General Question

Krnt2007's avatar

What's the objective 1) meaning &/or 2) value of human life, if any?

Asked by Krnt2007 (14 points ) June 29th, 2007

By this I mean the *objective* NOT subjective or 'relative':

1) 'meaning' in the sense of 'design / purpose'

and

2) 'value',

if any, of our existence as homo sapiens,
consisting as it does *at present* of
birth -> life [entailing varying degrees of suffering] -> death.

I suspect there is no objective meaning or value in the above,
for any 'answer' I have heard depends on a framework of feeling, thought, or perception, including established religions or spiritualities,
which seems, in the context of the data I have from my life experience
and the research I know,
as well as basic logic,
to be most likely untrue;
inherently subjective or relative, defined in and by the individual;
or
inherently contradictory or probably inconsistent
with the simplest or most acceptable [to me] empirical interpretation of
the reality of how we, "life" and the Universe around us are ---
and is therefore not only subjective, but false.

I wonder (for reasons space prohibits me to explicate) whether
homo sapiens may be wired in such a way
as to generally prefer embracing metaphysical narratives
that claim to comfortingly explain and give 'meaning' to their existence,
particularly death (and perhaps life),
a clue being near-universal memes such as heaven / hell, divine person/s, good / evil
spread throughout our cultures from the earliest traces of human history.
With our large frontal lobes we may be inclined to make leaps of imagination,
or perceive patterns of causation by the invisible and hence divine,
calling it faith perception when it is only subjective emotion and fancy.

A further issue is that subscribing to a community of belief (religious or skeptical)
provides ancillary emotional benefits,
(such as a *feeling* of belonging and hence identity / purpose)
which cloud objectivity and con one into
supposed spiritual experiences or feeling / thinking / saying 'believes' :
we make decisions based on biology, including emotion, more than we like to think;
take away the peer effect and emotional effects in one's context
and one's 'faith' stance may prove hollow and false, or not as strong or as firmly-founded in conviction and independent reasoning as one would claim,
standing alone against apparently adverse experience.

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

20 Answers

God's avatar

. . . [ conspicuous " Sound Of Silence " ] . . .

cardshere's avatar

Since you are currently living the "life" you are trying to evaluate, an "objective" meaning or "value" can not be determined. Just as you can't see your own eyes without the aid of a mirror or camera, or bite your own teeth, you can't get an objective perspective on something you are totally immersed in. Isn't a "value" a relative unit? i.e. a means of relative exchange?
Most of the major forms of Eastern thought (Vedantic, Taoist, Zen, etc.) will help you come to existential terms with your existential "issues", and dispense with all the supernatural / metaphysical gibberish.
The puzzles you are fidgeting with are "answered" pretty well in Alan Watts' book "The Book:On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are" (a highly-regarded plain-language and witty distillation of Vedantic philosophy), and (if you can find a copy of it) his lecture entitled "Death" (a postulation on death that dispenses with any "supernatural" "spookery", and deals with the observable "what is").

hossman's avatar

I've always felt only Man has been endowed with sufficient leisure time and arrogance to waste time other species devote to survival or joy. Perhaps rather self-torture and obsession with philosophy could more fruitfully be replaced with the simple exuberation with the experience of existence. I believe we would find much more joy, success and happiness following the philosophy of a sea otter than Nietschze. Einstein understood the value of play and fantasy surpassed knowledge. Jesus told us we must have the simple trust and faith of a child. Why must we insist on understanding rather than appreciating?

I have always particularly found curious those "disciplines" that suggest other "disciplines" or belief systems are somehow inferior, lack objectivity, or are less intellectually rigorous simply because they share those beliefs with others, those beliefs are not currently in vogue or politically correct, or fail to produce gasps of admiration from academia. Denying the tenets of any religion or philosophy is inherently itself a statement of faith. Although certainly the pursuit of the great questions is not a waste of time, as the answers are unknowable, perhaps we should learn to be content without knowing. Not only do we often fail to see the forest for the trees, we often fail to enjoy the what because we obsess with the why. To use Plato's analogy of "The Cave," through philosophy we often think we have emerged from the cave, when perhaps we have only deceived ourselves into not realizing we have simply entered a larger cave.

elliottcable's avatar

This question has the chance to evolve into one of the best ones on fluther. I suggest every new user 'follow' this post d-:

Looking forward to more awesome answers! When I have some free time I'll write out my own weirdo philosophy, till then, I've had fun reading these two [-:

biggorlk's avatar

I agree with cardshere that Eastern systems of thought are helpful in undermining the basis of your question. Because, as you suspect in your entry, Krnt2007, it is unlikely that we will find any good answer, so the basic assumptions of your question are problematic.

