Different Viewpoints on the Meaning of Life

Define and describe the three viewpoints on the meaning of life presented in our text. Throughout the book there has been three viewpoints presented on the meaning of life. The first meaning of life that was presented in our text is the theistic answer. Philosophers such as Leo Tolstoy, David F. Swenson, Louis P. Pojman, Emil L. Fackhenheim, and Philip L. Quinn all discuss this viewpoint of the theistic answer. The meaning of theistic answer and what these philosophers discus is that the meaning of life is found in the existence of God.

In this view, in order to have meaning in your life or have a purpose, you must have god in your life. The second view point that was presented in the text is the nontheistic alternative. In this part of the book we see philosophers such as Arthur Schopenhauer, Bertrand Russell, Moritz Schlick, Albert Camus, Kurt Baier, Paul Edwards, Richard Taylor, Thomas Nagel, Joel Feinberg, and E. D. Klemke present. These philosophers discus the nontheistic or humanistic alternative and they deny that one must have God in their life or believe in the existence of God in order to know the meaning of life.

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This view of thinking also believes that there is no objective meaning to life and also there is no purpose to it. The third viewpoint on the meaning of life presented in out text is the approach that questions the meaningfulness of the question. Such philosophers that have this view of thinking are: A. J. Ayer, Kai Nielsen, John Wisdom, Robert Nozick, Susan Wolf, Steven M. Cahn and John Kekes. This approach takes on the question of the meaning of life as peculiar or as ambiguous. Some think in terms of meaning, purpose and value that it turns out to be cognitively meaningless.

However, there are others who reject this view and have an opposing view. 1) Describe how Leo Tolstoy’s biographical narrative both supports Schopenhauer’s and Camus’ understanding of the meaninglessness of life and how it challenges and transcends this view. Leo Tolstoy’s biographical narrative supports Camus’ understanding of the meaningless of life by first admitting that he did not know how to live or what to do with his life. The significance of life had lost all meaning to him and he terms this as “an arrest of life”.

Leo expresses a sense of “beingness towards death” supporting the meaning that Camus’ had stated: “the midpoint of life curve”. Leo Tolstoy expresses Camus’s sense of being “undermined”: “I felt that I had been standing on had given way, that I had no foundation to stand on, that that which I lived by no longer existed and that I had nothing to live by” (Tolstoy, 8). The reader can also see that Leo predates Camus’s sense of the meaninglessness: “… my life is a stupid mean trick played on me by somebody” (Tolstoy, 8).

Even though Tolstoy had wealth, power and a loving family, he was unable to find any sensible meaning to a single act or to his whole life. Likewise, Schopenhauer’s answer to the meaning of life was that “life has no meaning, it is an evil” (Tolstoy, 13). At first Leo thought that science had given him a positive answer because he had gone through his life feeling that his life had no meaning, and that it was evil because death was awaiting him. But when Leo analyzed the matter, he found that “the answer was not a positive one, but that it was only my feeling which expressed it as such” (Tolstoy, 13).

Leo found that instead of saying that Schopenhauer’s answer was a positive one, it is rather a question that cannot be solved by it, and that for philosophy the solution remains insoluble. Leo challenges and transcends both Schopenhauer’s and Camus’ understanding of the meaningless of life. When he looked around the enormous masses of deceased and living men who were simple and not wealthy, he then understood that life has meaning. He found that they lived their life with meaning in an irrational knowledge, being faith.

If one does not have faith, then they lead their life as meaningless and an evil, as they have rational knowledge. However, from faith, in order for one to understand life they must: “… renounce reason, for which alone a meaning was needed” (Tolstoy, 12). As Tolstoy was led to recognize: “all living humanity had a certain other irrational knowledge, faith, which made it possible to live” (Tolstoy, 14). Faith involves not reason but subjective apprehension of God or the infinite. 2) Albert Camus re-tells the “Myth of Sisyphus” and what this story tells us about the meaning of life.

Richard Taylor also recounts the myth and gives a little pin on the story in discussing the meaning of life. Compare the way these two thinkers interpret the myth of Sisyphus and how they relate what it tells us about the meaning of life. The “Myth of Sisyphus” is told by both Albert Camus and Richard Taylor. It is a myth that involved a character named Sisyphus. Sisyphus was condemned by the gods to roll a rock to the top of the mountain and the rock would fall down to the bottom again. Sisyphus had to roll the rock again to the top and so on, over and over again.

According to Camus, Sisyphus was a man who wanted to test his wife’s love. When she failed to do so, he wakes up in the underworld. He obtained from Pluto permission to chastise his wife on earth. When he returned to earth he no longer wanted to return to the underworld. Mercury then had to come get Sisyphus and return him to the underworld where the rock awaited him. According to Taylor, Sisyphus was a man who betrayed divine secrets to mortals, and for this he was punished by the gods to roll a stone to the top of a hill and it would fall, and he had to repeat this over and over again forever.

