Meaning of life
The meaning of life is a philosophical question concerning the significance of life or existence in general. It can also be expressed in different forms, such as "Why are we here?", "What is life all about?", and "What is the purpose of existence?" It has been the subject of much philosophical, scientific, and theological speculation throughout history.
- listed alphabetically by author
- Everything is done with a goal, and that goal is "good".
- What is the highest good in all matters of action? To the name, there is almost complete agreement; for uneducated and educated alike call it happiness, and make happiness identical with the good life and successful living. They disagree, however, about the meaning of happiness.
- Science leads to great achievements, which, quite rightly, fill of joy those who seek the truth, but if pursued, teaches us that we must seek other sources of ultimate truth and find answers to existential questions about the meaning of life and the mystery of death.
- Franco Bassani Knowing the universe. For whom? at the XXVII edition of the “Meeting for Friendship Among Peoples”, Rimini meeting 2006, August 23, 2006.
- If it be admitted that the soul of the savage is destined to live and evolve, and that he is not doomed for eternity to his present infant state, but that his evolution will take place after death and in other worlds, then the principle of soul-evolution is conceded, and the question of the place of evolution alone remains. Were all souls on earth at the same stage of evolution, much might be said for the contention that further worlds are needed for the evolution of souls beyond the infant stage. But we have around us souls that are far advanced, and that were born with noble mental and moral qualities... Human evolution is the evolution of the Thinker... At first, as little conscious as a baby’s earthly body, he almost slept through life after life, till the experiences playing on him from without awakened some of his latent forces into activity; but gradually he assumed more and more part in the direction of his life, until, with manhood reached, he took his life into his own hands, and an ever-increasing control over his future destiny. p. 131
- Annie Besant in The Ancient Wisdom (1897)
- Study one of the pivotal doctrines of the Ancient Wisdom, the doctrine of reincarnation. Our view.. will be clearer and more in congruity with natural order, if we look at it as universal in principle, and then consider the special case of the reincarnation of the human soul... For all evolution consists of an evolving life, passing from form to form as it evolves, and storing up in itself the experiences gained through the forms; the reincarnation of the human soul is not the introduction of a new principle into evolution, but the adaptation of the universal principle to meet the conditions rendered necessary by the individualisation of the continuously evolving life... A life of extreme hardship, of ceaseless struggle with nature, will develop very different powers from those evolved amid the luxuriant plenty of a tropical island; both sets of powers are needed, for the soul is to conquer every region of nature, but striking differences may thus be evolved even in souls of the same age, and one may appear to be more advanced than the other, according as the observer estimates most highly the more “practical” or the more “contemplative” powers of the soul, the active outward-going energies, or the quiet inward-turned musing faculties. The perfected soul possesses all, but the soul in the making must develop them successively, and thus arises another cause of the immense variety found among human beings. For again, it must be remembered that human evolution is individual. p.180-202
- Annie Besant in The Ancient Wisdom (1897)
- The aim of life is inquiry into the Truth, and not the desire for enjoyment in heaven by performing religious rites, Those who possess the knowledge of the Truth, call the knowledge of non-duality as the Truth, It is called Brahman, the Highest Self, and w:Bhagavan.
- Bhagavata Purana 1.2.10-11, translated by Daniel Sheridan 1986, p. 23
- I love you and I forgive you. I am like you and you are like me. I love all people. I love the world. I love creating. Everything in our life should be based on love.
- People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life. I don't think that's what we're really seeking. I think what we're seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. That's what it's all finally about.
- Joseph Campbell, from The Power of Myth Episode 2, Chapter 4
- You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.
- Albert Camus, in "Intuitions" (October 1932), published in Youthful Writings (1976)
- In our lives there is a simple colour, as on an artist's palette, which provides the meaning of life and art. It is the colour of love.
- Marc Chagall in: C. Robertson (1998) Dictionary of quotations. p. 78 - Pagina 78
- To live is to experience things, not sit around pondering the meaning of life.
