essay on life without values

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Exploring Henry David Thoreau’s Life Without Principle: A Literary Analysis

  • Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau’s essay “Life Without Principle” is a thought-provoking piece that challenges the reader to consider the value of money and the pursuit of wealth. In this literary analysis, we will delve deeper into Thoreau’s ideas and explore the themes and motifs that make this essay a timeless work of literature. Through close examination of his writing style and use of rhetorical devices, we will gain a better understanding of Thoreau’s philosophy and how it can be applied to our modern lives.

Thoreau’s Concept of a Life Without Principle

Thoreau’s concept of a life without principle is a thought-provoking idea that challenges the traditional notions of morality and ethics. In his essay “Life Without Principle,” Thoreau argues that individuals should live their lives based on their own principles and values, rather than conforming to societal norms and expectations. He believes that people should prioritize their own personal growth and development, rather than pursuing material wealth and success at the expense of their own happiness and well-being. Thoreau’s philosophy encourages individuals to live deliberately and authentically, and to question the status quo in order to create a more meaningful and fulfilling life.

Thoreau’s Critique of Society and Materialism

Henry David Thoreau was a prominent American philosopher, writer, and naturalist who lived in the 19th century. He is best known for his book Walden, which chronicles his two-year stay in a cabin in the woods near Walden Pond. Thoreau’s writings are characterized by his critique of society and materialism, which he believed were corrupting forces that prevented individuals from living a meaningful life.

Thoreau believed that society was too focused on material possessions and that people were becoming increasingly disconnected from nature. He saw this as a problem because he believed that nature was essential for human well-being. Thoreau believed that people needed to spend more time in nature and less time pursuing material possessions.

Thoreau’s critique of society and materialism was also reflected in his views on work. He believed that people should only work as much as they needed to in order to sustain themselves. He saw work as a means to an end, not an end in itself. Thoreau believed that people should focus on living a simple life and pursuing their passions, rather than working long hours to accumulate wealth.

Thoreau’s critique of society and materialism was not just a philosophical idea. He lived his life according to these principles. He spent two years living in a cabin in the woods, growing his own food and living a simple life. Thoreau’s writings and his life are a testament to the power of living a simple life and the importance of nature in human well-being.

In conclusion, Thoreau’s critique of society and materialism is an important part of his legacy. He believed that society was becoming too focused on material possessions and that people were losing touch with nature. Thoreau’s writings and his life are a reminder of the importance of living a simple life and the power of nature in human well-being.

The Importance of Self-Reliance in Thoreau’s Philosophy

One of the key themes in Henry David Thoreau’s philosophy is the importance of self-reliance. Thoreau believed that individuals should rely on themselves rather than on society or external sources for their well-being and happiness. He argued that too often people conform to societal norms and expectations, sacrificing their own individuality and freedom in the process. Thoreau believed that true happiness and fulfillment could only be achieved by living a life of self-reliance, where individuals take responsibility for their own lives and make their own decisions. This philosophy is evident in Thoreau’s own life, as he famously lived alone in a cabin in the woods for two years, relying on his own skills and resources to survive. Thoreau’s emphasis on self-reliance continues to be relevant today, as individuals are often pressured to conform to societal expectations and norms, rather than pursuing their own unique paths.

Thoreau’s Views on Government and Civil Disobedience

Henry David Thoreau was a prominent American philosopher, writer, and naturalist who lived in the 19th century. He is best known for his book “Walden,” which chronicles his two-year stay in a cabin in the woods near Walden Pond. However, Thoreau was also a vocal critic of the government and its policies, and he believed in the power of civil disobedience to effect change.

Thoreau’s views on government were shaped by his belief in individual freedom and self-reliance. He believed that the government should not interfere with the lives of its citizens, and that people should be free to live as they choose. Thoreau was particularly critical of the government’s policies on slavery and the Mexican-American War, which he saw as unjust and immoral.

Thoreau’s belief in civil disobedience was rooted in his belief in the power of the individual to effect change. He believed that people had a moral obligation to disobey unjust laws and to resist the government’s attempts to control their lives. Thoreau famously refused to pay his poll tax as a protest against the government’s support of slavery, and he spent a night in jail as a result.

Thoreau’s views on government and civil disobedience continue to be influential today. His ideas have inspired many social and political movements, including the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement. Thoreau’s belief in the power of the individual to effect change is a reminder that we all have a responsibility to stand up for what we believe in and to resist injustice wherever we see it.

The Role of Nature in Thoreau’s Life Without Principle

Nature played a significant role in Henry David Thoreau’s Life Without Principle. Thoreau believed that nature was the ultimate teacher and that it held the key to living a fulfilling life. He spent much of his time in the woods, observing the natural world and drawing inspiration from it. Thoreau believed that by living in harmony with nature, one could achieve a sense of inner peace and contentment. In Life Without Principle, Thoreau writes, “Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito’s wing that falls on the rails.” This quote highlights Thoreau’s belief that we should take cues from nature and live our lives with purpose and intention. Overall, Thoreau’s deep connection to nature is a central theme in Life Without Principle and serves as a guiding principle for how we should live our lives.

Thoreau’s Relationship with Transcendentalism

Henry David Thoreau is often associated with the Transcendentalist movement, which emerged in the mid-19th century as a response to the industrialization and materialism of American society. Transcendentalists believed in the inherent goodness of humanity and nature, and sought to transcend the limitations of the physical world through spiritual and philosophical exploration. Thoreau’s writings, particularly his most famous work Walden, reflect many of the key tenets of Transcendentalism, including a reverence for nature, a rejection of materialism, and a belief in the importance of individualism and self-reliance. However, Thoreau’s relationship with Transcendentalism was complex and often conflicted. While he was deeply influenced by the movement and counted many of its leading figures among his friends and mentors, he also maintained a critical distance from its more idealistic and utopian aspects. Thoreau’s commitment to social and political reform, as well as his skepticism of organized religion and institutional authority, set him apart from many of his Transcendentalist peers and made him a unique and influential voice in American literature and culture.

Thoreau’s Literary Style and Techniques in Life Without Principle

Thoreau’s literary style and techniques in “Life Without Principle” are reflective of his overall philosophy of simplicity and self-reliance. Throughout the essay, Thoreau employs a variety of rhetorical devices, including repetition, metaphor, and irony, to convey his message about the dangers of living a life solely focused on material gain.

One of the most prominent techniques Thoreau uses is repetition. He repeats the phrase “life without principle” throughout the essay, emphasizing the importance of living a life guided by moral values rather than financial gain. This repetition also serves to create a sense of urgency and importance, urging readers to consider the consequences of their own actions and choices.

Thoreau also employs metaphor to illustrate his points. For example, he compares the pursuit of wealth to a game of chess, where the player becomes so focused on winning that they lose sight of the bigger picture. This metaphor highlights the idea that the pursuit of wealth can be all-consuming, leading individuals to neglect other important aspects of their lives.

Finally, Thoreau uses irony to critique the societal values of his time. He notes that individuals are often praised for their financial success, even if it comes at the expense of their moral principles. This irony highlights the flawed priorities of society and encourages readers to reevaluate their own values and priorities.

Overall, Thoreau’s literary style and techniques in “Life Without Principle” serve to convey his message about the importance of living a principled life and the dangers of prioritizing material gain over moral values.

Thoreau’s Influence on American Literature and Philosophy

Henry David Thoreau’s impact on American literature and philosophy cannot be overstated. His works, including Walden and Civil Disobedience, have inspired generations of writers and thinkers to question the status quo and seek a simpler, more meaningful existence. Thoreau’s emphasis on self-reliance, individualism, and the importance of nature have become central themes in American literature and philosophy. His ideas about civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance have influenced social and political movements around the world. Thoreau’s legacy continues to shape the way we think about ourselves and our place in the world.

The Relevance of Thoreau’s Life Without Principle Today

Thoreau’s Life Without Principle may have been written over 150 years ago, but its relevance today cannot be overstated. In a world where materialism and consumerism are rampant, Thoreau’s call for a life of simplicity and self-reliance is more important than ever. His critique of the capitalist system and the pursuit of wealth at the expense of one’s own values and principles is still relevant today. Thoreau’s emphasis on the importance of living a life of purpose and meaning, rather than one driven by societal expectations, is a message that resonates with many people today. In a time where the world is facing numerous challenges, from climate change to social inequality, Thoreau’s message of individual responsibility and action is more important than ever.

Thoreau’s Personal Life and Experiences that Shaped His Philosophy

Henry David Thoreau’s personal life and experiences played a significant role in shaping his philosophy. Thoreau was born in Concord, Massachusetts, in 1817, and grew up in a family that valued education and intellectual pursuits. He attended Harvard University, where he studied philosophy and literature, and later worked as a teacher and a surveyor. However, Thoreau’s life took a turn when he met Ralph Waldo Emerson, a prominent philosopher and writer, who became his mentor and friend. Emerson introduced Thoreau to the Transcendentalist movement, which emphasized the importance of individualism, self-reliance, and the natural world. Thoreau was deeply influenced by these ideas and began to develop his own philosophy, which he expressed in his writings and his life. Thoreau’s experiences also shaped his philosophy. He spent two years living in a cabin near Walden Pond, where he wrote his most famous work, Walden, or Life in the Woods. During this time, Thoreau lived a simple and self-sufficient life, growing his own food, and spending his days in contemplation and observation of nature. Thoreau’s experiences in nature and his commitment to living a simple life without material possessions influenced his philosophy of simplicity, self-reliance, and the importance of living in harmony with nature. Thoreau’s personal life and experiences were integral to his philosophy, and his writings continue to inspire and influence readers today.

Thoreau’s Views on Education and Learning

Thoreau’s views on education and learning were unconventional for his time. He believed that education should not be limited to the classroom and textbooks, but rather should be a lifelong pursuit of knowledge and self-discovery. Thoreau was critical of the traditional education system, which he believed stifled creativity and individuality. He argued that students should be encouraged to think for themselves and pursue their own interests, rather than being forced to conform to a standardized curriculum. Thoreau also believed that learning should be experiential, and that students should be encouraged to explore the natural world and learn from their own observations and experiences. Overall, Thoreau’s views on education and learning were rooted in his belief in the importance of individual freedom and self-reliance.

The Role of Ethics and Morality in Thoreau’s Life Without Principle

Thoreau’s Life Without Principle is a thought-provoking essay that delves into the importance of ethics and morality in our lives. Throughout the essay, Thoreau argues that living a life without principle is not only detrimental to oneself but also to society as a whole. He believes that individuals should have a set of moral principles that guide their actions and decisions, and that these principles should be based on reason and conscience rather than societal norms or expectations.

Thoreau’s emphasis on ethics and morality is evident in his critique of the financial industry, which he sees as corrupt and immoral. He argues that the pursuit of wealth and material possessions has become the primary goal of many individuals, and that this has led to a society that is focused on superficial values rather than on what is truly important. Thoreau believes that individuals should prioritize their moral principles over their desire for wealth and success, and that this will lead to a more fulfilling and meaningful life.

Overall, Thoreau’s Life Without Principle highlights the importance of ethics and morality in our lives. He argues that individuals should strive to live according to their principles, even if this means going against societal norms or expectations. By doing so, we can create a more just and equitable society that is based on reason and conscience rather than on greed and self-interest.

Thoreau’s Views on Work and Labor

Thoreau’s views on work and labor were shaped by his belief in the importance of individual freedom and self-reliance. He saw work as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself, and believed that people should only work as much as necessary to meet their basic needs. Thoreau was critical of the industrialization and commercialization of society, which he saw as leading to a loss of individuality and a focus on material possessions. He believed that people should be free to pursue their own interests and passions, rather than being forced to work in order to support themselves. Thoreau’s views on work and labor continue to be influential today, particularly in the fields of environmentalism and social justice.

Thoreau’s Critique of Religion and Spirituality

Thoreau’s critique of religion and spirituality is a prominent theme in his essay “Life Without Principle.” He argues that organized religion and spirituality have become corrupted by materialism and conformity, and that true spirituality can only be found through individual experience and contemplation. Thoreau writes, “The church is a sort of hospital for men’s souls, and as full of quackery as the hospital for their bodies.” He believes that people should not blindly follow religious doctrines, but instead should question and explore their own beliefs. Thoreau’s critique of religion and spirituality reflects his belief in the importance of individualism and self-reliance, and his rejection of societal norms and conventions.

Thoreau’s Views on Gender and Feminism

Henry David Thoreau was a writer and philosopher who lived in the 19th century. He is best known for his book Walden, which is a reflection on his experience living in a cabin in the woods for two years. Thoreau was also a strong advocate for social justice and equality, and his views on gender and feminism were ahead of his time.

Thoreau believed that women should have the same rights and opportunities as men. He was critical of the traditional gender roles that were prevalent in his society, and he believed that women were just as capable as men in all areas of life. Thoreau also believed that women should have the right to vote, which was a controversial idea at the time.

Thoreau’s views on gender and feminism were influenced by his relationship with the women in his life. He had a close relationship with his mother and sisters, and he respected their intelligence and abilities. Thoreau also had a close friendship with the writer and feminist Margaret Fuller, who he admired for her intellect and independence.

Thoreau’s views on gender and feminism were not always popular during his lifetime, but they have had a lasting impact on the feminist movement. His belief in the equality of men and women helped to pave the way for the women’s suffrage movement, and his writings continue to inspire feminists today.

In conclusion, Thoreau’s views on gender and feminism were ahead of his time. He believed in the equality of men and women and was critical of traditional gender roles. Thoreau’s writings continue to inspire feminists today, and his legacy as a social justice advocate lives on.

Thoreau’s Views on Race and Slavery

Thoreau’s views on race and slavery were complex and evolving throughout his life. He was a vocal critic of slavery and believed that it was a moral wrong that needed to be abolished. However, his views on race were not always consistent with his anti-slavery stance. Thoreau believed in the inherent superiority of the white race and saw African Americans as inferior. He also believed that they should not be given the same rights and opportunities as white people. These views were not uncommon for his time, but they do raise questions about the extent of Thoreau’s commitment to social justice and equality. Despite these contradictions, Thoreau’s writings on slavery and civil disobedience continue to inspire activists and thinkers today.

Thoreau’s Relationship with Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thoreau’s relationship with Ralph Waldo Emerson was a significant influence on his life and work. Emerson was a mentor and friend to Thoreau, and their relationship was based on mutual respect and admiration. Thoreau was deeply influenced by Emerson’s ideas about self-reliance, individualism, and the importance of nature. In fact, Thoreau’s decision to live at Walden Pond was partly inspired by Emerson’s essay “Nature.” However, Thoreau was not simply a disciple of Emerson’s; he also challenged and critiqued some of Emerson’s ideas. For example, Thoreau was critical of Emerson’s emphasis on the importance of society and social connections, arguing that individuals should prioritize their own inner lives and personal growth. Despite these differences, Thoreau and Emerson remained close throughout their lives, and their intellectual and personal connection was a crucial part of Thoreau’s development as a writer and thinker.

Thoreau’s Views on Art and Aesthetics

Thoreau’s views on art and aesthetics were deeply rooted in his philosophy of simplicity and naturalism. He believed that true art should reflect the beauty and harmony of nature, and that the artist’s role was to capture and convey this essence through their work. Thoreau was critical of art that was overly ornate or artificial, seeing it as a reflection of the excess and superficiality of modern society. He believed that art should be a reflection of the artist’s innermost thoughts and feelings, and that it should inspire others to connect with nature and live a more meaningful life. Thoreau’s own writing is a testament to his belief in the power of art to inspire and transform, and his works continue to be celebrated for their beauty, simplicity, and profound insights into the human experience.

Thoreau’s Legacy and Impact on American Culture

Henry David Thoreau’s impact on American culture is immeasurable. His ideas and writings have influenced generations of thinkers, writers, and activists. Thoreau’s emphasis on individualism, self-reliance, and nonconformity has become a cornerstone of American identity. His call for civil disobedience and resistance to unjust laws has inspired movements for social justice and political change. Thoreau’s legacy is not only literary but also political and cultural. His ideas continue to shape the way we think about ourselves and our society.

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Essays About Values: 5 Essay Examples Plus 10 Prompts

Similar to how our values guide us, let this guide with essays about values and writing prompts help you write your essay.

Values are the core principles that guide the actions we take and the choices we make. They are the cornerstones of our identity. On a community or organizational level, values are the moral code that every member must embrace to live harmoniously and work together towards shared goals. 

We acquire our values from different sources such as parents, mentors, friends, cultures, and experiences. All of these build on one another — some rejected as we see fit — for us to form our perception of our values and what will lead us to a happy and fulfilled life.

5 Essay Examples

1. what today’s classrooms can learn from ancient cultures by linda flanagan, 2. stand out to your hiring panel with a personal value statement by maggie wooll, 3. make your values mean something by patrick m. lencioni, 4. how greed outstripped need by beth azar, 5. a shift in american family values is fueling estrangement by joshua coleman, 1. my core values, 2. how my upbringing shaped my values, 3. values of today’s youth, 4. values of a good friend, 5. an experience that shaped your values, 6. remembering our values when innovating, 7. important values of school culture, 8. books that influenced your values, 9. religious faith and moral values, 10. schwartz’s theory of basic values.

