Different Approaches to the Meaning of Life

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PHILOSOPHY 1100: THE MEANING OF LIFE
Different Approaches to the Meaning of Life
1. Why we want to know the ‘meaning of life’
The question "what is the meaning of life?" is often treated as a paradigmatic "head in the clouds" sort of philosophical question that more practical people shouldn't have the time for, but its actually a question of tremendous practical importance. Further, it is a question to which most people, even those who claim to have no interest in such questions, answer implicitly with the lives they chose to lead. So if you don’t want to bother with such questions, and just want to enjoy yourself, you are effectively saying that enjoyment is the ultimate point of human life. If you spend your life pursuing one of, say, money, power, pleasure, or religious understanding, then you implicitly commit yourself to such organizing principles representing what is really important in life.

The choices we make in our lives are often governed by such implicit conceptions of what is most important to us, and while it may be that, say, being happy is the most important thing, it may take a certain amount of reflection on these larger questions to become clear about this. Some might think that thinking about questions like the meaning of life is itself the most important thing for us to do, but even if we don’t, we can still see that it is very important to spend at least some time doing, since such organizing principles are too important for us to accept without reflecting on them at all.

Further, if there really is a point or meaning to our lives, and we live our lives according to a different principle (say if we live for enjoyment when serving God is the real purpose of life, or (conversely) if we spend our lives in prayer when enjoying life is its real purpose) then we may have literally wasted our lives. Since that is something we shouldn't want to do, it seems that, if life does have a purpose, we would do well to know what it is. On the other...
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