- Paulo Coelho (2011) Aleph
- The purpose of our evolutionary existence... is to manifest the soul’s qualities on the physical plane, and so to spiritualize matter. Meditation provides a more-or-less scientific means, depending on the meditation, of contacting the soul and gradually becoming at one with the soul, so that it can manifest clearly and potently on the physical plane. When we see such individuals, we perceive them as radiating meaning and purpose – for example, exceptionally creative artists, scientists, politicians or educators. Such persons are quite obviously governed by a force altogether different from the norm. It is the energy of the soul which is pouring through them, making them the creative beings who enrich our culture and civilization.
- Benjamin Creme in Transmission: A Meditation for the New Age (1983)
- A true realization of the implications of reincarnation (and not simply an intellectual acceptance) will transform the whole Western approach to reality. The idea that life is not short, brutish and arbitrary; that there is purpose and plan; that we are undergoing a process of gradual perfectionment; above all that the great Law of Cause and Effect governs our existence, must change our viewpoint. The need for right human relationships, for harmlessness, will become abundantly clear. (p. 271)
- Benjamin Creme in Maitreya's Mission Vol. I (1986)
- [T]he only meaning of life worth caring about is one that can withstand our best efforts to examine it.
- What is the meaning of human life, or of organic life altogether? To answer this question at all implies a religion. Is there any sense then, you ask, in putting it? I answer, the man who regards his own life and that of his fellow creatures as meaningless is not merely unfortunate but almost disqualified for life.
- Albert Einstein, The World As I See It (1949)
- Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society.
- Albert Einstein, Why Socialism? (1949)
- Put down that man—and women persons—their existence means exactly and precisely, not more, not one tiny bit less, just what they think it means, and what I think doesn't count at all.
- No more harmful nonsense exists than [the] common supposition that deepest insight into great questions about the meaning of life or the structure of reality emerges most readily when a free, undisciplined, and uncluttered (read, rather, ignorant and uneducated) mind soars above mere earthly knowledge and concern.
- Stephen Jay Gould (2002) I Have Landed, "No Science Without Fancy, No Art Without Facts", p. 48
- Sometimes I wonder if suicides aren't in fact sad guardians of the meaning of life.
- Václav Havel (1986) Disturbing the Peace. Ch. 5
- "What is the meaning of life?" This question has no answer except in the history of how it came to be asked. There is no answer because words have meaning, not life or persons or the universe itself. Our search for certainty rests in our attempts at understanding the history of all individual selves and all civilizations. Beyond that, there is only awe.
- Julian Jaynes As quoted in LIFE magazine (December 1988)
- What then is the universe for, and for what final purpose is man the immortal thinker here in evolution? It is all for the experience and emancipation of the soul, for the purpose of raising the entire mass of manifested matter up to the stature, nature, and dignity of conscious god-hood. The great aim is to reach self-consciousness; not through a race or a tribe or some favored nation, but by and through the perfecting, after transformation, of the whole mass of matter as well as what we now call soul. Nothing is or is to be left out. The aim for present man is his initiation into complete knowledge, and for the other kingdoms below him that they may be raised up gradually from stage to stage to be in time initiated also. This is evolution carried to its highest power; it is a magnificent prospect; it makes of man a god, and gives to every part of nature the possibility of being one day the same; there is strength and nobility in it, for by this no man is dwarfed and belittled, for no one is so originally sinful that he cannot rise above all sin. Treated from the materialistic position of Science, evolution takes in but half of life; while the religious conception of it is a mixture of nonsense and fear. Present religions keep the element of fear, and at the same time imagine that an Almighty being can think of no other earth but this and has to govern this one very imperfectly. But the old theosophical view makes the universe a vast, complete, and perfect whole.
- William Quan Judge in: The Ocean of Theosophy (1893), Chapter 8
- Amy: One day, I'm going to find a man who thinks I'm the meaning of life.
- Judging Amy (1999–2005), Season 3, Off the grid, Darkness For Light
- The persona, the ideal picture of a man as he should be, is inwardly compensated by feminine weakness, and as the individual outwardly plays the strong man, so he becomes inwardly a woman, i.e., the anima, for it is the anima that reacts to the persona. But because the inner world is dark and invisible to the extraverted consciousness, and because a man is all the less capable of conceiving his weaknesses the more he is identified with the persona, the persona's counterpart, the anima, remains completely in the dark and is at once projected, so that our hero comes under the heel of his wife's slipper. If this results in a considerable increase of her power, she will acquit herself none too well. She becomes inferior, thus providing her husband with the welcome proof that it is not he, the hero, who is inferior in private, but his wife. In return the wife can cherish the illusion, so attractive to many, that at least she has married a hero, unperturbed by her own uselessness. This little game of illusion is often taken to be the whole meaning of life.
