Essay by Brandon Gonzalez
It is very important for people to feel important. The older we get the more significant it becomes for us to feel valued and to feel that the time we spent and are now spending mean something. It is often a defining concern for people… Whether or not they have made the right decisions for themselves and what they will be doing for the rest of their lives, if what they have done or what they are doing really matters or has been just a waste for themselves and for others, if they themselves matter or have any bearing on others or the world at large. As we have grown these questions have come to us and have become increasingly more relevant with time. Every adult can relate to these questions; why we wake up and get out of bed each day, continuing on when the only certain thing about the future is augmented responsibility and the deaths of loved ones and ourselves.
What purpose is there to life when the only certain thing is demise and suffering? What is it to live a meaningful life? These are classic questions and they have inspired philosophers to explore what it is to live a meaningful life, or if it is even possible to live a meaningful life. It is the opinion of some that there is no inherent meaning to life and that it is entirely up to us individually to determine what its meaning should be. It is the opinion of others that there is a meaning inherent to life and that there are truths beyond us to which we can adhere and fulfil our purpose. These ideas are meaningful because they help us understand life as it is and grow to be comfortable with our decisions and confident that we are living a life with purpose. Existentialism is this philosophy; finding oneself and the meaning of life through free will, choice, and personal responsibility (allaboutphilosophy). In understanding existential thought we can ultimately live happier lives and better lives for ourselves and for others.
Albert Camus is a respected philosopher who dealt heavily with existential questions. He believed that life has no meaning and that nothing exists that could ever be a source of meaning, which is ironic because human beings are constantly searching for meaning. This is why his philosophy is called “existentialist absurdism” - with respect to the futility of our quest to find meaning in a meaningless existence (Maguire). His philosophy (or that portion of it) is important to understand because it addresses all of our concerns and fears about existence and purpose in life, and in many ways. An argument against his belief could be religion; it provides purpose to people’s lives doesn’t it? To Camus it would not amount to true meaning because it would involve an illusion. It is either God exists or he does not; if he does not exist then there is no purpose there, and if he does then his presence only makes life more absurd given all the pain, suffering, and atrocities in the world (Maguire). Sure, but whether or not people believe in God they still find meaning in lives elsewhere. How about our relationships with loved ones, friends and family? The problem is that we are all inevitably going to die and some of us (if not all) are going to suffer tremendously before we do (Maguire).
Facing these conclusions Camus was troubled if the only rational decision facing this absurd, meaningless life is suicide; if there is no purpose to existence and we are all going to die anyway but not before suffering along the way. To this end Camus wrote a book after the Greek myth of Sisyphus; a man who was condemned by the Gods to roll a boulder up a mountain for all eternity only for it to fall back down. At his conclusion Camus suggests we “imagine Sisyphus happy” (Maguire). Even with his fate being as it is he embraces the futility and the purposelessness, continuing simply because continuing is all there is.
While on one hand there is reason to Camus’ logic about the absurdity of life there is also certain logic behind tell of purpose in other things. Aristotle once explicitly defined what it is to have a purpose in his book, Nicomachean Ethics, and there ventured to apply it to people. His logic is based out of three definitions: ergon; characteristic activity / function, arête; virtue/faculty, Eudaimonia; living well (Lacewing). For example: the ergon of a knife is to cut and the ergon of an eye is to see. Consequently you can state that a good knife cuts well and a good eye sees well. The arête of a knife is its sharpness and the arête of an eye is its focus. You can conclude that for a knife Eudaimonia means to (through sharpness) cut well and that Eudaimonia for an eye means to (through focus) see well (Lacewing). What is that to say about human beings? Consider that what sets us apart from the beasts is our ability to think. Our sense of right and wrong, our ability to communicate with each other, our capability to develop and share complex skills and ideas with each other. These things are what make us human and our arête are the qualities we have that make us good at those things. What makes a good human? One’s Eudaimonia is determined by how well they make decisions based off ethics, how well they make decisions based off reason, and how well they make use of the natural talents that define them.
But why does this all matter? The goal is to face these existential questions with an answer that will bring us to content. Through Camus we can come to terms with the fact that we are all going to die and nothing will matter then. Through Aristotle we can learn that so long as we are following our human talents or virtues we are living well as human beings. If we are concerned with our decisions being the right ones then we need only look to our own skills and moral values as human beings. If we are worried about importance then we have only got to reflect on how there is not any importance to anything besides the importance you believe in.
Whether we are humanitarian caregivers or quantum physicists, we are dead meat all in the same, and all that matters for us to live a meaningful life is to live in accordance to our talents and our moral values to be the best for ourselves and for others. Different people have different skills that all tie in to their natural defining characteristics as human beings, and all it takes is to follow one’s inclination to their particular talent - whether it is artistic or arithmetic. Everyone has potential to fulfil their potential as human beings apart from the animals, and most if not all have certain aspects of humanity to thrive in. This and one’s ability to evaluate and act on a sense of right and wrong is what makes a person’s life meaningful with respect to fulfilling the role of a human being.
How does this help you get out of bed? Even if you do not know what you want to do with your life or you do not know that what you have done with your life has been the right choice, or if you do not know why it even matters to continue on living, you can make an important difference just by getting out there and interacting with people. By using your sense of right and wrong to help people, to educate people. To use your skills no matter what they are to teach people or to bring perspective to people. You can have a positively redefining effect on people just by being around to influence them. Whether or not it is common sense, emotion, or high science, your contribution makes all the difference - wherever it is, whenever it is, whatever it is, to someone whether either of you know it or not. It has just got to be there for them. That is all it takes.