The question of “what is the purpose in life?” has been contemplated by philosophers and other big thinkers for centuries. And obviously, there is not one answer to this existential question. Many different answers have been proposed, from religious and spiritual beliefs to more secular ideas.
Seven great thinkers about life
We give you seven short quotes & insights from some of the most famous philosophers and other big thinkers on this topic:
- For Ralph Waldo Emerson the purpose of life is not to be happy. But it is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.
- “The purpose of life is not to find yourself. It is to create yourself.” says George Bernard Shaw
- Eleanor Roosevelt’s view on the purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for a newer and richer experience.
- For Plato, the purpose of life was to achieve wisdom and understanding. Plato believed that the human soul was immortal, and that its ultimate goal was to return to the world of the Forms, where it could gain true knowledge and understanding. In Plato’s view, the purpose of life was to seek out this knowledge and to use it to live a good and virtuous life.
- If you ask Aristotle, the purpose of life was to achieve eudaimonia, or human flourishing. Aristotle believed that the good life was one in which a person could develop their intellectual and moral virtues to their fullest potential. In order to achieve eudaimonia, a person had to live a life of moderation, avoiding both excess and deficiency.
- For Immanuel Kant, the purpose of life was to fulfill one’s moral duties. Kant believed that the moral law was innate in every human being, and that the purpose of life was to follow this law and to act in accordance with the moral principles that it prescribed. In Kant’s view, the good life was one in which a person acted according to their moral duties, and in doing so, they would be fulfilling the purpose of their existence.
- According to Viktor Frankl, the purpose of life is to find meaning and purpose in one’s existence. Frankl, who was a renowned psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, developed the concept of Logotherapy, healing through meaning, is based on the idea that the primary drive in human beings is the search for meaning . In his book “ Man’s Search for Meaning,” Frankl argues that each individual has the freedom to find meaning in their life, even in the most difficult circumstances, and that this meaning can be found in three different ways: by creating a work or doing a deed, by experiencing something or encountering someone, and by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.
Pick and choose
As these quotes show, different philosophers and thinkers have had different ideas about the purpose of life. Some believe that the purpose of life is to be happy, while others believe that it is to be useful or to make a difference in the world. Ultimately, the purpose of life may be different for each person, and it is up to each individual to decide what that purpose is for them.
How about you?
We’d love to read in a comment below what you believe is the purpose of life.