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I read the following from wikipedia (which I have found quoted in various discussion forums) on the Meaning of Life.

Logical positivists ask: "What is the meaning of life?", "What is the meaning in asking?"[82][83] and "If there are no objective values, then, is life meaningless?"[84] Ludwig Wittgenstein and the logical positivists said:[citation needed] "Expressed in language, the question is meaningless"; because, in life the statement the "meaning of x", usually denotes the consequences of x, or the significance of x, or what is notable about x, etc., thus, when the meaning of life concept equals "x", in the statement the "meaning of x", the statement becomes recursive, and, therefore, nonsensical, or it might refer to the fact that biological life is essential to having a meaning in life.

I don't get the last sentence in the quote. How is "meaning of life" phrase recursive? Or is it "meaning of meaning life"? Either way I am not getting it.

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    How did they go from "The meaning of life" to "the meaning of the meaning of life"? My issue with "The meaning of life" is that it makes an unfounded assumption. "y = the meaning of x" means x serves y and stands in some subservient relationship to it (and y is outside of x). So asking about the meaning of life implies something outside of life to which life stands subservient. That's fine if you believe in the transcendent (but then you wouldn't ask this question). Otherwise, the question is nonsensical.
    – R. Barzell
    Oct 9, 2015 at 19:33
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    Could it be that 'life' is an 'everything object' for the critic? If 'life' is the entire domain of things that might have meaning, then 1) 'the meaning of everything' would then be a member of the set of 'everything', and the meaning of the meaning of everything would then implode. 2) the meaning of everything that might have meaning is all meanings, which involves contradictions.
    – user9166
    Jun 7, 2017 at 20:36
  • It's ALIVE!! It's ALIVE!! 😂 May 25, 2023 at 13:40

7 Answers 7

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I think that the second half of the given Wikipedia passage is just confusing. First, the concept of recursion belongs to algorithm theory and is unhelpful here. Recursion, unlike what is written, is not nonsensical. Second, it should have been "x = life" rather than "x = the meaning of life". Then the argument becomes:

if we accept that

'the meaning of x' = the consequences of x in life

then

'the meaning of life' = the consequences of life in life

which is vacuous, because everything in life is a consequence of life.

This is better expressed in the following passage in Wikipedia:

The things (people, events) in the life of a person can have meaning (importance) as parts of a whole, but a discrete meaning of (the) life, itself, aside from those things, cannot be discerned. A person's life has meaning (for himself, others) as the life events resulting from his achievements, legacy, family, etc., but, to say that life, itself, has meaning, is a misuse of language, since any note of significance, or of consequence, is relevant only in life (to the living), so rendering the statement erroneous.

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What the quote is saying is that:

  1. One can ask about "the meaning of X" for any X.
  2. One can therefore ask about "the meaning of the statement 'the meaning of life'", or the meaning of that statement, recursively, for ever
  3. Thus, since there is no base meaning (it's a kind of "turtles all the way down" statement), the statement "meaning of life" is meaningless.

I don't know enough about Wittgenstein, but this statement (1) requires a citation and (2) inexplicably offers the non-sequitur "or it might refer to the fact that biological life is essential..." which would mean that the question isn't meaningless.

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    I don't get why that's especially problematic for meaning of life, should apply for meaning of anything. Oct 9, 2015 at 20:08
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Recursion is, an another answer points out, is unhelpful here. It might be better said the sentence is in some sense self-referential but not explicitly so - unlike the liars sentence.

The last sentence in the quote is:

biological life is essential to have a meaning to life

This is somewhat like Heideggers Dasein (There-Being) where being is a problem for Being.

Here we can see the self-reference explicitly; except the two senses of being is different.

It's also akin to an observation in the Plato, where he says order is essential for meaning to be possible.

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Also it's Recursive, When a thing is defined in terms of itself or of its type. A function being applied within its own definition, this can be defined in an infinite number of instances, like functional values, Although usually, it is done in a way that no loop or infinite chain of reference can occur, (maths) the proposition is reached because you will never duplicate the image on another part of the Sphere. Finite, subdivision rules, a geometrical form of recursion. Perhaps a cantor set or a perfect set of N. A Perfect Set, There are no isolated points, its a Perfect space. Each point can be approximated well by other points on the sphere. Examples, Ones parents are ones ancestors. (Base case) The ancestors of ones ancestors are also ones ancestors. (Recursion step)

Both directions lie in the plane of Two Dimensional Space, measured by width and length, I could also argue the Euclidean Rules, as it fits there also.

