The Meaning of Life

Note: The full “meaning of life” article can be viewed at here.


Few topics have become quite as cliched as that of the meaning of life. In this article I ask two questions; first, why all answers to the question end up sounding trite or pseudo-profound and secondly, whether the question of the meaning of life itself has meaning.

What exactly are we talking about when we discuss the meaning of life? Specifically what does the expression “meaning of…” mean? Typically, it is a request for an explanation, as when we ask about the meaning of a dream or the meaning of a certain word. In both cases we are looking for an explanation, “What does this dream mean? Explain it to me.”

It is in this sense that we ask about the meaning of life. We are looking for an explanation; a “why” that can explain this existence into which we have been thrown. Instead of answering this question though and giving us meaning, all of the standard answers tend to provide us with a purpose; do this, don’t do that. It is precisely because the answers we receive don’t answer the question we asked that they come across as pseudo-profound or dissatisfying.

But the bigger problem here is that life is just not the kind of thing that we can explain. The question of the meaning of life is therefore completely meaningless. Dreams and words can be explained because they are symbols. Life is not a symbol or a metaphor – it’s pure existence. You might be able to explain how it arose; this is the specialty of science, but that still doesn’t explain what it means. It doesn’t give us a “why”.

Now we see that all of our answers are pseudo-profound precisely because  the question itself is pseudo-profound. Every answer fails because the question isn’t a real question.


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