Mortiz Schlick: the Meaning of Life in Play

I do not agree with Schlick’s contention that the meaning of life is grounded in the act of play and not work. I disagree for three main reasons. First, I find Schlicks account of forgetting the purpose of activities to be somewhat flawed. He demonstrates how the purpose of an activity does not yield meaning and that work is a means to a goal. I find a discrepancy in this in regards to his acceptance of Goethe’s rule. Schlick also holds that in order for us to understand how to lead a meaningful life through creative-play, that we do it by emulating children or youth.

I disagree with Schlicks supposed template for meaningfulness due to the feelings associated with creative-play and what it is to feel meaning in something. I argue that he is appealing to emotions rather than the quality of meaning. Finally, I discuss Schlicks understanding of youth and what it means to attempt to emulate it.

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I believe that he is too presumptuous and assumes that all youth is experienced in a similar manner; this is not the case each individual possesses a different aspect of what youthful living is and was.

Schlick holds that creative play may produce valuable goods in the same way that unpleasurable activity or work can. He then goes on to say that the more activities become play, the more work would be accomplished and value would arise from it. He finishes by saying that work is human action because we think of the outcomes or benefits, and not because we arrive at them.

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He uses examples such as the artist using the act of creation as a means of forgetting the rewards of the project he toils away at. I disagree with Schlick, or his understanding of forgetting the fruits beared from the act of creative play.

In this sense, Schlick is assuming that we cannot have a goal in mind in order to derive meaning from the moment. He stresses that purposeless activities are the key to deriving meaning but what gives rise to the initiation of these activities? If there is no reason for the artist to pick up a paint brush then why bother do it? Schlick may argue that the artist finds meaning through painting because the entire process of creation is a joyful moment, even the tasks that are required to prepare to make art. I question what made the person become an artist then.

There will be a precursor to each individuals decision that will be a reason as to why they decided to pursue something. I believe that Schlicks idea that the artist may lose himself in the moment of creation and derive meaning from it holds true to his theory, but I argue that it was necessary for a goal or purpose to be understood prior to seeking it. The goal provides a means to deriving meaning out of the appreciation of the activity. Unfortunately, not all goals or purposes can necessarily be thought of as a moment in which one could be enthusiastic about.

I find it hard to believe that life threatening situations could be regarded as moments in which someone became enthusiastic or finds bliss to derive meaning. Certain goals, such as survival, provide stressors necessary for we as humans to complete a goal. It is in these moments of high stress that I would argue the meaningful moment be derived from the outcome or completion of the goal. Schlick may argue that life loses the power of creation when focused on distant goals but prior to that he mentions Goethe’s rule of working hard to play hard.

It seems Schlick is willing to accept the possibility of individuals working towards goals so long as they never forget the value of joy and festivities. I believe this to be a flaw because he is considering work as a means to the meaning life, if the outcome of work is to be joyous and playful. This potentially contradicts his previous contention that the meaning of life is grounded in play. It does not specifically depict work as a meaning to life, but describes how it can be a necessary component of it. The combination of work and play grounding a meaning in life seems to be the result of this flaw.

Secondly, Schlick emphasizes that children are living the most profound, meaningful lives because they do not have a work centered perspective of life. Complementary to his argument that life’s meaning lies in creative-play and not work, we can learn from the essence of what it is to be a child to appreciate creative-play as a child does. With this in mind, we find meaning by losing ourselves in the moment while completing activities, or rather change our attitude towards the activities we are doing so that we disregard the goal and appreciate the moment.

Children are used as a template in order for older individuals who do not believe they are experiencing meaningful events to learn how to perform purposeless activities that yield meaning subjectively. Youth in this sense however is coined more properly as enthusiasm. Youth can be attained at any age because it represents a state in life referring to the purposeless enjoyment, learned from children’s play. I do not agree with Schick’s argument in terms of youthful living accounting for a meaning in life. I disagree with this notion because although the state of youthful living may bring about the acknowledgement of meaningfulness while captured in a moment, it is still very much a feeling of meaningfulness.

