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Where is meaning found? In an individual or in an idea?

The most troublesome question asked is “what is the meaning of life?” A great deal of people spend their life searching for meaning, attempting to discern what meaning is, and many feel distress over the search for that meaning, and become lost. The true question should be; “where is meaning found and how does one apply that meaning?” The pure meaning of life is to create meaning for yourself, through morals and individual happiness. A person must use critical, conscious thinking to determine what is best for himself, and then in turn by creating the best self, allowing that self to help and enhance the lives of others. This philosophical attitude is called existentialism.

Existentialism stresses an individual’s self-determination, unique position, and responsibility for his own happiness. The ethics held by existentialists follow similar to standard ethics, holding morals, wellbeing, and security as key components. However, ethics held by existentialists are explained as “government of the self, by the self, for the self.” This means that the self is the most important component in life, while one may still hold responsibilities for other life (such as children, family, loved ones), their own self-assurance is the primary concern, after that all else will be taken care of. The constant conscious thinking of an existentialist centers around the best possible situation for himself, all other persons and situations that come into his life are meant to enhance the life. While the ethics of an existentialist hold true for each individual, no life is the same. The best for one person may not be attainable or even desirable for another.

Existentialist ethics are guidelines, not a mold for the existentialist, our human brains come to existentialist understandings on their own, and the choices then made are by conscious thought, through the understanding of ethics. Therefore, one must find meaning in himself while still holding to ethical guidelines. The meaning is found in the person, not the ideas, these ideas need a physical body to enact them, without the person putting ethics to use, they are nothing at all. The existentialist holds decision, and choice for his own well-being on his own, this process gives the individual the means to find purpose, through decision and critical thinking, and therefore find meaning in his or her life. The thought process of the human brain may be the most important aspect in finding meaning. The initial thoughts are void of any influence from political, religious, cultural, or ideological influence, they are pure and untainted existentialist thoughts, meant to provide for the body housing that mind.. Ethics and ideas come to realization in the conscious mind, after the brain initially thinks from the existentialist perspective. Meaning is then not created by the idea, but produced from the existentialist mind.

The last key aspect of existentialism is acceptance. While one can control their own ideas, and make choices to determine their future, there is a point where one can physically do no more. One cannot control another and make decisions for them, no matter how much they desire to, and one cannot decide to know something, which is universally unknown. At this point, the principle of acceptance comes into play. Ethics and choice has no place in the matter of acceptance, one must simply come to terms with it. Once the individual has chosen to accept, the unnecessary stress of wanting to control what cannot even be attainable by a single person will dissipate. One will also find meaning in acceptance. When he accepts that he can do no more, he finds that his very existence has meaning, in the spiritual realm, and in the lives of others, beyond a point, which even he can control.

Camus said, “What can a meaning outside my condition mean to me? I can understand only in human terms.” The condition is the human, and their choice to pursue the best life possible, in a rational, and attainable sense. Since the individual has power over his own mind, choice in which to create the best outcome possible for his own life, and the power of acceptance, being an existentialist holds the meaning of life, by its very definition, and meaning is found in the individual, not ideas or beliefs, but in how the existentialist ultimately chooses to live.

Categories: 2013 Winter Writing Contest, Philosophy.

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4 Responses

  1. I think your post is interesting. Subjectivism, however, isn’t the same as existentialism. I guess what you’re saying is that the ideas can be changed, malleable, chosen, instead the body of an individual is finite, and thus subject to external forces. In some way, ideas too are bound only by the body to which we can only strive so far out of our body. In this aspect, you have an interesting perspective of existentialism – but what about the aspect of how we conceive of ourselves based on how we look (to others)? The issue of relationships, as well, seems to be left out of this conception of existentialism.

    Also, you said: “The last key aspect of existentialism is acceptance.”

    In some way, I agree with you, in another, I don’t really. If we’re talking about pure acceptance – I think that’s probably stoicism. Camus also said: “I rebel, therefore I exist.” I think there is a fine line though, with acceptance and rebellion. To accept the finitude, and perhaps fight to the end of that line where our finitude stops us – and accept it from there. Perhaps that’s what existentialism is.

  2. I disagree for related but different reasons.

    The initial thoughts are void of any influence from political, religious, cultural, or ideological influence, they are pure and untainted existentialist thoughts, meant to provide for the body housing that mind.

    There is a notion here of a mind that precedes any external influences, which maps more or less onto the ‘individual’s’ will. But what’s left if you take away all these ideas and influences that come from outside? Even the ‘existentialist’ mind as a concept is coloured by them, because it’s an idea you have adapted from outside. To the extent that the words you use to express it are tied up in the language used to express them, that language is also from outside. Your name was given to you, your occupation depends on relations to other people, the priorities you have you learn from a dialectic of acceptance of and resistance against those from other sources.

    The individual doesn’t exist in the abstract, only as some particular identity in some situation, and that identity is a product of the individual’s reaction to outside forces (and even many of those impulses to react are appropriated from outside). So the individual, as it actually plays out, consists mostly of ideas.

    So I agree in that the pursuit of meaning is trying to figure out who you are and what to do with yourself, but that pursuit happens in the context of all kinds of ideas that are not originally yours.

    See this for a more poetic take on it.

  3. I think you gave a cogent and coherent expression of some of the fundamental aspects of the existentialism (in that, if you go further into the definition, it can relate to fundamental questions of our existence and place in the world), but, on the subject, you also have to note that there is no inherit meaning to be found in the “universe”. There are no “gold coins” of meaning lying around. In this sense, does meaning even exist? Shouldn’t be questioning meaning itself here? If the idea is to construct meaning for yourself (almost, out of nothing), doesn’t that make meaning itself quite.. moot? Doesn’t then, the search for meaning or to attempt to have any conception of it, fall short, if we are just making it up on our own terms? I can’t see this as being satisfactory if I am both the sculptor and sculpted.

  4. I think the acceptance pertains to the acceptance of any idea. So if the acceptance is existential, then it must include the acceptance of a complete lack of ideas (the finite), AND an array of many possible ideas (the infinite). So whether an answer is found, no answer is discernible, or many answers provide multiple meanings, the existentialist will come to terms with it provided he or she has no power left of change.

Got insight?