matter – just others, and the more the better. Until this backward evil premise is rejected, people who ask the questions we began with will never understand how life can have meaning, because they are looking for OTHER people to give it to them.

The moral person knows that their life is an end to itself. That the admiration and consent of other people does not equal morality. That giving away your values is not the key to happiness but the destruction of it. That your life is not the means to the end of others. That your life belongs to you and no one else. That we are not just the product of an evolutionary process that implies: be born, procreate, die. That the highest moral purpose you can pursue is not the happiness of others, but the happiness of yourself.

But it takes a break from convention and an objective rational philosophy to ground one’s morality on these foundations – the exact sort of “radical” unconventional thinking that society today denounces.

Rather than being the “me me me” attitude that this may appear, it is actually the only proper way to live your life. By acting with your life as the ultimate value, you will take care of all the other values that make it possible: your health, your money, your family, your friends, your lover, your music, your car, your holidays, your books, your hobbies, your pets. These values you must discover for yourself – and they are selfish. Selfish, and good. And don’t let anyone tell you differently.

That is why the question: “if we’re just going to die, what does it matter?” can be seen for how vacuous it is. For a start, “what does it matter?” – well, my life matters to me! And it matters to those people I value and those who value me. The rest, I’m not too bothered about!

There is only one way to live – to value your life and act accordingly, and that is how to achieve happiness. If you don’t choose to pursue happiness, you are not choosing to pursue your values. And since values have their ultimate goal in life – the rejection of values, of the pursuit of happiness, has only one other goal: death. If you can’t see the point in being happy, you might as well kill yourself now, otherwise you’re living a contradiction. If you live, pursue happiness. It’s your right. In fact, there is no other purpose in life.

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9 Responses to “The Meaning of Life? – It’s Right Here!”

  1. martino Says:

    Morality is a branch of philosophy that attempts to deal with the questions: “how should I live my life? What is good for my life and what is harmful?”
    This is not mine nor the commonly accepted definition of morality. Morality is about how people interact with each other and what, if any, are the guides to good and bad conduct?

    Your argument over the “virtue of sacrifice” is, I think a straw man. On the other hand that is my argument against moral systems such as Act Utilitarianism, since that make impossible demands to sacrifice oneself on behalf of happiness or whatever. So maybe we agree on this point?

    one morality tells you to act with OTHERS as the primary beneficiaries of your life. The other tells you to act with YOURSELF as the primary beneficiary of your life, your actions, your choices. This looks like a false dilemma. For example, if morality were objective and universally prescriptive then a plausible alternative would be to benefit US, both YOURSELF and OTHERS (and without sacrifice).

    But, this would require a morality that tells you to act in accordance with those values – to NOT sacrifice them. But whose values? YOURS!
    And you have a choice as to what those values are, which we agree should not entail sacrifice. This is a red herring.

    those who say that your life is not an end to itself, that you have no right to live, that the best thing you can do is give your life to the service of others (like a man on a street returning a wallet that didn’t belong to him) – they have already won. Surely life is an instrumental not an or the ultimate value? How can your claim be shown objectively?

    You then seem to be targeting religious morality – an oxymoron in my view – I assume we agree on this. Except you then argue that what has been smuggled in is “that other people are the standard for right and wrong”. For sure this is not religious morality. I wonder if are you now criticizing a secularized version of such religious morality? That has the same flaws I agree, just substituting the standard of god with the standard of others. However I see the problem morality as about us, not me and them. We might agree that the examples you give are false solutions to this, but still this avoids the central challenge of morality.

    I reject “subjectivism” too, although you appeared to have been arguing against an erroneous (we both agree I think) version of humanism.

    The moral person knows that their life is an end to itself. This is an assertion where is your argument for this?

    That the highest moral purpose you can pursue is not the happiness of others, but the happiness of yourself.Really? What if your happiness brings creates great unhappiness to others. What if others happiness brings great unhappiness to you or those you care about? This is the problem of morality and you have not tackled this here at all.

