• S
    6.3k
    I was prompted to create this discussion in response to comments made in another discussion by @Landru Guide Us. The topic of that discussion was about egoism, and turned into a discussion, more specifically, about whether a selfless life is a better life than a more self-interested life. Landru seemed to think that the issue could be reduced to the subject of this discussion, whereas I disagreed, and considered it a digression.

    As a thought experiment, let's imagine a life that's worth living, and, for greater effect, let's imagine that this is not just a life worth living, but a life of exceptional worth.

    Now, let's say that the person that lives this life does not know that his life is worth living. Perhaps he didn't know before, or perhaps something has happened to him to cause him to no longer know that (or whether) his life is worth living.

    Has the second paragraph changed the hypothetical situation such that, necessarily, this person's life is not worth living?

    I would answer 'no'. I think that it's logically possible for a life to be worth living, despite the person living that life lacking the knowledge that his or her life is worth living. I can conceive of examples, like a person who is so humble that they do not believe (and therefore do not know) that their life is worth living, despite it being so; or a person who does not believe (and therefore does not know) that their life is worth living (again, despite it being so) due to significant doubt in that regard; or perhaps they are ignorant or oblivious in that regard, or perhaps they have forgotten.

    I also think that there in fact have been, and are, such cases.
    1. Is a life worth living dependent on the knowledge thereof? (6 votes)
        Yes
        17%
        No
        83%
  • Janus
    6.2k
    I voted 'no' because a life is worth living if it feels so. It really comes down to what you feel about your life; what you think about it may or may not make a significant difference to that.

    To preempt any concern about the authenticity of mere feeling: according to Taylor Carman's interpretation of Heidegger's notion of authenticity, there is no requirement that a life be reflectively examined, but merely that lived situations and activities are engaged in their uniqueness and particularity, rather than sublimated through received generalized notions of 'what one does'.
  • S
    6.3k


    I question whether even the feeling that life is worth living is necessary for a life to be worth living. Isn't it possible for one to have a life worth living despite not feeling that way, or even feeling that it's not worth living? I think that it is. I think - in fact, I know - that there have been times in my own life where my life has been worth living in spite of the lack of such a feeling, and in spite of conflicting feelings. Why else would we try to persuade people that their life is worth living? I think that it makes more sense to conclude that peoples feelings are not necessarily a true reflection of the worth of their life.
  • Janus
    6.2k


    Maybe, but how is the worth of any life to be evaluated if not either by thinking (examining) or feeling? I suppose we try to persuade people that their lives are worth living (if we are not acting automatically from mere conditioning when we do that) on the basis of either reflection about our own and our intimates' lives, or on our pre-reflectively positive feelings about them, no?
  • S
    6.3k


    Yes, I agree with that. My point is that neither feelings nor reason are an infallible means of evaluation.
  • Janus
    6.2k


    I think it is most important that one feels that life is worth living; whatever one thinks is only important insofar as it impacts on the quality of feeling. One cannot really be said to be mistaken if one feels their life is worth living, or not worth living, consistently.

    However, I can see what you mean, at least in the negative case. If one feels one's life is not worth living now, one cannot induce from that that one will always feel that way; and in that sense not the negative feeling itself, but the thought that one will always have this negative feeling could be said to be mistaken. (And of course thinking that one will always have the present negative feeling will greatly amplify the present negative feeling).

    On the other hand if one thought that one's present positive feeling will always be present one could also be (most likely would be) mistaken about that. That would not be a good argument for adopting a pessimistic view, even though in the obverse case of present negative feelings it seems to be a good argument for adopting an optimistic view. I think this is just because, purely on pragmatic grounds, it is better and more rational to hope for the best than to fear for the worst.
  • Bitter Crank
    6.8k
    If the person whose life-worth is under discussion (whoever that person is) does not know that their life is worth living, doesn't feel their life is worth living, hasn't thought about whether their life is worth living, or has forgotten that they once thought about it -- and so on, it seems like the conclusion (for me) would be that the worth of a life lived is an a priori assumption.

