Richard Taylor-The Meaning of Life
The Ethical Life, Chapter 5
• Why we are talking about this in general: The fact that the question “Is Life meaningful?” is a
hard question to answer is proof in and of itself that the idea of meaninglessness is
• Why he writing about this: to emphasize how important human desire is in our lives—it answers
many hard questions and adds a new dimension to life/human beings.
o “Meaningless can be altered by making only a very slight change.”
• Overview of Statement: Life is meaningless until we attach desire to it; if we desire to push a
rock up a hill all our lives, then it is meaningful to us and therefore life is meaningful
• Argument Path:
o First we have to come up with an image of a meaningless existence and then compare
ourselves to it
Perfect image/example is found in ancient myth of Sisyphus; condemned by gods to
roll a stone to the top of a hill and the stone immediately rolled back down, again to
be pushed to the top, and so on. This is forever.
• It’s meaningless because it is never redeemed; not even by a death that
would end this idiotic cycle. He never awakens from this meaningless cycle,
either. No rewards come from it either.
• It doesn’t matter how much he struggles in his labor—the point is that it is a
cycle that has no ending or reward (meaning). His work is pointless.
• New information changes the way we see this story:
o If he rolled multiple stones up the hill that were assembled into a
temple (or something), then aspect of meaningless would disappear.
Even if it wasn’t worth it, that does not devoid the act of
o If the gods implanted a strange impulse to roll stones, then rolling
stones is his desire and he gets to fulfill that and does not wish for a
release from it (could be a form of heaven)—the exact thing happens
but Sisyphus’view has changed; his image has not lost that
meaninglessness (task is still never completed); he only thinks of it
o The Meaninglessness of Life
This example shows us what meaningfulness might be.
Meaninglessness: endless pointlessness
Meaningfulness: activity that has some significant culmination, some more or less
lasting end that can be considered to have been the direction and purpose of the
o Question: how an existence that is objectively meaningless, in this sense, can acquire a
meaning for him/his existence? (“him”=the person who we are questioning their existence)
Well which of these pictures does life actually resemble?
• Use an animal for example: a worm in a cave who is blind and waits for
insects to attract to its tail o The cycle repeats for nourishment and then they turn into butterflies
and then mate and lay eggs and then devoured by other worms.
o Why does this go on for millions of years? What is culminating from
these repeated cycles? Nothing.
o The point of living life culminates nothing and therefore the point of
any living thing’s life is, nothing but life itself.
o What makes man different is