“Connectedness is another core value among Maya families, and teachers seek to cultivate it… While many American teachers also value relationships with their students, that effort is undermined by the competitive environment seen in many Western classrooms.”

Ancient communities keep their traditions and values of a hands-off approach to raising their kids. They also preserve their hunter-gatherer mindsets and others that help their kids gain patience, initiative, a sense of connectedness, and other qualities that make a helpful child.

“How do you align with the company’s mission and add to its culture? Because it contains such vital information, your personal value statement should stand out on your resume or in your application package.”

Want to rise above other candidates in the jobs market? Then always highlight your value statement. A personal value statement should be short but still, capture the aspirations and values of the company. The essay provides an example of a captivating value statement and tips for crafting one.

“Values can set a company apart from the competition by clarifying its identity and serving as a rallying point for employees. But coming up with strong values—and sticking to them—requires real guts.”

Along with the mission and vision, clear values should dictate a company’s strategic goals. However, several CEOs still needed help to grasp organizational values fully. The essay offers a direction in setting these values and impresses on readers the necessity to preserve them at all costs. 

“‘He compared the values held by people in countries with more competitive forms of capitalism with the values of folks in countries that have a more cooperative style of capitalism… These countries rely more on strategic cooperation… rather than relying mostly on free-market competition as the United States does.”

The form of capitalism we have created today has shaped our high value for material happiness. In this process, psychologists said we have allowed our moral and ethical values to drift away from us for greed to take over. You can also check out these essays about utopia .

“From the adult child’s perspective, there might be much to gain from an estrangement: the liberation from those perceived as hurtful or oppressive, the claiming of authority in a relationship, and the sense of control over which people to keep in one’s life. For the mother or father, there is little benefit when their child cuts off contact.”

It is most challenging when the bonds between parent and child weaken in later years. Psychologists have been navigating this problem among modern families, which is not an easy conflict to resolve. It requires both parties to give their best in humbling themselves and understanding their loved ones, no matter how divergent their values are. 

10 Writing  Prompts On Essays About Values

For this topic prompt, contemplate your non-negotiable core values and why you strive to observe them at all costs. For example, you might value honesty and integrity above all else. Expound on why cultivating fundamental values leads to a happy and meaningful life. Finally, ponder other values you would like to gain for your future self. Write down how you have been practicing to adopt these aspired values. 

Essays About Values: How my upbringing shaped my values

Many of our values may have been instilled in us during childhood. This essay discusses the essential values you gained from your parents or teachers while growing up. Expound on their importance in helping you flourish in your adult years. Then, offer recommendations on what households, schools, or communities can do to ensure that more young people adopt these values.

Is today’s youth lacking essential values, or is there simply a shift in what values generations uphold? Strive to answer this and write down the healthy values that are emerging and dying. Then think of ways society can preserve healthy values while doing away with bad ones. Of course, this change will always start at home, so also encourage parents, as role models, to be mindful of their words, actions and behavior.  

The greatest gift in life is friendship. In this essay, enumerate the top values a friend should have. You may use your best friend as an example. Then, cite the best traits your best friend has that have influenced you to be a better version of yourself. Finally, expound on how these values can effectively sustain a healthy friendship in the long term. 

We all have that one defining experience that has forever changed how we see life and the values we hold dear. Describe yours through storytelling with the help of our storytelling guide . This experience may involve a decision, a conversation you had with someone, or a speech you heard at an event.  

With today’s innovation, scientists can make positive changes happen. But can we truly exercise our values when we fiddle with new technologies whose full extent of positive and adverse effects we do not yet understand such as AI? Contemplate this question and look into existing regulations on how we curb the creation or use of technologies that go against our values. Finally, assess these rules’ effectiveness and other options society has. 

Essays About Values: Important values of school culture

Highlight a school’s role in honing a person’s values. Then, look into the different aspects of your school’s culture. Identify which best practices distinct in your school are helping students develop their values. You could consider whether your teachers exhibit themselves as admirable role models or specific parts of the curriculum that help you build good character. 

In this essay, recommend your readers to pick up your favorite books, particularly those that served as pathways to enlightening insights and values. To start, provide a summary of the book’s story. It would be better if you could do so without revealing too much to avoid spoiling your readers’ experience. Then, elaborate on how you have applied the values you learned from the book.

For many, religious faith is the underlying reason for their values. For this prompt, explore further the inextricable links between religion and values. If you identify with a certain religion, share your thoughts on the values your sector subscribes to. You can also tread the more controversial path on the conflicts of religious values with socially accepted beliefs or practices, such as abortion. 

Dive deeper into the ten universal values that social psychologist Shalom Schwartz came up with: power, achievement, hedonism, stimulation, self-direction, universalism, benevolence, tradition, conformity, and security. Look into their connections and conflicts against each other. Then, pick your favorite value and explain how you relate to it the most. Also, find if value conflicts within you, as theorized by Schwartz.

Make sure to check out our round-up of the best essay checkers . If you want to use the latest grammar software, read our guide on using an AI grammar checker .

essay on life without values

Yna Lim is a communications specialist currently focused on policy advocacy. In her eight years of writing, she has been exposed to a variety of topics, including cryptocurrency, web hosting, agriculture, marketing, intellectual property, data privacy and international trade. A former journalist in one of the top business papers in the Philippines, Yna is currently pursuing her master's degree in economics and business.

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Summary of Life Without Principle

Summary & analysis of thoreau's s life without principle.

‘ A Life Without Principle ‘ is an essay written by  Henry David Thoreau , published posthumously in 1863. This essay is a thought-provoking exploration of the societal pressures and moral dilemmas that arise in a rapidly industrializing and materialistic world. Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) was a prominent American philosopher, essayist, poet, and naturalist. Thoreau’s works often revolve around themes of individualism, self-reliance, environmental awareness, and the relationship between humans and the natural world. 

 Life Without Principle | Summary & Analysis

The author begins by recounting a lecture at a lyceum that left him uninspired, as the lecturer spoke on a topic distant from his own experiences. He emphasizes the importance of delving into personal experiences, much like a poet, rather than discussing peripheral matters. The author values being asked for his thoughts and opinions and dislikes shallow conversations. He draws a parallel between his experiences and the readers’ engagement, expressing his intent to discuss relatable matters. The author believes that time is short, thus he will avoid flattery and focus on criticism. He reflects on the fast-paced, busy world, lamenting the constant noise and work. He mentions that even during the night, the sound of locomotives disturbs him, and he longs for a moment of leisure. The author criticizes the relentless pursuit of work, which he sees as contrary to poetry, philosophy, and life itself.

The author recounts an encounter with a man building a bank wall, which he finds pointless, and is asked to join him in digging. He ponders the value of different kinds of work, questioning society’s priorities. He contrasts the perceptions of a man working with his team of oxen in the fields and a man frivolously spending money to beautify his property and explores the idea that most jobs that offer money tend to degrade the worker’s true worth. He believes that genuine and valuable work should be done out of love for the task itself, rather than for monetary gain. He emphasizes that people often undervalue meaningful and self-sustaining pursuits.

The author reflects on the influence of money and fame on people’s decisions to leave their current pursuits. He questions the common belief that activity is a young person’s main asset. He recounts how people have suggested he abandon his pursuits to join their ventures, but he values his independence. He discusses his relationship with society, asserting that his connection is slight and transient. He feels that his work is both serviceable and pleasurable, but he fears that if his needs increase, his labor might become drudgery. He criticizes a life solely focused on earning a living, advocating instead for pursuing endeavors that one loves.

The author concludes by suggesting that true success is achieved when one is self-supporting and that people should prioritize work they are passionate about. He highlights the failure of many in society who spend their lives merely surviving and advises against sacrificing one’s true passions for the sake of material gain. The author discusses the comparative attitudes towards life, contrasting those who are content with mediocrity and those who constantly strive for higher aims. He highlights the lack of literature addressing the subject of making a living in a fulfilling and honorable way. The author criticizes the indifference towards the means of living and the pursuit of money, pointing out the immorality in various modes of acquiring wealth. He questions the definition of wisdom and its application to life, highlighting the importance of pursuing meaningful endeavors.

The author criticizes the gold rush mentality, where people rush to distant places in search of fortune, only to engage in a form of gambling. He reflects on the unexplored potential within individuals and the importance of pursuing genuine passions. The author draws parallels between gold prospecting and the pursuit of true inner value, suggesting that society often overlooks the richness within. The author explores the idea of digging for inner value, comparing it to gold-digging. He questions the trend of seeking wealth through luck and exploitation, emphasizing that living by such means is a hollow endeavor. He criticizes the mindset of those who prioritize material wealth over more honorable and fulfilling pursuits. The author expresses his desire for a deeper, more thoughtful way of living, drawing parallels between gold-diggers and those who seek higher truths and values. He concludes by contrasting the destructive consequences of gold-digging with the value of pursuing inner growth and wisdom.

Hr explores the shallowness of intellectual conversations and the overwhelming influence of trivial news and gossip on people’s minds. He observes that even supposedly intelligent individuals often get stuck in their own biases and fail to engage in open, thoughtful discussions. The author laments the fact that people readily fill their minds with inconsequential information from newspapers and casual conversations, allowing their thoughts to be polluted by these trivial matters. He suggests that individuals need to be cautious about what they allow into their minds and emphasizes the importance of maintaining mental purity. The author compares the mind to a sacred space that should not be cluttered with trivialities. He argues that people should be more discerning about the information they consume, treating their minds as temples of higher thought.

The author contrasts the pursuit of true knowledge and meaningful understanding with the surface-level engagement people often have with news and conversations. He encourages a reevaluation of personal values, urging individuals to focus on genuine growth and deep thinking rather than being consumed by the fleeting distractions of the day. Ultimately, the text calls for a shift from a culture of superficiality to one that prioritizes meaningful engagement and mental clarity. He questions the notion of freedom and criticizes society’s preoccupation with politics and materialism. He challenges the idea that political freedom alone constitutes true freedom, pointing out the prevalence of biases and prejudices that continue to limit individual freedom. He suggests that true freedom is attained through moral and intellectual growth, not just political change.

The author argues that society’s focus on commerce, trade, and material pursuits narrows its perspective and prevents the cultivation of genuine culture and manhood. He criticizes the shallow nature of political discussions, describing them as provincial and limited in scope. The text highlights the disparity between the ideals of divine legislation and the mundane matters that occupy legislative bodies. Additionally, the author criticizes the government’s involvement in regulating trivial matters, such as the breeding of slaves and the exportation of commodities. He emphasizes the importance of fostering a purposeful and earnest population over materialistic pursuits. He concludes by suggesting that society’s fixation on politics and daily routines obstructs deeper introspection and meaningful engagement with life.

Life Without Principle  | Socio-Historical Context 

The context of  urbanization and industrialization  during the time when Henry David Thoreau wrote ‘ A Life Without Principle ‘ is crucial to understanding the themes and concerns addressed in his essay. The mid-19th century saw a significant shift of population from rural areas to urban centers. This movement was driven by various factors, including the growth of industries, the promise of job opportunities, and improved transportation networks such as railroads. Cities were expanding rapidly, leading to the creation of densely populated urban environments. However, this urban growth often came with challenges such as overcrowding, poor sanitation, inadequate housing, and increased social stratification.

T he industrial revolution was in full swing during this period. Technological advancements in manufacturing, transportation, and communication transformed economies and societies. Factories were producing goods on a large scale, and new industries were emerging. This shift from agrarian economies to industrial economies had profound effects on labor, class structure, and the overall way of life. It led to the rise of wage labor, the growth of the working class, and the concentration of wealth in the hands of factory owners and industrialists. 

The rapid urbanization and industrialization had  significant environmental consequences . Industrial pollution, deforestation, and urban expansion were altering natural landscapes and ecosystems. Thoreau was deeply concerned about the degradation of the environment due to human activity. His emphasis on nature and the need for a harmonious relationship with it can be seen as a response to the ecological challenges posed by industrialization. Urbanization and industrialization also brought about a sense of alienation and disconnection from nature, as well as from traditional ways of life. People were becoming more removed from the natural world and their own inner selves. Thoreau’s call to live deliberately and authentically, as well as his exploration of solitude and self-reflection, can be seen as responses to this growing sense of alienation.

The urban and industrial landscape fostered a  culture of materialism and consumerism . The availability of mass-produced goods and the desire to display social status through possessions contributed to a focus on material wealth. Thoreau’s essay critiques the societal emphasis on financial success and the pursuit of material gain as shallow and ultimately unsatisfying. Thoreau was a key figure in the Transcendentalist movement, which emphasized the importance of intuition, individualism, and a spiritual connection with nature. Transcendentalists believed that individuals could achieve a higher level of understanding and truth by transcending the superficial concerns of materialism and conventional societal norms. Thoreau’s own experiences living in solitude by Walden Pond and his close observation of nature reinforced his Transcendentalist beliefs. 

His  transcendentalist views  led him to advocate for simplicity and inner fulfillment rather than the pursuit of material possessions. He believed that genuine happiness and meaning could be found in a life connected to nature, self-discovery, and spiritual growth. Thoreau famously stated, ‘Simplify, simplify.’ This call for simplicity was not merely about living with fewer material goods but also about reducing distractions and unnecessary complexities in one’s life to focus on what truly mattered. Thoreau believed that individuals should align their actions with their moral and ethical principles rather than succumbing to the allure of material gain. He expressed concern that people were compromising their integrity and engaging in morally questionable activities in the pursuit of wealth. Thoreau’s essay encourages readers to reflect on the impact of their choices on themselves, their communities, and the world at large.

He encourages readers to reevaluate their priorities, question societal norms, and consider the deeper meaning and purpose of their existence. Thoreau’s Transcendentalist perspective promotes a more holistic and introspective approach to life, emphasizing the importance of individual conscience, moral integrity, and a harmonious relationship with the natural world. Through his critique of materialism, Thoreau invites readers to explore a life of greater depth, authenticity, and spiritual connection.

Life Without Principle  | Literary Devices 

Rhetorical questions  are used to convey Thoreau’s ideas and to encourage readers to reflect on the themes he presents. 

‘ Do you think that a Massachusetts Legislature would have ordered a railroad to be built round the shores of Walden Pond, which would not only destroy its beauty for ever, but also affect the alewife fishery there, and, if there were a man to watch it, might occasion the last and fatal railroad accident in Concord? ‘

Thoreau uses this question to emphasize the potential negative consequences of certain human activities, such as building a railroad near Walden Pond. He challenges the reader to consider whether such actions align with the values of preserving natural beauty and respecting the environment.

‘ Is there not a sort of blood shed when the conscience is wounded? ‘

Thoreau’s use of this question invites readers to reflect on the moral and psychological impact of compromising one’s own values or principles. It suggests that a wounded conscience can be as damaging as physical harm.

‘ Why should we not meet, not always as dyspeptics, to tell our bad dreams, but sometimes as eupeptics, to congratulate each other on the ever-glorious morning? ‘

In this question, Thoreau challenges the reader to consider whether conversations should be centered on negative topics or if people could gather to celebrate positive aspects of life. The question prompts reflection on the nature of human interactions and the potential for more uplifting discussions.

These rhetorical questions serve as a tool for Thoreau to communicate his philosophical views, challenge prevailing norms, and encourage readers to question their own beliefs and values. 

Metaphors and similes  are literary devices that compare two seemingly unrelated things to convey complex ideas, and enhance the reader’s understanding. Thoreau describes politics as ‘ the gizzard of society, full of grit and gravel. ‘ This metaphor compares politics to a gizzard, a digestive organ in birds, and likens the grinding nature of political processes to the grinding of food in a gizzard. The metaphor emphasizes the harsh and unrefined nature of political affairs. He also uses the metaphor of , ‘ Commerce… Like Flies about a Molasses-Hogshead ’ to convey the notion that people engage in trivial activities and pursuits that lack depth or significance, likening them to flies drawn to sweetness. Through ‘ Like Insects, They Swarm ‘, Thoreau compares nations to insects swarming, highlighting their sheer numbers and suggesting that their significance is limited by their lack of individual distinction. He also uses ‘ …like Oysters ‘ and ‘ …like Mosquitoes ‘ to emphasize the incongruity between the kind of wants society encourages (materialistic desires) and the wants that would lead to true progress (intellectual and moral pursuits). He compares people to oysters and mosquitoes to underscore the unfulfilling nature of pursuing mere luxuries.

Anecdotes  are short, personal stories or accounts that are often used in writing to illustrate a point, provide context, or engage the reader. The essay is introduced by a story of a traveler who comes across a guidepost but is unable to decide which way to go because the guidepost is blank. The confusion and lack of focus that some people may encounter in their lives are metaphorically represented by this anecdote. He also tells a story about his determination to forgo newspaper reading for a year. He explains how making this decision caused him to realize he hadn’t missed any key events and that the news was frequently unimportant and forgettable. This example illustrates the idea that news frequently detracts from other worthwhile endeavors and supports his argument against getting captivated by current events. By grounding his philosophical discourse in real-life situations, Thoreau invites readers to reflect on their own experiences and consider the implications of his insights for their lives.

Henry David Thoreau employs  allusion  to draw upon shared cultural and historical knowledge, enriching his essay’s themes and messages. Thoreau refers to Lieutenant Herndon’s expedition to the Amazon, alluding to the exploration of new territories. This allusion serves to highlight the quest for new knowledge, discovery, and expansion—a parallel to Thoreau’s emphasis on exploring new realms of thought and consciousness. 

