My attention was recently drawn to a short video posted on the New York Times website of an interview with the philosopher Anthony Grayling. In essence he is talking about the meaning of life. I quite agree with everything he says so I’d highly recommend a watch. It what follows I’ll summarise and discuss just what it is that Grayling’s wise words share.
|Philosopher A.C. Grayling|
There is no lid, as the philosopher says, to take off in order to see meaning contained within some metaphysical vessel. It’s not ‘out there’ among the many wonderful facts of physics and astronomy. Meaning is a creation of our mental lives. The important thing to see is that this does not make it any less real than any kind of meaning (and it would be a strange kind indeed) that you could find in the spatio-temporal world, that is the physical world we live in.
“Freedom is agony” because we now have to find and for ourselves just what it is we desire in life. This harks back to a famous chapter from Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov known as The Grand Inquisitor. The title character argues to a reborn Christ that people do not desire freedom but simply happiness. For him, it is the burden of a few to take on the responsibility of free choice whilst the others obey without concerning themselves with such things. It certainly is a frightening revelation to feel how free one is. The right response, surely, is to grasp the freedom and as Grayling says, to create something. “The meaning of life is to make life meaningful” is such a wonderfully put motto.
By setting goals that we desire to achieve meaning comes, not in achieving that goal, but in doing ones best to try to achieve it. The analogy Grayling brings with Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus is pertinent because in that scenario the goal not only will never be achieved, but is in some sense, impossible to achieve. I’ve written about this myth elsewhere a while back but it’s worth going over in case you’re unfamiliar with the story. Sisyphus was a deceitful King of Corinth who was forced by the gods to carry a boulder up a steep hill only to see it roll back down again. Sisyphus had to go back down and repeat his burden. This task would continue for all eternity. Camus then asks us to imagine Sisyphus happy. Here Sisyphus’ life is meaningful because of the attitude he takes towards it or is “made valuable by the goals it would realise if [he] succeeded in realising them.”
Though it might be frightening it is freedom of autonomy that “is the source of the good in life”. Meaning is a creation, a creation we ought to be proud of. Thank you Anthony Grayling for expressing all this so well.Tweet