- Carl Jung (1957) Two Essays on Analytical Psychology, "The Relations between the Ego and the Unconscious". p. 309
- I get up very early in the morning. I enjoy the quietness, the stillness, the rawness in the winter and fall. It's a special time.
- Ted Kennedy Esquire: The Meaning of Life (2009), p. 81
- Wealth really is a never-ending process. So is running money. You can't just walk away and ask about the meaning of life.
- Andy Kessler (2004) Running Money. Part VIII, Epilogue, 747 Office, p. 296
- Search of the answer to this question is the answer to this question.
- Ko Wen-je TEDxTaipei (2013)
- There are some ten thousand religious sects — each with its own cosmology, each with its own answer for the meaning of life and death. Most assert that the other 9,999 not only have it completely wrong but are instruments of evil, besides.
- Jon Krakauer (2003) Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith
- To work for a living certainly cannot be the meaning of life, since it is indeed a contradiction that the continual production of the conditions is supposed to be the answer to the question of the meaning of that which is conditional upon their production.
- Every human being, no matter how slightly gifted he is, however subordinate his position in life may be, has a natural need to formulate a life-view, a conception of the meaning of life and of its purpose. The person who lives esthetically also does that, and the popular expression heard in all ages and from various stages is this: One must enjoy life. There are, of course, many variations of this, depending on differences in the conceptions of enjoyment, but all are agreed that we are to enjoy life.
- Certain broad facts are always put before men in some form or other. They are explained even to savage tribes by their medicine-men, and to the rest of mankind by various religious teachers and in all kinds of scriptures. It is very true that scriptures and religions differ, but the points in which they all agree have to be accepted by a man before he can understand life sufficiently to live happily. One of these facts is the eternal Law of Cause and Effect. If a man lives under the delusion that he can do anything that he likes, and that the effect of his actions will never recoil upon himself, he will most certainly find that some of these actions eventually involve him in unhappiness and suffering. If, again, he does not understand that the object of his life is progress, that God’s Will for him is that he shall grow to be something better and nobler than he is now, then also he will bring unhappiness and suffering upon himself, because he will be likely to live for the lower side of life only, and that lower side of life never finally satisfies the inner man.
- The meaning of life is that it is to be lived, and it is not to be traded and conceptualized and squeezed into a pattern of systems.
- Bruce Lee (2000) Striking Thoughts. edited by John Little. p. 3
- The way to recover the meaning of life and the worthwhileness of life is to recover the power of experience, to have impulse voices from within, and to be able to hear these impulse voices from within — and make the point: This can be done.
- Abraham Maslow As quoted in The Meaning of Life : According to the Great and the Good (2007) edited by Richard T. Kinnier
- Mongol General: Conan! What is best in life?
- Conan: Crush your enemies. See them driven before you. Hear the lamentations of their women.
- Mongol General: That is good! That is good.
- Word-work is sublime... because it is generative; it makes meaning that secures our difference, our human difference — the way in which we are like no other life.
We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.
- Toni Morrison (1993) Nobel Prize Lecture
- General:... when one considers the meaning of life, it is a struggle between alternative viewpoints of life itself. And without the ability to defend one's own viewpoint against other perhaps more aggressive ideologies, then reasonableness and moderation could, quite simply, disappear. That is why we'll always need an army, and may God strike me down were it to be otherwise.
- Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983). Part III: Fighting Each Other
- Chairman: Item six on the agenda, the Meaning of Life. Now Harry, you’ve had some thoughts on this.
- Harry: That’s right, yeah. I’ve had a team working on this over the past few weeks, and what we’ve come up with can be reduced to two fundamental concepts. One, people are not wearing enough hats. Two, matter is energy. In the Universe there are many energy fields which we cannot normally perceive. Some energies have a spiritual source which act upon a person’s soul. However, this soul does not exist ab initio as orthodox Christianity teaches; it has to be brought into existence by a process of guided self-observation. However, this is rarely achieved owing to man’s unique ability to be distracted from spiritual matters by everyday trivia.