One example comes from Buddhism. When the Buddha sat down to find a perfectly enlightened understanding of existence, he realized, as you wisely pointed out, that suffering is an inherent part of life--and not just human life. When he realized that, he knew that he had a choice regarding what to do next. He could either work to understand why suffering is an inherent aspect of life (and by extension, what is the objective meaning/value of our life), or he could work to understand how to escape the suffering. He decided that the first choice would be fruitless, and that he had a better chance of realizing the second. He succeeded, but invited people to evaluate for themselves if his insights seemed right. He also taught that there is no requirement to deny worldly existence and become a monk in order to see the world clearly as it is, which was a nice touch for Westerners.

If you are curious, I recommend www.accesstoinsight.com as a useful resource of Buddhist teachings.

erik's avatar

It’s difficult to assess ‘objective value’ in something. Value is, almost by definition, a subjective quality. What value does a table have? In the middle of the desert, almost none. But if you are looking for a place to eat, a table has a lot of value. So you can’t always assess things like that from a purely objective perspective.

Krnt2007's avatar

Oh I agree it’s difficult to determine if there is objective value in any case – and if so, what exactly it is ( though it is still a worthwhile question – it is difficult to empirically investigate a range of queries or experiences e.g. concerning the supposed supernatural, the possibility of life after death, and so on, but it is conceivably possible, and the answer potentially holds great reward. )

To clarify the question, we may have to ask, is there really ever any objective ‘meaning’ or ‘value’ ( something that exists, like a real ‘object’, completely independent of human beings and their contexts )? – or is it always subjective ( completely dependent on the human ‘subject’ in any given case who is perceiving and (de)valerising perceived elements of the universe )?

I find it helpful to put it this way : if language were to reflect reality accurately, should ‘value’ always be a verb – something only expressed as a function of a human subject ( e.g. “right now I value tables ‘cos I wanna eat (a biological input) and in my culture we only eat sitting at a table (a cultural input).” ) Or can ‘value’ sometimes accurately be used as a noun – something objective and essentially fixed, not dynamic and variable, indeed entirely dependent on, a human subject ( e.g. many faith systems teach that it is just wrong to commit murder etc. – this assertion may be claimed to be a logical truth in the light of the character of God, i.e. evil is that which is not in line with the character of God, but it seems to me such systems may always end up requiring people to accept that eventually there are certain moral values which are essentially statically true, period, relying on faith or trust in e.g. the existence of God and his/her/its nature. )

This is NOT an abstract question. For example, America and other Western nations say they believe in objective human rights and the value of the human person without distinction. Do our belief systems here essentially line up with reality – or not? In life “red in tooth and claw” such questions can rise to become the proverbial horns of dilemma, questions that shape our character and perhaps worth, questions that lead logically to decisions of life and death – others or our own. Think of the examples of ‘selfishness’ vs. ‘sacrifice’ witnessed in W.W. II. Are such terms even objectively meaningful? I remember death camp survivor Viktor Frankl’s comment in ‘Man’s Search For Meaning’ that those who survived lived in the consciousness that some of the best of them (who would not compromise and steal to survive, or whatever) did NOT survive – they were among the first to die, at least in part due to their principles. Was such death in reality no different in moral value to the choice of abandoning all principle and abusing others for selfish gain (as some did), because there are no real (i.e. objective) moral values? What are we to make of it all? How are we to live?

Look, folks, I really encourage you to add worthwhile content to this discussion. In a medium that is so full of flash-in-the-pan entertainment of dubious lasting value, the answer to ‘The Big Questions’ stand out as one of the few things really worth spending time and effort investigating in an objective manner. Even to put it on merely selfish terms, many popular faith systems seem to claim that the state of one’s eternal soul depends on our ‘enlightenment’ and right response to metaphysical truth. And, hey, while I don’t pretend that after thousands upon thousands of years of human history with signs of religo-spiritual activity without conclusive logic/evidence for any purported answer to ‘The Big Questions’ we can expect to be the first ones to hit paydirt, we all contribute to a pool of learning that may one day help us see sense.

While the end truth may be simple, and may be able to be simply expressed, this subject requires a large book to systematically describe the branches of possible models and arguments and systematically prune ‘em on the basis of best available logic and empirical evidence, and focus on what stands. I should say that since first posting this question I’ve seen further models, with sometimes subtle differences, to possibly explain the metaphysical state of thing; so my input on this thread for now only reflects particular aspects of this question that have come to mind at particular times.

