People often wonder what exactly a “philosophy on life” is. If you’re reading this article, you have probably heard people say things like “It’s my life philosophy” or “my philosophy is [insert subject here].” If you’ve ever seen The Lion King, then you’ve heard the popular song, sang by the cameo characters, Timon and Pumbaa, called “Hakuna Matata” in which the lyrics in the last part of the chorus, right before the name of the song, are “It’s our problem-free philosophy.” But what exactly does that mean? What does it mean to be alive from a philosophical standpoint?
Well look no further. In this article, I’m going to break down in detail what is a philosophy on life and what it means to have one. I will be speaking in a broader sense of philosophical meanings so as to not express bias towards any one particular opinion, topic, or study.
You may or may not have expected a simple answer to this question when you looked it up. I think you’ll find that researching this on a Google search leads to various different technical or subjective definitions that don’t really satisfy your standard of meaning or explanation of what the answer should be. So I’ll try to make this as easy as possible for you to understand.
There’s a short answer and a long answer. The long answer is pretty much everything else I’ve written here after the short answer.
Here’s the best summary I could come up with for the short answer to the aforementioned question:
A viewpoint or perspective of the actual purpose or meaning of one’s own life and/or life in general, possibly extending to the purpose or meaning of all of existence as a whole.
It’s basically some kind of meaning one gives to their own life. Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, things aren’t always what they seem to be. As I elaborate further into the concepts of this thought, you’ll understand more and more why it requires detailed elaboration for a more accurate understanding.
Now, as promised, here’s the long answer:
To properly find the answer to this question, we must first understand what “philosophy” is. There are countless places on the web where you can learn this in tremendous detail. But for the purpose of this article, I’ll give a very brief explanation.
There are two distinct meanings of how the term “philosophy” is commonly used: the formal meaning and the informal meaning.
- The formal meaning – an academic study of one or all of the many branches of this field, including, but not limited to, ethics, logic, metaphysics, aesthetics, human nature, and consciousness.
- The informal meaning – personal or subjective concepts about the purpose of one’s own experiences, what one ought to be doing, or the way one ought to be thinking.
The idea behind what a “philosophy on life” is predominately is associated with that of the informal meaning, but it can also refer to the formal meaning as well since “life” can also be considered a field of study (one that we call “biology”).
The Formal Meaning of Life
In the formal sense, a life philosophy posits the explanation and meaning for why life works the way it does physically and biologically.
All matter in the universe is made up of atoms and subatomic particles, which we would all agree is non-living. And yet, somehow, they can come together and configure themselves in a way that chemical reactions start to become autonomous and self-sustaining, eventually forming something that we consider life.
Not only that, but this same type of configuration forms specific coding called RNA that define specific actions that must be carried out by the rest of the system. This type of programming in the cell allows for its own physical features to change and adapt to its surrounding as well as its ecological circumstances, which is responsible for phenomena like natural selection and evolution.
The point of complexity of these configurations in which life actually starts is heavily debated, as many researchers disagree on what is even considered life. Many people believe that life begins once the atoms and molecules come together to form a working cell, but some would even consider the organelles that make up the cell a form of life as well, since they also, in a way, function autonomously.
The cells, tissue, and organs work together in a such a specific sequence that even the slightest variation would disrupt the entire process, thus preventing the cells from functioning properly and ending any chance of life.
Some argue that this detailed precision is the work of a deity, or “grand designer,” who intentionally made it that way so that life can exist and thrive, an idea commonly referred to as the “fine-tuning” argument for the Anthropic Principle. (See “What is Biocentrism?“)
Others have countered this by referring to the various flaws in biology, like the random diseases or defects that can arise from birth and genetics, or the very fact that certain pathogens and bacteria exist which seem to be specifically programmed to disrupt the normal processes in living cellular matter.
Various theories have suggested that life was structured the way it was to carry out some kind of specific purpose or goal. In Christian theology, it is believed that God designed humans in such a way that would allow them to properly worship him and to have dominion over all of the other animals. Ancient Greek philosophers, like Socrates and Plato, believed that the purpose for the existence of humans was to serve the Gods in the same manner that a slave would serve their master.