Through a series of anecdotes, metaphors, rhetorical questions, and references to history and literature, Thoreau challenges conventional wisdom and encourages readers to reevaluate their priorities, consider the true essence of progress, and seek a life guided by moral principles and genuine fulfillment. The essay reflects Thoreau’s transcendentalist views, which emphasize the importance of connecting with nature, individualism, and striving for inner truth in the face of societal pressures.

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essay on life without values

Andrea Mathews LPC, NCC

Ethics and Morality

Who would you be without your morals, beyond the rules and stratagems, who are you.

Posted February 19, 2012

So, here's the next best question: Who would you be without your morals? Stop. Breathe. Now try it again. Who would you be without your morals? Would you suddenly turn into an evil fire-breathing dragon of inhumane proportion lacking remorse and growling some more? Would you quickly try to latch onto some other strategy to stay afloat in some safe sea of goodness? Would you run fast to the nearest exorcist?

If there were no morals-who would you be? What would you act like? What would you talk like? What would you think like? Would you really be any different?

Our morals are rules laid down for us by a society called a religion or a society called a church or a school. Some will even say that these laws were laid down for us by the divine-in whatever form we see the divine. Regardless of their origin, they tell us what is wrong and what is right and we are taught that we have within us a conscience which will tell us when we have violated one of these rules by making us feel guilty. And so we have a direction and whether we land on the "bad" side of these rules or the "good" side of these rules, we do it by conforming our mind, heart and behavior to what it takes to fit into that identity . Once conformed, we could say, "I'm a bad dude" or "I think I'm a pretty good person." So, essentially what we have said is that we learn to rely on one of these two categories (or one of the gradations between them) as identity. They define us. But these are external constructs that very often do not even truly touch the deepest inner regions of the psyche.

So, how do we even begin to define ourselves without the use of these external stratagems? We go to the deeper inner regions of the psyche where they do not exist. And how, you will I'm certain ask, does one do that?

We begin by refusing to repress material in our everyday lives. We begin by staying conscious in a given moment about what's going on inside of us-and allowing it to stay in the forefront of our minds so that we can see it and feel it and even dialogue with it. In so doing we are treating the energy of emotion , thought and sensation as valid, instead of invalidating it immediately by sending it to its room in the unconscious .

That said, many of us don't even know how to access our feelings in a given moment. Try asking yourself what you are feeling right this minute. Of what are you immediately aware? Is it a thought that appears first, or an emotion. Thoughts will often describe an event instead of a feeling, or they will start off with "I think" or they will use the word that as in "I feel that...". There is no that in a feeling. A that will be followed by an explanation of why you feel what you feel, but will not state the feeling itself. A feeling will be simply described by its name: "I feel angry," "I feel sad," "I feel mildly irritated." If you find it difficult to get to a feeling you may have to try some other tricks to sort of jog your feelings loose in order to grab hold of them. You might try writing poetry or doing art work just allowing it to flow from you without edit or revision and then go back and look at the picture or read what you've written and ask yourself to find the feeling trying to be expressed. If you are still having trouble getting to a feeling, you might want to try working with a therapist on this.

Once you get to a feeling you might want to try to start a dialogue with the feeling, so that it can tell you what it came to tell you. Our feelings are telling us something about ourselves and our lives. They are not telling us about someone else or someone else's life. Are you feeling resentful of a coworker, because you end up having to do his job-but also because you hate the job and end up having to do more of it because he's not doing his job. What does that feeling tell you? Does it tell you that you must be a "bad" person in some kind of way because you have these "negative" feelings? If so, you are still using external stratagems to define yourself. If you step beyond that, what does your feeling tell you about your life? Could it possibly be telling you something like "Go get a new job that you love?"

Is there someone inside of us who can direct us from something deeper and more real than mere morality? What if loving all of life, really loving all of life unconditionally-really unconditionally-were the guiding light? What if loving life unconditionally means accepting what we have as it is without judging or interpreting it to be unacceptable. This doesn't mean we don't change our lives once we have accepted what is. It means that our acceptance of life as it is allows us to change our lives according to who we actually are, rather than according to some external and internalized code.

Loving life unconditionally means that whatever we are feeling about a given scenario in our lives tells much more about ourselves than it does about the given scenario. This means all of our work on acceptance is an inside job, and it further means that the more internal we go, the more of the external we can receive. This makes life bigger and rounder. And it allows to live with at least a modicum of peace. So, who are you without your morals?

Andrea Mathews LPC, NCC

Andrea Mathews, LPC, NCC , is a cognitive and transpersonal therapist, internet radio show host, and the author of Letting Go of Good: Dispel the Myth of Goodness to Find Your Genuine Self.

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What makes a good life? Existentialists believed we should embrace freedom and authenticity

essay on life without values

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How do we live good, fulfilling lives?

Aristotle first took on this question in his Nicomachean Ethics – arguably the first time anyone in Western intellectual history had focused on the subject as a standalone question.

He formulated a teleological response to the question of how we ought to live. Aristotle proposed, in other words, an answer grounded in an investigation of our purpose or ends ( telos ) as a species.

Our purpose, he argued, can be uncovered through a study of our essence – the fundamental features of what it means to be human.

Ends and essences

“Every skill and every inquiry, and similarly every action and rational choice, is thought to aim at some good;” Aristotle states, “and so the good has been aptly described as that at which everything aims.”

To understand what is good, and therefore what one must do to achieve the good, we must first understand what kinds of things we are. This will allow us to determine what a good or a bad function actually is.

For Aristotle, this is a generally applicable truth. Take a knife, for example. We must first understand what a knife is in order to determine what would constitute its proper function. The essence of a knife is that it cuts; that is its purpose. We can thus make the claim that a blunt knife is a bad knife – if it does not cut well, it is failing in an important sense to properly fulfil its function. This is how essence relates to function, and how fulfilling that function entails a kind of goodness for the thing in question.

Of course, determining the function of a knife or a hammer is much easier than determining the function of Homo sapiens , and therefore what good, fulfilling lives might involve for us as a species.

Aristotle argues that our function must be more than growth, nutrition and reproduction, as plants are also capable of this. Our function must also be more than perception, as non-human animals are capable of this. He thus proposes that our essence – what makes us unique – is that humans are capable of reasoning.

What a good, flourishing human life involves, therefore, is “some kind of practical life of that part that has reason”. This is the starting point of Aristotle’s ethics.

We must learn to reason well and develop practical wisdom and, in applying this reason to our decisions and judgements, we must learn to find the right balance between the excess and deficiency of virtue.

It is only by living a life of “virtuous activity in accordance with reason”, a life in which we flourish and fulfil the functions that flow from a deep understanding of and appreciation for what defines us, that we can achieve eudaimonia – the highest human good.

essay on life without values

Read more: Friday essay: how philosophy can help us become better friends

Existence precedes essence

Aristotle’s answer was so influential that it shaped the development of Western values for millennia. Thanks to philosophers and theologians such as Thomas Aquinas , his enduring influence can be traced through the medieval period to the Renaissance and on to the Enlightenment.

During the Enlightenment, the dominant philosophical and religious traditions, which included Aristotle’s work, were reexamined in light of new Western principles of thought.

Beginning in the 18th century, the Enlightenment era saw the birth of modern science, and with it the adoption of the principle nullius in verba – literally, “take nobody’s word for it” – which became the motto of the Royal Society . There was a corresponding proliferation of secular approaches to understanding the nature of reality and, by extension, the way we ought to live our lives.

One of the most influential of these secular philosophies was existentialism. In the 20th century, Jean-Paul Sartre , a key figure in existentialism, took up the challenge of thinking about the meaning of life without recourse to theology. Sartre argued that Aristotle, and those who followed in Aristotle’s footsteps, had it all back-to-front.

essay on life without values

Existentialists see us as going about our lives making seemingly endless choices. We choose what we wear, what we say, what careers we follow, what we believe. All of these choices make up who we are. Sartre summed up this principle in the formula “existence precedes essence”.

The existentialists teach us that we are completely free to invent ourselves, and therefore completely responsible for the identities we choose to adopt. “The first effect of existentialism,” Sartre wrote in his 1946 essay Existentialism is a Humanism , “is that it puts every man in possession of himself as he is, and places the entire responsibility for his existence squarely upon his own shoulders.”

Crucial to living an authentic life, the existentialists would say, is recognising that we desire freedom above everything else. They maintain we ought never to deny the fact we are fundamentally free. But they also acknowledge we have so much choice about what we can be and what we can do that it is a source of anguish. This anguish is a felt sense of our profound responsibility.

The existentialists shed light on an important phenomenon: we all convince ourselves, at some point and to some extent, that we are “bound by external circumstances” in order to escape the anguish of our inescapable freedom. Believing we possess a predefined essence is one such external circumstance.

But the existentialists provide a range of other psychologically revealing examples. Sartre tells a story of watching a waiter in a cafe in Paris. He observes that the waiter moves a little too precisely, a little too quickly, and seems a little too eager to impress. Sartre believes the waiter’s exaggeration of waiter-hood is an act – that the waiter is deceiving himself into being a waiter.

In doing so, argues Sartre, the waiter denies his authentic self. He has opted instead to assume the identity of something other than a free and autonomous being. His act reveals he is denying his own freedom, and ultimately his own humanity. Sartre calls this condition “bad faith”.

Read more: Finding your essential self: the ancient philosophy of Zhuangzi explained

An authentic life

essay on life without values

Contrary to Aristotle’s conception of eudaimonia , the existentialists regard acting authentically as the highest good. This means never acting in such a way that denies we are free. When we make a choice, that choice must be fully ours. We have no essence; we are nothing but what we make for ourselves.

One day, Sartre was visited by a pupil, who sought his advice about whether he should join the French forces and avenge his brother’s death, or stay at home and provide vital support for his mother. Sartre believed the history of moral philosophy was of no help in this situation. “You are free, therefore choose,” he replied to the pupil – “that is to say, invent”. The only choice the pupil could make was one that was authentically his own.

We all have feelings and questions about the meaning and purpose of our lives, and it is not as simple as picking a side between the Aristotelians, the existentialists, or any of the other moral traditions. In his essay, That to Study Philosophy is to Learn to Die (1580), Michel de Montaigne finds what is perhaps an ideal middle ground. He proposes “the premeditation of death is the premeditation of liberty” and that “he who has learnt to die has forgot what it is to be a slave”.

In his typical style of jest, Montaigne concludes: “I want death to take me planting cabbages, but without any careful thought of him, and much less of my garden’s not being finished.”

Perhaps Aristotle and the existentialists could agree that it is just in thinking about these matters – purposes, freedom, authenticity, mortality – that we overcome the silence of never understanding ourselves. To study philosophy is, in this sense, to learn how to live.

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The Marginalian

A Life Worth Living: Albert Camus on Our Search for Meaning and Why Happiness Is Our Moral Obligation

By maria popova.

essay on life without values

In the beautifully titled and beautifully written A Life Worth Living: Albert Camus and the Quest for Meaning ( public library ), historian Robert Zaretsky considers Camus’s lifelong quest to shed light on the absurd condition, his “yearning for a meaning or a unity to our lives,” and its timeless yet increasingly timely legacy:

If the question abides, it is because it is more than a matter of historical or biographical interest. Our pursuit of meaning, and the consequences should we come up empty-handed, are matters of eternal immediacy. […] Camus pursues the perennial prey of philosophy — the questions of who we are, where and whether we can find meaning, and what we can truly know about ourselves and the world — less with the intention of capturing them than continuing the chase.

essay on life without values

Reflecting on the parallels between Camus and Montaigne , Zaretsky finds in this ongoing chase one crucial difference of dispositions:

Camus achieves with the Myth what the philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty claimed for Montaigne’s Essays: it places “a consciousness astonished at itself at the core of human existence.” For Camus, however, this astonishment results from our confrontation with a world that refuses to surrender meaning. It occurs when our need for meaning shatters against the indifference, immovable and absolute, of the world. As a result, absurdity is not an autonomous state; it does not exist in the world, but is instead exhaled from the abyss that divides us from a mute world.

Camus himself captured this with extraordinary elegance when he wrote in The Myth of Sisyphus :

This world in itself is not reasonable, that is all that can be said. But what is absurd is the confrontation of this irrational and wild longing for clarity whose call echoes in the human heart. The absurd depends as much on man as on the world. For the moment it is all that links them together.

To discern these echoes amid the silence of the world, Zaretsky suggests, was at the heart of Camus’s tussle with the absurd:

We must not cease in our exploration, Camus affirms, if only to hear more sharply the silence of the world. In effect, silence sounds out when human beings enter the equation. If “silences must make themselves heard,” it is because those who can hear inevitably demand it. And if the silence persists, where are we to find meaning?

This search for meaning was not only the lens through which Camus examined every dimension of life, from the existential to the immediate, but also what he saw as our greatest source of agency. In one particularly prescient diary entry from November of 1940, as WWII was gathering momentum, he writes:

Understand this: we can despair of the meaning of life in general, but not of the particular forms that it takes; we can despair of existence, for we have no power over it, but not of history, where the individual can do everything. It is individuals who are killing us today. Why should not individuals manage to give the world peace? We must simply begin without thinking of such grandiose aims.

essay on life without values

For Camus, the question of meaning was closely related to that of happiness — something he explored with great insight in his notebooks . Zaretsky writes:

Camus observed that absurdity might ambush us on a street corner or a sun-blasted beach. But so, too, do beauty and the happiness that attends it. All too often, we know we are happy only when we no longer are.

Perhaps most importantly, Camus issued a clarion call of dissent in a culture that often conflates happiness with laziness and championed the idea that happiness is nothing less than a moral obligation. A few months before his death, Camus appeared on the TV show Gros Plan . Dressed in a trench coat, he flashed his mischievous boyish smile and proclaimed into the camera:

Today, happiness has become an eccentric activity. The proof is that we tend to hide from others when we practice it. As far as I’m concerned, I tend to think that one needs to be strong and happy in order to help those who are unfortunate.

This wasn’t a case of Camus arriving at some mythic epiphany in his old age — the cultivation of happiness and the eradication of its obstacles was his most persistent lens on meaning. More than two decades earlier, he had contemplated “the demand for happiness and the patient quest for it” in his journal, capturing with elegant simplicity the essence of the meaningful life — an ability to live with presence despite the knowledge that we are impermanent :

[We must] be happy with our friends, in harmony with the world, and earn our happiness by following a path which nevertheless leads to death.

essay on life without values

But his most piercing point integrates the questions of happiness and meaning into the eternal quest to find ourselves and live our truth:

It is not so easy to become what one is, to rediscover one’s deepest measure.

A Life Worth Living: Albert Camus and the Quest for Meaning comes from Harvard University Press and is a remarkable read in its entirety. Complement it with Camus on happiness, unhappiness, and our self-imposed prisons , then revisit the story of his unlikely and extraordinary friendship with Nobel-winning biologist Jacques Monod.

— Published September 22, 2014 — —




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Henry David Thoreau (1817—1862) American essayist and poet

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Essay by Thoreau, posthumously published in the Atlantic Monthly (1863).

Modern American culture is criticized as being excessively preoccupied with acquisition, at the expense of an awareness of values. “The aim of the laborer should be, not to get his living … but to perform well a certain work …. An efficient and valuable man does what he can, whether the community pay him for it or not ….” Most men dwell thoughtlessly on the surface of existence, obsessed by the need for busyness, small gossip, and conformance to convention. They lack independence and self-expression, as appears in such phenomena as the gold rush to California: “The philosophy and poetry and religion of such a mankind are not worth the dust of a puffball.”

All of us have desecrated ourselves:the remedy will be by wariness and devotion to reconsecrate ourselves, and make once more a fane of the mind …. Even the facts of science may dust the mind by their dryness, unless they are … rendered fertile by the dews of fresh and living truth.

the remedy will be by wariness and devotion to reconsecrate ourselves, and make once more a fane of the mind …. Even the facts of science may dust the mind by their dryness, unless they are … rendered fertile by the dews of fresh and living truth.

From:   Life Without Principle   in  The Concise Oxford Companion to American Literature »

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Article • 9 min read

What Are Your Values?

Deciding what's important in life.

By the Mind Tools Content Team

Key Takeaways

  • Your personal values are a central part of who you are – and who you want to be.
  • By becoming more aware of these vital factors in your life, you can use them as a guide to make the best choice in any situation.
  • Some of life's decisions are really about determining what you value most. When many options seem reasonable, you can rely on your values to point you in the right direction.
  • When how you live matches your values, life is usually good. When your existence doesn't align with your personal values, that's when things feel... wrong and you can feel unhappy.

How would you define your values?

Before you answer this question, you need to know what, in general, values are.

Your values are the things that you believe are important in the way you live and work.

They (should) determine your priorities, and, deep down, they're probably the measures you use to tell if your life is turning out the way you want it to.

When the things that you do and the way you behave match your values, life is usually good – you're satisfied and content. But when these don't align with your personal values, that's when things feel... wrong. This can be a real source of unhappiness.

This is why making a conscious effort to identify your values is so important. So in this article and in the video, below, we're going to take a look at how you can identify your personal values.

