Some people worry that life is pointless. That’s because it is.
I further argue that ends lie separate from the acts and enterprises for which they provide a point
When we consider the project of living of a human life, what’s the point of it?
Seeking a Point to Life Is a Category Mistake: We might consider asking for the point of life, or being sad that there isn’t one, to be a category mistake, akin to asking, “When is a potato?” or being sad that your baby has a name but not a number.
Are we nonsensically bemoaning an incoherence? I don’t think so. Leading a human life is an effort or enterprise we all engage in, just as we engage in many other projects within our human lives. It can then come as a disappointing surprise to note that, unlike many other of our purposeful enterprises, leading life itself cannot have a point. Asking whether life is pointless is not incoherent—we understand the question and are capable of sensibly answering it; we just may not like the answer.
You might think that you value, say, playing with your children, for its own sake but the play itself is not the valued end—it’s not the act of stacking blocks that is itself the point of stacking them. We want to know: why stack blocks?
The point is not the running, it’s the exhilaration derived from it, etc.
It is helpful here to distinguish between what we might call Everyday Meaning from Ultimate Meaning. Everyday Meaning refers to the value and significance in our everyday lives, including values such as beauty, love, and truth, and the significance of doing things that engage with them. It includes the purpose (i.e., the reason for which something is done) and point (i.e., justifying valued end) of much of our meaningful, everyday lives... Ultimate Meaning refers to the point of leading a life at all. Why bother with the project, effort, or enterprise of life? .... Distinguishing between Everyday Meaning and Ultimate Meaning makes sense of feeling that life is pointless while still caring very much about everyday matters such as your stubbed toe or your child’s first words.
Instead, the problem of Ultimate Meaning—its metaphysical impossibility—results from the nature of points (i.e., that they are separate from the activities, pursuits, projects, and efforts toward which they’re aimed) and the nature of a human life (i.e., that it includes its entirety)
We may note that many things in life are purposeful and have plenty of value, making life itself a container, of sorts, for valued ends but not the kind of thing that is itself directed toward a valued end.
Anyone who dreams and plans for the future, who thinks about how the past fits into their present and future, who thinks about the shape of their life, their reasons for living, the legacy they hope to leave—in other words, anyone who lives a human agential life, is leading a life—running a life—which is an effort, project or enterprise of its own. Our lives, as Velleman has argued, are a story we tell ourselves; we have a narrative identity, we want our lives to make sense as a whole.
Agency, authorship, and the leading of one’s life are human features that can come in degrees and variations. And for those who don’t care so much about the overall shape, structure, and purpose of their lives, noting life’s pointlessness will perhaps be less devastating. (So they may be merely sad, rather than very, very sad, at our realization about life’s pointlessness).
And for those who don’t care so much about the overall shape, structure, and purpose of their lives, noting life’s pointlessness will perhaps be less devastating. (So they may be merely sad, rather than very, very sad, at our realization about life’s pointlessness)
First, “a project” is an optional technique for viewing patterns in your activity in order to rationalize it. There is no objective truth about whether or not something “is” a project. Sometimes it’s useful to view some things you are doing as a project, to better organize them; sometimes it’s not... Is it a good idea to view your entire life as a single overall project? Weinberg says that if you do, it should result in your being very, very sad. I think she’s probably right. So I recommend that you don’t do that.