2012 – National High School 5th Place

Sofia Ahsanuddin, New York.

What is the Meaning of Life?

The meaning of life is to achieve perfect moral virtue with complete happiness. If one can seek the greatest value in his action within a moral context, then that person has not only achieved true happiness, but has also submitted to acknowledging some higher, cosmic being as the ultimate source of invariant moral rules. I, like Robert Nozick, believe that a God-Centered view on the meaning of life should focus more on God as being infinite rather than God as being purposive; this would reject Sartre’s notion that if God intentionally assigned meaning to life, then he could also undermine that meaning by disabling Man from fulfilling or realizing his purpose. Moreover, this perspective would allow an explanation for a finite state to derive its purpose from another state that has a greater, possibly infinite, meaning.

From beginningless times, humanity has undergone a perpetual process of collective evolution that has endowed it with what Kant terms the “self-governing” rational will to discern between right and wrong, reality and illusion. I, unlike the contemporary humanists, nihilists, and the moral relativists, do not believe that the universality of one’s values depends on one’s personal opinions. Rather, I believe that the meaning of life is defined by one objective truth, which is to live in accordance with the moral laws set by the Ultimate Creator, thereby achieving true happiness and inner peace. This perspective, which wholeheartedly rejects the philosophies of Protagoras and Diogenes, embraces St. Anselm and Thomas Aquinas’ idea that in order to live by understanding, one must first have faith.

Because sane and conscious human beings have what Adam Smith calls the “impartial spectator,” or an inner voice used to distinguish between what is morally right and wrong, it logically follows that human beings are not simply chance products of an entropic system with no defined purpose in life. This idea blatantly contrasts with those assumptions set out by Richard Dawkins. In his book, The Selfish Gene, Dawkins states, “We are survival machines—robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes.” To Dawkins, the meaning of life has nothing to do with spirituality or morality. This perception, which coincides with Lucretius’ and Epicurus’ own ideas, is flawed because it asserts the idea that each human being represents the temporal existence of a conscious being reduced to its most primitive tendencies. Moreover, it can be used to justify hedonism as a way of life—are we, as human beings, merely meant to maneuver through life seeking as much pleasure and as little pain and suffering as possible solely for the sake of preserving our DNA? If what is pleasurable is morally right, then becoming a drug addict or an alcoholic would give a legitimate purpose to life, which is clearly not the case. Dawkins’ viewpoint can also be used to justify an extreme take on Thomas Malthus’ philosophy on the nature of man and population. If we are reduced to mere survival machines, why then do we place so much value on human life? We would not need to combat poverty, invest in sustainable lifestyles, or even send humanitarian aid to disease-ridden regions.

If one can attempt to live within moral constraints while seeking the greatest value in his action, one can be rendered transcendent of his animal nature. We are not merely Humean slaves to our passions or desires. Once we strive to achieve perfect moral virtue and true happiness, we can then metaphorically leave Plato’s Cave in an attempt to understand the greater truth of the reality with which we are presented.

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