I have come across many ways of philosophically explaining the "meaning" of life, such as the one put forth by Camus saying that life is inherently meaningless, and it is by living that we can rebel against such meaninglessness (the core idea of absurdism); or the one proposed by Viktor Frankl, saying that meaning in life comes before all things, and we can attain meaning through creating a work, encounters with people, and unavoidable sufferings (this is paraphrased from his work, Man's Search for Meaning, page 50 of this document); and so on.

All of these sound good, but I wondered whether such global notions could actually be applied to human beings universally.

Imagine you are an ordinary child born to a working class family: you don't get to go to different countries on vacation, you do just okay in school, and you get overlooked by peers in school because of your stutter. You get through everything, however, and discover you are actually talented in dancing, and go on to marry someone you met at a rehearsal session. Thus we could say, in this case, that you have "found meaning in life despite potential sufferings and an eventual demise".

Now imagine a different scenario, where you are born with a terminal disease, but due to medical advances, you are told your life can be prolonged till your 20s. You live these 20 years in physical pain, while deprived of a "normal", functional life, which eventually takes a toll on your mental well being as well. Would it feel to you that life has a meaning, if you are sure to die at a certain age, while living life in pain?

The above two scenarios seem to only differ in the amount of "absolute pain/suffering" one has to endure, while both ending in eventual demise. Why is it that, for me, it is much easier to imagine and accept that in the first scenario, the person can actually feel they are living a meaningful life, while in the second scenario it is harder for me to do so?

Is the meaningfulness of life as we call it, dependent on an "absolute suffering threshold" which we as an animal species are built to be able to endure, above which suffering no longer gives life meaning?

  • 1
    What makes you think that pain and suffering are absolute and not subjective? Plainly one's tolerance increases through life: a child who has lost their toy suffers terribly, and the pain of an injection or cut finger is intolerable. Dec 31, 2023 at 19:31
  • I think it is a well stated question.
    – Scott Rowe
    Dec 31, 2023 at 22:27
  • Daoistically: "life"<->"suffering"<->"death" :== "NON-MEANING", "non-life" <-> "non-suffering" <-> non-death :== MEANING!!
    – xerx593
    Jan 1 at 8:04
  • life="your life"(eat/sh#t/f#ck/suffer....) , non-life="your parents + offspring life"(?) ....non-life: "your social (all cousins!?), historical, evolutionary ... impact"(?)
    – xerx593
    Jan 1 at 8:09
  • ..thus "all people should" (once un-confused): "honor" the "meaning" (true/idea/eternity/"no-thing"...) "respect" the "world" (false/matter/durability/"every-thing"...)!;)
    – xerx593
    Jan 1 at 8:23


You must log in to answer this question.

Browse other questions tagged .