- Max: What was that about hats?
- Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983). Part V: Live Organ Transplants
- "You're talking about a search for the meaning of life?" I asked. "No, no, no," he said. "For the experience of being alive."
- Bill Moyers (1988) The Power of Myth, in the Introduction
- In my strategy, the training for killing enemies is by way of many contests, fighting for survival, discovering the meaning of life and death, learning the Way of the sword, judging the strength of attacks and understanding the Way of the "edge and ridge" of the sword.
- Miyamoto Musashi (c. 1584 – 1645) The Fire Book
- Leaving that issue aside, let me return to the smaller-scale dimensions of human life. Even if life as a whole is meaningless, perhaps that's nothing to worry about. Perhaps we can recognize it and just go on as before. The trick is to keep your eyes on what's in front of you, and allow justifications to come to an end inside your life, and inside the lives of others to whom you are connected. If you ever ask yourself the question, "But what's the point of being alive at all?" -- leading the particular life of a student or bartender or whatever you happen to be — you'll answer "There's no point. It wouldn't matter if I didn't exist at all, or if I didn't care about anything. But I do. That's all there is to it."
Some people find this attitude perfectly satisfying. Others find it depressing, though unavoidable. Part of the problem is that some of us have an incurable tendency to take ourselves seriously. We want to matter to ourselves "from the outside." If our lives as a whole seem pointless, then a part of us is dissatisfied -- the part that is always looking over our shoulders at what we are doing. Many human efforts, particularly those in the service of serious ambitions rather than just comfort and survival, get some of their energy from a sense of importance — a sense that what you are doing is not just important to you, but important in some larger sense: important, period. If we have to give this up, it may threaten to take the wind out of our sails. If life is not real, life is not earnest, and the grave is its goal, perhaps it's ridiculous to take ourselves so seriously. On the other hand, if we can't help taking ourselves so seriously, perhaps we just have to put up with being ridiculous. Life may be not only meaningless but absurd.
- Thomas Nagel, What Does It All Mean?: A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy (1987), Ch. 10. The Meaning of Life
- People search for the meaning of life, but this is the easy question: we are born into a world that presents us with many millenia of collected knowledge and information, and all our predecessors ask of us is that we not waste our brief life ignoring the past only to rediscover or reinvent its lessons badly.
- To sum up […] my deepest conviction. What lives on:
1. Our humble day-to-day lives
- A Sanskrit Scholar, J.W. Hauer, speaking of the central message of the "Gita" says, "We are not called to solve the meaning of life, but to find out the deed demanded by us and to work, and so by action to master the riddle of life." Whilst Sanskara says that the essential purpose of the "Gita" is to teach us a way out of bondage and not merely enjoin action.
- Peter de Noronha (1964) The Pageant of Life. p. 63-64
- When you wonder about the mystery of yourself, look to Christ who gives you the meaning of life. When you wonder what it means to be a mature person, look to Christ who is the fullness of humanity. And when you wonder about your role in the future of the world and of the United States, look to Christ.
- John Paul II "Address to High School Students", Source: Libreria Editrice Vaticana
- The primary, radical meaning of life appears when it is employed in the sense not of biology, but of biography. For the very strong reason that the whole of biology is quite definitely only a chapter in certain biographies, it is what biologists do in the portion of their lives open to biography.
- José Ortega y Gasset (1929) The Revolt of the Masses
- Many solutions are offered as to how to gain the something more in life. ...Wealth, strength, and keenness of intellect, taken separately of together, do not constitute the essence of real life. ...At its best, life consists of these things, plus something more. ...In Jesus Christ we see perfection in life. ...From an imperfect understanding of Jesus Christ, it would appear that real life depends upon the fulfilling of three conditions—the dwelling on friendly and affectionate terms with God, with ourselves, and with our fellowmen. ...If we fulfill to any degree these three conditions of being in friendly relations with God, ourselves, and our fellows, we shall discover something more of the meaning of life.
