Countless debates have ensued concerning the supposed importance of how life began, why it was created, and of course if it has any fundamental purpose. Some would argue that life has no meaning, that it is a randomized hodgepodge of experiences that when placed together create the sum of a life. Others would claim that there is meaning behind every experience, a driving goal that allows an individual to keep going when it would be easier to stop. Whether it is because of personal belief or fundamental truths that can be measured and verified the meaning of life remains to date an ideal that defies any simple explanation. Life must mean something in order to mean anything.
From an objective standpoint the meaning of life could be taken in many different contexts. It could define what one individual means to another, how a person’s job affects their life, and even how random and often ambiguous occurrences can shape ones day. There are few if any facets of life that cannot be said to give meaning in their own manner, but the overall meaning of the phrase is often ascribed to a much grander scale. So many people wish to believe that life has a meaning beyond their perceptions that they will gladly subscribe to a vast number of explanations that have little to any veracity to them.
The literal definition of life is the distinction that lies between living organisms such as animals and plants and non-organic materials. This includes the capacity to reproduce, to grow, and function in a manner that actively changes the surrounding environment. A secondary definition is the simple existence of a biological entity that can be observed and measured. This however is the simplest and most direct meaning of life, and is well removed from the metaphysical aspect of the question that many would seek to ponder.
Scholars such as A.J. Ayer have gone on to claim that while life does have meaning, the
perceptions of those who seek meaning within life are flawed in their methods of discovering a
deeper purpose (Ayer, 2007, p199). He does not discredit the fact that life does in fact have
meaning, but instead attempts to describe that one perception is not enough to divine the truth
behind the six simple words. This would insinuate that there are several factors throughout a
single life that can be given individual meaning and therefore create the sum of a life through
those experiences. It would also denounce any higher, more transcendent meaning that so many
seek to discover.
Such a view upon the meaning of life and how it might be dwindled down to mere everyday occurrences is not as popular with many who would seek to believe that there is a definitive reason behind the existence of mankind. While it is a bit egocentric to believe that the human race is so vastly important, it remains a burning question that many feel must be answered if humanity is to discover their true purpose in this world. Theories and philosophies have abounded since mankind became aware of their place in the world, and have evolved with each passing era without an answer that can satisfy every single person. It is likely that in this era such an agreement will not be found, though many still make the attempt. The dilemma persists in thinking that there must be something more, even if all that exists is what is already known.
Religion is therefore one of the frontrunners that seeks to generate the belief that life is not a series of random events. Through theological belief and study many individuals have attempted to deduce the existence of a higher power and what that force has in mind for the human race. Unfortunately this belief is largely founded on faith and a sense of mysticism that comprise the basis of each religion that have existed for centuries and more. These factors as well as others have allowed dissent to foment between philosophers and religious beliefs in the past and present, creating a schism between belief and realism that is difficult to bridge.
Robert Nozick, a former professor at Harvard University, gives several explanations as to
why the belief of a singular God, or even many gods, is unlikely to define the meaning of life
(Nozick, 2007, p224). In Nozick’s view the belief of being used to perform a deity’s will is not a
meaningful life as it describes a life that is not based upon the decisions of the individual to
extricate true meaning from their existence. Instead service to an unseen force seems to denote
the importance of lending meaning to the existence of the deity, not the individual. If such an existence was to be meaningful then it would a universal truth that could be applied to anyone’s life, and in this case such transference tends to become diminished when the meaning of one life is allowed to define the lives of others.
Yet another point of view is that of nihilism, which is essentially the lack of any meaning. This belief also holds that life is an absurdity devoid of anything even worth labeling as meaningful. A noted author and Nobel prize winner, Albert Camus managed to convey with great passion his lack of belief in the meaning behind life, stating that the absurdity of life is the drive that exists behind both the world and humanity (Camus, 2007). In other words, there is no meaning other than to contribute to the overall absurdity that is life.
Each view presents its own case in an attempt to bring meaning to the long-standing debate, and each view has drawn to its cause many different and enlightened individuals that have contributed to the ideal. From religion to atheism to nihilism there is one unifying belief that ties them together despite their opposing views. There is a type of meaning that is connected to life, regardless of how it is applied. Each method seeks to define their assembled concepts so as to assign a meaning to what is essentially an open-ended belief. The meaning of life is a very ambiguous phrase that is subject to various interpretations and has created fervor amongst scholars and philosophers in terms of which belief is the most sound.