A FINAL NOTE:

In my own life I desire and seek to uphold the law and moral principles that are and have been near-universal among all our human communities throughout history; law at its best is an (imperfect) attempt to describe principles reflective of generally agreed feelings of justice and conscience etc., but where legal and moral ‘law’ are clearly in conflict, like heroic human and religious leaders like Christian Dietrich Boenhoeffer, living under the oppression of the Nazi system, I seek to stand for my best understanding of what is good, fair, just and right. By honestly admitting the difficulty in empirically ‘proving’ the existence of objective meaning, value/s and hence morality, I do not wish to encourage others to doubt or act against valid law and morality in any way. Just because we cannot prove something using particular tools and methodologies, does not mean it is not real and true. Further, just because I cannot prove to you I exist, does not mean I should abandon my acceptance of my existence – such a step could likely cause harm to myself and others. In the same way, just because I cannot prove whether my conscience (which may, significantly, at core agree with universal conscience, whatever it’s ultimate origin) corresponds with independent metaphysical reality (well, such a reality would be difficult for materialistic science to test in any case) – does not mean that my conscience is wrong, that it does not relate, perceive, sense, react to something real and true. For the good of one’s self (perhaps one’s ‘soul/spirit’ – if such exist) and the good of others, we should do ‘the right thing’; at the very least at a psychological and physical level, thinking e.g. fantasizing / speaking / acting against what we deep down sense is morally right holds a potentially damaging transformative cost. Look at the psychology – indeed, physiology, habitual body language, including facial expression and so forth, and habits of speech, action and human relation etc. – of ‘hardened’ criminals as individuals and communities. Do we want to be like that? *Let’s continue seeking to do what is agreed to be lawful and right without ceasing our open-eyed pursuit of truth in all areas of human experience.

(I should note that so-called ‘universals’ in Linguistics, the Science of all Language, and my field of training, are highly valued because they are empirically helpful in modelling an underlying or universal linguistic system for human beings, even if one believes we can never actually observe and define the actual linguistic system itself. But in some cases ‘universals’ are in reality ‘near-universals’ – there are statistically uncommon exceptions (this will not surprise some scientists). This does not mean it is not truthful, or at least useful, to consider and treat such prevalent patterns as ‘universals’; the exceptions may be atypical ‘marked’ examples conditioned by particular factors.

I think the same may hold of morality : for example, perhaps healthy adult homo sapiens basically share a set of experienced ‘moral principles’ we may discuss via terms like ‘conscience’, ‘guilt’ etc. – whether or not our experience reflects metaphysical reality.

One aspect of this ‘conscience’ may be expressed so : “It is wrong for a human being to kill another human being” – a principle prevalent in most major religions, to my knowledge, with admittedly significant apparent breaches or exceptions within various systems. Now, I know there are complexities here, but I think we may reduce or eliminate apparent exceptions e.g. by understanding the trauma, perhaps guilt, of survivors of even defensive wars like W.W. II, which on balance are necessary or a lesser evil in an imperfect universe, by understanding that this felt ‘law’ is still in operation even when one has to kill another human being supporting or participating in the commission of worse evil. Think of the trauma of some people working in the apparatus of Death Row; they must ‘know’ that some of the people they help execute are guilty of hideous crimes – but to what extent does this knowledge effectively diminish the impact of their own actions on their mental health etc.?

So, to return to our experience of the murder prohibition, for whatever reason/s it exists, I would suggest that the sanctioned killing of other human beings in some groups etc. (usually weaker groups) in some cultures may be the result of special factors in those societies – which very well may, admittedly, need to include the possibility of free will, with or without net motivation.

For example, I may suggest that human beings could be wired genetically to experience killing other human beings as ‘evil’, that most culture reinforces this felt prohibition in various ways, but that this experience of ‘morality’ can be suppressed, repressed and even abolished through the ‘searing’ of conscience in the case of physical or psychological ill-health or damage and/or strong/repetitive conditioning contexts such as culture – even to the extent of things like cruel cannibalism (a general taboo in itself) or a large-scale sociopathic Hitler being possible. The license to severely punish women for perceived sexual offences in various religious traditions, as today in some Moslem traditions, may be atypical or marked situations generated by a complex of factors and forces which may be explicated, but in the end operate in opposition to this basic shared morality we are talking about (which may explain why some perpetrators of what many Westerners and others would describe as injustice can break down and experience sometimes severe guilt and remorse – with the golden potential for repentance and rehabilitation – for the crimes they have done; and how victims of injustice, such as some women in some Moslem countries, can feel a sense of what they may call ‘natural human’ outrage at injustice in what they see and experience. ‘Natural justice’ is an interesting thought/word in itself.)

aaronblohowiak's avatar

@krnt2007: you should read about Viktor Frankl ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viktor_Frankl ) whose book discusses how humans go about creating meaning.

