“What man seeks to the point of anguish, in his gods, in his art, in his science, is meaning. He cannot bear the void. He pours meaning on events like salt on his food.” – Francois Jacob, Nobel Prize winner in Medicine, 1965.
Having responded to the arguments against the meaning of life – linguistic objections, reliance on deity, and the threat of nihilism – I will now attempt to outline a systematic argument (admittedly not meeting the requirements of a logical proof) that human life can be meaningful without resorting to self-deception. I would like to interlace the defining features of the word ‘meaning’ listed in an earlier post, Teleology – Criteria of Meaning (1/17/2020) with the criteria for a significant life listed in the more recent post The Meaning of Life – Criteria (9/16/2020 and 9/18/2020).
In the former, I proposed six characteristics which define something as having meaning: function, value, viability, justification, intention (by an agent), and external or absolute relevance. By function I mean a role or purpose, such as the kidney functioning to clean the blood of toxic substances. Value is independent worth or merit or instrumentality such as a college education with its tangible and intangible benefits. Viability refers to the implicit assumption that its referent has the ability to fulfill its role. Justification imposes a balance of value against cost; a contrary example being a bridge across a river without connecting roads or paths. Intention is an explicit or implicit aim by the originator of a thing. Relevance to some external entity or absolute standard requires significance outside the thing itself. Ideally human life will have all of these characteristics.
The criteria of significance when applied to human life are magnitude, duration, possibility, desirability, and understanding. Magnitude refers to the idea that for anything to contribute to the meaning of life, it must be of sufficient importance or depth: trivial purpose undermines meaning and suggests absurdity. Human meaning increases in light of an adequate scale of the effects of one’s living. Duration refers to the hope of more enduring achievement. Possibility means that whatever significance human life could have must be consistent with human abilities and limitations. Desirability means the existence and actions of a being are desirable not only for that being, but for others or the greater whole. Understanding means that a being’s actions and their effects are recognized as such by that being. Again, ideally human life will meet all of these criteria.
It is worth noting that there is some overlap here, but in the next post I hope to demonstrate that human life meets the definition and criteria for the qualification of ‘meaningful.’