    But it takes a break from convention and an objective rational philosophy to ground one’s morality on these foundation So we agree that “conventional morality” is not objectively grounded. That is what I look for but you, yourself, have not shown the objective grounds of your, I have to say, supposed moral approach.

    There is only one way to live – to value your life and act accordingly, and that is how to achieve happiness. If you don’t choose to pursue happiness, you are not choosing to pursue your values. And since values have their ultimate goal in life – the rejection of values, of the pursuit of happiness, has only one other goal: death. If you can’t see the point in being happy, you might as well kill yourself now, otherwise you’re living a contradiction. If you live, pursue happiness. It’s your right. In fact, there is no other purpose in life. This entirely misses the point. You are just advocating one version of the the status quo thereby perpetuating the problem and possible suffering the consequences of others, in their pursuit of their own happiness – that you recommend – deleteriously affecting you and making you unhappy. Along with religious morality and secularized versions of that, it is most people living like this that causes the problem of morality.

  2. martino Says:

    PS I had been meaning to respond this to for a while. Anyway Alonzo Fyfe has written a (better IMHO) blog post in reply to your post here. http://atheistethicist.blogspot.com/2008/04/evanescent-on-meaning-of-life.html

  3. evanescent Says:

    This is not mine nor the commonly accepted definition of morality. Morality is about how people interact with each other and what, if any, are the guides to good and bad conduct?

    That many people make this mistake with regard to morality is not an argument against my use of the term.

    You actually prove the Objectivist definition of morality by your use of the words “good” and “bad”. Good and bad, for whom?? By what standard? By whose values??

    The Objectivist theory of morality holds life as the ultimate value, that of a rational being, that of each person in regard to his/her own life.

    Therefore, morality is important whether one is alone or in a society.

    Your argument over the “virtue of sacrifice” is, I think a straw man. On the other hand that is my argument against moral systems such as Act Utilitarianism, since that make impossible demands to sacrifice oneself on behalf of happiness or whatever. So maybe we agree on this point?

    Maybe, but my argument still isn’t a strawman.

    one morality tells you to act with OTHERS as the primary beneficiaries of your life. The other tells you to act with YOURSELF as the primary beneficiary of your life, your actions, your choices. This looks like a false dilemma. For example, if morality were objective and universally prescriptive then a plausible alternative would be to benefit US, both YOURSELF and OTHERS (and without sacrifice).

    I think you missed the point.

    By the Objectivist morality, actions can benefit everyone without sacrifice. But that’s not the point. The point is WHO is the PRIMARY beneficiary of your actions. Here, the issue is black or white with NO in between. Therefore it is not a false dilemma.

    There can be only one PRIMARY beneficiary; that is what the word “primary” means!

    “But, this would require a morality that tells you to act in accordance with those values – to NOT sacrifice them. But whose values? YOURS!”

    And you have a choice as to what those values are, which we agree should not entail sacrifice. This is a red herring.

    No it’s not. How can you have a choice on which values you accept?? That would require YOU making a judgment call. But whose judgment? Based on whose values? Yours or someone else’s?

    Again, the only way to avoid sacrifice is to act rationally based on your values. So again, this is not a red herring.

    “those who say that your life is not an end to itself, that you have no right to live, that the best thing you can do is give your life to the service of others (like a man on a street returning a wallet that didn’t belong to him) – they have already won.” Surely life is an instrumental not an or the ultimate value? How can your claim be shown objectively?

    I don’t understand this question. Are you questioning that life is not the highest value??

    You then seem to be targeting religious morality – an oxymoron in my view – I assume we agree on this. Except you then argue that what has been smuggled in is “that other people are the standard for right and wrong”. For sure this is not religious morality. I wonder if are you now criticizing a secularized version of such religious morality? That has the same flaws I agree, just substituting the standard of god with the standard of others. However I see the problem morality as about us, not me and them. We might agree that the examples you give are false solutions to this, but still this avoids the central challenge of morality.

    Actually, the idea of “others” being the standard of morality IS the religious morality. With religion, the “standard” is “god” – just another person. God decides what is right or wrong, but based on what? Other collectivised “moralities” merely replace “god” with “society” – the principles is the same.