Value is attributed, not inherent.

You sound like evolutionary psychology would suit you, it seeks to find a biological (from an evolutionary perspective) basis for behavior.

—-
edit:corrected link

Krnt2007's avatar

Cheers for the tip aaronblohowiak –
actually I’ve read and took notes on some passages of Frankl’s famous book
as part of my search.

I learnt from him,
I think it is “good” :) to listen with some silence and respect
to someone relating experiences going through such extreme sufferings
as Frankl did in the WW II prison camp,
if only because if one’s own self has not,
one can learn helpful lessons to survive and maybe even thrive
should one ever have to face such hardships in the future.

I must say, though, that Frankl’s crucial flaw
(a popular one perhaps in his day)
is apparently assuming that the “meaning” or “purpose”
some survivors dreamed for their continued existence,
even though potent in enabling them to survive further,
actually exists.
(Is this “existentialism”?)

A dream exists only qua dream –
an experience actually only consisting of, or generated by,
chemical and electrical signals
zipping through our physical brains / bodies.
What we feel, think, perceive or desire
cannot create REAL objective meaning –
just a relative experience of what we think is meaning;
essentially, to insist that the content of such experience
is actually real and true and objective,
not relative ephemera,
is to be deluded.

I agree with what I think you mean by “value is attributed, not inherent”.
With my background in languages and linguistics,
I’d put it another way : “meaning / value / morality etc. are usually verbs, not nouns” -
experiences done or generated by homo sapiens—-
that is, human beings as subjects feel / think / perceive things in the Universe
as having
real objective “meaning”,
more or less “value”,
or as being “good”, “neutral” or “evil”,
but except for special circumstances,
such do NOT exist –
they are only our subjective experience,
not objective things existing outside or independent of ourselves.

I said “usually” above
because concepts of value can be at least relatively “stable”
if one agrees to measure them
within the base of an at least relatively fixed context –
e.g. let’s say I ask a team of managers at Company Z,
“Who is more important, Salesperson A or Salesperson B?”
We CAN answer this question of value—-
PROVIDED we agree to carefully define and measure “importance” here as :
“the average amount of US-dollar profit in products sold per day
by a salesperson working for Company Z,
leaving all profit amounts as tallied on the day of sale,
unadjusted for e.g. variation in the value of the US dollar or inflation”.

Contrarily,
most ascriptions of “value” etc.,
unquantified and scientifically unmeasurable,
are only relative experiences (feelings / thoughts / perceptions),
varying depending on the subject-experiencer;
they lack a stable fixed context / objective existence in the Universe
(the latter condition could be seen as a subset of the former.)

I avoid calling the process
Frankl and other holocaust survivors went through
dreaming of direction, meaning, purpose, or value for their existence
as “creating meaning etc.”
because that suggests human experience (feeling / thought / perception)
can actually create things like meaning etc.
as real objects (in some sense) in our Universe,
which it cannot -
one can only help generate an experience of meaning etc.
in one’s self or others –
an experience that falsely suggests said meaning etc. objectively exists.

I strongly live in accordance with the principles of human rights,
but I have to be honest with myself
in accepting that,
however painful it is to realise,
contrary to popular belief and assertion,
esp. as shaped by culture in wealthy Western societies,
“human rights” are not real –
they do not exist somehow
like perfect Platonic objects somewhere in the Universe,
as inalienable “possessions” of all human beings,
outside our own experience and discourse.

Of course,
I experience such facts as a gut-bitter pity,
esp. as an ex-Christian.

A Universe :

(1)
with an all-powerful/-knowing/-caring entity/ies or force/s

…would be preferred by many human beings, including myself, to :

(2)
a neutral material one
ticking along on “merely” “mechanical” “scientific” principles of inter-reaction

…but fiercely clinging to the truth,
or the closest I can attain to the truth,
I will not lie to myself and others –
it may be
that a model like (2) lines up better
with the best empirical evidence
we can procure of reality around us.

sundayBastard's avatar

Simple

1)The objective: Is for you to find out what the objective is.