Some do not believe in any real purpose for it, seeing physical reality as nothing more than the result of random probabilities in the universe that made it so (a belief known as Absurdism). This belief rejects the idea of any divine or intended purpose for the configuration of life.
The Informal Meaning of Life
As opposed to a theory or belief about the physical world as a whole, an informal philosophy explains one’s own meaning or purpose he/she has assigned for them self in their own life with respect to their values.
Since this is completely dependent on the individual, it is a subjective and personal belief, and thus cannot be considered “wrong” (assuming we all have free will). However, sometimes the beliefs are based on assumptions of the material world which stem from formal philosophy, and thus can be considered “wrong” in that regard, but most likely cannot be proven so.
There are three forms of informal philosophy that people actively live by, all of which I have explained in detail below:
- Spiritual Philosophy
- Existential Philosophy
- Interpersonal or Intrapersonal Philosophy
The personal meaning or purpose one feels they have towards their relationship with God, the soul, and/or the afterlife.
Many people find meaning in their lives through religion and spiritual practices. Life philosophies of this nature are usually centered around delegating authority over one’s own life to that of a deity or higher power. Such practices are also often the basis for the practitioner’s idea of morality.
In Christianity, it is taught that all people are inherently sinful, and that they must accept Jesus Christ as their “savior” and follow whatever practices Christ considers moral from various interpretations of the Bible.
This, however, is not always the case. In Buddhism, for example, the belief system does not center around a deity, but around mindfulness and acceptance of everyone’s soul or “essence” being part of the same entity. The Buddhists believe that people are reincarnated into a particular life or realm of existence based on their behavior from the previous life, and that their ultimate goal is to escape the cycle of death and rebirth by achieving an eternal, timeless, spaceless state of awareness and tranquility known as nirvana.
Beliefs like the one’s stated above are not exclusive to religion. In a much broader sense, many people simply believe in an afterlife of some kind to which the soul or consciousness migrates to upon death of the physical body (See “What is the Afterlife?“) Some might also attribute the soul/consciousness to that of a god or deity.
Plato argued that the soul is an immortal, eternal, and omniscient entity that forgets everything upon birth and spends its life here in the material world remembering, or “recollecting” everything once again. Although compatible with religion, this kind of philosophy does not need to involve any kind of religious belief system and instead only attributes the meaning of life to whatever they believe exists on “the other side.”
All beliefs and practices of religious and spiritual philosophy are used as a way of affirming one’s own existence in reality, giving some kind of spiritual meaning to the goals (if any) they set out for themselves in life.
A skepticism or lack of belief of any meaning, purpose, or existence behind one’s own life or life in general. (Not to be confused with existentialism!)
Some people question the very nature of their own existence in disbelief of any predetermined meaning of purpose for it. Physicalism, for example, is a school of thought in metaphysics which postulates that nothing exists beyond the material world, and that consciousness ends once the body has died. To a physicalist, since the mind gets eradicated upon death, all of life and existence in general is utterly pointless and has no greater meaning.
Views like physicalism typically reject the notion of “free will” and believe that all life is nothing more than a byproduct of matter following the universal laws of physics and nature.
To a further extreme, there are those who are actual skeptical of the idea that they exist at all. There is a rare mental disorder known as Cotard’s syndrome, a condition which makes a person genuinely feel like they don’t exist or have any sense of identity.
This kind of thinking is present even in people who do not have this condition. They argue that you cannot actually prove they exist, and therefore, they do not. (Although premises of the arguments vary)
It is worth noting that this is in direct opposition to René Descartes’s theory of idealism, an argument which suggests that the existence of the self can be proven, summarized by his famous phrase, “I think, therefore I am.” This argument basically states that the very fact that one is thinking proves that their mind must exist beyond a reasonable doubt. Even if everything else is an illusion, the only way one could even think about their own existence is if there is a mind that exists in the first place to generate the thought.
Whatever the case may be, those with an existential philosophy are nihilistic and do not define meaning of their life with anything beyond their own perception of existence. This does not necessarily mean that they haven’t assigned any value to their lives or things in their lives, but just that they haven’t found any meaning with the nature of their own existence, whether they believe themselves to actually exist.
The personal meaning or purpose one feels they have towards their interactions with other people, things, values, and/or themselves.