    There's a life. There's 7.3 billion lives. We could assert that all these lives are worth living and stop there, or we could assert they are all worth living until they are examined and found to be worthless (if that is possible). If a life is worth living because it is inherently of value (at least to the person who is living it), then how would somebody's life be found to be not worth living?

    How bad would their life have to be? One's personal suffering, in most cases, wouldn't lead the sufferer to conclude that because they have pain, their life isn't or wasn't worth living. A person might have extremely deficient intelligence. Perhaps they can't think about the worth of a life. (But even very retarded people can be more or less happy.)

    How much harm would one have to be doing to be deemed "living a life which isn't worth living"? How about Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot, Joseph Stalin, Idi Amin, any number of psychopathic serial killers and rapists who are all profoundly disordered and loathsome people? (I'm not talking about capital punishment here. That's another issue. I'm asking on what grounds could we determine that someone's life was so worthless that their death would be insignificant.) I don't have an answer to that question.

    I suspect rather few, if any, people would fall into the category of living lives devoid of value because they were morally bad. People who have no mental life (severe traumatic brain injury, severe microcephaly, advanced brain disease, etc.) and can not have a mental life (of any quality) can not live a life worth living. They can hardly be said to be living life at all. A person in a deep coma without enough intact brain structure to have consciousness may not technically be dead; disconnecting them from a respirator may technically mean "death" but it isn't a morally significant death. Allowing a baby to die who has been born with too many defects to be viable is likewise not a morally significant act (but personally painful, almost certainly). That life, worthwhile or not, can not be taken up by the grossly malformed body.

    But terminating someone like... Idi Amin -- a bad somebody who is, I believe, still alive and available for termination, would be far more morally significant, for better or worse.
  • S
    6.3k
    Good replies so far. I more or less agree with both John and Bitter Crank. I wonder if anyone will unexpectedly defend a 'yes' vote.
  • darthbarracuda
    2.9k
    I'm holding out on voting, but I think I'm leaning towards "yes". Yes, a life worth living is dependent on the knowledge within it.

    I don't see this to be too difficult to defend. Let's be honest here; not very many people actually do philosophy. Therefore, most people do not realize the value philosophy can have in a person's life. To ask if one's life is worth living is a philosophical question. Therefore, since most people do not "do philosophy" (rather, they live meaninglessly), their life cannot be "worth" anything. I reject the notion that a life worth living can be independent of the subject's opinion of said life; it, by necessity, must come from within, not external.

    To do philosophy is to actualize the self.
  • TheWillowOfDarkness
    1.6k


    The problem is not knowledge of one's life. People always know about their lives and think about them in some way. That's part of living, of existing as a being who is aware of what is going on around them. As is their opinion about their life (i.e. whether they feel it is go or bad, what they value, etc., etc.).

    What people are taking issue with here is the idea that the specific state of thinking: "My life is meaningful because..." is required for a meaningful life. Landru's argument cordons off the meaningful life: those who worry about it specifically, who ask the question: "Is my life meaningful?" and then conclude with: "Yes it is because..."

    This is a problem. Many people don't ask that question and are perfectly aware of a worthwhile life. They value what they do and what they are aware of without ever having to ask the question: "Is my life meaningful?" (We all do this to an extent really). Landru's argument confuses instances of description of "meaningful life" in discourse for the lived experience of a life worth living. People don't necessary need to know: "Life is meaningful because..." to have a worthwhile life. They can just be aware of and live out what matters without asking the question or meaning and speaking descriptive discourse about it. One simply doesn't need to say: "My life is meaningful because..." to understand that it matters - whether or not they help out a friend, eat a meal, enjoy their favourite band, develop a great work or art, etc., etc. Actualising the self frequently has nothing to do with thinking: "Life is meaningful because..."
  • S
    6.3k
    I'm holding out on voting, but I think I'm leaning towards "yes". Yes, a life worth living is dependent on the knowledge within it.darthbarracuda

    To clarify, the question isn't about the knowledge within one's life, in general. It's specifically about the knowledge that (or whether) one's life is worth living.

    Let's be honest here; not very many people actually do philosophy. Therefore, most people do not realize the value philosophy can have in a person's life.