2)The value: Depends on what your answer was to the first question.

You can only answer this. We do not exist.

These long and drawn out answers are only here to add to your confusion.

Remeber I am only saying what you already know.

Siren's avatar

(1) Objective/meaning/design of life – to rise above our everyday activities and existence and find that “higher platform” of “being”

(2) Value of Human Life – there is one for each of us. Hence, it is valuable to us. As, for example, a single child is valuable to a family unit in China. As a collective, we do not value human life as we do individually. Consequently as a collective, life is devalued on a macro level. On a micro-level, it is treasured fanatically, we would “fight to survive”, “fight to our death” and have “fight or flight” mechanisms to protect ourselves, especially on a subconscious level. Therefore, yes, regardless of your spiritual, environmental or genetic predisposition, we all value life highly, and therefore, life is highly valuable.

pekenoe's avatar

The objective meaning of life is : Propagation of the human species.

The objective value of life is: to protect our carcass and guide it through the reproductive process.

The objective value of the human body can be judged by the amount of vegetables that can be produced from soil fertilized by the decayed and rotted organic matter than composes our form.

If we existed solely for objective reasons we would probably be raised and eaten just as cattle are.

DrMC's avatar

I’m going to steal a character from The Last Continent

The God of Atheism enters a coffee shop in another plane of existence and sits down next to a fellow with a flowing white beard.

“hey Yahwee, s’up?” – asks the god of atheism, while fildling with his lab jacket.

“Um, well, just about done with my creation,”

“I have one of those going on too! Knarly dude”

“well, my creation will soon have creatures that will appreciate my awesome science project”

“Heh” Atheism smiles, “I wanted to see if mine can get there in their own – pretty cool either way”.

“Do you think they’ll appreciate your efforts?” God raises his eyebrow. “I have complete faith in my creations! I’ll be thier God!”

Atheism readjusts his spectacles. “I don’t much believe in Gods”

“Just what do you call yourself then!?” God asks incredulously.

“we’ll I’m just fiddling around – more interesting that way”.

“Do you think our creations will ever meet?”

“god I hope not – culture clash” Atheism stops himself, embarrassed.. “Oh, sorry Yaweh, I know you’re touchy about the use of your name.”

“Well I decree they shall meet some day – I will create a place called fluther and they will think it was their idea”

“oh you go on decreeing Yaweh. Don’t you ever want to leave anything to chance?”

kess's avatar

This is the womb of God, we are in the embryonic stage.

We would mature into Gods and sons of God or die like men.

God is the Good and is our purpose. Ever growing goodness.

badminton80's avatar

The way that you’ve phrased the question I don’t think that their is a meaning to life on Earth. In order to fully answer your question you would have to say if you belive in an eternal soul or not. Do you believe that life is a happenstance of physics or a grand design? I think that deep down everyone just wants to be loved and have someone to love. I think that everyone wants to feel an emotional connection to something. Some people don’t and they keep to themselves or commit suicide because they have grown bored by all of the possibilities of life. This is a really good question but it depends on what your religious beliefs are. I am Sufi Muslim so I believe that everything spiritual and physical exists to support everything else. Existance is a song, time and space are the vocal chords and life is the sound that comes from those vibrations in the vocal chords. I don’t think there is anymore to life than being alive. I think that the Zealots of religion are missing the forrest for the trees. It think that if you spend all of your time wondering why something is you are missing the fact that it simply is.

Tastentier's avatar

There is no objective meaning of life, human or otherwise, other than the biological imperative of struggling to survive and preserving a part of your DNA into the next generation. There is also no objective value of life.

You are free to make up your own purpose or meaning, just as human societies are free to assign value to the lives of all individuals. It will be always be entirely subjective though. As far as purpose / meaning goes, I like to think that it is our purpose to gather as much knowledge as possible about ourselves and the universe that we live in.

EverRose11's avatar

I’ve n freaking idea and as of late thinking about all this stuff makes my head spin, I am leaning towards going with the flow…see where our trip ends.:-) Enjoy The Journey !

Inspired_2write's avatar

The purpose is to learn and teach humanity to understand life fully by going through a series of scenerios in ones existence in order to experience first hand all circumstances.

Answer this question

Login

or

Join

to answer.

This question is in the General Section. Responses must be helpful and on-topic.

Your answer will be saved while you login or join.

Have a question? Ask Fluther!

What do you know more about?
or
Knowledge Networking @ Fluther