Let's say that the meaning of life is X (avoiding evil, fulfilling our desires, obeying God, fleeing the pain of the fear of the death, collecting turtles – anything). What is the meaning of X?

Even before the pitfall of an infinite regress, the question seems to run aground because if I agree that X is my ultimate quest, I have no criteria to evaluate X a part of Xs – I'm compelled by the meaning, so to say.

Edited question: Since this topic is on hold as off topic, I'll try to make my question more explicit. It's pacific that these and similar arguments make the quest for a meaning non-sensical, and/or any ultimate meaning necessarily axiomatic?

More generally, the problem is that of the "rules of the rules", well exposed by Wittgenstein's aphorism:

This was our paradox: no course of action could be determined by a rule, because any course of action can be made out to accord with the rule (PI201)

of which Kripke has proposed a convincing analysis. Thomas Nagel also addresses the problem.

Edit in reply to some comments

My question has similarities with this one, but from a different angle. Mine is not related to the presence of one or more human beings, but to the possibility to evaluate the criteria of a criteria following the latter.

I use meaning in a quite loose way: anything that gives a satisfying explanation for something to be in a specific way and not a different one.

As wrote by @Conifold in a comment that hopefully will become an answer, Wittgenstein propose a solution to it: "there is a way of grasping a rule which is not an interpretation, but which is exhibited in what we call „obeying the rule‟ and „going against it‟ in actual cases".

I'm inclined to accept an interpretation of this answer: we can't evaluate our meaning, we can only follow it, since we are educated to do so. But this raise an interesting issue: this is also an evaluation of the meaning – an attempt to evaluate the meaning of the meaning. Should I refuse it as well? (Here there are similarities with the famous critic by Bertrand Russell to the Tractatus, but I'm not sure to find Wittgenstein's ladder answer satisfying)

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1 Answer 1


What is the meaning of X?

What is the meaning of the meaning of life?

For the meaning of life to have any meaning, it must first exist. Either your life has meaning, or it doesn't. Here is the meaning:

A life without meaning is like a rudderless ship. So the meaning of the Meaning of Life is to provide a stabilizing intent, purpose, or goal with which to guide your thoughts and actions.

Psychologically and of course allegorically speaking, a meaningful life is also like a proper beacon that helps prevent your 'ship' (i.e. your Self) from running aground or drifting away from safety.

In a life without meaning, your energy and therefore life itself risks being wasted or dissipated. And since death is final it would be a tragedy to miss the only chance you might ever have to attain some sense of fulfillment, happiness, or success.

(That is unless you happen to enjoy the drama of instability above all else. Then I suppose that formless, antithetical meaninglessness could stand in proxy for any formal meaning. However, meaninglessness obviously does not = meaningfulness. So it would be at best a facsimile of meaning, imho.)

In conclusion (figuratively speaking), if you were a ship you would need navigational tools like lighthouses and a rudder to keep yourself on course. Without them you could become lost, perhaps forever.

And in reality as a human being, the Meaning of Life might provide you with the stability needed to prevent yourself from losing your mind and becoming overwhelmed with hopelessness.

It would be excessive to conclude from such examples, however, that happiness and meaningfulness are opposites or even that they are negatively correlated. In the majority of cases, more meaningful lives will be happier ones, and the existential despair that accompanies a profound sense of meaninglessness is likely to be incompatible with lasting happiness.

Handbook of Positive Psychology C. R. Snyder and Shane J. Lopez, Editors OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS (2002) / "The Pursuit of Meaningfulness in Life" by Roy F. Baumeister & Kathleen D. Vohs

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