Essay On The Quest For Meaning
Type of paper: Essay
Topic: Humans, Life, Albert Camus, Creativity, Suicide, Youth, Teenagers, Joy
In his discussion of life's meaning, Schlick exposes a fundamental dilemma all humans face. In pursuing goals, humans are frequently dissatisfied by unmet goals and frustrated hopes. Paradoxically, in attaining specific goals humans experience s sense of void and desolation. Given how humans view existence, purpose cannot fulfill human needs. Further, life just becomes meaningless. If purpose drives human endeavors, life maintenance becomes existence's sole purpose. In fact, argues Schlick, existence can only be valuable if life is of rich content and contains valuable states and activities. Thus, a purpose-free, so to speak, life is, paradoxically more meaningful than a purpose-driven life. Accordingly, life's existential dilemma of meaning is reconciled by experiencing rich activities and states via which Schlick refers to as creative play: "[T]he meaning of existence is revealed only in play" (Schlick 65).
Indeed, creative play is enjoyed for no purpose at all but sheer indulgence in life rich states and activities. The artist, immersed in his creations, and scientist, seeking scientific truth, both enjoy creative play. In fact, every daily action can be an act of creative play. Further, contrary to a running objection creative play is a momentarily satisfaction of needs and hence a degradation, like animals and plants, from a state of consciousness and co-experiencing, humans are conscious while performing acts of creative play. Joy should not, however, be confused with pleasure. If pleasure diverts, joy bonds together.
If anything, adults can learn from children since, of all humans, children are capable of purest joy. Therefore, unlike a common mistake humans usually commit of shifting meaning from youth until some later life phase or metaphysical existence, "Youth, in fact, is not just a time of growing, learning, ripening and incompleteness, but primarily a time of play, of doing for its own sake, and hence a true bearer of the meaning of life" (Schlick 70) A period of life of dynamic creative play, youth seeks in life – not goals per se – but joy in creative play. Life's meaning is, hence, to be found in youth.
Alternatively, Camus proposes a different approach to life. According to Camus, suicide is most important philosophical question at all. Therefore, in order to approach suicide adequately a balance should be struck between evidence and emotion.
As humans pursue mundane, daily activities life remains explicable, even in bad reasons. By departing, however, from familiar settings everyday man's world becomes, all of a sudden, "divested of illusions and lights" (Camus 73). Thus, suicide emerges as a solution to absurdity. By experiencing brief moments of enlighten, humans depart from a state of mundane activities into a state of deconstruction. If life's meaning entails values, choices and preferences, absurdity, according to Camus, is an opposite (78). Indeed, quantity of life experiences does not depend on human experiences but on humans and hence is qualified by human perception and personal experiences – and states – rather than external factors in surrounding environment (78).
Similarly, Sisyphus's arduous efforts to lift a rock uphill is not, paradoxically, futile but enriching in disillusioning humans and uncover absurdity in all human endeavors.
Both Schlick and Camus assume a similar position about meaning in life by calling up paradox as a unifying description of humans' dilemmas. By highlighting humans' futile pursuance of purposes and goals in life – successfully or not – humans are ensnared in a vicious circle of hope-and-void. Thus, purpose alone cannot satisfy humans and does not, inherently, entail a meaning of life. Paradoxically, accordingly, in pursuing a purpose endeavors of humans are futile, meaningless and vain. Only by relinquishing purposes can humans find meaning. This is experienced in rich states and activities per se – not as sought purposes.
Similarly, appealing to paradox Camus highlights humans' disillusionment to daily, mundane activities. By experiencing moments of awakening, or "weariness," humans experience embark on a journey of meaning discovery. Again, by relinquishing adopted, normal, work – purposeful – activities humans set out on an odyssey of endurance, pain and release. This is best captured in Myth of Sisyphus. Unlike a common conception of Sisyphus's futile job, he is actually engaged in a self-assertion activity, an activity not to achieve a purpose of placing a rock on top of a hill, but one whose mere paid and endurance: "He [Sisyphus] is, as much through his passions as through his torture. His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing" (Camus 79). Indeed, Sisyphus's very defiance, weakness and helpless against gods is exemplary not humans' futile efforts but, again, of how meaning-making of life is a process of rediscovery and insights.
