a reply to: JimNasium
Nice Jim- Here is another:The Meaning Of Life
by Joseph Rowlands
(This speech was given at SOLOC1 in 2002)
What is life? What do we mean when we say the word? Since the word stands at the center of Objectivist ethics, the answer to this question has
wide-reaching implications. We say that life is our standard of evaluation when judging morality. It seems like it'd be a good idea to take a closer
look at the term. This lecture is intended to determine what exactly is the meaning of the word life. I'll discuss different possible meanings, and
the implications of both.
So to start, I'm making the claim that there are two very different, competing ideas for the meaning of life. I call these the static and the dynamic
view of life. I believe the static view of life is the more predominant view. I also believe it to be the incorrect view, which I'll attempt to show
throughout this lecture.. The dynamic view of life is far less common, but appears to be more precise and useful. I'll start with an explanation of
the two competing views of life, before comparing and contrasting them. I'll begin with the static view of life.
Static View of Life:
The static view of life holds that life is a state. It's like a position you get to. An end point you secure or maintain. An analogy is being satiated
after a nice meal. You've arrived at the state, or secured it. Over time, you start to lose the position, though. You automatically move farther away
from it. You can then act again in order to re-secure the position. Without action, you'll eventually stop being satisfied, and become hungry.
In this view, life is the opposite of death. Death is the state at which your mind and body stop functioning. It's a point that when you reach it, it
fundamentally changes what you are. You go from being a living breathing entity, to a corpse. In this sense, death is very clear-cut. We can take a
similar view of life. Life, then, is the state in which your mind and body still function. It's the condition before death.
With this view of life in mind, let's look at some implications to this view of life. To start, since life is our standard of morality, what
implications would that have on our ethics. What kind of actions would we take, and how will we evaluate those actions according to this view.
If you think of life as the state of not being dead, there's a lot of things you can do to prevent death. You can put a large zone of comfort between
you and death. The easiest example is having lots of money. Money can buy medical treatment, food, clothing, shelter, self-defense...the list goes on
and on. So to ensure your life, you could seek to gain large sums of money.
Next, your health is an important indication of how far away you are from death. You can even say it's the direct measure. Money is an abstract
measurement of how far you are from death. It adds long term security, and protection against surprises. Health, though, is right there. If you fail
in any of your needs in life, you can see your health deteriorate. Everything is geared towards increasing your health, and decreasing illness.
Then there's risk. If life is a state, then you have to avoid actions that might lead to death. Risk-minimization is important. In modern days, where
medical science is pretty useful, and food is abundant, non-natural death is relatively very dangerous. Sudden accidents can kill you even if you're
very healthy, and have lots of money. So reducing risks is one of the ways of promoting life.
You can continue this method of looking at life, and determining values. Some are more abstract. Capitalism, for instance, reduces threats of war,
violence from your own government, makes food more plentiful, encourages medical science to progress, etc. You can look at all of these ends which
helps buffer your from death.
I said earlier that the static view of life was predominant. Now that we have a better idea of what it is, we can point to instances of this view.
There's a number of them, so I'll concentrate on some of the bigger ones.
First, there's the idea of 'success'. People strive for it, and others are jealous of it. So what is it? Well, many people would say that 'success' is
having accomplished great things, or acquiring large amounts of wealth. Success usually involves having a nice paying job, a comfortable house, sporty
cars, beautiful wife and kids, and a dog or cat. It can include having made a scientific breakthrough, or becoming President of the United States, or
starting a successful business. This view of success is very much based on a view that life is a state. It points to a pretty picture, showing all of
the things you have or have done.
A second instance of the static view of life is the goal of retirement. Many people yearn for the day they'll be able to quite their job because
they've got enough money. They have this idea that maybe they'll take it easy, hang out with friends or loved ones, and stop wasting so much of their
lives. They can travel the world, meet interesting people, and not have a worry in the world. I say this is the static view of life because it seeks a
point in life where you are finished. You have everything you need to live. There's no point continuing to struggle because you've secured, as well as
you can, the bulk of your contest against death.
A third, and similar instance of this view of life is marriage. A lot of young people view marriage as a position to reach in life. It's supposed to
bring happiness. I've seen people who think that once they get married, many of their troubles will go away. They'll have secured companionship, and
they'll be able to focus on other things. In this sense, marriage is seen as an end-product. A value that's achieved.
So to review, the static view of life holds that life is a state. Actions should be taken to preserve or strengthen this state. Since it's a state,
you can measure it at any particular time. You can point to the money, marriage, house, or well-paying job as proof of your successful living. The
focus is very much on the values you accomplish. I'll now turn to the dynamic view of life.
Dynamic View of Life:
The dynamic view of life holds that life is a process, not a state. Ayn Rand said "Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action."
Notice the term 'process'. It's a "process of self-sustaining and self-generated action".
In this view, life is not a state, but a series of actions. Life isn't a place you reach, but the process of reaching it. Life is action. It's the
things you do. It's the process of accomplishing goals, not just the end results of the goals. Life is action. Life is the things you do and
In the analogy I gave earlier, I compared the static view of life to being satiated. In the dynamic view of life, being satiated may be the end
target, but it's the process of producing food, cooking, eating, and digesting that we would call life. This is not to say being satiated is not the
goal. That is still the ends being pursued. But life is not simply the ends. It's the entire process, from start to finish.
So life isn't just the things you accomplish. It's not having a lot of goods, or having accomplished a lot. It very much depends on how you gained
those goods, and how you achieved it. It's not the money in your wallet, but how you got the money. Did you earn it? Did you steal it