What is Life?
There are always times in our lives when we find ourselves just staring into space, pondering why we’re here in this world. It can sometimes be frustrating because it does not seem to matter how long and hard you think about it. You are still nowhere close to a clear answer. Is there an actual answer to the question “what is life”?
Life Dictionary Definition
If you want a literal dictionary definition of life, it is the condition that differentiates plants and animals from inorganic matter. Life is the capacity for growth, functional abilities, reproduction, and continual change. Morbidly, it is the state that precedes death.
Undeniably, the dictionary definition of life is not romantic at all, which is why most people are not satisfied with this. Who would be fine with saying that their lives are just what makes them different from a rock? People believe that there is more than just being sentient that makes a person alive.
If you are not looking for the literal meaning of life, perhaps you will be more interested in looking at it from a philosophical viewpoint.
Life According to Socrates
Socrates believes that people should seek eudaimonia as the ultimate end. Eudaimonia is the state of having a healthy spirit, essentially a type of happiness. To attain eudaimonia, Socrates believes that one needs to be virtuous.
For Socrates, virtue is to do the right thing even when there is no reward in doing so. For him, it is always better to suffer from injustice than be the one to commit it.
Life According to Confucianism
According to Confucius and the Confucian religion, it is human nature to be in a constant search for education and discipline. Confucianists recognize the goal of achieving virtue through fostering strong relationships and reasoning with others, while at the same time minimizing the influences of negativity as much as possible.
Life According to Camus
Camus’ philosophical worldview revolves around the idea of the absurd. He believes that humans have an innate drive to search for meaning in anything, and where there is none, humans would create their own. However, the universe is a cold and indifferent place, and trying to find meaning will always end up with you in absurd situations and ultimately fail.
Camus says that finding a satisfying answer to the meaning of life is impossible. Any attempt at finding so will only end up in disaster. However, just because life is devoid of meaning, that does not mean that you cannot enjoy living. For Camus, the meaninglessness of life is just a background fact that you can just ignore since it will not be affecting you anyway.
If you’re left even more confused after reading about the different meanings of life, that’s a good thing. Life should be a continuous learning experience, and we should never stop doing so, while at the same time enjoying the ride.
Why are We Here?
Everyone on this planet has faced an existential crisis at least once in their lives, so you should not worry when it is your turn to think about it. Now, if this train of thought has been preventing you from getting enough sleep, you might want to read up on the philosophy of existentialism.
What is Existentialism?
Existentialism is a philosophical movement that first became active between the 19th and 20th centuries. The idea behind this school of thought is that individuals are truly free and can create their identities according to their own will.
Within the existentialism movement, 19th-century Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, wrote about the theory of the three stages of human existence. This would then become the basis of existentialism. This theory is based on humans going through three stages in life. Starting from the superficial and unethical lifestyle, toward a more spiritual and meaningful existence.
Kierkegaard’s Three Stages of Life
According to Kierkegaard, you are not supposed to find the purpose for your life. What you should do is to make it instead. You can go through all three and pick one or stay on the path you have started with originally.
The three life-views are as follows:
This is the stage that all people are born into. The main motivation during this stage in life is experiencing pleasure and the pursuit of it. The pursuit of beauty and pleasure is often devoid of virtue and responsibility. This stage in life purely focuses on gaining more stuff and experiences.
However, even if you did gain a lot of things and life experiences, you will still feel disappointed in your existence. This may cause you to transition into the second stage.
In this stage, the individual has transcended the pursuit of beauty and is now starting to follow the rules of society. This is when people would focus less on their inclinations and lean more towards having obligations. Individuals start to feel responsible for themselves and other people. For instance, starting a family, owning a pet, keeping a job/career, and having mature friends.
You can look at the ethical stage as becoming subservient but without the negative connotations. You no longer believe that the world revolves around you, and you realize some principles are worth following. This is the stage where you want to do what is rational and virtuous.
According to Kierkegaard, the highest stage of life is the religious stage. Granted, Kierkegaard was a devout Christian, however, this stage does not necessarily have to be about a single religion or system of belief. It is about progressing from the previous two stages into something more profound.
For Kierkegaard, this means taking a leap of faith in a deity but this can be generalized to other things. It might involve believing in something that you cannot otherwise prove the existence of. It is sort of like being faithful towards your convictions.
The transition from the aesthetic to the ethical is about graduating from wanting particular things like material possessions, life experiences, and even relationships with other people. In the ethical stage, you are more interested in general things like building your principles, peace, and order, which could sometimes feel more like a routine.
In short, the religious stage is about giving yourself over to something higher than yourself, rather than just yourself (aesthetic) or society (ethical).