This feeling is an emotion that we appeal to in order to enjoy, perplex or anger us for example to experience the meaningful moment. We may find meaning in creative play by tickling our brains with complicated conundrums or releasing our anger during a workout at the gym, but this meaning is not understood subjectively unless we feel it is meaningful. To lose oneself in a moment of purposeless activity that provides a sense of meaningful existence is still relying on a subjective enjoyment of the situation, which is translated through our senses and perceived by however we view the activities ourselves.

In this sense, it seems that the ultimate goal of living youthfully is to appeal to the feelings which we find the most beneficial while performing activities that seem without purpose. These activities do have purpose in that they warrant desired feelings and results. To summarize this point, meaningful activities or purposeless activities derive meaning through subjectively losing oneself in the moment or becoming enthusiastic about the activity, which is transcribed into the emotions which one feels in order to understand that the moment or activity has meaning.

Thus living youthfully is a cycle in which we attempt to experience feelings or emotions through activities that we subjectively feel are meaningful. Although the creative-play theory holds that intrinsically valuable activities are meaningful, I believe based on these notions that living youthfully in Schlick’s sense demonstrates how one can find enjoyment in life at all stages. It does this by changing our paradigm of work being a task of frustration, and allows us to enjoy the menial aspects of life by appreciating everything about it.

Thirdly, I find a different flaw in Schick’s argument towards youthful living making for a meaningful life. Youth in Schlick’s analogy is represented by a sort of enthusiasm for doing things where the aim of the activity is lost, and meaning is derived from being in the moment. This term youth is not universal all over the world. In many underdeveloped countries youthful living is complicated by class or caste distinction, race and sex. By appealing to a state which he claims is supposedly shared universally by children or youth world-wide, he is saying that they all are able to bring to fruition a meaningful activity.

What about areas where child labour is a regular staple to the economy? Do individuals learn youthful behaviour from children or who have work centered lives without play? Are young girls who lack rights and are married off at an early age demonstrating the very same youthful behaviour that enables creative-play? Would experiences such as these not depict a sour view of childhood and youth? It seems to me that youthful behaviour could be drastically different, parallel to our own area. In this case, creative play is subjective to different regions of the world.

No one person will share the direct aspects of youth that is described by Schlick, because there is no precise cookie-cutter depiction of youth to be embodied. He states that “ The more youth is realized in life,the more valuable it is, and if a person dies young, however long he may have lived, his life has ad meaning”(71). This cannot be true if youth is not understood in the sense that Schlick assumes the world shares, because no youth would yield no value. Therefore, Schlick’s contention that the meaning in life is grounded in play and not work requires revision based on my arguments.

There can be reason for our goals if we proceed to enjoy and celebrate our success from work. Although we benefit from creative-play during the moment we are still able to endure menial or mundane tasks so we may succeed and appreciate life itself and derive meaning from the moment. Schlick should also account for our emotions being a possible vector for the meaning of life in his understanding. We can appeal to feelings to make those meaningful moments seem as meaningful as they are. It’s not necessarily what we do but what we feel when doing it that may make for a meaning in life at the given moment.

In order for us to appeal to creative play through youth, we must first understand that youth is not a fixed term in the sense that Schlick implies. Experiences of youth are various in scope and do not yield the same type of play that Schlick believes is a model for learning creative play. Schlick must redefine this template to encompass a fundamental feature that we all share as individuals. That way an objective feature of people will provide means to subjective meaningfulness in life in accordance with Schlicks model. References Klemke and Schlick. On the meaning of life. New York, NY: Oxford University Press Inc. , 2008.

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Mortiz Schlick: the Meaning of Life in Play. (2016, Nov 21). Retrieved from

Mortiz Schlick: the Meaning of Life in Play

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