Do questions about the meaning of life, purpose, and morality even make sense?

People often ask questions about the "meaning of life" or the "purpose of life". But such questions are often asked carelessly, without clearly defining the relevant terms beforehand. I am beginning to see these questions as meaningless. I will briefly give a treatment of the questions so the reader may decide if they also believe these questions to be meaningless.

 

"What is the purpose of life?"

A thing might be said to have a purpose if it is brought into existence with a clear intention. For instance, the purpose of a watch is keeping time because that is what watch are created to do. However, applying this criterion for purpose to humans comes up with some odd results. In the case of humans one's parents would be the watchmakers and you would be the watch. If your parents decided to have children with the intention of raising said children to be musicians, does that mean your "purpose" is to be a musician? Clearly this isn't what people mean by "purpose". But that begs the question: Just what do they mean?

 

"What is the meaning of life?"

The same analysis applies to the "meaning of life". When we speak of meaning, we are generally talking about the content of a symbol, such as the words you are currently reading. There intended message is the meaning of the words. But life isn't a symbol. Another use of the word meaning refers significance. If one says "that meant a lot to me" they mean to say that the subject or action they are speaking of has great significance for them. But such "meaning" is clearly subjective. It makes no sense to go looking for something that makes life significant for every human being.

 

"What is moral?"

Last, but certainly not least, there are moral questions. Moral questions are supposedly about what one ought to do.When I say "you ought to go to the concert with me" I am merely making a descriptive statement about what will fulfill your subjective desires. This is not a moral statement and is reducible to descriptive statements about your desires. Yet moral claims are supposedly categorical prescriptions that are ontologically different from and not reducible to descriptive claims. If this is the case, then how am I suppose to know what the word "ought" even means in this context? It can't be broken down to descriptions of reality that can be experienced firsthand. Language presupposes that one be able to recall what the word refers to in the reality that we experience. A blind person can never truly know what the word "red" means because they have never experienced it. One can describe the wavelength of red light, but that doesn't communicate what it's like to experience the color red. Again, if moral statements are not reducible to descriptions of empirically verifiable reality, then what the hell do they mean?

 

I am of the opinion that all of these questions are non-cognitive. Let me know what you think.

Tags: ethics, evil, good, meaning, morality, purpose

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I think "meaning" is misused.  Words and other symbols "mean," as can statements, I guess, although statements don't mean, they say, it seems to me.  We ask what a poem means.  That's wrong.  We should ask what a poem says.  We ask what a piece of art means.  We need to ask what the art does, how it performs itself, how it states what it states.   We don't ask what a tree means.  I cannot think life has any "meaning" whatsoever.

 

Biologically, life's purpose is to survive to reproduce, although that's evolved into us and isn't in any way "directed."

 

Life has value, we think, but only as we assign that value, eh?

 

I'd get over the idea that your life is any more meaningful, purposeful, or objectively valuable than that of a bacterium.

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