What is the meaning of life? Many agree that the answer depends on the person asking the question. When Albert Camus and Richard Taylor decide to answer this question, they must take an in-depth look into the real and mythological worlds to arrive at a concise answer to this question that has baffled so many. Both have similar views with subtle differences – however Taylor’s view is the more accurate of the two.
When looking into the biological world, Taylor clearly describes how much of it can be identified with the Greek tale of Sisyphus. His first of two examples take an in-depth look into glowworms. They go through this cycle like Sisyphus did with his rock and ultimately they have nothing more to show for it than reproducing. They are condemned to this fate and like the rock that Sisyphus rolls up the hill, once they fall down, the burden is passed onto the next generation of worms, making their existence ultimately pointless. The story is the same with migrating birds, as they seasonally migrate across the planet just to do the exact same thing the next year (Klemke, 2008).
The effort put into this, like the effort Sisyphus puts into rolling the rock up the hill, ultimately accomplishes nothing and in the end is futile. The birds are condemned to a meaningless task that has no meaning, but gives them purpose. Taylor states “The point of any living thing’s life is, evidently, nothing but life itself” (Klemke, 2008), something that Sisyphus himself endures as he rolls the rock throughout eternity, with the only difference between him and the biological beings being that instead of each organism doing the same repetitive task for eternity, they pass on their mundane tasks to the next generation.
Taylor’s solution to the meaning of life is a complicated one since he truly sees absolutely no meaning to it. Everything in this world is contingent and as a whole is seemingly meaningless. This is what he calls ‘objective meaning’. He went on to say that life has no end goal and that what you do can never be more than you, something similar to what Sisyphus went through. At the same time, he went on to say how life also has subjective meaning, meaning that life matters to the person living in that world in that period of time.
As Sisyphus was rolling the rock up hill hill for eternity, Taylor asks what if the gods had made it his eternal desire to roll that rock up that hill, and what if he enjoyed nothing else more than rolling that rock for the rest of his life (Klemke, 2008). The same can be said about those that do what they love, and even though that has no objective meaning as a whole, it could have subjective meaning to the individual performing the task since there is nothing else they would rather do. He went on to say that as time passes “A curious eye can in imagination reconstruct from what is left a once warm and thriving life, filled with purpose.” (Klemke, 2008).
This was in reference to looking back at an old barren wasteland, where although now it has no meaning, it once had subjective meaning to others – and even though something has no end goal, that does not mean that it is meaningless, since in that moment in time it had meaning. He sees the meaning of life as nothing but life itself, and that the only way to live a full and meaningful life is to do something that has meaning to you. The end goal does not matter as long as what you are doing has meaning to you, and one thing does not have greater meaning over another. His solution involved projecting meaning onto our own lives by embracing our struggles, even if they accomplish nothing lasting and worthwhile (Cengage, 2013).
Camus had a slightly different solution to the meaning of life. He truly saw no meaning to life and questioned why anyone would ever want to live in it (Klemke, 2008). He questioned people’s motives and why all individuals would never commit suicide when they know that they saw the world they lived in. He sees the world as absurd and the fact that we can accept that as surprising. Rational beings live in an irrational world, where people who are obsessed with reason cannot find it. He sees that the there is absolutely no meaning to the world.
When he relates human lives to Sisyphus, he considers our everyday lives as pushing a rock up a hill and pushing it back down in a never-ending cycle until death. The tragedy of it is that we are never truly conscious of the absurd, and in those moments when we are conscious of the absurd, we experience the greatest moral downfall imaginable. The only way to live in this world is to live in contradiction. Once we can accept that the world we live in is absurd, we no longer need to live for hope or have this dying need for purpose (Tomo, 2013). It means not only accepting it but also being fully conscious and aware of it, because that is the only way we can enjoy the freedoms of life as long as we abide by a few common rules (Lane, 2013). He sees this as being the ultimate way to embrace everything the unreasonable world has to offer us.
This is known as absurd freedom, when you are conscious of the world you live in and are freed from the absurdity. You can then reach a point of acceptance where you can feel truly content with your own life (Lane, 2013). He considers Sisyphus as being the absurd hero, since he performs a meaningless task because he hates death, and so he does this meaningless task to live to the fullest. He embraces his destiny and one could truly believe that he is happy with it. The meaning of life also does not matter about what are the best moments of living, or doing what is meaningful to the individual, but who did the most living. This can be further explained with Camus’s reference to Sisyphus, where the only thing differentiating our lives from his is that his is eternal. As humans, we will eventually deteriorate and die off, and in a world where nothing has meaning and everything is repetitive, the one who has lived for the longest period of time has truly made the most of it.
Out of the two solutions, it is clear why both Camus and Taylor thought the way they did. One solution was based on doing things in general while the other focused on living as long as physically possible. In my opinion, although both have strong footings, I must say that although Camus position is slightly stronger logically, Taylor’s position has much better emotional traction. When Camus states that the world is completely absurd and that none of it has any meaning, his argument makes sense.
We live in a world where even though we are creatures that demand reasoning and meaning for everything, there is none in the world we are currently in. Taylor agrees to a certain extent, but then introduces his idea of different kinds of meaning: subjective. He tries to give meaning to tasks that give us fulfillment – true subjective meaning, but these same tasks have no objective meaning since they have no end goal. Logically, such tasks can have no meaning because they have no lasting value, something that Camus himself tried to explain, ultimately making Camus’s position stronger logically.
Emotionally, the case is quite the opposite. Camus tells us we should accept our fate and just try to live on this planet for as long as we can, something only an atheist would willingly accept with grace. He goes on to say as long as there is no end goal in life; there is no meaning in life. However, many that live their every day lives do not think on such an emotionless level.
Taylor on the other hand gives the position of there being two different kinds of meanings, and although objective meaning doesn’t exist, subjective meaning can give each one of us our own definition of what meaning is, which in this case is something to do. Even though the culmination of these events will ultimately lead to nothing, it doesn’t mean that they were a complete waste of time since they gave us something to do (. The same can be said about the birds and the glowworms. Their lives have no end goal as their lives were nothing but a never-ending cycle, but it gave them something to do in life – no matter how meaningless it may seem to someone looking from the outside in. The most important point Taylor makes is that the tasks we do can have meaning to us, but another individual looking in could see the exact same task as being meaningless, and that is to be expected.
Subjective meaning depends on the exact moment in time, which relates to such expressions as “live in the moment” or “Carpe Diem”, because after that moment has passed, all the meaning that is associated with it disappears. People like to believe that what they’re doing will always have meaning in one form or another, and as long as they believe in that, they are in a better state of mind than believing that everything in life is meaningless and that we should only strive to live as long as we can. This can be seen as living in denial, but emotions are something humans unlike many animals live with on a minutely basis and must be accounted for. Furthermore, although Camus position makes logical sense, it makes little to know emotional sense since it does not account for the human aspect of life.
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Lane , Bob. “The Absurd Hero.” Vancouver Island University, Degree Programs Canada – Master & Bachelor Education Degrees Canada | VIU. http://records.viu.ca/www/ipp/absurd.htm (accessed March 19, 2013).
Klemke, E. D., and Steven M. Cahn. “Albert Camus: The Myth of Sisyphus.” In _The meaning of life: a reader_. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. 72-82.
Klemke, E. D., and Steven M. Cahn. “Richard Taylor: The Meaning of Life.” In _The meaning of life: a reader_. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. 134-143.
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