How Values Help You

Values exist, whether you recognize them or not. Life can be much easier when you acknowledge your values – and when you make plans and decisions that honor them.

If you value family, but you have to work 70-hour weeks in your job, will you feel internal stress and conflict? And if you don't value competition, and you work in a highly competitive sales environment, are you likely to be satisfied with your job?

In these types of situations, understanding your values can really help. When you know your own values, you can use them to make decisions about how to live your life, and you can answer questions like these:

  • What job should I pursue?
  • Should I accept this promotion?
  • Should I start my own business?
  • Should I compromise, or be firm with my position?
  • Should I follow tradition, or travel down a new path?

So, take the time to understand the real priorities in your life, and you'll be able to determine the best direction for you and your life goals !

Values are usually fairly stable, yet they don't have strict limits or boundaries. Also, as you move through life, your values may change.

For example, when you start your career, success – measured by money and status – might be a top priority.

But after you have a family, work-life balance may be what you value more.

As your definition of success changes, so do your personal values. This is why keeping in touch with your values is a lifelong exercise. You should continuously revisit this, especially if you start to feel unbalanced... and you can't quite figure out why.

As you go through the exercise below, bear in mind that values that were important in the past may not be relevant now.

Defining Your Values

When you define your personal values, you discover what's truly important to you. A good way of starting to do this is to look back on your life – to identify when you felt really good, and really confident that you were making good choices.

Step 1: Identify the times when you were happiest

Find examples from both your career and personal life. This will ensure some balance in your answers.

  • What were you doing?
  • Were you with other people? Who?
  • What other factors contributed to your happiness?

Step 2: Identify the times when you were most proud

Use examples from your career and personal life.

  • Why were you proud?
  • Did other people share your pride? Who?
  • What other factors contributed to your feelings of pride?

Step 3: Identify the times when you were most fulfilled and satisfied

Again, use both work and personal examples.

  • What need or desire was fulfilled?
  • How and why did the experience give your life meaning?
  • What other factors contributed to your feelings of fulfillment?

Step 4: Determine your top values, based on your experiences of happiness, pride, and fulfillment

Why is each experience truly important and memorable? Use the following list of common personal values to help you get started – and aim for about 10 top values. (As you work through, you may find that some of these naturally combine. For instance, if you value philanthropy, community, and generosity, you might say that service to others is one of your top values.)

Common Personal Core Values

Step 5: prioritize your top values.

This step is probably the most difficult, because you'll have to look deep inside yourself. It's also the most important step, because, when making a decision, you'll have to choose between solutions that may satisfy different values. This is when you must know which value is more important to you.

  • Write down your top values, not in any particular order.
  • Look at the first two values and ask yourself, "If I could satisfy only one of these, which would I choose?" It might help to visualize a situation in which you would have to make that choice. For example, if you compare the values of service and stability, imagine that you must decide whether to sell your house and move to another country to do valuable foreign aid work, or keep your house and volunteer to do charity work closer to home.
  • Keep working through the list, by comparing each value with each other value, until your list is in the correct order.

If you have a tough time doing this, consider using Paired Comparison Analysis to help you. With this method, you decide which of two options is most important, and then assign a score to show how much more important it is. Since it's so important to identify and prioritize your values, investing your time in this step is definitely worth it.

Step 6: Reaffirm your values

Check your top-priority values, and make sure that they fit with your life and your vision for yourself.

  • Do these values make you feel good about yourself?
  • Are you proud of your top three values?
  • Would you be comfortable and proud to tell your values to people you respect and admire?
  • Do these values represent things you would support, even if your choice isn't popular, and it puts you in the minority?

When you consider your values in decision making, you can be sure to keep your sense of integrity and what you know is right, and approach decisions with confidence and clarity. You'll also know that what you're doing is best for your current and future happiness and satisfaction.

Making value-based choices may not always be easy. However, making a choice that you know is right is a lot less difficult in the long run.

Top Tip for Defining Your Own Core Values

You can breathe life into your values by defining briefly, in writing, what they represent to you. Crystalizing what they stand for and why they matter to you will help embed their importance.

Keep the definitions short and write them in your own words, so you are really connected to them. These definitions will be handy reminders of who you are and what matters most to you – when and if you need reminding when there are decisions to be made.

For example, if one of your core values is “creativity” you might say, “I value it because the ability to solve problems and to come up with fresh, new ideas brings me joy and a deep sense of fulfillment.”

Frequently Asked Questions About Values

What does it mean to have values.

Your values are the beliefs and principles that you believe are important in the way that you live and work.

They (should) determine your priorities, and guide your decisions and the way you act towards others. When the things that you do, and the way that you behave, match your values, life is usually good.

Why Are Personal Values Important?

Understanding your values can really help make life easier and make you happier.

This happens because when you acknowledge your values – and make plans and decisions that honor them – you can use your values to make truly informed decisions about how to live your life.

By understanding the real priorities in your life, you'll be able to determine the best direction for you and meaningful life goals.

Identifying and understanding your values is a challenging and important exercise. Your personal values are a central part of who you are – and who you want to be. By becoming more aware of these important factors in your life, you can use them as a guide to make the best choice in any situation.

Some of life's decisions are really about determining what you value most. When many options seem reasonable, it's helpful and comforting to rely on your values – and use them as a strong guiding force to point you in the right direction.

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Comments (6)

tom like lachie

about 2 months

i think i might be pregnant and i am a boy so i am pooing bricks

Naazish Mohsin

Interesting write up where are the references?

I would highly recommend people to try a scientific core values finder assessment instead of informal quizes.

has a good balance.

Donagh Kenny

excellenet resource

about 1 year

Latrece Thomas

I feel that everyone should set high values for themself. Integrity is a value I think 🥰 everyone should honor.

over 1 year

i think i might be pregnant

essay on life without values

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A World without Values: Essays on John Mackie's Moral Error Theory

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Richard Joyce and Simon Kirchin (eds.), A World without Values: Essays on John Mackie's Moral Error Theory , Springer, 2010, 238 pp., $139.00 (hbk), ISBN 9789048133383.

Reviewed by Hallvard Lillehammer, Cambridge University

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The Meaning of Life

Many major historical figures in philosophy have provided an answer to the question of what, if anything, makes life meaningful, although they typically have not put it in these terms (with such talk having arisen only in the past 250 years or so, on which see Landau 1997). Consider, for instance, Aristotle on the human function, Aquinas on the beatific vision, and Kant on the highest good. Relatedly, think about Koheleth, the presumed author of the Biblical book Ecclesiastes, describing life as “futility” and akin to “the pursuit of wind,” Nietzsche on nihilism, as well as Schopenhauer when he remarks that whenever we reach a goal we have longed for we discover “how vain and empty it is.” While these concepts have some bearing on happiness and virtue (and their opposites), they are straightforwardly construed (roughly) as accounts of which highly ranked purposes a person ought to realize that would make her life significant (if any would).

Despite the venerable pedigree, it is only since the 1980s or so that a distinct field of the meaning of life has been established in Anglo-American-Australasian philosophy, on which this survey focuses, and it is only in the past 20 years that debate with real depth and intricacy has appeared. Two decades ago analytic reflection on life’s meaning was described as a “backwater” compared to that on well-being or good character, and it was possible to cite nearly all the literature in a given critical discussion of the field (Metz 2002). Neither is true any longer. Anglo-American-Australasian philosophy of life’s meaning has become vibrant, such that there is now way too much literature to be able to cite comprehensively in this survey. To obtain focus, it tends to discuss books, influential essays, and more recent works, and it leaves aside contributions from other philosophical traditions (such as the Continental or African) and from non-philosophical fields (e.g., psychology or literature). This survey’s central aim is to acquaint the reader with current analytic approaches to life’s meaning, sketching major debates and pointing out neglected topics that merit further consideration.

When the topic of the meaning of life comes up, people tend to pose one of three questions: “What are you talking about?”, “What is the meaning of life?”, and “Is life in fact meaningful?”. The literature on life's meaning composed by those working in the analytic tradition (on which this entry focuses) can be usefully organized according to which question it seeks to answer. This survey starts off with recent work that addresses the first, abstract (or “meta”) question regarding the sense of talk of “life’s meaning,” i.e., that aims to clarify what we have in mind when inquiring into the meaning of life (section 1). Afterward, it considers texts that provide answers to the more substantive question about the nature of meaningfulness (sections 2–3). There is in the making a sub-field of applied meaning that parallels applied ethics, in which meaningfulness is considered in the context of particular cases or specific themes. Examples include downshifting (Levy 2005), implementing genetic enhancements (Agar 2013), making achievements (Bradford 2015), getting an education (Schinkel et al. 2015), interacting with research participants (Olson 2016), automating labor (Danaher 2017), and creating children (Ferracioli 2018). In contrast, this survey focuses nearly exclusively on contemporary normative-theoretical approaches to life’s meanining, that is, attempts to capture in a single, general principle all the variegated conditions that could confer meaning on life. Finally, this survey examines fresh arguments for the nihilist view that the conditions necessary for a meaningful life do not obtain for any of us, i.e., that all our lives are meaningless (section 4).

1. The Meaning of “Meaning”

2.1. god-centered views, 2.2. soul-centered views, 3.1. subjectivism, 3.2. objectivism, 3.3. rejecting god and a soul, 4. nihilism, works cited, classic works, collections, books for the general reader, other internet resources, related entries.

One of the field's aims consists of the systematic attempt to identify what people (essentially or characteristically) have in mind when they think about the topic of life’s meaning. For many in the field, terms such as “importance” and “significance” are synonyms of “meaningfulness” and so are insufficiently revealing, but there are those who draw a distinction between meaningfulness and significance (Singer 1996, 112–18; Belliotti 2019, 145–50, 186). There is also debate about how the concept of a meaningless life relates to the ideas of a life that is absurd (Nagel 1970, 1986, 214–23; Feinberg 1980; Belliotti 2019), futile (Trisel 2002), and not worth living (Landau 2017, 12–15; Matheson 2017).

A useful way to begin to get clear about what thinking about life’s meaning involves is to specify the bearer. Which life does the inquirer have in mind? A standard distinction to draw is between the meaning “in” life, where a human person is what can exhibit meaning, and the meaning “of” life in a narrow sense, where the human species as a whole is what can be meaningful or not. There has also been a bit of recent consideration of whether animals or human infants can have meaning in their lives, with most rejecting that possibility (e.g., Wong 2008, 131, 147; Fischer 2019, 1–24), but a handful of others beginning to make a case for it (Purves and Delon 2018; Thomas 2018). Also under-explored is the issue of whether groups, such as a people or an organization, can be bearers of meaning, and, if so, under what conditions.

Most analytic philosophers have been interested in meaning in life, that is, in the meaningfulness that a person’s life could exhibit, with comparatively few these days addressing the meaning of life in the narrow sense. Even those who believe that God is or would be central to life’s meaning have lately addressed how an individual’s life might be meaningful in virtue of God more often than how the human race might be. Although some have argued that the meaningfulness of human life as such merits inquiry to no less a degree (if not more) than the meaning in a life (Seachris 2013; Tartaglia 2015; cf. Trisel 2016), a large majority of the field has instead been interested in whether their lives as individual persons (and the lives of those they care about) are meaningful and how they could become more so.

Focusing on meaning in life, it is quite common to maintain that it is conceptually something good for its own sake or, relatedly, something that provides a basic reason for action (on which see Visak 2017). There are a few who have recently suggested otherwise, maintaining that there can be neutral or even undesirable kinds of meaning in a person’s life (e.g., Mawson 2016, 90, 193; Thomas 2018, 291, 294). However, these are outliers, with most analytic philosophers, and presumably laypeople, instead wanting to know when an individual’s life exhibits a certain kind of final value (or non-instrumental reason for action).

Another claim about which there is substantial consensus is that meaningfulness is not all or nothing and instead comes in degrees, such that some periods of life are more meaningful than others and that some lives as a whole are more meaningful than others. Note that one can coherently hold the view that some people’s lives are less meaningful (or even in a certain sense less “important”) than others, or are even meaningless (unimportant), and still maintain that people have an equal standing from a moral point of view. Consider a consequentialist moral principle according to which each individual counts for one in virtue of having a capacity for a meaningful life, or a Kantian approach according to which all people have a dignity in virtue of their capacity for autonomous decision-making, where meaning is a function of the exercise of this capacity. For both moral outlooks, we could be required to help people with relatively meaningless lives.

Yet another relatively uncontroversial element of the concept of meaningfulness in respect of individual persons is that it is logically distinct from happiness or rightness (emphasized in Wolf 2010, 2016). First, to ask whether someone’s life is meaningful is not one and the same as asking whether her life is pleasant or she is subjectively well off. A life in an experience machine or virtual reality device would surely be a happy one, but very few take it to be a prima facie candidate for meaningfulness (Nozick 1974: 42–45). Indeed, a number would say that one’s life logically could become meaningful precisely by sacrificing one’s well-being, e.g., by helping others at the expense of one’s self-interest. Second, asking whether a person’s existence over time is meaningful is not identical to considering whether she has been morally upright; there are intuitively ways to enhance meaning that have nothing to do with right action or moral virtue, such as making a scientific discovery or becoming an excellent dancer. Now, one might argue that a life would be meaningless if, or even because, it were unhappy or immoral, but that would be to posit a synthetic, substantive relationship between the concepts, far from indicating that speaking of “meaningfulness” is analytically a matter of connoting ideas regarding happiness or rightness. The question of what (if anything) makes a person’s life meaningful is conceptually distinct from the questions of what makes a life happy or moral, although it could turn out that the best answer to the former question appeals to an answer to one of the latter questions.

Supposing, then, that talk of “meaning in life” connotes something good for its own sake that can come in degrees and that is not analytically equivalent to happiness or rightness, what else does it involve? What more can we say about this final value, by definition? Most contemporary analytic philosophers would say that the relevant value is absent from spending time in an experience machine (but see Goetz 2012 for a different view) or living akin to Sisyphus, the mythic figure doomed by the Greek gods to roll a stone up a hill for eternity (famously discussed by Albert Camus and Taylor 1970). In addition, many would say that the relevant value is typified by the classic triad of “the good, the true, and the beautiful” (or would be under certain conditions). These terms are not to be taken literally, but instead are rough catchwords for beneficent relationships (love, collegiality, morality), intellectual reflection (wisdom, education, discoveries), and creativity (particularly the arts, but also potentially things like humor or gardening).

Pressing further, is there something that the values of the good, the true, the beautiful, and any other logically possible sources of meaning involve? There is as yet no consensus in the field. One salient view is that the concept of meaning in life is a cluster or amalgam of overlapping ideas, such as fulfilling higher-order purposes, meriting substantial esteem or admiration, having a noteworthy impact, transcending one’s animal nature, making sense, or exhibiting a compelling life-story (Markus 2003; Thomson 2003; Metz 2013, 24–35; Seachris 2013, 3–4; Mawson 2016). However, there are philosophers who maintain that something much more monistic is true of the concept, so that (nearly) all thought about meaningfulness in a person’s life is essentially about a single property. Suggestions include being devoted to or in awe of qualitatively superior goods (Taylor 1989, 3–24), transcending one’s limits (Levy 2005), or making a contribution (Martela 2016).

Recently there has been something of an “interpretive turn” in the field, one instance of which is the strong view that meaning-talk is logically about whether and how a life is intelligible within a wider frame of reference (Goldman 2018, 116–29; Seachris 2019; Thomas 2019; cf. Repp 2018). According to this approach, inquiring into life’s meaning is nothing other than seeking out sense-making information, perhaps a narrative about life or an explanation of its source and destiny. This analysis has the advantage of promising to unify a wide array of uses of the term “meaning.” However, it has the disadvantages of being unable to capture the intuitions that meaning in life is essentially good for its own sake (Landau 2017, 12–15), that it is not logically contradictory to maintain that an ineffable condition is what confers meaning on life (as per Cooper 2003, 126–42; Bennett-Hunter 2014; Waghorn 2014), and that often human actions themselves (as distinct from an interpretation of them), such as rescuing a child from a burning building, are what bear meaning.

Some thinkers have suggested that a complete analysis of the concept of life’s meaning should include what has been called “anti-matter” (Metz 2002, 805–07, 2013, 63–65, 71–73) or “anti-meaning” (Campbell and Nyholm 2015; Egerstrom 2015), conditions that reduce the meaningfulness of a life. The thought is that meaning is well represented by a bipolar scale, where there is a dimension of not merely positive conditions, but also negative ones. Gratuitous cruelty or destructiveness are prima facie candidates for actions that not merely fail to add meaning, but also subtract from any meaning one’s life might have had.

Despite the ongoing debates about how to analyze the concept of life’s meaning (or articulate the definition of the phrase “meaning in life”), the field remains in a good position to make progress on the other key questions posed above, viz., of what would make a life meaningful and whether any lives are in fact meaningful. A certain amount of common ground is provided by the point that meaningfulness at least involves a gradient final value in a person’s life that is conceptually distinct from happiness and rightness, with exemplars of it potentially being the good, the true, and the beautiful. The rest of this discussion addresses philosophical attempts to capture the nature of this value theoretically and to ascertain whether it exists in at least some of our lives.