    To ask if one's life is worth living is a philosophical question.
    darthbarracuda

    Granted.

    Therefore, since most people do not "do philosophy" (rather, they live meaninglessly), their life cannot be "worth" anything.darthbarracuda

    Now, this is where you jump to a conclusion, in my assessment. Just because most people do not do philosophy, it doesn't follow that they live meaninglessly and/or that their lives aren't worth anything. In order to turn this into a valid argument, you'd have to add certain premises which might be dubious at best, but strike me as plainly false - namely, that philosophy is valuable to such a great extent that without it, one's life would be meaningless and not worth anything.

    I reject the notion that a life worth living can be independent of the subject's opinion of said life; it, by necessity, must come from within, not external.darthbarracuda

    Then you have the burden of dealing with the proposed counterexamples. There are some in this discussion and some in a related discussion, e.g. 's comment.

    To do philosophy is to actualize the self.darthbarracuda

    Sure(!). Or, to do philosophy is to waste time navel gazing, getting into pedantic squabbles, overthinking matters, forming misguided, convoluted and bizarre views, and so on.
  • Janus
    6.2k
    I reject the notion that a life worth living can be independent of the subject's opinion of said life; it, by necessity, must come from within, not external.darthbarracuda

    Are you claiming that it is not possible to have an "opinion" about your life without doing philosophy?
  • darthbarracuda
    2.9k


    Eh, you can have an opinion, no doubt, but it's somewhat less authentic. It's pretty vague; you ask anyone why they are alive today and you won't usually get a sufficient answer. People don't know why they continue to live. They just do.

    I'm not sure what you could count as philosophy and what doesn't. But the unexamined life is not worth living. You only realize this once you examine your life.
  • Landru Guide Us
    245
    Are you claiming that it is not possible to have an "opinion" about your life without doing philosophy?John

    How do you have an opinion about something you haven't examined even if the examination is as cursory as claiming you just have an opinion about it?

    This topic is a bit jejune. It's odd it should produce such vehement responses by people who insist they haven't examined their life but still care about it? How would you ever know?
  • Janus
    6.2k


    I would say the examined life is richer, but only for those who get off on examining their lives. I think most philosophically unreflective people, if asked why they continue to live, would say that it is because life is good, because they generally enjoy life.
  • S
    6.3k
    But the unexamined life is not worth living. You only realize this once you examine your life.darthbarracuda

    So you say. Yet, upon such examination, myself and others have reached the contrary conclusion. After examining my life, I've come to the realisation that I prefer the examined life, but not what you've claimed about life in general.
  • S
    6.3k
    How do you have an opinion about something you haven't examined even if the examination is as cursory as claiming you just have an opinion about it?Landru Guide Us

    If that counts as philosophy, then that's a very broad conception of philosophy.

    This topic is a bit jejune.Landru Guide Us

    You brought it up.

    It's odd it should produce such vehement responses by people who insist they haven't examined their life but still care about it? How would you ever know?Landru Guide Us

    That's a straw man. Who do you think has insisted that they haven't examined their life? Where have they supposedly done so?
  • Janus
    6.2k


    I think you would interpret anything that disagrees with you as a "vehement response". I don't think I have vehemently responded except to what I have perceived as arrogant declarations.

    I haven't ever said that I haven't examined my own life; I have merely averred that the value of lives is not dependent on self-examination. I don't want to claim that my life, as an examined life, is more valuable per se than an unexamined life, because I think such a claim betrays an arrogant, elitist attitude, and also because I think that the value of any life is predominately determined by the general feeling tone (disposition) of that life.