Its Fibonacci, the Fibonacci sequence is a classic example of recursion Fib (0)=as base case1 Fib (0)=as base case2 For integers N>1 Fib(n):=fib(n-1)+fib (n-2)

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  • "Did you go inside the sphere?"
    – Scott Rowe
    May 25, 2023 at 10:23
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Some say the meaning of life is to discover the meaning of life. So what you should do with your life is to discover that what you should do with your life is to discover that what you should do with your life is to discover that what you should do with with your life is to discover....... This meaning of life is recursive.

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    "Some say" ... who is "some" in this? Mar 10, 2016 at 15:33
  • @JamesKingsbery Apparently logical positivists who ask the question why we ask the question "what is the meaning of life". The answer is to find the meaning of life", but "what is the meaning of life", what's the point in asking the question, oh right we want to know the meaning of life, but what is the meaning of life?
    – haxor789
    May 25, 2023 at 11:02
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recursive rəˈkərsiv/ adjective

Characterized by recurrence or repetition, in particular.

MATHEMATICS/LINGUISTICS: relating to or involving the repeated application of a rule, definition, or procedure to successive results.

COMPUTING: relating to or involving a program or routine of which a part requires the application of the whole, so that its explicit interpretation requires in general many successive executions.

I believe Wittgenstein is arguing that for Logical Positivists the meaning of anything is accessed through life - therefore they define Life as the pursuit of the meaning of things. A simple representation of this definition is, Life = meaning of "x".

When asked the question "What is the meaning of Life?", the Logical Positivist will substitute the word "Life" with the definition given above; "What is the meaning of the meaning of Life?"... repeatedly, "What is the meaning of the meaning of the meaning of Life?". Thus the question repeats into a never ending recursive investigation.

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We exist because of cause and effect, whatever reason we started with is long since gone and completely unknown. If there ever was a reason to begin us with. We are the consequences of pleasure, the sex, people mistake it for a purpose a procreation the population is propaganda. Children are the consequence of the sex. See we are not here for Man made, human error contracts, constructs, concepts, or context. We made the maker, we created the creator, nothing wrong with that its the terms and conditions, laws, rules and rituals we placed on whoever they are.

Finding you gift, your ability, talent, skill, your natural inclination, it could be knowing a car motor inside out and never taking a auto class, sitting down at a piano and playing a beautiful song you never heard of and you can't read sheet music, drawing. Cooking, these are natural, your gift, skill brings to you self esteem, self assurance, accomplishment, pride, your good chemicals flow. This overflows into your relationships, career, that drive, passion, motivation, all of the natural good stuff we should be feeling, the only reason to be, it is certainly not for human produced suffering or even wisdom, as wisdom is the consequence of suffering. Imagine if everyone did what they are naturally inclined to do and do it with a childlike enthusiasm, our world would be completely different, I see no poverty, no wars, no executions, no exclusions.

Mho. I am a psychologically minded Abstract Philosopher. views expressed are my own.

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    Meaning is subjective , i mean this, you will mean that.
    – Elysium
    Jun 7, 2017 at 3:47
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    DV - Hello and welcome to Philosophy.SE. I am unsure where the answer addresses the specific questions (I don't get the last sentence in the quote. How is "meaning of life" phrase recursive? Or is it "meaning of meaning life"? Either way I am not getting it.). Could you perhaps add a more explicit response in your answer? Jun 7, 2017 at 11:19
  • Hello thank you for the welcome, recursive is recurring, repetition, meaning is inclusive meaning, all defined, comprehensive , it's meaning will repeat again and again, not changing.
    – Elysium
    Jun 7, 2017 at 12:45
  • I am still unclear what in the content of your answer addresses this. Jun 7, 2017 at 12:46
  • You are having a hard time because I am Abstract and my defining the intent is difficult, my language is different as well, I'm a long time recluse and self taught, I am not academic, I'm sorry if I got to out in the left field or drove it in a ditch. I like metaphors too.
    – Elysium
    Jun 7, 2017 at 12:56

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