2. Supernaturalism

Most analytic philosophers writing on meaning in life have been trying to develop and evaluate theories, i.e., fundamental and general principles, that are meant to capture all the particular ways that a life could obtain meaning. As in moral philosophy, there are recognizable “anti-theorists,” i.e., those who maintain that there is too much pluralism among meaning conditions to be able to unify them in the form of a principle (e.g., Kekes 2000; Hosseini 2015). Arguably, though, the systematic search for unity is too nascent to be able to draw a firm conclusion about whether it is available.

The theories are standardly divided on a metaphysical basis, that is, in terms of which kinds of properties are held to constitute the meaning. Supernaturalist theories are views according to which a spiritual realm is central to meaning in life. Most Western philosophers have conceived of the spiritual in terms of God or a soul as commonly understood in the Abrahamic faiths (but see Mulgan 2015 for discussion of meaning in the context of a God uninterested in us). In contrast, naturalist theories are views that the physical world as known particularly well by the scientific method is central to life’s meaning.

There is logical space for a non-naturalist theory, according to which central to meaning is an abstract property that is neither spiritual nor physical. However, only scant attention has been paid to this possibility in the recent Anglo-American-Australasian literature (Audi 2005).

It is important to note that supernaturalism, a claim that God (or a soul) would confer meaning on a life, is logically distinct from theism, the claim that God (or a soul) exists. Although most who hold supernaturalism also hold theism, one could accept the former without the latter (as Camus more or less did), committing one to the view that life is meaningless or at least lacks substantial meaning. Similarly, while most naturalists are atheists, it is not contradictory to maintain that God exists but has nothing to do with meaning in life or perhaps even detracts from it. Although these combinations of positions are logically possible, some of them might be substantively implausible. The field could benefit from discussion of the comparative attractiveness of various combinations of evaluative claims about what would make life meaningful and metaphysical claims about whether spiritual conditions exist.

Over the past 15 years or so, two different types of supernaturalism have become distinguished on a regular basis (Metz 2019). That is true not only in the literature on life’s meaning, but also in that on the related pro-theism/anti-theism debate, about whether it would be desirable for God or a soul to exist (e.g., Kahane 2011; Kraay 2018; Lougheed 2020). On the one hand, there is extreme supernaturalism, according to which spiritual conditions are necessary for any meaning in life. If neither God nor a soul exists, then, by this view, everyone’s life is meaningless. On the other hand, there is moderate supernaturalism, according to which spiritual conditions are necessary for a great or ultimate meaning in life, although not meaning in life as such. If neither God nor a soul exists, then, by this view, everyone’s life could have some meaning, or even be meaningful, but no one’s life could exhibit the most desirable meaning. For a moderate supernaturalist, God or a soul would substantially enhance meaningfulness or be a major contributory condition for it.

There are a variety of ways that great or ultimate meaning has been described, sometimes quantitatively as “infinite” (Mawson 2016), qualitatively as “deeper” (Swinburne 2016), relationally as “unlimited” (Nozick 1981, 618–19; cf. Waghorn 2014), temporally as “eternal” (Cottingham 2016), and perspectivally as “from the point of view of the universe” (Benatar 2017). There has been no reflection as yet on the crucial question of how these distinctions might bear on each another, for instance, on whether some are more basic than others or some are more valuable than others.

Cross-cutting the extreme/moderate distinction is one between God-centered theories and soul-centered ones. According to the former, some kind of connection with God (understood to be a spiritual person who is all-knowing, all-good, and all-powerful and who is the ground of the physical universe) constitutes meaning in life, even if one lacks a soul (construed as an immortal, spiritual substance that contains one’s identity). In contrast, by the latter, having a soul and putting it into a certain state is what makes life meaningful, even if God does not exist. Many supernaturalists of course believe that God and a soul are jointly necessary for a (greatly) meaningful existence. However, the simpler view, that only one of them is necessary, is common, and sometimes arguments proffered for the complex view fail to support it any more than the simpler one.

The most influential God-based account of meaning in life has been the extreme view that one’s existence is significant if and only if one fulfills a purpose God has assigned. The familiar idea is that God has a plan for the universe and that one’s life is meaningful just to the degree that one helps God realize this plan, perhaps in a particular way that God wants one to do so. If a person failed to do what God intends her to do with her life (or if God does not even exist), then, on the current view, her life would be meaningless.

Thinkers differ over what it is about God’s purpose that might make it uniquely able to confer meaning on human lives, but the most influential argument has been that only God’s purpose could be the source of invariant moral rules (Davis 1987, 296, 304–05; Moreland 1987, 124–29; Craig 1994/2013, 161–67) or of objective values more generally (Cottingham 2005, 37–57), where a lack of such would render our lives nonsensical. According to this argument, lower goods such as animal pleasure or desire satisfaction could exist without God, but higher ones pertaining to meaning in life, particularly moral virtue, could not. However, critics point to many non-moral sources of meaning in life (e.g., Kekes 2000; Wolf 2010), with one arguing that a universal moral code is not necessary for meaning in life, even if, say, beneficent actions are (Ellin 1995, 327). In addition, there are a variety of naturalist and non-naturalist accounts of objective morality––and of value more generally––on offer these days, so that it is not clear that it must have a supernatural source in God’s will.

One recurrent objection to the idea that God’s purpose could make life meaningful is that if God had created us with a purpose in mind, then God would have degraded us and thereby undercut the possibility of us obtaining meaning from fulfilling the purpose. The objection harks back to Jean-Paul Sartre, but in the analytic literature it appears that Kurt Baier was the first to articulate it (1957/2000, 118–20; see also Murphy 1982, 14–15; Singer 1996, 29; Kahane 2011; Lougheed 2020, 121–41). Sometimes the concern is the threat of punishment God would make so that we do God’s bidding, while other times it is that the source of meaning would be constrictive and not up to us, and still other times it is that our dignity would be maligned simply by having been created with a certain end in mind (for some replies to such concerns, see Hanfling 1987, 45–46; Cottingham 2005, 37–57; Lougheed 2020, 111–21).

There is a different argument for an extreme God-based view that focuses less on God as purposive and more on God as infinite, unlimited, or ineffable, which Robert Nozick first articulated with care (Nozick 1981, 594–618; see also Bennett-Hunter 2014; Waghorn 2014). The core idea is that for a finite condition to be meaningful, it must obtain its meaning from another condition that has meaning. So, if one’s life is meaningful, it might be so in virtue of being married to a person, who is important. Being finite, the spouse must obtain his or her importance from elsewhere, perhaps from the sort of work he or she does. This work also must obtain its meaning by being related to something else that is meaningful, and so on. A regress on meaningful conditions is present, and the suggestion is that the regress can terminate only in something so all-encompassing that it need not (indeed, cannot) go beyond itself to obtain meaning from anything else. And that is God. The standard objection to this relational rationale is that a finite condition could be meaningful without obtaining its meaning from another meaningful condition. Perhaps it could be meaningful in itself, without being connected to something beyond it, or maybe it could obtain its meaning by being related to something else that is beautiful or otherwise valuable for its own sake but not meaningful (Nozick 1989, 167–68; Thomson 2003, 25–26, 48).

A serious concern for any extreme God-based view is the existence of apparent counterexamples. If we think of the stereotypical lives of Albert Einstein, Mother Teresa, and Pablo Picasso, they seem meaningful even if we suppose there is no all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good spiritual person who is the ground of the physical world (e.g., Wielenberg 2005, 31–37, 49–50; Landau 2017). Even religiously inclined philosophers have found this hard to deny these days (Quinn 2000, 58; Audi 2005; Mawson 2016, 5; Williams 2020, 132–34).

Largely for that reason, contemporary supernaturalists have tended to opt for moderation, that is, to maintain that God would greatly enhance the meaning in our lives, even if some meaning would be possible in a world without God. One approach is to invoke the relational argument to show that God is necessary, not for any meaning whatsoever, but rather for an ultimate meaning. “Limited transcendence, the transcending of our limits so as to connect with a wider context of value which itself is limited, does give our lives meaning––but a limited one. We may thirst for more” (Nozick 1981, 618). Another angle is to appeal to playing a role in God’s plan, again to claim, not that it is essential for meaning as such, but rather for “a cosmic significance....intead of a significance very limited in time and space” (Swinburne 2016, 154; see also Quinn 2000; Cottingham 2016, 131). Another rationale is that by fulfilling God’s purpose, we would meaningfully please God, a perfect person, as well as be remembered favorably by God forever (Cottingham 2016, 135; Williams 2020, 21–22, 29, 101, 108). Still another argument is that only with God could the deepest desires of human nature be satisfied (e.g., Goetz 2012; Seachris 2013, 20; Cottingham 2016, 127, 136), even if more surface desires could be satisfied without God.

In reply to such rationales for a moderate supernaturalism, there has been the suggestion that it is precisely by virtue of being alone in the universe that our lives would be particularly significant; otherwise, God’s greatness would overshadow us (Kahane 2014). There has also been the response that, with the opportunity for greater meaning from God would also come that for greater anti-meaning, so that it is not clear that a world with God would offer a net gain in respect of meaning (Metz 2019, 34–35). For example, if pleasing God would greatly enhance meaning in our lives, then presumably displeasing God would greatly reduce it and to a comparable degree. In addition, there are arguments for extreme naturalism (or its “anti-theist” cousin) mentioned below (sub-section 3.3).

Notice that none of the above arguments for supernaturalism appeals to the prospect of eternal life (at least not explicitly). Arguments that do make such an appeal are soul-centered, holding that meaning in life mainly comes from having an immortal, spiritual substance that is contiguous with one’s body when it is alive and that will forever outlive its death. Some think of the afterlife in terms of one’s soul entering a transcendent, spiritual realm (Heaven), while others conceive of one’s soul getting reincarnated into another body on Earth. According to the extreme version, if one has a soul but fails to put it in the right state (or if one lacks a soul altogether), then one’s life is meaningless.

There are three prominent arguments for an extreme soul-based perspective. One argument, made famous by Leo Tolstoy, is the suggestion that for life to be meaningful something must be worth doing, that something is worth doing only if it will make a permanent difference to the world, and that making a permanent difference requires being immortal (see also Hanfling 1987, 22–24; Morris 1992, 26; Craig 1994). Critics most often appeal to counterexamples, suggesting for instance that it is surely worth your time and effort to help prevent people from suffering, even if you and they are mortal. Indeed, some have gone on the offensive and argued that helping people is worth the sacrifice only if and because they are mortal, for otherwise they could invariably be compensated in an afterlife (e.g., Wielenberg 2005, 91–94). Another recent and interesting criticism is that the major motivations for the claim that nothing matters now if one day it will end are incoherent (Greene 2021).

A second argument for the view that life would be meaningless without a soul is that it is necessary for justice to be done, which, in turn, is necessary for a meaningful life. Life seems nonsensical when the wicked flourish and the righteous suffer, at least supposing there is no other world in which these injustices will be rectified, whether by God or a Karmic force. Something like this argument can be found in Ecclesiastes, and it continues to be defended (e.g., Davis 1987; Craig 1994). However, even granting that an afterlife is required for perfectly just outcomes, it is far from obvious that an eternal afterlife is necessary for them, and, then, there is the suggestion that some lives, such as Mandela’s, have been meaningful precisely in virtue of encountering injustice and fighting it.

A third argument for thinking that having a soul is essential for any meaning is that it is required to have the sort of free will without which our lives would be meaningless. Immanuel Kant is known for having maintained that if we were merely physical beings, subjected to the laws of nature like everything else in the material world, then we could not act for moral reasons and hence would be unimportant. More recently, one theologian has eloquently put the point in religious terms: “The moral spirit finds the meaning of life in choice. It finds it in that which proceeds from man and remains with him as his inner essence rather than in the accidents of circumstances turns of external fortune....(W)henever a human being rubs the lamp of his moral conscience, a Spirit does appear. This Spirit is God....It is in the ‘Thou must’ of God and man’s ‘I can’ that the divine image of God in human life is contained” (Swenson 1949/2000, 27–28). Notice that, even if moral norms did not spring from God’s commands, the logic of the argument entails that one’s life could be meaningful, so long as one had the inherent ability to make the morally correct choice in any situation. That, in turn, arguably requires something non-physical about one’s self, so as to be able to overcome whichever physical laws and forces one might confront. The standard objection to this reasoning is to advance a compatibilism about having a determined physical nature and being able to act for moral reasons (e.g., Arpaly 2006; Fischer 2009, 145–77). It is also worth wondering whether, if one had to have a spiritual essence in order to make free choices, it would have to be one that never perished.

Like God-centered theorists, many soul-centered theorists these days advance a moderate view, accepting that some meaning in life would be possible without immortality, but arguing that a much greater meaning would be possible with it. Granting that Einstein, Mandela, and Picasso had somewhat meaningful lives despite not having survived the deaths of their bodies (as per, e.g., Trisel 2004; Wolf 2015, 89–140; Landau 2017), there remains a powerful thought: more is better. If a finite life with the good, the true, and the beautiful has meaning in it to some degree, then surely it would have all the more meaning if it exhibited such higher values––including a relationship with God––for an eternity (Cottingham 2016, 132–35; Mawson 2016, 2019, 52–53; Williams 2020, 112–34; cf. Benatar 2017, 35–63). One objection to this reasoning is that the infinity of meaning that would be possible with a soul would be “too big,” rendering it difficult for the moderate supernaturalist to make sense of the intution that a finite life such as Einstein’s can indeed count as meaningful by comparison (Metz 2019, 30–31; cf. Mawson 2019, 53–54). More common, though, is the objection that an eternal life would include anti-meaning of various kinds, such as boredom and repetition, discussed below in the context of extreme naturalism (sub-section 3.3).

3. Naturalism

Recall that naturalism is the view that a physical life is central to life’s meaning, that even if there is no spiritual realm, a substantially meaningful life is possible. Like supernaturalism, contemporary naturalism admits of two distinguishable variants, moderate and extreme (Metz 2019). The moderate version is that, while a genuinely meaningful life could be had in a purely physical universe as known well by science, a somewhat more meaningful life would be possible if a spiritual realm also existed. God or a soul could enhance meaning in life, although they would not be major contributors. The extreme version of naturalism is the view that it would be better in respect of life’s meaning if there were no spiritual realm. From this perspective, God or a soul would be anti-matter, i.e., would detract from the meaning available to us, making a purely physical world (even if not this particular one) preferable.

Cross-cutting the moderate/extreme distinction is that between subjectivism and objectivism, which are theoretical accounts of the nature of meaningfulness insofar as it is physical. They differ in terms of the extent to which the human mind constitutes meaning and whether there are conditions of meaning that are invariant among human beings. Subjectivists believe that there are no invariant standards of meaning because meaning is relative to the subject, i.e., depends on an individual’s pro-attitudes such as her particular desires or ends, which are not shared by everyone. Roughly, something is meaningful for a person if she strongly wants it or intends to seek it out and she gets it. Objectivists maintain, in contrast, that there are some invariant standards for meaning because meaning is at least partly mind-independent, i.e., obtains not merely in virtue of being the object of anyone’s mental states. Here, something is meaningful (partially) because of its intrinsic nature, in the sense of being independent of whether it is wanted or intended; meaning is instead (to some extent) the sort of thing that merits these reactions.

There is logical space for an orthogonal view, according to which there are invariant standards of meaningfulness constituted by what all human beings would converge on from a certain standpoint. However, it has not been much of a player in the field (Darwall 1983, 164–66).

According to this version of naturalism, meaning in life varies from person to person, depending on each one’s variable pro-attitudes. Common instances are views that one’s life is more meaningful, the more one gets what one happens to want strongly, achieves one’s highly ranked goals, or does what one believes to be really important (Trisel 2002; Hooker 2008). One influential subjectivist has recently maintained that the relevant mental state is caring or loving, so that life is meaningful just to the extent that one cares about or loves something (Frankfurt 1988, 80–94, 2004). Another recent proposal is that meaningfulness consists of “an active engagement and affirmation that vivifies the person who has freely created or accepted and now promotes and nurtures the projects of her highest concern” (Belliotti 2019, 183).

Subjectivism was dominant in the middle of the twentieth century, when positivism, noncognitivism, existentialism, and Humeanism were influential (Ayer 1947; Hare 1957; Barnes 1967; Taylor 1970; Williams 1976). However, in the last quarter of the twentieth century, inference to the best explanation and reflective equilibrium became accepted forms of normative argumentation and were frequently used to defend claims about the existence and nature of objective value (or of “external reasons,” ones obtaining independently of one’s extant attitudes). As a result, subjectivism about meaning lost its dominance. Those who continue to hold subjectivism often remain suspicious of attempts to justify beliefs about objective value (e.g., Trisel 2002, 73, 79, 2004, 378–79; Frankfurt 2004, 47–48, 55–57; Wong 2008, 138–39; Evers 2017, 32, 36; Svensson 2017, 54). Theorists are moved to accept subjectivism typically because the alternatives are unpalatable; they are reasonably sure that meaning in life obtains for some people, but do not see how it could be grounded on something independent of the mind, whether it be the natural or the supernatural (or the non-natural). In contrast to these possibilities, it appears straightforward to account for what is meaningful in terms of what people find meaningful or what people want out of their lives. Wide-ranging meta-ethical debates in epistemology, metaphysics, and the philosophy of language are necessary to address this rationale for subjectivism.

