The Meaning of Life: Perspectives from Existentialist Thinkers

In the realm of philosophical inquiry, few questions have captured the imagination of humanity as profoundly as the quest for the meaning of life. Countless thinkers throughout history have grappled with this existential puzzle, offering diverse perspectives and theories. Among them, existentialist thinkers have often been revered for their ability to confront the human condition head-on and peel away the layers of illusion that shroud our existence. However, we must subject their ideas to rigorous scrutiny, for even the most revered philosophers are not immune to the fallacy. In this critical exploration, we shall challenge the conventional wisdom surrounding existentialism, exposing its inherent limitations and offering a broader intellectual framework for understanding the complexities of human existence.

Existentialism: A Struggle with the Absurd:

Existentialism, emphasizing individual freedom, responsibility, and the subjective experience of existence, has long captivated the philosophical discourse. Pioneers such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Friedrich Nietzsche have been hailed as intellectual luminaries for their attempts to grapple with life's inherent absurdity and meaninglessness. However, while their insights may provide some solace in the face of existential anguish, they ultimately fall short of providing a complete and coherent account of life's meaning.

The existentialist perspective relies heavily on radical freedom, asserting that we are condemned to be free, devoid of any inherent purpose or predetermined destiny. This bleak assessment, while initially alluring, neglects the deeper complexities of human existence. Instead, it reduces life to a mere struggle with the absurd, where individuals are left to construct meaning within the confines of a godless and indifferent universe.

Challenging the Absence of Objective Meaning:

Existentialists often dismiss the notion of objective meaning as a delusion or an outdated religious construct. They argue that searching for a universal purpose is futile, suggesting that meaning can only be found in subjective experiences, individual choices, and authentic self-expression. However, this dismissal of objective meaning overlooks the profound human yearning for a deeper significance beyond the confines of individual subjectivity.

Historically, societies have thrived upon shared myths, cultural narratives, and collective values that transcend the individual. Such collaborative frameworks have provided a sense of belonging, purpose, and moral guidance. Dismissing these shared constructs as mere illusions fails to acknowledge their vital role in fostering social cohesion, moral progress, and the flourishing of human societies.

Moreover, existentialism neglects the significant role of biology, evolution, and cultural conditioning in shaping our desires, values, and motivations. The human experience is not isolated in a vacuum; it is intrinsically intertwined with the broader social, cultural, and historical contexts in which we exist. By disregarding these external influences, existentialism risks oversimplifying the complex tapestry of human meaning-making.

Beyond Existentialism: Embracing a Pluralistic Perspective:

To transcend the limitations of existentialism, we must embrace a more holistic and pluralistic understanding of the meaning of life. It is crucial to recognize that meaning can emerge from multiple sources, including personal relationships, creative endeavours, intellectual pursuits, and contributions to the betterment of society. Moreover, objective meaning need not be a relic of the past but can be cultivated through a symbiotic interplay between the individual and the collective.

Drawing from the wisdom of philosophers across history, we find that Aristotle emphasized the fulfillment of human potential through virtue and the pursuit of eudaimonia, a life well-lived. Likewise, Immanuel Kant emphasized moral duty and the purpose of universal ethical principles. These perspectives remind us that objective meaning can be found in the cultivation of virtues, the pursuit of knowledge, and the advancement of justice and compassion.


While existentialism offers a provocative lens through which to examine the human condition, it falls short of providing a comprehensive understanding of life's meaning. By dismissing objective meaning as illusory and constraining, existentialism neglects the profound impact of shared values, cultural narratives, and collective aspirations on human existence. To grasp the multifaceted nature of meaning, we must embrace a more holistic and pluralistic perspective that acknowledges the interplay between individual agency and the broader social, cultural, and historical contexts in which we are embedded.

Let us not be seduced by the allure of existentialism's rebellion against traditional notions of meaning. Instead, let us embrace intellectual rigour and critical inquiry to transcend its limitations. By acknowledging the interplay of subjective experiences, objective values, and the complexity of human existence, we can uncover a more profound and nuanced understanding of the meaning of life, one that reflects the intricate tapestry of our shared human journey.

Plato Re-Imagined

This course includes 32 lectures covering most of Plato's dialogues and allowing the student to return to something divine. Divinity should resonate with secular and religious leaders alike. I present a compatible approach in my lecture on Consilience.

Also included with this course is a free book. If you pay for the course, you will get a physical copy of the book for free, mailed to your chosen address — anywhere on the planet!

$5 per month (free book)
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