- Kirby Page (1920) Something More, A Consideration of the Vast, Undeveloped Resources of Life. p. 63-67
- Life is agid. Life is fulgid. Life is a burgeoning, a quickening of the dim primordial urge in the murky wastes of time. Life is what the least of us make most of us feel the least of us make the most of.
- Willard van Orman Quine's response in 1988 when asked his philosophy of life. (He invented the word "agid".) It makes up the entire Chapter 54 in Quine in Dialogue (2008).
- Many people ask, for example: What is the purpose of my life? Meaning: What am I meant to do? but the purpose of your life, and each life, is in its being. That being may include certain actions, but the acts themselves are only important in that they spring out of the essence of your life, which simply by being is bound to fulfill its purposes.
- Jane Roberts, in Dreams, Evolution and Value Fulfillment, Volume One, Session 899, Page 225
- When we try to be definite, as to what we mean when we say that this or that is "the Good," we find ourselves involved in very great difficulties. Bentham's creed, that pleasure is the Good, roused furious opposition, and was said to be a pig's philosophy. Neither he nor his opponents could advance any argument. In a scientific question, evidence can be adduced on both sides, and, in the end, one side is seen to have the better case — or, if this does not happen, the question is left undecided. But in a question, as to whether this, or that, is the ultimate Good, there is no evidence, either way; each disputant can only appeal to his own emotions, and employ such rhetorical devices as shall rouse similar emotions in others … Questions as to "values" — that is to say, as to what is good or bad on its own account, independently of its effects — lie outside the domain of science, as the defenders of religion emphatically assert. I think that, in this, they are right, but, I draw the further conclusion, which they do not draw, that questions as to "values" lie wholly outside the domain of knowledge. That is to say, when we assert that this, or that, has "value", we are giving expression to our own emotions, not to a fact, which would still be true if our personal feelings were different.
- Bertrand Russell (1961). Science and Ethics
- Each man must look to himself to teach him the meaning of life. It is not something discovered; it is something molded.
- Antoine de Saint-Exupery (2012) Airman's Odyssey. p. 28
- Nothing threatens freedom of the personality and the meaning of life like war, poverty, terror. But there are also indirect and only slightly more remote dangers. One of these is the stupefaction of man (the "gray mass," to use the cynical term of bourgeois prognosticators) by mass culture with its intentional or commercially motivated lowering of intellectual level and content, with its stress on entertainment or utilitarianism, and with its carefully protective censorship.
- Andrei Sakharov (1968) Progress, Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom
- Life is writing. The sole purpose of mankind is to engrave the thoughts of divinity onto the tablets of nature.
- Friedrich Schlegel, “On Philosophy: To Dorothea,” in Theory as Practice (1997), p. 420.
- Speak to all men as you do to yourself, with no concern for the effect you make, so that you do not shut them out from your world; lest in isolation the meaning of life slips out of sight and you lose the belief in the perfection of creation.
- Leó Szilárd (1961) The Voice of the Dolphins : And Other Stories: Third of the "Ten Commandments"
- The radical tension between good and evil, as man sees it and feels it, does not have the last word about the meaning of life and the nature of existence. There is a spirit in man and in the world working always against the thing that destroys and lays waste. Always he must know that the contradictions of life are not final or ultimate; he must distinguish between failure and a many-sided awareness so that he will not mistake conformity for harmony, uniformity for synthesis. He will know that for all men to be alike is the death of life in man, and yet perceive harmony that transcends all diversities and in which diversity finds its richness and significance.
- Howard Thurman (1971) The Search For Common Ground : An Inquiry Into The Basis Of Man's Experience Of Community p. 6
- The appreciation of the merits of art (of the emotions it conveys) depends upon an understanding of the meaning of life, what is seen as good and evil. Good and evil are defined by religions.
- Leo Tolstoy (1896) What is Art?
- It seems that it is impossible to live without discovering the purpose of your life. And the first thing which a person should do is to understand the meaning of life. But the majority of people who consider themselves to be educated are proud that they have reached such great height that they cease to care about the meaning of existence.
- If you do not know your place in the world and the meaning of your life, you should know there is something to blame; and it is not the social system, or your intellect, but the way in which you have directed your intellect.