When comparing the interpretation of this myth, these two thinkers, Camus and Taylor both agree that Sisyphus greatly struggles to get the rock to the top and when he does it returns to the bottom again. His efforts are meaningless and therefore his life is meaningless. Taylor states “It is not that his great struggle comes to nothing, but that his existence itself is without meaning” (Taylor, 135). Camus also agrees with this notion of a meaningless life, he states: “… his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing.

According to Taylor the human condition is absurd simply because achievements do not last this forcing a discrepancy between effort and outcome. However, Camus believes it was created out of the disharmony between our needs and the world’s indifference. Both Taylor and Camus conclude that human condition is meaningless and pointless. 3) Thomas Nagel and Joel Feinberg both also discuss the notion of “the absurd” in essays. Describe their particular interpretations of this concept. Do these two thinkers view “the absurd” in the same way?

Thomas Nagel first investigated why people feel life is absurd and he evaluated their adequacy. The standard reasons that people gave as to why they feel life is absurd fail as arguments, yet he still believes that these reasons can be seen as fundamentally correct expressing something difficult to declare. Nagel interprets this concept as he attempts to explain what is it is about life that is so absurd and then he provides some solutions. Thomas Nagel describes in his writing that an absurdity in life arises for us when we notice a discrepancy held by all humans between an inflated pretension or aspiration and reality.

Between aspiration and reality in this universal discrepancy or between the seriousness with which one can take their life and the opportunity in concerning everything they take seriously as arbitrary or open to doubt, is not avoidable in any human life. Humans can examine the world sub specie aeternitatis, distinguish the contingency and doubt in our lives, and continue to live our life with undiminished seriousness and concern, as for Nagel the absurd arises from this fact. There should be no reason to resent or escape it, if the sense of the absurd is a way of perceiving our true situation.

In life we go through contingency and doubt, our ability to see them and continue to act with concern should not be a cause for anguish; it only allows us to view our lives with a sense of irony. As Thomas Nagle describes, the absurd is a result of this special capacity that human beings have. Humans cannot escape the absurd and there should be no reason to want to escape it. The absurd can be seen as human beings’ true situation, and one must approach it with ironic and amused attitude. Joel Feinberg believes that everyone should look towards intention to escape existentialism or biological determinism.

Feinberg also raises interesting concern about the endless questions that arise from the supermarket regress. Feinberg eventually adopts Nagel explanation of absurdity and they view it in the same way. Nagel states: “it is not that aspirins are absurd, only that their use is not part of the central pattern that is absurd. ” Nagel states that this is the result from the irresolvable clash between the importance we attach to our lives, and how capable we are in viewing ourselves from a detached and impersonal perspective.

Self-fulfillment, as written by Feinberg’s can be best interpreted in the sense that one should do what they are genetically predisposed to do. He states that this includes both the generic nature and the individual’s individual nature. A person who does not have a fulfilled life reject their own identity, and also they cannot be the individual’s good. The expression of a person’s self-love is their own devotion towards that good, which is the fulfillment of their own nature.

The reader can see that Feinberg adopts and invited Nagel’s suggestion that the appropriate responsive attitude towards a human’s life, can be seen as irony as they are both absurd and fulfilled. 4) Susan Wolf discusses the difference between activities that are sources of meaning and those that are not. Steven M. Cahn disagrees with this way of making meaning, or in some cases no meaning out of life. Compare the arguments of these two thinkers. Which one makes more sense to you? When it comes to the meaning of life, Susan Wolf and Steven M.

Cahn disagree on the meaning of life and the way of making meaning. Susan Wolf believes that “meaningful lives are lives of active engagement in projects of worth” (Wolf, 232). Wolf explains active engagement as being excited, gripped, involved, and passionate. Wolf recognizes that when it comes to defining “projects of worth” it can be a much more difficult task to do so. This is because it hints of a commitment to object value and meaningfulness is theoretically linked to the idea of objective value. However, when it comes to the theory of objective value, Wolf has none.

Wolf’s worry is with protecting this linkage between objective value and meaningfulness. Steven M. Cahn disagrees with this way of making meaning, or in some cases no meaning out of life. Cahn’s disagrees with wolf in which he questions credentials for meaningfulness and seems to be questioning the idea of objective value that Wolf discusses in her writing. Cahn states that it does not make sense to judging a person’s life as meaningful or meaningless, while Wolf seems to believe that it does. Cahn questions why one should value one activity more over another.

However, on the topic of the meaning of life, Cahn does not provide his theory of what it may be. One can see that the weakness of Wolf’s dispute was that her definition of project of worth was unclear. Activities or moral intellectual value that could have major positive impacts on the lives of an individual or others could be seen as projects of worth. This definition of projects of worth escapes all of Cahn’s counterexamples and exceptions against Wolf.


Klemke, E. D. , & Cahn, S. M. (2008). The meaning of life: a reader (3rd ed. ). New York: Oxford University Press.

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Different Viewpoints on the Meaning of Life. (2017, Jan 07). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/the-good-life-2/