As well, if Schlick conceptualizes creative play as humans' act of self-discovery and genuine meaning-making, Sisyphus's act of lifting a rock uphill is, in fact, an act of non-purposeful play. By indulging in purpose-free activities, according to Schlick, humans are released of pain associated with purpose-driven work: "Not the golden chain, but the song that pours from the heart, is the guerdon that richly rewards!" (Schlick 66). Similarly, by repeating a work – like a musician or an artist arduously – Sisyphus finds meaning in his futile job and punishment.
Youth, interestingly, stands out as another commonality between Schlick's and Camus's propositions. If, according to Schlick, youth is humans' prime period of creative play, Camus's Sisyphus, an ultimately young man, is defiant of regime universal order imposed by gods and hence is subject to a severe punishment as his. Youth, in both propositions, is a recurring component of human repertoire of defiance, disobedience as well as creative energy and play. If most concentrated periods of joy are during youth, according to Schlick, "[o]ne must imagine Sisyphus happy" (81), according to Camus. Youth, both seem to reach a similar conclusion, is humans' crown jewel of release, meaning-making and, ultimately, happiness.
Apparently, both Schlick and Camus set out from different departure points and reach a similar conclusion based on paradox. Yet, at closer examination both, in fact, adopt a suicidal approach to life. That is, if humans, according to Schlick, fall into abysses of despair and frustration and might hence contemplate ideas of suicide, Camus explores suicide, not as a social phenomenon, but as a decidedly personal one. More specifically, if Schlick's approach to meaning-making in life depends on undermining humans' work as worthless, momentarily satisfying and ultimately futile and moves on to content of life as a potential release from daily via creative play, mundane pressures – Camus, interestingly, proposes suicide is a final state at which humans arrive and, momentarily, contemplate death.
Congruent to suicide, momentariness is another notable commonality in both propositions. If, according to Schlick, humans experience existential moments of self-revelation and critical questioning of life's meaning, according to Camus humans in contemplating suicide are disillusioned, enlightened and ultimately released via pain and endurance. At some critical point, humans are at a fault line by which business is resumed as usual or a disruption occurs after which meaning-making of life is created, not for any specific purposes, but for sheer activity involved.
In conclusion, Schlick proposes a purpose-free life should be conducive to meaning. By creative play – by sheer indulgence and lack of purpose – humans, particularly children, would find meaning which is both fulfilling and releasing. Youth, notably, emerges as a period over which humans indulge in meaning most. Alternatively, Camus proposes suicide is philosophy's most important question. Seeking meaning, suicide contemplators are at crossroads of enlightenment or pursuing life as usual. By adopting absurdity, humans engage in meaning-making activities which are both fulfilling and releasing. Propositions of Schlick and Camus share a number of commonalties. By appealing to paradox, both uncover ironies of humans' pursuits. Where Schlick appeal to paradox is based on a contrast between purposefulness and futility of humans' endeavors, paradox in Camus is based on disillusionment, enlightenment and self-discovery. Also, creative play is used in similar fashion in both propositions. Whereas for Schlick creative play makes meaning, for Camus Sisyphus's act of lifting a rock uphill is an act of purpose-less play and a sport of gods. Youth in both propositions, moreover, is represented as a period of defiance, norm subversion and energetic creative play not for any specific purpose but for sheer indulgence and joy. Although apparently of different departure points, both propositions adopt a suicidal approach to life. Suicide, in both propositions, is a contemplation humans experience for a later conversion phase of disillusionment and release from established norms. Finally, both propositions share momentariness as a critical feature over whose borderlines humans are either maintained in a status quo or converted.