Regardless of how a person may view the nature of their own existence, people can find meaning in their lives through things and experiences that they personally value. This is, by far, the most relevant form of philosophy to the main question of this article.
As a person grows and develops from the time they are born, they assign different values to different things they experience around them based on psychological and environmental factors. We all have certain preferences in things like music, art, games, media, etc. As we get older and continue to learn, we tend to start giving meaning to our actions, trying to achieve some kind of goal or objective which we have set out for ourselves in direct correspondence to those preferences.
Humans all truly strive to achieve one single thing: happiness. No matter what a person does in life, they’re doing it to get something that they ultimately want. Whatever that something is, getting it will satisfy some sort of innate desire to achieve their goals. The ultimate form of this satisfaction is what many people call “happiness,” and we all want it. However, the way we all go about trying to achieve it varies tremendously. Since we all have a different set of values, we all have different perspectives of what we think will make us happy.
Our own interpersonal philosophies are the ways in which we choose to act towards other people and/or other things in order to reach a state of happiness. For example, some people have dedicated their lives towards helping the poor.
In a case such as this, although there is no real “end goal,” it is still something that people do in order to be happy with themselves. One could argue, however, that they have already achieved happiness simply by performing this action, as they are able to spend their lives continuously doing it.
Sometimes people identify with a code or a set of moral principles for life that they feel they must follow. Monks, for example, often follow a strict set of rules which dictate how they should spend their lives, such as practicing social respectfulness, or adhering to pacifism. They have assigned enough value to such rules that the monks have defined them as principles for how they must live.
Life codes or principles, however, do not necessarily have to be that strict, or even involve other people. Some people identify their purpose in life with respect to intrapersonal practices such as physical exercise or meditation. Some dedicate their lives to being rich and successful. In cases like these, people feel that their purpose in life rests with their ability to achieve some kind of ultimate state of being in the self, either physically or mentally, independent of other people.
People do not necessarily have to have only one kind of philosophy in their lives. In fact, I would dare say most people have at least two that they incorporate with their world views.
Pretty much everyone has their own theory on how and why the universe exists, but that is usually independent of how they feel they should act in life (defined by their informal philosophy). As a result, most people have both a formal philosophy and at least one informal philosophy.
Religious belief systems usually instruct people to treat others a certain type of way. This effectively gives those people both a spiritual philosophy and an interpersonal philosophy.
Also, as mentioned earlier, an existential philosophy is a lack of belief of a meaning for one’s existence, but does not mean a person doesn’t or can’t follow any set of personal or social practices they may have set for them self. Many people who are skeptical of any meaning of existence still follow some kind of form of ethics which determines how they may treat others (kindness, compassion, virtue, etc.), meaning that someone with an existential philosophy may also have an interpersonal or intrapersonal philosophy, despite their nihilistic views.
If you actually read through all of this and made it to this point, I salute you. I thank you all very much for assigning enough value to this article to make the conscious decision to read it all the way through. (And thank you for having the kind of philosophy that lead you to do so.)
People have been asking what the meaning of life is since the dawn of intelligence, yet not one of us have found a concrete answer for it yet. However, having our own personal philosophies on our lives gives us that answer on a personal level. Our own values are all we really have to go off of in this regard.
If you found this article from a Google search, then you’re probably unsure or confused about you’re own views of life and reality. Or maybe you just need to get some ideas for some kind of writing assignment in the philosophy class you’re taking.
In either case, don’t worry; you’re not alone. I, too, am very unsure of what I think about the world around me (and have also taken philosophy classes in school, trust me, I know the struggle). I actually found myself to have a bit of all 3 of the informal views on life. I’ll elaborate more on my own thoughts and opinions about life in a later article.
Whatever the reason, and regardless of what you may believe reality to be, the fact remains that you are experiencing something in life that you have assigned value to, and that something is driving you to keep pushing forward. So whatever actions you choose to take in pursuit of that which you value is, in essence, your philosophy. Only you get to decide that for yourself.
So, as cliché as this sounds, make the most out of this thing you are experiencing that you call “life.” It is much more enjoyable once you have discovered some type of meaning for it.
So what is a philosophy on life to you? What kind of philosophy for your life do you have? Let me know in the comments down below.
Until next time,