2012 – National High School 4th Place

Giacomo Zacchia, California.

What is the Meaning of Life?

The meaning of life is to be oneself. Such thought has led to the cliché of the ages: “always be yourself.” But while hackneyed and unarguably overused, the statement bares truth. There is value to being oneself, and it can be argued that only in doing so can true happiness be achieved.

Clearly, before starting, the idea of being oneself must be defined. In this essay, being oneself will simply be the act of achieving internal satisfaction; that is, the lack of “conflicting volitional movements or tendencies,” as defined in Harry Frankfurt’s “The Faintest Passion” (Section 4, page 8). Frankfurt postulates that internal satisfaction, or “wholeheartedness” as he more commonly refers to it, could only be achieved in the absence of conflict, but he further adds “[c]onflicts involving first-order psychic elements alone—for instance, between an attraction and an aversion to the same object or action—do not pertain to the will at all” (Section 4, page 8). So, it can be deduced that conflict is reserved to a more elite sort of psychic elements. Frankfurt best describes the elements when explaining the criteria for true conflict. “First, they [the psychic elements otherwise known as volitions] are inherently and hence unavoidably opposed; that is, they do not just happen to conflict on account of contingent circumstances. Second, they are both wholly internal to a person’s will rather than alien to him; that is, he is not passive with respect to them” (Section 4, page 8). Essentially, the distinction is between physiological and biological desires and those that an agent claims to be a result of free will. Being “yourself,” therefore, is achieved in the absence of this internal contradiction.

Why, though, is an absence of internal contradiction indeterminately important in regards to the meaning of life? It is essential due to the fact only in its absence can true happiness be present. Even in the most extreme cases, where an agent’s source of happiness does not derive from socially accepted outlets, this is the case. If a serial killer was to be examined, and it was found that he wholeheartedly derives joy from killing (if it is even possible), the claim could be made that by killing he can achieve true happiness. If, however, the serial killer develops a new wholehearted desire to become canonized, happiness will be an impossibility. No matter which desire he pursues, his action will undercut the other.

The meaning of life is to achieve internal satisfaction. Any satisfaction or hope of happiness is dependent on this criterion. Without it, life is directionless and the optimum result becomes finding hedonistic pleasure in base desires; with it, life is simple: an unburdened journey in pursuit of true happiness.

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