    I reject “subjectivism” too, although you appeared to have been arguing against an erroneous (we both agree I think) version of humanism.

    Then I think you have very much misunderstand my article.

    Since you seem to think that morality is meaningless except in reference to other people, you are actually a subjectivist all along!

    The moral person knows that their life is an end to itself. This is an assertion where is your argument for this?

    Because there can be no concept for morality without holding your life as an end in itself.

    My point is proven by the fact that you have to assume its truth in order to even question it.

    If your life was not an end in itself, and you were a sacrificial animal, morality would be meaningless anyway.

    “That the highest moral purpose you can pursue is not the happiness of others, but the happiness of yourself.”

    Really? What if your happiness brings creates great unhappiness to others.

    Ah, but this only happens under a collectivist morality, like Utilitarianism, and its political embodiment: democracy.

    In an Objectivist society, you are free to pursue your own happiness, but never to violate the Rights of others. Therefore your question is false.

    What if others happiness brings great unhappiness to you or those you care about?

    Why would you be unhappy by people you care about being happy??

    Can you give me an example where the happiness of those who care about is a direct source of unhappiness to you? In your example, all parties must be acting rationally.

    This is the problem of morality and you have not tackled this here at all.

    On the contrary, your proposed examples are fallacious and beg the question.

    There is no conflict of rational interests between people. Therefore, there is never a conflict between the rational pursuit of happiness amongst people.

    “But it takes a break from convention and an objective rational philosophy to ground one’s morality on these foundation”

    So we agree that “conventional morality” is not objectively grounded. That is what I look for but you, yourself, have not shown the objective grounds of your, I have to say, supposed moral approach.

    Yes I have. And I’ve done it in other articles too. What I’m presenting is the Objectivist theory of morality, and I don’t think you’re familiar enough with it / understand it, enough to reject it. This is clear from your comments.

    “There is only one way to live – to value your life and act accordingly, and that is how to achieve happiness. If you don’t choose to pursue happiness, you are not choosing to pursue your values. And since values have their ultimate goal in life – the rejection of values, of the pursuit of happiness, has only one other goal: death. If you can’t see the point in being happy, you might as well kill yourself now, otherwise you’re living a contradiction. If you live, pursue happiness. It’s your right. In fact, there is no other purpose in life.”

    This entirely misses the point. You are just advocating one version of the status quo thereby perpetuating the problem and possible suffering the consequences of others, in their pursuit of their own happiness – that you recommend – deleteriously affecting you and making you unhappy.

    You are completely wrong. It is actually a total break with the status quo to hold your life as the standard and NOT others’.

    This in NO way perpetuates the problem, what problem? And nor does it affect others’ rational interests.

    The problem with your reasoning is that you smuggle in the false assumption that the pursuit of rational values produces a conflict of interest. Which it doesn’t. With Objectivism, the rational interests of people do not conflict.

    For more information on this, read The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand.

    Along with religious morality and secularized versions of that, it is most people living like this that causes the problem of morality.

    The problem is exactly the opposite. The problem is treating human beings as sacrificial objects to the collective masses – that is why the world is so immoral.

    Unfortunately, Martino, you have misunderstood every point I have made here, and pointed out problems where there were none.

  4. martino Says:

    Thanks for your response. I replied to your response at Alonzo’s post noted above, the reason for this being specified at the beginning of my comment.

  5. jonfeatherstone Says:

    Hi there,
    I really like this quote from the “Conversations with God” book:
    “There is no purpose to life save that which you give it.”
    It’s up to each of us to make of our lives what we will.
    Jon

  6. chris Says:

    my subjective personal philosophy is a failure pertaining to a full society. So i do enjoy reading objectivism. especially this blog..
    However i do view not the personal pursuit of happiness as the highest principle of morality.

    Personally i believe the highest principle and purpose is to interact with life and to participate existentially. happiness and unhappiness are just experiences within life, they both have merit. unhappiness and happiness come with our active movement in life, pursuing one outright is a denial of the other IHMO.