    I actually don't like the notion of 'value' or 'worth' at all because it smacks of capital. Life in general for each person is variably somewhere on the continuum between good and bad, primarily dependent on circumstance and secondarily on attitude, as I see it; end of story.
  • S
    6.3k
    I would say the examined life is richer, but only for those who get off on examining their lives. I think most philosophically unreflective people, if asked why they continue to live, would say that it is because life is good, because they generally enjoy life.John

    I agree. That's it in a nutshell.
  • Landru Guide Us
    245
    If that counts as philosophy, then that's a very broad conception of philosophy.Sapientia

    Yes I interpret philosophy broadly. Even baristas can engage in it. Indeed, philosophy is our most natural condition - we have to prevent people from doing it, otherwise they will.
  • Landru Guide Us
    245
    You brought it up.Sapientia

    No, I brought up the examined life, not the vapid notion that we can have "feelings" about our life without examining it. Seems blatantly false to me. And really a sort of anti-intellectualism, as if caring about one's life is elitist.
  • Landru Guide Us
    245
    That's a straw man. Who do you think has insisted that they haven't examined their life? Where have they supposedly done so?Sapientia

    Worse than that, you and John have insisted that some other people (I take it dumb regular people unlike you) don't examine their lives, but just have general feelings about their lives. I think it is usually the rich and powerful who live unexamined lives; most people have to examine their lives because they are so precarious.
  • Bitter Crank
    6.8k
    I think it is usually the rich and powerful who live unexamined lives; most people have to examine their lives because they are so precarious.Landru Guide Us

    Quite possibly the rich and powerful live unexamined lives. I actually don't know any of these people. Maybe they hire somebody to examine their lives for them.

    "Most people" do live precarious lives, true enough, which does not lend itself to examination either. Strategizing about survival isn't the same as examining one's life.

    "The unexamined life is not worth living" does not have to be true. It could be not true. It could be that unexamined lives are worth living, and the examination itself doesn't make the examined life worth living.
  • S
    6.3k
    Yes I interpret philosophy broadly. Even baristas can engage in it. Indeed, philosophy is our most natural condition - we have to prevent people from doing it, otherwise they will.Landru Guide Us

    But merely having an opinion about something, and being aware of that fact, is pushing it beyond what's sensible.

    No, I brought up the examined life, not the vapid notion that we can have "feelings" about our life without examining it. Seems blatantly false to me. And really a sort of anti-intellectualism, as if caring about one's life is elitist.Landru Guide Us

    I assumed that you were referring to the topic of this discussion. Needles to say, I completley disagree.

    Worse than that, you and John have insisted that some other people (I take it dumb regular people unlike you) don't examine their lives, but just have general feelings about their lives. I think it is usually the rich and powerful who live unexamined lives; most people have to examine their lives because they are so precarious.Landru Guide Us

    With the obvious exception of people who aren't presently capable of examining their lives due to lacking the mental capacity, but who still live worthwhile lives (are the lives of babies worthless? I don't think so), I nonetheless stand by my claim, which is that there are times in which a life is worth living despite lacking that knowledge or awareness. Examples have been given, but have not, as far as I'm aware, been engaged with by the 'yes' side.

    I don't agree that it's usually the rich and powerful who live unexamined lives. At least, not any more so than the poor and weak. I think that that's a reflection of your rather obvious bias.
  • unenlightened
    2.9k
    Having just examined my life and thus made it worth living, it occurs to me that all my ancestors back to the primordial slime, along with everyone who has contributed to my worthwhile life including all of you who have written yourselves into my life must also have worthwhile lives in virtue of the vital contributions they and you have made to my own life. Congratulations. I have examined my life, so you don't have to examine yours.
  • Landru Guide Us
    245
    "The unexamined life is not worth living" does not have to be true. It could be not true. It could be that unexamined lives are worth living, and the examination itself doesn't make the examined life worth living.Bitter Crank

    But it is true. If you don't examine your life (and that's the only life that matters when it comes to living it), then it isn't worth living for you, since worth requires evaluation.
  • S
    6.3k
    But it is true. If you don't examine your life (and that's the only life that matters when it comes to living it), then it isn't worth living for you, since worth requires evaluation.Landru Guide Us

    This is just one of those silly unjustified and false assertions that give philosophy a bad reputation. Like asserting that if something isn't perceived then it doesn't exist, since existence requires perception.
  • photographer
    67
    I'm reminded of Sixt Rodriguez here, although Searching for Sugar Man - like so many documentaries today - is on many levels a lie. Certainly one could think that the significance of his life was as a symbol to the anti-apartheid movement, but he was clearly unaware of this for close to twenty years. I think we can conclude that Sixt himself - based on his songs and his life - sees his own self-worth in terms of his manual labour in the desert of Detroit. Since he has a degree in philosophy and is a powerful song-writer we shouldn't be in a rush to consider his view naïve or non-reflective.