There is a cluster of other, more circumscribed arguments for subjectivism, according to which this theory best explains certain intuitive features of meaning in life. For one, subjectivism seems plausible since it is reasonable to think that a meaningful life is an authentic one (Frankfurt 1988, 80–94). If a person’s life is significant insofar as she is true to herself or her deepest nature, then we have some reason to believe that meaning simply is a function of those matters for which the person cares. For another, it is uncontroversial that often meaning comes from losing oneself, i.e., in becoming absorbed in an activity or experience, as opposed to being bored by it or finding it frustrating (Frankfurt 1988, 80–94; Belliotti 2019, 162–70). Work that concentrates the mind and relationships that are engrossing seem central to meaning and to be so because of the subjective elements involved. For a third, meaning is often taken to be something that makes life worth continuing for a specific person, i.e., that gives her a reason to get out of bed in the morning, which subjectivism is thought to account for best (Williams 1976; Svensson 2017; Calhoun 2018).

Critics maintain that these arguments are vulnerable to a common objection: they neglect the role of objective value (or an external reason) in realizing oneself, losing oneself, and having a reason to live (Taylor 1989, 1992; Wolf 2010, 2015, 89–140). One is not really being true to oneself, losing oneself in a meaningful way, or having a genuine reason to live insofar as one, say, successfully maintains 3,732 hairs on one’s head (Taylor 1992, 36), cultivates one’s prowess at long-distance spitting (Wolf 2010, 104), collects a big ball of string (Wolf 2010, 104), or, well, eats one’s own excrement (Wielenberg 2005, 22). The counterexamples suggest that subjective conditions are insufficient to ground meaning in life; there seem to be certain actions, relationships, and states that are objectively valuable (but see Evers 2017, 30–32) and toward which one’s pro-attitudes ought to be oriented, if meaning is to accrue.

So say objectivists, but subjectivists feel the pull of the point and usually seek to avoid the counterexamples, lest they have to bite the bullet by accepting the meaningfulness of maintaining 3,732 hairs on one’s head and all the rest (for some who do, see Svensson 2017, 54–55; Belliotti 2019, 181–83). One important strategy is to suggest that subjectivists can avoid the counterexamples by appealing to the right sort of pro-attitude. Instead of whatever an individual happens to want, perhaps the relevant mental state is an emotional-perceptual one of seeing-as (Alexis 2011; cf. Hosseini 2015, 47–66), a “categorical” desire, that is, an intrinsic desire constitutive of one’s identity that one takes to make life worth continuing (Svensson 2017), or a judgment that one has a good reason to value something highly for its own sake (Calhoun 2018). Even here, though, objectivists will argue that it might “appear that whatever the will chooses to treat as a good reason to engage itself is, for the will, a good reason. But the will itself....craves objective reasons; and often it could not go forward unless it thought it had them” (Wiggins 1988, 136). And without any appeal to objectivity, it is perhaps likely that counterexamples would resurface.

Another subjectivist strategy by which to deal with the counterexamples is the attempt to ground meaningfulness, not on the pro-attitudes of an individual valuer, but on those of a group (Darwall 1983, 164–66; Brogaard and Smith 2005; Wong 2008). Does such an intersubjective move avoid (more of) the counterexamples? If so, does it do so more plausibly than an objective theory?

Objective naturalists believe that meaning in life is constituted at least in part by something physical beyond merely the fact that it is the object of a pro-attitude. Obtaining the object of some emotion, desire, or judgment is not sufficient for meaningfulness, on this view. Instead, there are certain conditions of the material world that could confer meaning on anyone’s life, not merely because they are viewed as meaningful, wanted for their own sake, or believed to be choiceworthy, but instead (at least partially) because they are inherently worthwhile or valuable in themselves.

Morality (the good), enquiry (the true), and creativity (the beautiful) are widely held instances of activities that confer meaning on life, while trimming toenails and eating snow––along with the counterexamples to subjectivism above––are not. Objectivism is widely thought to be a powerful general explanation of these particular judgments: the former are meaningful not merely because some agent (whether it is an individual, her society, or even God) cares about them or judges them to be worth doing, while the latter simply lack significance and cannot obtain it even if some agent does care about them or judge them to be worth doing. From an objective perspective, it is possible for an individual to care about the wrong thing or to be mistaken that something is worthwhile, and not merely because of something she cares about all the more or judges to be still more choiceworthy. Of course, meta-ethical debates about the existence and nature of value are again relevant to appraising this rationale.

Some objectivists think that being the object of a person’s mental states plays no constitutive role in making that person’s life meaningful, although they of course contend that it often plays an instrumental role––liking a certain activity, after all, is likely to motivate one to do it. Relatively few objectivists are “pure” in that way, although consequentialists do stand out as clear instances (e.g., Singer 1995; Smuts 2018, 75–99). Most objectivists instead try to account for the above intuitions driving subjectivism by holding that a life is more meaningful, not merely because of objective factors, but also in part because of propositional attitudes such as cognition, conation, and emotion. Particularly influential has been Susan Wolf’s hybrid view, captured by this pithy slogan: “Meaning arises when subjective attraction meets objective attractiveness” (Wolf 2015, 112; see also Kekes 1986, 2000; Wiggins 1988; Raz 2001, 10–40; Mintoff 2008; Wolf 2010, 2016; Fischer 2019, 9–23; Belshaw 2021, 160–81). This theory implies that no meaning accrues to one’s life if one believes in, is satisfied by, or cares about a project that is not truly worthwhile, or if one takes up a truly worthwhile project but fails to judge it important, be satisfied by it, or care about it. A related approach is that, while subjective attraction is not necessary for meaning, it could enhance it (e.g., Audi 2005, 344; Metz 2013, 183–84, 196–98, 220–25). For instance, a stereotypical Mother Teresa who is bored by and alienated from her substantial charity work might have a somewhat significant existence because of it, even if she would have an even more significant existence if she felt pride in it or identified with it.

There have been several attempts to capture theoretically what all objectively attractive, inherently worthwhile, or finally valuable conditions have in common insofar as they bear on meaning in a person’s life. Over the past few decades, one encounters the proposals that objectively meaningful conditions are just those that involve: positively connecting with organic unity beyond oneself (Nozick 1981, 594–619); being creative (Taylor 1987; Matheson 2018); living an emotional life (Solomon 1993; cf. Williams 2020, 56–78); promoting good consequences, such as improving the quality of life of oneself and others (Singer 1995; Audi 2005; Smuts 2018, 75–99); exercising or fostering rational nature in exceptional ways (Smith 1997, 179–221; Gewirth 1998, 177–82; Metz 2013, 222–36); progressing toward ends that can never be fully realized because one’s knowledge of them changes as one approaches them (Levy 2005); realizing goals that are transcendent for being long-lasting in duration and broad in scope (Mintoff 2008); living virtuously (May 2015, 61–138; McPherson 2020); and loving what is worth loving (Wolf 2016). There is as yet no convergence in the field on one, or even a small cluster, of these accounts.

One feature of a large majority of the above naturalist theories is that they are aggregative or additive, objectionably treating a life as a mere “container” of bits of life that are meaningful considered in isolation from other bits (Brännmark 2003, 330). It has become increasingly common for philosophers of life’s meaning, especially objectivists, to hold that life as a whole, or at least long stretches of it, can substantially affect its meaningfulness beyond the amount of meaning (if any) in its parts.

For instance, a life that has lots of beneficence and otherwise intuitively meaning-conferring conditions but that is also extremely repetitive (à la the movie Groundhog Day ) is less than maximally meaningful (Taylor 1987; Blumenfeld 2009). Furthermore, a life that not only avoids repetition but also ends with a substantial amount of meaningful (or otherwise desirable) parts seems to have more meaning overall than one that has the same amount of meaningful (desirable) parts but ends with few or none of them (Kamm 2013, 18–22; Dorsey 2015). Still more, a life in which its meaningless (or otherwise undesirable parts) cause its meaningful (desirable) parts to come about through a process of personal growth seems meaningful in virtue of this redemptive pattern, “good life-story,” or narrative self-expression (Taylor 1989, 48–51; Wong 2008; Fischer 2009, 145–77; Kauppinen 2012; May 2015, 61–138; Velleman 2015, 141–73). These three cases suggest that meaning can inhere in life as a whole, that is, in the relationships between its parts, and not merely in the parts considered in isolation. However, some would maintain that it is, strictly speaking, the story that is or could be told of a life that matters, not so much the life-story qua relations between events themselves (de Bres 2018).

There are pure or extreme versions of holism present in the literature, according to which the only possible bearer of meaning in life is a person’s life as a whole, and not any isolated activities, relationships, or states (Taylor 1989, 48–51; Tabensky 2003; Levinson 2004). A salient argument for this position is that judgments of the meaningfulness of a part of someone’s life are merely provisional, open to revision upon considering how they fit into a wider perspective. So, for example, it would initially appear that taking an ax away from a madman and thereby protecting innocent parties confers some meaning on one’s life, but one might well revise that judgment upon learning that the intention behind it was merely to steal an ax, not to save lives, or that the madman then took out a machine gun, causing much more harm than his ax would have. It is worth considering how far this sort of case is generalizable, and, if it can be to a substantial extent, whether that provides strong evidence that only life as a whole can exhibit meaningfulness.

Perhaps most objectivists would, at least upon reflection, accept that both the parts of a life and the whole-life relationships among the parts can exhibit meaning. Supposing there are two bearers of meaning in a life, important questions arise. One is whether a certain narrative can be meaningful even if its parts are not, while a second is whether the meaningfulness of a part increases if it is an aspect of a meaningful whole (on which see Brännmark 2003), and a third is whether there is anything revealing to say about how to make tradeoffs between the parts and whole in cases where one must choose between them (Blumenfeld 2009 appears to assign lexical priority to the whole).

Naturalists until recently had been largely concerned to show that meaning in life is possible without God or a soul; they have not spent much time considering how such spiritual conditions might enhance meaning, but have, in moderate fashion, tended to leave that possibility open (an exception is Hooker 2008). Lately, however, an extreme form of naturalism has arisen, according to which our lives would probably, if not unavoidably, have less meaning in a world with God or a soul than in one without. Although such an approach was voiced early on by Baier (1957), it is really in the past decade or so that this “anti-theist” position has become widely and intricately discussed.

One rationale, mentioned above as an objection to the view that God’s purpose constitutes meaning in life, has also been deployed to argue that the existence of God as such would necessarily reduce meaning, that is, would consist of anti-matter. It is the idea that master/servant and parent/child analogies so prominent in the monotheist religious traditions reveal something about our status in a world where there is a qualitatively higher being who has created us with certain ends in mind: our independence or dignity as adult persons would be violated (e.g., Baier 1957/2000, 118–20; Kahane 2011, 681–85; Lougheed 2020, 121–41). One interesting objection to this reasoning has been to accept that God’s existence is necessarily incompatible with the sort of meaning that would come (roughly stated) from being one’s own boss, but to argue that God would also make greater sorts of meaning available, offering a net gain to us (Mawson 2016, 110–58).

Another salient argument for thinking that God would detract from meaning in life appeals to the value of privacy (Kahane 2011, 681–85; Lougheed 2020, 55–110). God’s omniscience would unavoidably make it impossible for us to control another person’s access to the most intimate details about ourselves, which, for some, amounts to a less meaningful life than one with such control. Beyond questioning the value of our privacy in relation to God, one thought-provoking criticism has been to suggest that, if a lack of privacy really would substantially reduce meaning in our lives, then God, qua morally perfect person, would simply avoid knowing everything about us (Tooley 2018). Lacking complete knowledge of our mental states would be compatible with describing God as “omniscient,” so the criticism goes, insofar as that is plausibly understood as having as much knowledge as is morally permissible.

Turn, now, to major arguments for thinking that having a soul would reduce life’s meaning, so that if one wants a maximally meaningful life, one should prefer a purely physical world, or at least one in which people are mortal. First and foremost, there has been the argument that an immortal life could not avoid becoming boring (Williams 1973), rendering life pointless according to many subjective and objective theories. The literature on this topic has become enormous, with the central reply being that immortality need not get boring (for more recent discussions, see Fischer 2009, 79–101, 2019, 117–42; Mawson 2019, 51–52; Williams 2020, 30–41, 123–29; Belshaw 2021, 182–97). However, it might also be worth questioning whether boredom is sufficient for meaninglessness. Suppose, for instance, that one volunteers to be bored so that many others will not be bored; perhaps this would be a meaningful sacrifice to make. Being bored for an eternity would not be blissful or even satisfying, to be sure, but if it served the function of preventing others from being bored for an eternity, would it be meaningful (at least to some degree)? If, as is commonly held, sacrificing one’s life could be meaningful, why not also sacrificing one’s liveliness?

Another reason given to reject eternal life is that it would become repetitive, which would substantially drain it of meaning (Scarre 2007, 54–55; May 2009, 46–47, 64–65, 71; Smuts 2011, 142–44; cf. Blumenfeld 2009). If, as it appears, there are only a finite number of actions one could perform, relationships one could have, and states one could be in during an eternity, one would have to end up doing the same things again. Even though one’s activities might be more valuable than rolling a stone up a hill forever à la Sisyphus, the prospect of doing them over and over again forever is disheartening for many. To be sure, one might not remember having done them before and hence could avoid boredom, but for some philosophers that would make it all the worse, akin to having dementia and forgetting that one has told the same stories. Others, however, still find meaning in such a life (e.g., Belshaw 2021, 197, 205n41).

A third meaning-based argument against immortality invokes considerations of narrative. If the pattern of one’s life as a whole substantially matters, and if a proper pattern would include a beginning, a middle, and an end, it appears that a life that never ends would lack the relevant narrative structure. “Because it would drag on endlessly, it would, sooner or later, just be a string of events lacking all form....With immortality, the novel never ends....How meaningful can such a novel be?” (May 2009, 68, 72; see also Scarre 2007, 58–60). Notice that this objection is distinct from considerations of boredom and repetition (which concern novelty ); even if one were stimulated and active, and even if one found a way not to repeat one’s life in the course of eternity, an immortal life would appear to lack shape. In reply, some reject the idea that a meaningful life must be akin to a novel, and intead opt for narrativity in the form of something like a string of short stories that build on each other (Fischer 2009, 145–77, 2019, 101–16). Others, though, have sought to show that eternity could still be novel-like, deeming the sort of ending that matters to be a function of what the content is and how it relates to the content that came before (e.g., Seachris 2011; Williams 2020, 112–19).

There have been additional objections to immortality as undercutting meaningfulness, but they are prima facie less powerful than the previous three in that, if sound, they arguably show that an eternal life would have a cost, but probably not one that would utterly occlude the prospect of meaning in it. For example, there have been the suggestions that eternal lives would lack a sense of preciousness and urgency (Nussbaum 1989, 339; Kass 2002, 266–67), could not exemplify virtues such as courageously risking one’s life for others (Kass 2002, 267–68; Wielenberg 2005, 91–94), and could not obtain meaning from sustaining or saving others’ lives (Nussbaum 1989, 338; Wielenberg 2005, 91–94). Note that at least the first two rationales turn substantially on the belief in immortality, not quite immortality itself: if one were immortal but forgot that one is or did not know that at all, then one could appreciate life and obtain much of the virtue of courage (and, conversely, if one were not immortal, but thought that one is, then, by the logic of these arguments, one would fail to appreciate limits and be unable to exemplify courage).

The previous two sections addressed theoretical accounts of what would confer meaning on a human person’s life. Although these theories do not imply that some people’s lives are in fact meaningful, that has been the presumption of a very large majority of those who have advanced them. Much of the procedure has been to suppose that many lives have had meaning in them and then to consider in virtue of what they have or otherwise could. However, there are nihilist (or pessimist) perspectives that question this supposition. According to nihilism (pessimism), what would make a life meaningful in principle cannot obtain for any of us.

One straightforward rationale for nihilism is the combination of extreme supernaturalism about what makes life meaningful and atheism about whether a spiritual realm exists. If you believe that God or a soul is necessary for meaning in life, and if you believe that neither is real, then you are committed to nihilism, to the denial that life can have any meaning. Athough this rationale for nihilism was prominent in the modern era (and was more or less Camus’ position), it has been on the wane in analytic philosophical circles, as extreme supernaturalism has been eclipsed by the moderate variety.

The most common rationales for nihilism these days do not appeal to supernaturalism, or at least not explicitly. One cluster of ideas appeals to what meta-ethicists call “error theory,” the view that evaluative claims (in this case about meaning in life, or about morality qua necessary for meaning) characteristically posit objectively real or universally justified values, but that such values do not exist. According to one version, value judgments often analytically include a claim to objectivity but there is no reason to think that objective values exist, as they “would be entities or qualities or relations of a very strange sort, utterly different from anything else in the universe” (Mackie 1977/1990, 38). According to a second version, life would be meaningless if there were no set of moral standards that could be fully justified to all rational enquirers, but it so happens that such standards cannot exist for persons who can always reasonably question a given claim (Murphy 1982, 12–17). According to a third, we hold certain beliefs about the objectivity and universality of morality and related values such as meaning because they were evolutionarily advantageous to our ancestors, not because they are true. Humans have been “deceived by their genes into thinking that there is a distinterested, objective morality binding upon them, which all should obey” (Ruse and Wilson 1986, 179; cf. Street 2015). One must draw on the intricate work in meta-ethics that has been underway for the past several decades in order to appraise these arguments.