  7. evanescent Says:

    Chris, thanks for your comment.

    The reason you are mistaken is this: happiness is the non-contradictory joy that comes from realising one’s values; unhappiness is the sadness that results from failing to achieve values. Therefore, since unhappiness is the result of failure, and it is never in our interest to pursue failure, unhappiness can never be a merit to our lives.

    It might be true that failure in certain aspects can turn out for the best, but that depends on how we respond to such failure. It might also be true that defeat can strengthen one’s character, but that assumes that one is trying to SUCCEED in the first place.

    All values are placed within the context of your life. All values ultimately aid your live or diminish it. By pursuing your values (your happiness), your are pursuing your life. By pursuing failure (unhappiness) you are pursuing your death.

    It is irrational to pursue failure, therefore it is irrational to merit unhappiness. And since the rational is the moral, pursuing unhappiness is immoral.

    Personally i believe the highest principle and purpose is to interact with life and to participate existentially.

    Why would interacting and participating with life be a moral principle? Remember, morality without value is meaningless, and value without valuer is a stolen concept. That is why intrinsicism is false, and I think your comment here seems to suggest that interacting with life is intrinsically good (moral) – but this cannot be so.

    If on the other hand, you are saying the experiencing life to its fullest extent makes you a better person, I would agree, assuming one attempts to experience one’s own happiness (as opposed to one’s misery!) – in which case one would be acting with the betterment of one’s life as the primary aim, which is what this article is all about.

  8. Philosophizer Says:

    Evanescent,

    I appreciate your lucid prose despite my dissenting opinion.

    I am curious about one thing. In proposing an objective morality, as you have in a couple of posts, it seems to follow that you are suggesting that there is a “way things should be.” There is a standard by which actions can be measured and found right or wrong.

    My question is: In order for an action to be wrong, there must be a way it could have been. This requires an agent acting of his/her own volition, or will. How do you account for free (at least to some degree) will in a closed physical system?

    Thank you for your time.

  9. evanescent Says:

    Philosophizer,

    You are correct, I am proposing that there is a “way things should be”, “should” in this context being what is right for a human being as opposed to what is wrong. We can know there is a “should” by reference to what is objectively truthful; facts about human life that obtain regardless of opinion. As just two examples, (and the justification for this can be seen in many other articles of mine and the works of Ayn Rand so I won’t elaborate here), reason and freedom; man SHOULD be free, man SHOULD use reason.

    Your question: “In order for an action to be wrong, there must be a way it could have been.” Indeed. The universe is a metaphysical given, it acts according to unconscious cause and effect; every event in the universe in this sense “had to be”; nothing in the universe is volitional, as volition requires consciousness. No action of man HAD to be however. Free will is not a concept that can be stolen without reference to the law of identity, however. For example, man might be free to act, but he is still a man. In other words, there is a context to all free actions, just as there is a context to knowledge.

    Free will is not something that requires accounting for; it is an epistimological axiom, in that in order to deny it you must assume its truth. Free will for man begins with only one thing: the freedom to THINK; to exercise your mind’s volitional capability or not, to reason or not to reason. Whereas the organs of our bodies do their job automatically, man’s mind does not. No man automatically functions; he does not instinctively know how to make fire, or build a shelter, or select the right food, or construct a skyscraper, or be able to engineer an aeroplane. Man CAN choose not to think (or focus) and be left to perish, or he CAN choose to think and live. Just as you could have chosen not to ask that question, but you chose to. The environment that you live in, and your experience, your nature and nuture if you will, provide the CONTEXT for your freedom to think, but they do not establish it. Whether you are always free to ACT on your thoughts is another matter, one that is established by context. The only thing that can prevent man acting freely is physical force.

    Indeed, if the physical system wasn’t “closed”, presumably meaning with limitations, free will would be meaningless as would everything else. Existence exists, A is A. Without this axiom knowledge is impossible, and without knowledge man’s mind is useless, so the “free will” to use that mind is irrelevant.


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