What is the most asked philosophical question? It seems to me that the answer is: what is the meaning of life? Everywhere in the world, one can find the evidence that finding a meaning in life is very important for people. Humanity appears to be preoccupied with this question since the very dawn of civilization.
What do Socrates, Baruch De Spinoza and Simone De Beauvoir have in common? Yes, their names all have an ‘S’ in it. But there is something else: They are all individuals who have been trying to find the meaning of life. In this essay I will reflect on the meaning of life as presented by these three philosophers.
Let me first explain why I have chosen this approach. The meaning of life has been an interest to me for a long time. I am especially fascinated by the fact that there is no general definition of it. Every culture, yes even every individual has a different version of it. Personally, I have not found the ultimate meaning of my life yet. Hearing what other people have to say about this can be very inspiring. Especially when these people are philosophers, because they are experts in formulating their thoughts in a constructive way. I realize that this topic is very broad. That is why I have chosen to select three philosophers that appeal to me and let them speak in my essay. I will present their ideas and reflect on what their meaning of life means to me.
Before I start discussing the three selected philosophers, it is necessary to make clear what we are talking about. Especially because the ‘meaning of life’ has come in so many versions throughout history, it is good to start with some attempt at definition. Generally, when people speak about the meaning of life, they point at the purpose of the human life, and in a broader sense, the purpose of humanity. Some people might also include the meaning of life as in ‘nature’ or ‘the universe’, but even then it depends on our human perspective what that means to us.
The meaning of life is closely connected with the meaning of death. In Eastern traditions, like Buddhism, a human life is part of a circle of life, death and rebirth. The ultimate goal for the human being is to break out of this circle. The only way to do so is by not having any desires anymore. The fact you actually desire to have no desires anymore makes this pursuit a very difficult one.
In the Christian tradition, however, the general teaching is that human beings have only one life. That one life decides whether we will enter heaven or hell. Of course, many people today do not call themselves Christians anymore, but I still think that a great deal of our underlying premises about the meaning of life is still based on the religious doctrines.
Of our three philosophers, I think Simone De Beauvoir is the only one of whom it can be said that she was part of the Christian cultural tradition. The remarkable thing about De Beauvoir is that she was a devout Catholic in her early childhood who intended to become a nun....