Meaningfulness in individual life
The ways in which an individual views his or her own life is of fundamental importance to the meaningfulness they derive from their existence. Current social trends favor increasingly complex and convoluted ways of determining the meaning of one’s own life, though these may differ from philosophers who have explored the meaning of life. This sample philosophy essay explores Luther, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and Borgmann’s philosophies regarding the meaning of life.
The meaningfulness of individual life
Specifically delineating what constitutes meaningfulness in an individual life has been a field of philosophical inquiry for many centuries. Right now, civilizations are evolving, growing more complex, and experiencing a “modernization” as these evolutions and complexities become commonplace among societies. There are advocates of these types of progressive changes in people’s ideas and reflections.
But with social momentums such as these, there is a pull-back to simpler, more classical times and practices by those who would argue that changing those things already known to work well does nothing but “invent” a broken system. Thus an analysis of the relevant thoughts brought to light by some of the minds who championed the most popular concepts regarding a modern interpretation of an individual life’s meaningfulness is called for.
Through this exploration of what Martin Luther, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and Borgmann thought about meaningfulness, their intimate connection via a synthesis of philosophical understanding will be revealed.
Modern understanding of life
Modern meaningfulness can be understood to be man wholly accepting himself as his own source of understanding as opposed to man viewing he and his world as unknown to all but a distant, and also unknown, God. Kirkegaard often compares and contrasts the subjective thinker and the objective thinker. The subjective thinker finds truth within himself and the world bends to his truth, while the objective thinker must always have things proven to him by observing the world “as it is,” which therefore supports or defeats claims of truth.
The merits of explicitly defining the world “as it is” with only one definition are suspect—as multiple views beget multiple understandings of “what is.” Kirkegaard sidesteps the paradox of defining the “true world” and instead brings a vision of the subjective thinker as one who creates enough esthetic content within his life in order that he exist aesthetically for the sole intent of having a justifiable purpose. The subjective thinker will be lost without purpose, and so he invents it in art.
Existence is an art
The subjective thinker is not a scientist-scholar; he is an artist. To exist is an art. The subjective thinker is esthetic enough for his life to have esthetic content, ethical enough to regulate it, dialectical enough in thinking to master it. The subjective thinker’s task is to understand himself in existence. (Kirkegaard, 351)
Soren Kierkegaard, the forefather of existentialism in a philosophical tradition, paints a picture of a singularity, known as Man, who must bend the world to understand. And since the context of the world is always a context—i.e., an understanding that exists within another’s mind—what else is there to do but bend until one’s on itching curiosity for ultimate definition is satiated?
Nietzsche marked this point when he suggested that the universe is coldly existential, but only when unobserved: (Nietzsche, Sec. 302).
Here Nietzsche has defined man as a one who bestows the gift of relevance and import to an otherwise unimportant world.
Putting Man above God is heretically disrespectful in most world religions, but it also shows how deeply Nietzsche experiences his own assertion that the world is an emptiness whose only meaning is pasted on top of itself by the silly meandering twits known collectively as mankind. This view is further established with:
“The Christian resolution to find the world ugly and bad has made the world ugly and bad…What is now decisive against Christianity is our taste, no longer our reasons” (Sec 130, 132)
He has removed God as creator of the world, and he then replaced the abandoned deity with paltry Man. And, then beyond that, he accuses man of doing a terrible job, simply because it’s no longer interesting—no longer in fashion or per our particular tastes.
Man’s passion to achieve meaningful life
Nietzsche continues his assertions of Man’s lackluster countenance and fickle passions. Mankind is capricious, he finds that the most desirable things become blasé once acquired:
“Even the most beautiful scenery is no longer assured of our love after we have lived in it for three months, and some distant coast attracts our avarice: possessions are generally diminished by possession” (Nietzsche, Sec 41).
And so it seems that though Nietzsche places Man above God, it can also be noted from this passage that in order for Man to have a true passion and interest in things—traits which are commonly regarded quite highly—he must suffer the loss of things. This loss will not bring happiness. But it will bring the “fullness” of desire and appreciation, as opposed to the emptiness one feels after having gobbled up everything that could ever possibly be owned.
Ascetics and understanding life and death
However, Nietzsche is not arguing for a man to practice asceticism. He is merely stating that everything is empty and savage. This cynical darkness of Nietzsche reappears in his philosophical message many times until there is no possible way that his readers can misconstrue his intent or extrapolate any meanings that echo past, more rosy outlook:
“Who can attain to anything great if he does not feel it in himself the force and will to inflict great pain? The ability to suffer is a small matter.
In that line, weak women and even slaves often attain masterliness. But not to perish from internal distress and doubt when one inflicts great suffering and hears the cry of it—that is great, that belongs to greatness.” (Nietzsche, Sec. 325).
There is the darkness. Pain. For Nietzsche, life is meaningful in the savagery. He notes that the world is what Man makes it, but he concludes that the Man-made world is also only satisfying when dominated and subdued by savagery. This is a myopic offshoot of Kirkegaard’s subjective thinker.
Luther’s alternative Christian views on the meaningfulness of life
In contrast to Nietzsche’s trumpeting crescendo call for the violence of Man, for the acknowledgment that God is dead, we have Martin Luther’s understanding of life and death. He does not purport to know Man or God. But he laments the aspects of common thought that harm an unobtained ideal.
“Just as an old man who has lost his teeth now munches with the help of the stumps, so the modern Christian language about Christianity has lost the power of the energetic terminology to bite and the whole thing is toothless “maundering.”
To me, it is clear that the confusion in Christianity is due to its having been set back one whole stage in life. That we become Christians as children have promptly given rise to the assumption that one is what has been anticipated potentially.” (Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments p. 363-364)
Because Christians are told as children that they are Christians, they lose their potential and simply go about without truly seeing, and thus lose the opportunity to really be a Christian. Another of his lamentations addresses dismissal:
“The secular mentality will say that poetry is a maiden’s over-excitement, religiousness a man’s frenzy” (Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments p. 440).
Here is an echo of the objective thinker. By denying esthetics and abstracts, the “informed” secular mind can laugh off the purer passions as ridiculous, and the world suffers for it.
Duality of thought
The more recent philosopher, Albert Borgmann has another perspective on the individualistic meaning of life. He admits a simultaneous duality between the objective thinker and the subjective thinker by highlighting both the meaningfulness and the meaninglessness of common human interactions:
“This unity of achievement and enjoyment, of competence and consummation, is just one aspect of a central wholeness to which running restores us. Good running engages mind and body. Here the mind is more than an intelligence that happens to be housed in a body.
Rather the mind is the sensitivity and the endurance of the body. Hence running in its fullness…is in principle different from exercise designed to procure physical health.” (Borgmann 203).
Thus running can be a deep spiritual experience or an empty physical maintenance experience. This showcases the starkness of Nietzsche, the esthetics of Kirkegaard, and the realization of Luthor’s hopes for Man’s depth of consideration.
Borgmann concludes his work by comparing types of food consumption. The meaninglessness of fast food is juxtaposed against the symbolism-heavy formal meal that represents so much more than simply the satiation of hunger. While a Big Mac represents the purest sense of nothingness—physical satiation only, a formal meal can go so far as to fulfill the need for brotherhood and fellowship, and to connect the disconnected among men.