- Everyone now knows how to find the meaning of life within himself.
- As intellectualism suppresses belief in magic, the world’s processes become disenchanted, lose their magical significance, and henceforth simply “are” and “happen” but no longer signify anything. As a consequence, there is a growing demand that the world and the total pattern of life be subject to an order that is significant and meaningful.
The conflict of this requirement of meaningfulness with the empirical realities of the world and its institutions, and with the possibilities of conducting one’s life in the empirical world, are responsible for the intellectual’s characteristic flights from the world.
- INTERVIEWER: Tell us a joke.
WHEDON: Your life has meaning.
INTERVIEWER: Tell us a secret.
WHEDON: Your life has meaning.
- One cannot ignore half of life for the purposes of science, and then claim that the results of science give a full and adequate picture of the meaning of life. All discussions of 'life' which begin with a description of man's place on a speck of matter in space, in an endless evolutionary scale, are bound to be half-measures, because they leave out most of the experiences which are important to us as human beings.
- Colin Wilson (1957) Religion and the Rebel p. 309
- I'd always, you see, even in my early teens, had these problems — problems of suddenly waking up in the middle of the night and having this horrifying vision that life is completely meaningless. You know — just thinking about something like the depths of space, and realizing it's got to come to an end somewhere, but apparently it doesn't, and then suddenly getting this terrible feeling that maybe life is a total delusion. G. K. Chesterton once said that in his teens he saw hell, and I really think I did too. I went through extreme depressions, glooms. There was one occasion on which I decided actually to commit suicide. I'd got into this state — I was working as a lab assistant at the school, and what would happen was that I'd make tremendous efforts to push myself up to a level of optimism. I'd do it in the evenings by reading poetry, thinking, writing in my journals, then I'd go back to the school the next day and blaaahhh, right down to the bottom again. This was the feeling of The Mind Parasites — there's something that waits until you've got lots of energy and just sucks you dry like a vampire. This sudden feeling that God was making fun of me made me feel one day, "For God's sake, let's not have any more of this nonsense. I'm damned if I'll be played about with like this. Let me kill myself." And immediately I felt this, I felt a curious sense of inner strength. So I went off to night school quite determined that what I was going to do was to take down the bottle of potassium cyanide from the reagent shelves and drink it. I knew that cyanide burns a hole in the bottom of the stomach and kills you within seconds. Well, I went into the classroom quite determined. There was a group gathered around the professor at the desk. I went over to the reagent shelves, I took down the bottle of potassium cyanide, I uncorked it, and as I started raising this to my lips I suddenly had an extremely clear vision of myself in a few seconds' time with an agonizing pain in the pit of my stomach, and at the same time I suddenly turned into two people. I don't mean that literally, but I mean that there was I, and there beside me was this silly, bloody little idiot called Colin Wilson who was in a state of self-pity and about to kill himself, and I didn't give a damn whether the fool killed himself or not. The trouble was, if he killed himself he'd kill me too. And quite suddenly a terrific sense of overwhelming happiness came over me. I corked up the bottle, put it on the shelf, and for the next few days was in total control of my emotions and everything else. I realized suddenly that you can achieve these states of control, provided that you put yourself in a crisis situation. And that's why throughout The Outsider I keep saying the outsider's salvation lies in extremes.
- To believe in a God means to understand the question about the meaning of life.
To believe in a God means to see that the facts of the world are not the end of the matter.
To believe in God means to see that life has a meaning.
- Ludwig Wittgenstein Journal entry (8 July 1916), p. 74e
- What is the meaning of life? That was all — a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years. The great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one.
- Virginia Woolf (1927) To the Lighthouse
- Each new generation asks – What is the meaning of life? A more fertile way of putting the question would be – Why does man need a meaning to life?
- Peter Wessel Zapffe (1989-90) To Be a Human Being
- [to Dr. Eudora Fletcher, under hypnotism] I'm 12 years old. I run into the synagogue. I ask the rabbi the meaning of life. He tells me the meaning of life, but he tells it to me in Hebrew. I don't understand Hebrew. Then he wants to charge me $600 for Hebrew lessons.