In contrast to error-theoretic arguments for nihilism, there are rationales for it accepting that objective values exist but denying that our lives can ever exhibit or promote them so as to obtain meaning. One version of this approach maintains that, for our lives to matter, we must be in a position to add objective value to the world, which we are not since the objective value of the world is already infinite (Smith 2003). The key premises for this view are that every bit of space-time (or at least the stars in the physical universe) have some positive value, that these values can be added up, and that space is infinite. If the physical world at present contains an infinite degree of value, nothing we do can make a difference in terms of meaning, for infinity plus any amount of value remains infinity. One way to question this argument, beyond doubting the value of space-time or stars, is to suggest that, even if one cannot add to the value of the universe, meaning plausibly comes from being the source of certain values.

A second rationale for nihilism that accepts the existence of objective value is David Benatar’s (2006, 18–59) intriguing “asymmetry argument” for anti-natalism, the view that it is immoral to bring new people into existence because doing so would always be on balance bad for them. For Benatar, the bads of existing (e.g., pains) are real disadvantages relative to not existing, while the goods of existing (pleasures) are not real advantages relative to not existing, since there is in the latter state no one to be deprived of them. If indeed the state of not existing is no worse than that of experiencing the benefits of existence, then, since existing invariably brings harm in its wake, it follows that existing is always worse compared to not existing. Although this argument is illustrated with experiential goods and bads, it seems generalizable to non-experiential ones, including meaning in life and anti-matter. The literature on this argument has become large (for a recent collection, see Hauskeller and Hallich 2022).

Benatar (2006, 60–92, 2017, 35–63) has advanced an additional argument for nihilism, one that appeals to Thomas Nagel’s (1986, 208–32) widely discussed analysis of the extremely external standpoint that human persons can take on their lives. There exists, to use Henry Sidgwick’s influential phrase, the “point of view of the universe,” that is, the standpoint that considers a human being’s life in relation to all times and all places. When one takes up this most external standpoint and views one’s puny impact on the world, little of one’s life appears to matter. What one does in a certain society on Earth over 75 years or so just does not amount to much, when considering the billions of temporal years and billions of light-years that make up space-time. Although this reasoning grants limited kinds of meaning to human beings, from a personal, social, or human perspective, Benatar both denies that the greatest sort of meaning––a cosmic one––is available to them and contends that this makes their lives bad, hence the “nihilist” tag. Some have objected that our lives could in fact have a cosmic significance, say, if they played a role in God’s plan (Quinn 2000, 65–66; Swinburne 2016, 154), were the sole ones with a dignity in the universe (Kahane 2014), or engaged in valuable activities that could be appreciated by anyone anywhere anytime (Wolf 2016, 261–62). Others naturally maintain that cosmic significance is irrelevant to appraising a human life, with some denying that it would be a genuine source of meaning (Landau 2017, 93–99), and others accepting that it would be but maintaining that the absence of this good would not count as a bad or merit regret (discussed in Benatar 2017, 56–62; Williams 2020, 108–11).

Finally, a distinguishable source of nihilism concerns the ontological, as distinct from axiological, preconditions for meaning in life. Perhaps most radically, there are those who deny that we have selves. Do we indeed lack selves, and, if we do, is a meaningful life impossible for us (see essays in Caruso and Flanagan 2018; Le Bihan 2019)? Somewhat less radically, there are those who grant that we have selves, but deny that they are in charge in the relevant way. That is, some have argued that we lack self-governance or free will of the sort that is essential for meaning in life, at least if determinism is true (Pisciotta 2013; essays in Caruso and Flanagan 2018). Non-quantum events, including human decisions, appear to be necessited by a prior state of the world, such that none could have been otherwise, and many of our decisions are a product of unconscious neurological mechanisms (while quantum events are of course utterly beyond our control). If none of our conscious choices could have been avoided and all were ultimately necessited by something external to them, perhaps they are insufficient to merit pride or admiration or to constitute narrative authorship of a life. In reply, some maintain that a compatibilism between determinism and moral responsibility applies with comparable force to meaning in life (e.g., Arpaly 2006; Fischer 2009, 145–77), while others contend that incompatibilism is true of moral responsibility but not of meaning (Pereboom 2014).

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  • Delon, N., 2021, “ The Meaning of Life ”, a bibliography on PhilPapers.
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My Personal Values in Life

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Introduction, body paragraph 1: personal value 1, body paragraph 2: personal value 2, body paragraph 3: personal value 3, counterargument.

  • Adler, M. J. (2000). The four dimensions of philosophy: Metaphysical, moral, objective, categorical. Routledge.
  • Miller, W. R., & Thoresen, C. E. (2003). Spirituality, religion, and health: An emerging research field. American Psychologist, 58(1), 24-35.
  • Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford University Press.

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essay on life without values

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essay on life without values

The Absurdity of Life without God

Why on atheism life has no ultimate meaning, value, or purpose, and why this view is unlivable.

The Necessity of God and Immortality

Man, writes Loren Eiseley, is the Cosmic Orphan. He is the only creature in the universe who asks, "Why?" Other animals have instincts to guide them, but man has learned to ask questions. "Who am I?" man asks. "Why am I here? Where am I going?" Since the Enlightenment, when he threw off the shackles of religion, man has tried to answer these questions without reference to God. But the answers that came back were not exhilarating, but dark and terrible. "You are the accidental by-product of nature, a result of matter plus time plus chance. There is no reason for your existence. All you face is death."

Modern man thought that when he had gotten rid of God, he had freed himself from all that repressed and stifled him. Instead, he discovered that in killing God, he had also killed himself. For if there is no God, then man's life becomes absurd.

If God does not exist, then both man and the universe are inevitably doomed to death. Man, like all biological organisms, must die. With no hope of immortality, man's life leads only to the grave. His life is but a spark in the infinite blackness, a spark that appears, flickers, and dies forever. Therefore, everyone must come face to face with what theologian Paul Tillich has called "the threat of non-being." For though I know now that I exist, that I am alive, I also know that someday I will no longer exist, that I will no longer be, that I will die. This thought is staggering and threatening: to think that the person I call "myself" will cease to exist, that I will be no more!

I remember vividly the first time my father told me that someday I would die. Somehow as a child the thought had just never occurred to me. When he told me, I was filled with fear and unbearable sadness. And though he tried repeatedly to reassure me that this was a long way off, that did not seem to matter. Whether sooner or later, the undeniable fact was that I would die and be no more, and the thought overwhelmed me. Eventually, like all of us, I grew to simply accept the fact. We all learn to live with the inevitable. But the child's insight remains true. As the French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre observed, several hours or several years make no difference once you have lost eternity.

Whether it comes sooner or later, the prospect of death and the threat of non-being is a terrible horror. But I met a student once who did not feel this threat. He said he had been raised on the farm and was used to seeing the animals being born and dying. Death was for him simply natural—a part of life, so to speak. I was puzzled by how different our two perspectives on death were and found it difficult to understand why he did not feel the threat of non-being. Years later, I think I found my answer in reading Sartre. Sartre observed that death is not threatening so long as we view it as the death of the other, from a third-person standpoint, so to speak. It is only when we internalize it and look at it from the first-person perspective—"my death: I am going to die"—that the threat of non-being becomes real. As Sartre points out, many people never assume this first-person perspective in the midst of life; one can even look at one's own death from the third-person standpoint, as if it were the death of another or even of an animal, as did my friend. But the true existential significance of my death can only be appreciated from the first-person perspective, as I realize that I am going to die and forever cease to exist. My life is just a momentary transition out of oblivion into oblivion.

And the universe, too, faces death. Scientists tell us that the universe is expanding, and everything in it is growing farther and farther apart. As it does so, it grows colder and colder, and its energy is used up. Eventually all the stars will burn out and all matter will collapse into dead stars and black holes. There will be no light at all; there will be no heat; there will be no life; only the corpses of dead stars and galaxies, ever expanding into the endless darkness and the cold recesses of space—a universe in ruins. So not only is the life of each individual person doomed; the entire human race is doomed. There is no escape. There is no hope.

The Absurdity of Life without God and Immortality

If there is no God, then man and the universe are doomed. Like prisoners condemned to death, we await our unavoidable execution. There is no God, and there is no immortality. And what is the consequence of this? It means that life itself is absurd. It means that the life we have is without ultimate significance, value, or purpose. Let's look at each of these.

No Ultimate Meaning without Immortality and God

If each individual person passes out of existence when he dies, then what ultimate meaning can be given to his life? Does it really matter whether he ever existed at all? His life may be important relative to certain other events, but what is the ultimate significance of any of those events? If all the events are meaningless, then what can be the ultimate meaning of influencing any of them? Ultimately it makes no difference.

Look at it from another perspective: Scientists say that the universe originated in an explosion called the "Big Bang" about 13 billion years ago. Suppose the Big Bang had never occurred. Suppose the universe had never existed. What ultimate difference would it make? The universe is doomed to die anyway. In the end it makes no difference whether the universe ever existed or not. Therefore, it is without ultimate significance.

The same is true of the human race. Mankind is a doomed race in a dying universe. Because the human race will eventually cease to exist, it makes no ultimate difference whether it ever did exist. Mankind is thus no more significant than a swarm of mosquitos or a barnyard of pigs, for their end is all the same. The same blind cosmic process that coughed them up in the first place will eventually swallow them all again.

And the same is true of each individual person. The contributions of the scientist to the advance of human knowledge, the researches of the doctor to alleviate pain and suffering, the efforts of the diplomat to secure peace in the world, the sacrifices of good men everywhere to better the lot of the human race--all these come to nothing. This is the horror of modern man: because he ends in nothing, he is nothing.

But it is important to see that it is not just immortality that man needs if life is to be meaningful. Mere duration of existence does not make that existence meaningful. If man and the universe could exist forever, but if there were no God, their existence would still have no ultimate significance. To illustrate: I once read a science-fiction story in which an astronaut was marooned on a barren chunk of rock lost in outer space. He had with him two vials: one containing poison and the other a potion that would make him live forever. Realizing his predicament, he gulped down the poison. But then to his horror, he discovered he had swallowed the wrong vial—he had drunk the potion for immortality. And that meant that he was cursed to exist forever—a meaningless, unending life. Now if God does not exist, our lives are just like that. They could go on and on and still be utterly without meaning. We could still ask of life, "So what?" So it is not just immortality man needs if life is to be ultimately significant; he needs God and immortality. And if God does not exist, then he has neither.

Twentieth-century man came to understand this. Read Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett. During this entire play two men carry on trivial conversation while waiting for a third man to arrive, who never does. Our lives are like that, Beckett is saying; we just kill time waiting—for what, we don't know. In a tragic portrayal of man, Beckett wrote another play in which the curtain opens revealing a stage littered with junk. For thirty long seconds, the audience sits and stares in silence at that junk. Then the curtain closes. That's all.

French existentialists Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus understood this, too. Sartre portrayed life in his play No Exit as hell—the final line of the play are the words of resignation, "Well, let's get on with it." Hence, Sartre writes elsewhere of the "nausea" of existence. Camus, too, saw life as absurd. At the end of his brief novel The Stranger , Camus's hero discovers in a flash of insight that the universe has no meaning and there is no God to give it one.

Thus, if there is no God, then life itself becomes meaningless. Man and the universe are without ultimate significance.

No Ultimate Value Without Immortality and God

If life ends at the grave, then it makes no difference whether one has lived as a Stalin or as a saint. Since one's destiny is ultimately unrelated to one's behavior, you may as well just live as you please. As Dostoyevsky put it: "If there is no immortality then all things are permitted." On this basis, a writer like Ayn Rand is absolutely correct to praise the virtues of selfishness. Live totally for self; no one holds you accountable! Indeed, it would be foolish to do anything else, for life is too short to jeopardize it by acting out of anything but pure self-interest. Sacrifice for another person would be stupid. Kai Nielsen, an atheist philosopher who attempts to defend the viability of ethics without God, in the end admits,

We have not been able to show that reason requires the moral point of view, or that all really rational persons, unhoodwinked by myth or ideology, need not be individual egoists or classical amoralists. Reason doesn't decide here. The picture I have painted for you is not a pleasant one. Reflection on it depresses me . . . . Pure practical reason, even with a good knowledge of the facts, will not take you to morality.  [1]

But the problem becomes even worse. For, regardless of immortality, if there is no God, then there can be no objective standards of right and wrong. All we are confronted with is, in Jean-Paul Sartre's words, the bare, valueless fact of existence. Moral values are either just expressions of personal taste or the by-products of socio-biological evolution and conditioning. In a world without God, who is to say which values are right and which are wrong? Who is to judge that the values of Adolf Hitler are inferior to those of a saint? The concept of morality loses all meaning in a universe without God. As one contemporary atheistic ethicist points out, "to say that something is wrong because . . . it is forbidden by God, is . . . perfectly understandable to anyone who believes in a law-giving God. But to say that something is wrong . . . even though no God exists to forbid it, is not understandable. . . ." "The concept of moral obligation [is] unintelligible apart from the idea of God. The words remain but their meaning is gone."  [2]  In a world without God, there can be no objective right and wrong, only our culturally and personally relative, subjective judgments. This means that it is impossible to condemn war, oppression, or crime as evil. Nor can one praise brotherhood, equality, and love as good. For in a universe without God, good and evil do not exist—there is only the bare valueless fact of existence, and there is no one to say you are right and I am wrong.

No Ultimate Purpose Without Immortality and God

If death stands with open arms at the end of life's trail, then what is the goal of life? Is it all for nothing? Is there no reason for life? And what of the universe? Is it utterly pointless? If its destiny is a cold grave in the recesses of outer space the answer must be, yes—it is pointless. There is no goal no purpose for the universe. The litter of a dead universe will just go on expanding and expanding—forever.

And what of man? Is there no purpose at all for the human race? Or will it simply peter out someday lost in the oblivion of an indifferent universe? The English writer H. G. Wells foresaw such a prospect. In his novel The Time Machine Wells's time traveler journeys far into the future to discover the destiny of man. All he finds is a dead earth, save for a few lichens and moss, orbiting a gigantic red sun. The only sounds are the rush of the wind and the gentle ripple of the sea. "Beyond these lifeless sounds," writes Wells, "the world was silent. Silent? It would be hard to convey the stillness of it. All the sounds of man, the bleating of sheep, the cries of birds, the hum of insects, the stir that makes the background of our lives—all that was over."  [3]  And so Wells's time traveler returned. But to what?—to merely an earlier point on the purposeless rush toward oblivion. When as a non-Christian I first read Wells's book, I thought, "No, no! It can't end that way!" But if there is no God, it will end that way, like it or not. This is reality in a universe without God: there is no hope; there is no purpose.

What is true of mankind as a whole is true of each of us individually: we are here to no purpose. If there is no God, then our life is not qualitatively different from that of a dog. As the ancient writer of Ecclesiastes put it: "The fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity. All go to the same place. All come from the dust and all return to the dust" ( Eccles 3:19-20 ). In this book, which reads more like a piece of modern existentialist literature than a book of the Bible, the writer shows the futility of pleasure, wealth, education, political fame, and honor in a life doomed to end in death. His verdict? "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity" (1:2). If life ends at the grave, then we have no ultimate purpose for living.

But more than that: even if it did not end in death, without God life would still be without purpose. For man and the universe would then be simple accidents of chance, thrust into existence for no reason. Without God the universe is the result of a cosmic accident, a chance explosion. There is no reason for which it exists. As for man, he is a freak of nature— a blind product of matter plus time plus chance. Man is just a lump of slime that evolved rationality. As one philosopher has put it: "Human life is mounted upon a subhuman pedestal and must shift for itself alone in the heart of a silent and mindless universe.''  [4]

What is true of the universe and of the human race is also true of us as individuals. If God does not exist, then you are just a miscarriage of nature, thrust into a purposeless universe to live a purposeless life.

So if God does not exist, that means that man and the universe exist to no purpose—since the end of everything is death—and that they came to be for no purpose, since they are only blind products of chance. In short, life is utterly without reason.

Do you understand the gravity of the alternatives before us? For if God exists, then there is hope for man. But if God does not exist, then all we are left with is despair. Do you understand why the question of God's existence is so vital to man? As one writer has aptly put it, "If God is dead, then man is dead, too."

Unfortunately, the mass of mankind do not realize this fact. They continue on as though nothing has changed. I'm reminded of Nietzsche's story of the madman who in the early morning hours burst into the marketplace, lantern in hand, crying, "I seek God! I seek God!" Since many of those standing about did not believe in God, he provoked much laughter. "Did God get lost?" they taunted him. "Or is he hiding? Or maybe he has gone on a voyage or emigrated!" Thus they yelled and laughed. Then, writes Nietzsche, the madman turned in their midst and pierced them with his eyes

'Whither is God?' he cried, 'I shall tell you. We have killed him —you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night and more night coming on all the while? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning? Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? . . . God is dead. . . . And we have killed him. How shall we, the murderers of all murderers, comfort ourselves?  [5]

The crowd stared at the madman in silence and astonishment. At last he dashed his lantern to the ground. "I have come too early," he said. "This tremendous event is still on its way—it has not yet reached the ears of man." Men did not yet truly comprehend the consequences of what they had done in killing God. But Nietzsche predicted that someday people would realize the implications of their atheism; and this realization would usher in an age of nihilism—the destruction of all meaning and value in life.

