The Meaning(s) of Life

post by Liam Goddard · 2019-04-13T21:02:51.989Z · score: -2 (7 votes) · LW · GW · 1 comments

Why are you reading this article?

Perhaps you're reading it because you think the topic of the meaning of life is interesting and important to rationality. Why do you care about rationality? Maybe because it can help you determine the odds of various events in your life and, among other things, help you make money. Why do you want money? Because you need it to buy food. Why do you want food? So you can survive. Why do you want to survive? Because you want to help people in the world. Why do other people matter?

We could go on and on. Everything you do has a reason. Everything is leading up to one goal. The Meaning of Life. But what is that goal? What is the one thing that matters most in the world, that our entire life should be spent trying to accomplish?

Let's look at some options. Maybe the Meaning of Life is to be as happy as possible. Where's the proof of that? (Yes, I know this sounds like bottom-line irrationality [LW · GW], but if something can't even be rationalized, you know it's wrong.) What is the evidence that happiness is important? Well, happiness is important because it causes-

Stop. This is the ultimate cause, the Meaning of Life. It can't be important because it causes something, because then that would be the Meaning of Life. So why else could happiness be important, if it doesn't matter what it causes? It doesn't matter what happiness produces, or leads to, or anything that comes from it. And it can't be proven by the things that lead to it, by saying that happiness is important because chocolate causes happiness. Who says chocolate is good? And some of the things it produces are bad, like obesity.

This all leads to one conclusion. It is impossible to prove the Meaning of Life.

But why do we do anything? If there is no Meaning of Life, why don't you just lie down and die? There is a Meaning of Life. There is a reason things should be done, something that everything leads up to. The ultimate purpose of everything, the thing that we all live for, the final cause, has to exist, or else we wouldn't do anything. There's something that everything is leading up to.

But if it can't be proven, what is it?

The answer is that the Meaning of Life changes from person to person. If someone thinks that their Meaning of Life is to build a tower out of LEGOs that is as possible by the laws of physics, that is not a ridiculous statement. The Meaning of Life cannot be proven, so we can each choose what we want. We each have our own thing that seems right to us, and it is the definition of right.

If a Nazi says that the murder of Jews is good because it leads to increased celery production, and he thinks celery production is the Meaning of Life, I will argue because killing Jews does not increase celery production. But if they calls the murder of Jews the Meaning of Life, then I will not argue because it cannot be disproven. I will certainly try to stop them, because it conflicts with my Meaning of Life. But I will not say he is incorrect, for in this case there is no ultimate "correct."

I never consider anyone to be good or evil. There are only "in agreement with me about the Meaning of Life" and "in disagreement with me about the Meaning of Life." The only time that I will ever condemn someone, or say that someone should change what they do, is when they are stupid, when they kill Jews to increase celery production. There is no inherent good or evil that is the same for everyone. We each can hold whatever Meaning of Life we want.

Now, this doesn't mean to let the Nazi kill the Jews. If your Meaning of Life is against Nazism, then by all means, stop them. But never say that anyone is more or less correct about the Meaning of Life, because they are not. The only things that are correct or incorrect is how to get to the Meaning of Life.

My Meaning of Life is to preserve life, to stop death whenever possible. That may not be yours. And I'm not going to say you're wrong, or that you're evil. All I'll say is that you're in disagreement.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by G Gordon Worley III (gworley) · 2019-04-14T16:59:58.566Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Overall it seems like you're making a coherent enough point (meaningness is subjective), but I think the writing style makes that a bit hard to pick out. I can tell you've gotten some downvotes, and my guess is that it's because it's hard reading this to tell much about why you think this is or really given much in the way of specific arguments a person might engage with towards this point. I'm not saying I agree or disagree with you here, merely that I find it hard to follow your reasoning because it feels like there are many gaps in it in your writing, even if there aren't in your head.

I see you are rather new to the site, so I say this because I want to make sure you don't end up bouncing off because you get some downvotes. People generally respond well here to writing that is proof-like: well structured, aims to show something, and is clear about its starting assumptions (including assumptions about the audience; I felt like this post was arguing a point against an invisible other view that was never made very clear to me).

Hope that helps.