Albert Camus, in his famous essay The Myth of Sisyphus, makes the point that “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.” What he means is that if one cannot find purpose and meaning in their life, what point is there to live? One can debate the existence of God, whether or not Creationism should be taught in schools, who is hotter – Paris Hilton or Jessica Simpson, but in the end, it is the question of whether or not life is even worth living that first must be answered. All other questions are, as Camus says, “games.”
The philosopher Thomas Nagel, in writing about the meaning of life, forces this question upon the reader; if one day the earth is burned up by the sun, the solar system ceases to work and the entire universe eventually dies, then what point is there to do anything? After all, if you complete a great piece of art which is enjoyed hundreds of years into the future, what, in the end, does it really matter if it will all be destroyed anyway? Humans will not live forever; even the memory of you will someday die, so why do anything? He concludes that “if there is any point at all to what we do, we have to find it within our own lives.”
In the end, both of these thinkers are correct. We must, as Camus says, solve the fundamental question of philosophy. This bounds each of us, as Nagel implies, to look within ourselves to find the meaning of our own existence. Some people choose to give their lives over to something larger than themselves, i.e., religion, the military, family, and choose to make that their reason and purpose for living. Others struggle with the question and may never find the answer. But ultimately, the responsibility for finding meaning in our lives rests firmly on each of us as individuals.
Camus , Albert (1983). The myth of sisyphus. New York: Random House.
Nagel, Thomas (1987). What does it all mean?. New York: Oxford University Press.