    The discrimination that I want to make here is between meaning and significance. Significance is something most of us don't need to concern ourselves with. One of the nicer ironies in Sixt's story is that the South Africans invented his death in order to go on to tell the stories that are his significance.
  • Bitter Crank
    6.8k
    No, I brought up the examined life, not the vapid notion that we can have "feelings" about our life without examining it. Seems blatantly false to me. And really a sort of anti-intellectualism, as if caring about one's life is elitist.Landru Guide Us

    Cue the schmaltziest crooner on earth singing "Feelings, wo-o-o feelings, Wo-o-o, feelings again in my arms"... snivel, snivel, sob, sob. Fetch the Kleenex.

    • The idea that a life CAN be worth living without examination rests on several possible pillars.
    • One pillar is theological. God gives life, and god-given life does not require any kind of self-justification.
    • Another pillar is entirely secular (and a bit bleak): Life exists; it struggles, lives, and dies. There is no need for it to meet any standard of justification. Your life, my life, a rat's life, a bird's life, a worm's life.
    • There is a sort of 'economic' pillar: "examined lives" may be luxury goods. Not everyone can afford them. We would not blame or discount a life which didn't include Spode china, Prada, Vermeer, custom-made shoes, a big yacht, etc.
    • For the peasant / industrial worker / resident of a hair-raising social sink-grade slum, etc. the "examined life" may be out of reach.
    • There is the "evangelistic" pillar: The Gospel of the Examined Life being more worth living than the unexamined life" has not reached all quarters. It isn't self-evident that one should meditate on such things
    • There is a competence pillar: How does the uneducated, harassed, occasionally drunk, drugged up, overly fucked, beaten, busy scamming-the-system-to-make-ends-meet high school dropout lumpen prole go about evaluating their life? Where does the standard come from by which the worth of one's life is measured? For that matter, how does the suburban success story who has worked his and her way into a 'decent life' with lots of stuff in the house and machinery in the driveway go about this task? Where do these people get the sensitive scale to measure their lives?
    • Other reasons...

    The position that the unexamined life is worth while isn't anti-intellectual. All intellectuals should, can, ought, and must examine their lives -- if for no other reason that they possess the tools to do the examination, and they likely have a position in society which could be said to obligate them to at least some reflectivity. (The University of Minnesota used to have a center for reflective leadership. The Regents apparently decided there wasn't that much to be gained from training "reflecting leaders".)

    Examining one's life isn't "elitist" either. "Elitist", like "anti-intellectual" is kind of a slur in a discussion like this, and maybe not all that appropriate, hmmmm? Is "the elite" especially prone to self-examination? My guess is that many of the elite would fail the examination, and if they were "authentic" (another weasel word among our kind) they would flee and become, in the desert, voices of lament.

    porhd4boo41d7cyz.png

    I am all for people examining their lives. One would hope that in the examination they will find some satisfaction, and some motivation to deepen, broaden, enhance, and enrich the quality of their lives. The examined life is likely to be a process. Once examined earnestly, a life probably won't go long with out a further assay of its condition.
  • Landru Guide Us
    245
    The idea that a life CAN be worth living without examination rests on several possible pillars.Bitter Crank

    The distinction here is ontic versus ontological. I thought I made it clear I was talking about the ontological/existential case. Of course anybody can say that God or Bertrand Russell thinks life is worth living and then say they believe him. That has nothing to do with an existential determination that one's own life is worth living. It has to do with an idea about it.
  • Janus
    6.2k
    Existentially or phenomenologically speaking, a person's life is worth living if the person feels overall good enough about it not to either end it or to be constantly wishing to end it, but precluded from doing so by fear. All of this can go on, and often does, in the absence of philosophical reflection. To say otherwise is to be an arrogant intellectual elitist who presumptively devalues the life of the non-intellectual.

    Of course, all this has nothing to do with the 'external' ethical question of whether the person has lived a good life.
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