Nihilism seeks to describe the meaning of life as a random bit of nonsense that occurs at
any given moment in the human experience. From an embarrassing occurrence to an ambiguous
happening that is seen to occur to any single member or group of humanity, the absurdity of life
is highly dependent upon human beings and the environment, not the other way around. In other
words the meaning of life does not so much apply to human existence. Instead, the meaning of
life depends on humanity in order to be realized.
The application of religion to the argument over whether life has any meaning is a hotly debated topic within society. From fundamentalists to atheists the topic of religion and how it gives meaning to life is an issue that shows no sign of being resolved in the near future, as it is a matter of belief rather than solid fact that drives such an ideal. Religion places meaning upon the intangible and unseen factors that are the tenets of many religions, absolute devotion to a practice that is faith-based and largely unreliable due to the absence of any identifiable facts. Scientific evidence of religion’s many different facets is said to exist, and in some cases the artifacts and records left behind by previous civilizations do hold the truth of such legends in theory.
Where religion and its views upon the meaning of life differ with other arguments is that religion places such meaning within the context of pleasing another, supreme force that has absolute control over humanity and all that is said and done. This then contradicts the supposed meaning of life as it seems more akin to serving the wants and needs of another in order to bring meaning to one’s life. Instead it would make far more sense to seek a deeper, more profound purpose to life that might serve the individual and no other. Religion is about sacrifice, appeasement of one’s self through service to another, and thus does not seem to take into account the sense of self that the other arguments focus upon.
Arguments made by individuals such as Ayers seek to explain that there is no one set
definition to the meaning of life, but many. The question or statement depending upon how it is
voiced or written, is quite simple but carries far more implications than many would care to
research. Many individuals seek an answer that is simplistic and ultimately pleasing to their
sensibilities, or at least ambiguous enough that it becomes a philosophical quandary that allows
them to ponder the possibilities within their own good time. In any case the question over the
meaning of life is one that many generally give scant attention to in the regular everyday pace of life.
For some the answer to such an ambiguous question is easy. In light of Ayers and many others who think in such a manner the meaning of life describes a different path for everyone, though all paths eventually lead to the same metaphysical goal. With this line of thinking there is no right way to find contentment in the answer that is sought after, but instead many that seek the same fundamental truth. The meaning of life is quite typically that which defines a person’s life, no matter that this is likely different for everyone.
Nihilism seems a bit aloof and even irresponsible in turning its back upon the true meaning of life. While the belief insists that there is no true meaning to life it tends to deny to any who will listen that there is any one thing that means more than another. The absurdity of life is its own meaning. The experiences that come and go would never occur without another to initiate the event, and perhaps another to bear witness at times. In short nihilism seeks to prove that while life has no true, intrinsic meaning, it gains such through the act of those who seek to find the unseen, intangible definition that so many seek.
If nihilism seems aloof and detached however religion seems by contrast zealous and
desperate to reach for a solution to the question at hand. For those who believe in a higher power
life must often mean something or it means nothing. A higher force that watches over and
guides humanity gives many a cause to continue on each day, to believe that there is an overall
meaning to life that lies in servitude to the ideals that their religion demands. Existing as yet
another manner in which individuals decide to think and believe, religion creates detailed and
ordered schematics of morality and what it means to follow the righteous path (Griffith, 2011). This is the meaning of life in religious terms, to serve and give one’s self over to a higher power so that an individual or a group might find contentment in such a life (Slick, 2016).
One area in which every argument can seem to come to a temporary agreement over is
that life is beyond a simple definition. One cannot state that life is about one singular aspect without bringing further contradiction to their beliefs (Mason, 2010). There are many factors that go into explaining the question of what the overall meaning life conveys. In seeking that one all-defining truth it has become more likely to find anything and everything else that might factor into the end result of a question. The meaning of life is quite different for every individual, leaving only the question as the binding factor between individuals.
Ayers, A.J. (2007). The Claims of Philosophy. In Klemke, E.D. & Cahn, S. (Eds.), The Meaning
of Life (199). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Camus, A. (2007). The Myth of Sisyphus. In Klemke, E.D. & Cahn, S. (Eds.), The
Meaning of Life (76). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Griffith, J. (2011). What is the Meaning of Life? World Transformation Movement.
Mason, J. (2010). The Meaning of Life. Talking Philosophy. Retrieved from
Nozick, R. (2007). Philosophy and The Meaning of Life. In Klemke, E.D. & Cahn, S. (Eds.), The
Meaning of Life (224). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Slick, M. (2016). What is the meaning and purpose of life? Christian Apologetics & Research
Ministry. Retrieved from