A very nice comment by @kjensenstudio pushed me to enlarge upon what I meant by suggesting, in a previous post, that “life is the condition for meaning and meaningfulness, rather than something that needs a single, permanent, or predetermined meaning.” Although I attempted to do so in a long-winded reply, I also want to share my attempt here.
So I am first of all thinking — AP2 having initially raised the topic in his post “The Meaning of Your Life” — about how we sometimes feel as though there is no point to life. Maybe this is your own life, or maybe this is human life in general. (It could be more expansive than human life, but I think our concern or despair is usually connected to feelings about our own life, all humanity, or something in-between.)
Or, the concern may be more intellectually focused. This can happen when we try to find, intellectually, an understanding of what it’s all leading toward, what the point of everything is, what good it is, and… cannot seem to find one. We die, those we love die, the Earth gets swallowed by the sun, the universe patterns out into heat death. It can feel and seem that there is no ultimate purpose, point, or meaning to life, whether one’s own life or life more widely.
I keep coming back to the thought that this conclusion often results from, or at least involves, a kind of “category mistake,” where we try to predicate a meaning of the “thing” — life — which makes meaning possible.
Projects, relationships, et cetera, within life, have meaning. They matter to us, some for the sake of other things, others intrinsically.
Life, in contrast, is a “condition” — a cause or ground, whether one or many — making it possible for such things to exist and mean. Life is not one of the things that lie within it, as do our relationships and projects, requiring or having a definite meaning fixed from without or obvious in its intrinsic personal importance to us. In in that sense it would be a mistake — an implicit miscategorization — to ask what life itself means or assume implicitly that it has or requires such meaning, and to conclude that it’s all pointless when no such meaning is found.
I also wonder whether perhaps we fail to notice this mistake, in part, because we may indeed find overall guiding meanings for everything within our life (meaning, that is, for all of our projects, relationships, and so forth), and we speak of these large guiding meanings also as “life’s meaning,” “the meaning of life,” and phrases of that sort. And indeed such overall guiding meanings can in truth be called life’s meaning. It is not wrong, I think, to call them that.
At the same time, there is an important difference between those meanings, on the one hand, and on the other hand a meaning supposedly assigned to life from without, a meaning which is undermined when we search for it outside of life itself. Our lives allow us to have greater meaning; they are conditions that make meaningfulness possible and the conditions within which encompassing purpose (meaning) is possible. One’s life may need to “have a point,” yet that point grows from within it and is not negated by life’s finitude, uncertainty, and instability. Even so, it may sometimes feel that way, and such feelings should be met always with compassion and understanding, whether the feelings are our own or those of another.
Besides writing, SeekerFive creates visual art and designs under his Leaf Town brand. Some of these can be seen on Instagram @leaftowndesigns, https://www.instagram.com/leaftowndesigns. Currently he is emphasizing face mask designs.
Images by (and property of) SeekerFive unless otherwise indicated.