Most people still do not reflect on the consequences of atheism and so, like the crowd in the marketplace, go unknowingly on their way. But when we realize, as did Nietzsche, what atheism implies, then his question presses hard upon us: how shall we, the murderers of all murderers, comfort ourselves?

The Practical Impossibility of Atheism

About the only solution the atheist can offer is that we face the absurdity of life and live bravely. Bertrand Russell, for example, wrote that we must build our lives upon "the firm foundation of unyielding despair."  [6]  Only by recognizing that the world really is a terrible place can we successfully come to terms with life. Camus said that we should honestly recognize life's absurdity and then live in love for one another.

The fundamental problem with this solution, however, is that it is impossible to live consistently and happily within such a world view. If one lives consistently, he will not be happy; if one lives happily, it is only because he is not consistent. Francis Schaeffer has explained this point well. Modern man, says Schaeffer, resides in a two-story universe. In the lower story is the finite world without God; here life is absurd, as we have seen. In the upper story are meaning, value, and purpose. Now modern man lives in the lower story because he believes there is no God. But he cannot live happily in such an absurd world; therefore, he continually makes leaps of faith into the upper story to affirm meaning, value, and purpose, even though he has no right to, since he does not believe in God.

Let's look again, then, at each of the three areas in which we saw life was absurd without God, to show how man cannot live consistently and happily with his atheism.

Meaning of Life

First, the area of meaning. We saw that without God, life has no meaning. Yet philosophers continue to live as though life does have meaning. For example, Sartre argued that one may create meaning for his life by freely choosing to follow a certain course of action. Sartre himself chose Marxism.

Now this is utterly inconsistent. It is inconsistent to say life is objectively absurd and then to say one may create meaning for his life. If life is really absurd, then man is trapped in the lower story. To try to create meaning in life represents a leap to the upper story. But Sartre has no basis for this leap. Without God, there can be no objective meaning in life. Sartre's program is actually an exercise in self-delusion. Sartre is really saying, "Let's pretend the universe has meaning." And this is just fooling ourselves.

The point is this: if God does not exist, then life is objectively meaningless; but man cannot live consistently and happily knowing that life is meaningless; so in order to be happy he pretends life has meaning. But this is, of course, entirely inconsistent—for without God, man and the universe are without any real significance.

Value of Life

Turn now to the problem of value. Here is where the most blatant inconsistencies occur. First of all, atheistic humanists are totally inconsistent in affirming the traditional values of love and brotherhood. Camus has been rightly criticized for inconsistently holding both to the absurdity of life and the ethics of human love and brotherhood. The two are logically incompatible. Bertrand Russell, too, was inconsistent. For though he was an atheist, he was an outspoken social critic, denouncing war and restrictions on sexual freedom. Russell admitted that he could not live as though ethical values were simply a matter of personal taste, and that he therefore found his own views "incredible." "I do not know the solution," he confessed." [7]  The point is that if there is no God, then objective right and wrong cannot exist. As Dostoyevsky said, "All things are permitted."

But Dostoyevsky also showed that man cannot live this way. He cannot live as though it is perfectly all right for soldiers to slaughter innocent children. He cannot live as though it is all right for dictators like Pol Pot to exterminate millions of their own countrymen. Everything in him cries out to say these acts are wrong—really wrong. But if there is no God, he cannot. So he makes a leap of faith and affirms values anyway. And when he does so, he reveals the inadequacy of a world without God.

The horror of a world devoid of value was brought home to me with new intensity a few years ago as I viewed a BBC television documentary called "The Gathering." It concerned the reunion of survivors of the Holocaust in Jerusalem, where they rediscovered lost friendships and shared their experiences. One woman prisoner, a nurse, told of how she was made the gynecologist at Auschwitz. She observed that pregnant women were grouped together by the soldiers under the direction of Dr. Mengele and housed in the same barracks. Some time passed, and she noted that she no longer saw any of these women. She made inquiries. "Where are the pregnant women who were housed in that barracks?" "Haven't you heard?" came the reply. "Dr. Mengele used them for vivisection."

Another woman told of how Mengele had bound up her breasts so that she could not suckle her infant. The doctor wanted to learn how long an infant could survive without nourishment. Desperately this poor woman tried to keep her baby alive by giving it pieces of bread soaked in coffee, but to no avail. Each day the baby lost weight, a fact that was eagerly monitored by Dr. Mengele. A nurse then came secretly to this woman and told her, "I have arranged a way for you to get out of here, but you cannot take your baby with you. I have brought a morphine injection that you can give to your child to end its life." When the woman protested, the nurse was insistent: "Look, your baby is going to die anyway. At least save yourself." And so this mother took the life of her own baby. Dr. Mengele was furious when he learned of it because he had lost his experimental specimen, and he searched among the dead to find the baby's discarded corpse so that he could have one last weighing.

My heart was torn by these stories. One rabbi who survived the camp summed it up well when he said that at Auschwitz it was as though there existed a world in which all the Ten Commandments were reversed. Mankind had never seen such a hell.

And yet, if God does not exist, then in a sense, our world is Auschwitz: there is no absolute right and wrong; all things are permitted. But no atheist, no agnostic, can live consistently with such a view. Nietzsche himself, who proclaimed the necessity of living beyond good and evil, broke with his mentor Richard Wagner precisely over the issue of the composer's anti-Semitism and strident German nationalism. Similarly Sartre, writing in the aftermath of the Second World War, condemned anti-Semitism, declaring that a doctrine that leads to extermination is not merely an opinion or matter of personal taste, of equal value with its opposite.  [8]  In his important essay "Existentialism Is a Humanism," Sartre struggles vainly to elude the contradiction between his denial of divinely pre-established values and his urgent desire to affirm the value of human persons. Like Russell, he could not live with the implications of his own denial of ethical absolutes.

A second problem is that if God does not exist and there is no immortality, then all the evil acts of men go unpunished and all the sacrifices of good men go unrewarded. But who can live with such a view? Richard Wurmbrand, who has been tortured for his faith in communist prisons, says,

The cruelty of atheism is hard to believe when man has no faith in the reward of good or the punishment of evil. There is no reason to be human. There is no restraint from the depths of evil which is in man. The communist torturers often said, 'There is no God, no Hereafter, no punishment for evil. We can do what we wish.' I have heard one torturer even say, 'I thank God, in whom I don't believe, that I have lived to this hour when I can express all the evil in my heart.' He expressed it in unbelievable brutality and torture inflicted on prisoners.  [9]

And the same applies to acts of self-sacrifice. A number of years ago, a terrible mid-winter air disaster occurred in which a plane leaving the Washington, D.C., airport smashed into a bridge spanning the Potomac River, plunging its passengers into the icy waters. As the rescue helicopters came, attention was focused on one man who again and again pushed the dangling rope ladder to other passengers rather than be pulled to safety himself. Six times he passed the ladder by. When they came again, he was gone. He had freely given his life that others might live. The whole nation turned its eyes to this man in respect and admiration for the selfless and good act he had performed. And yet, if the atheist is right, that man was not noble—he did the stupidest thing possible. He should have gone for the ladder first, pushed others away if necessary in order to survive. But to die for others he did not even know, to give up all the brief existence he would ever have—what for? For the atheist there can be no reason. And yet the atheist, like the rest of us, instinctively reacts with praise for this man's selfless action. Indeed, one will probably never find an atheist who lives consistently with his system. For a universe without moral accountability and devoid of value is unimaginably terrible.

Purpose of Life

Finally, let's look at the problem of purpose in life. The only way most people who deny purpose in life live happily is either by making up some purpose, which amounts to self-delusion as we saw with Sartre, or by not carrying their view to its logical conclusions. Take the problem of death, for example. According to Ernst Bloch, the only way modern man lives in the face of death is by subconsciously borrowing the belief in immortality that his forefathers held to, even though he himself has no basis for this belief, since he does not believe in God. By borrowing the remnants of a belief in immortality, writes Bloch, "modern man does not feel the chasm that unceasingly surrounds him and that will certainly engulf him at last. Through these remnants, he saves his sense of self-identity. Through them the impression arises that man is not perishing, but only that one day the world has the whim no longer to appear to him." Bloch concludes, "This quite shallow courage feasts on a borrowed credit card. It lives from earlier hopes and the support that they once had provided."  [10]  Modern man no longer has any right to that support, since he rejects God. But in order to live purposefully, he makes a leap of faith to affirm a reason for living.

We often find the same inconsistency among those who say that man and the universe came to exist for no reason or purpose, but just by chance. Unable to live in an impersonal universe in which everything is the product of blind chance, these persons begin to ascribe personality and motives to the physical processes themselves. It is a bizarre way of speaking and represents a leap from the lower to the upper story. For example, Francis Crick halfway through his book The Origin of the Genetic Code begins to spell nature with a capital "N" and elsewhere speaks of natural selection as being "clever" and as "thinking" of what it will do. Fred Hoyle, the English astronomer, attributes to the universe itself the qualities of God. For Carl Sagan the "Cosmos," which he always spells with a capital letter, obviously fills the role of a God-substitute. Though all these men profess not to believe in God, they smuggle in a God-substitute through the back door because they cannot bear to live in a universe in which everything is the chance result of impersonal forces.

And it's interesting to see many thinkers betray their views when they're pushed to their logical conclusions. For example, certain feminists have raised a storm of protest over Freudian sexual psychology because it is chauvinistic and degrading to women. And some psychologists have knuckled under and revised their theories. Now this is totally inconsistent. If Freudian psychology is really true, then it doesn't matter if it's degrading to women. You can't change the truth because you don't like what it leads to. But people cannot live consistently and happily in a world where other persons are devalued. Yet if God does not exist, then nobody has any value. Only if God exists can a person consistently support women's rights. For if God does not exist, then natural selection dictates that the male of the species is the dominant and aggressive one. Women would no more have rights than a female goat or chicken have rights. In nature whatever is, is right. But who can live with such a view? Apparently not even Freudian psychologists, who betray their theories when pushed to their logical conclusions.

Or take the sociological behaviorism of a man like B. F. Skinner. This view leads to the sort of society envisioned in George Orwell's 1984 , where the government controls and programs the thoughts of everybody. If Skinner's theories are right, then there can be no objection to treating people like the rats in Skinner's rat-box as they run through their mazes, coaxed on by food and electric shocks. According to Skinner, all our actions are determined anyway. And if God does not exist, then no moral objection can be raised against this kind of programming, for man is not qualitatively different from a rat, since both are just matter plus time plus chance. But again, who can live with such a dehumanizing view?

Or finally, take the biological determinism of a man like Francis Crick. The logical conclusion is that man is like any other laboratory specimen. The world was horrified when it learned that at camps like Dachau the Nazis had used prisoners for medical experiments on living humans. But why not? If God does not exist, there can be no objection to using people as human guinea pigs. The end of this view is population control in which the weak and unwanted are killed off to make room for the strong. But the only way we can consistently protest this view is if God exists. Only if God exists can there be purpose in life.

The dilemma of modern man is thus truly terrible. And insofar as he denies the existence of God and the objectivity of value and purpose, this dilemma remains unrelieved for "post-modern" man as well. Indeed, it is precisely the awareness that modernism issues inevitably in absurdity and despair that constitutes the anguish of post-modernism. In some respects, post-modernism just is the awareness of the bankruptcy of modernity. The atheistic world view is insufficient to maintain a happy and consistent life. Man cannot live consistently and happily as though life were ultimately without meaning, value, or purpose. If we try to live consistently within the atheistic world view, we shall find ourselves profoundly unhappy. If instead we manage to live happily, it is only by giving the lie to our world view.

Confronted with this dilemma, man flounders pathetically for some means of escape. In a remarkable address to the American Academy for the Advancement of Science in 1991, Dr. L. D. Rue, confronted with the predicament of modern man, boldly advocated that we deceive ourselves by means of some "Noble Lie" into thinking that we and the universe still have value.  [11]  Claiming that "The lesson of the past two centuries is that intellectual and moral relativism is profoundly the case," Dr. Rue muses that the consequence of such a realization is that one's quest for personal wholeness (or self-fulillment) and the quest for social coherence become independent from one another. This is because on the view of relativism the search for self-fulfillment becomes radically privatized: each person chooses his own set of values and meaning. If we are to avoid "the madhouse option," where self-fulfillment is pursued regardless of social coherence, and "the totalitarian option," where social coherence is imposed at the expense of personal wholeness, then we have no choice but to embrace some Noble Lie that will inspire us to live beyond selfish interests and so achieve social coherence. A Noble Lie "is one that deceives us, tricks us, compels us beyond self-interest, beyond ego, beyond family, nation, [and] race." It is a lie, because it tells us that the universe is infused with value (which is a great fiction), because it makes a claim to universal truth (when there is none), and because it tells me not to live for self-interest (which is evidently false). "But without such lies, we cannot live."

This is the dreadful verdict pronounced over modern man. In order to survive, he must live in self-deception. But even the Noble Lie option is in the end unworkable. In order to be happy, one must believe in objective meaning, value, and purpose. But how can one believe in those Noble Lies while at the same time believing in atheism and relativism? The more convinced you are of the necessity of a Noble Lie, the less you are able to believe in it. Like a placebo, a Noble Lie works only on those who believe it is the truth. Once we have seen through the fiction, then the Lie has lost its power over us. Thus, ironically, the Noble Lie cannot solve the human predicament for anyone who has come to see that predicament.

The Noble Lie option therefore leads at best to a society in which an elitist group of illuminati deceive the masses for their own good by perpetuating the Noble Lie. But then why should those of us who are enlightened follow the masses in their deception? Why should we sacrifice self-interest for a fiction? If the great lesson of the past two centuries is moral and intellectual relativism, then why (if we could) pretend that we do not know this truth and live a lie instead? If one answers, "for the sake of social coherence," one may legitimately ask why I should sacrifice my self-interest for the sake of social coherence? The only answer the relativist can give is that social coherence is in my self-interest—but the problem with this answer is that self-interest and the interest of the herd do not always coincide. Besides, if (out of self-interest) I do care about social coherence, the totalitarian option is always open to me: forget the Noble Lie and maintain social coherence (as well as my self-fulfillment) at the expense of the personal wholeness of the masses. Rue would undoubtedly regard such an option as repugnant. But therein lies the rub. Rue's dilemma is that he obviously values deeply both social coherence and personal wholeness for their own sakes; in other words, they are objective values, which according to his philosophy do not exist. He has already leapt to the upper story. The Noble Lie option thus affirms what it denies and so refutes itself.

The Success of Biblical Christianity

But if atheism fails in this regard, what about biblical Christianity? According to the Christian world view, God does exist, and man's life does not end at the grave. In the resurrection body man may enjoy eternal life and fellowship with God. Biblical Christianity therefore provides the two conditions necessary for a meaningful, valuable, and purposeful life for man: God and immortality. Because of this, we can live consistently and happily. Thus, biblical Christianity succeeds precisely where atheism breaks down.

Now I want to make it clear that I have not yet shown biblical Christianity to be true. But what I have done is clearly spell out the alternatives. If God does not exist, then life is futile. If the God of the Bible does exist, then life is meaningful. Only the second of these two alternatives enables us to live happily and consistently. Therefore, it seems to me that even if the evidence for these two options were absolutely equal, a rational person ought to choose biblical Christianity. It seems to me positively irrational to prefer death, futility, and destruction to life, meaningfulness, and happiness. As Pascal said, we have nothing to lose and infinity to gain.

Kai Nielsen, "Why Should I Be Moral?" American Philosophical Quarterly 21 (1984): 90.

Richard Taylor, Ethics, Faith, and Reason (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1985), 90, 84.

H.G. Wells, The Time Machine (New York: Berkeley, 1957), chap. 11.

W.E. Hocking, Types of Philosophy (New York: Scribner's, 1959), 27.

Friedrich Nietzsche, "The Gay Science," in The Portable Nietzsche , ed. and trans. W. Kaufmann (New York: Viking, 1954), 95.

Bertrand Russell, "A Free Man's Worship," in Why I Am Not a Christian , ed. P. Edwards (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1957), 107.

Bertrand Russell, Letter to the Observer , 6 October, 1957.

Jean Paul Sartre, "Portrait of the Antisemite," in Existentialism from Dostoyevsky to Satre , rev. ed., ed. Walter Kaufmann (New York: New Meridian Library, 1975), p. 330.

Richard Wurmbrand, Tortured for Christ (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1967), 34.

Ernst Bloch, Das Prinzip Hoffnung , 2d ed., 2 vols. (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1959), 2:360-1.

Loyal D. Rue, "The Saving Grace of Noble Lies," address to the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, February, 1991.

Essay on Values for Students and Children

500+ words essay on values.

essay on values

Importance of Values

For an individual, values are most important. An individual with good values is loved by everyone around as he is compassionate about others and also he behaves ethically.

Values Help in Decision Making

A person is able to judge what is right and what is wrong based on the values he imbibes. In life at various steps, it makes the decision-making process easier. A person with good values is always likely to make better decisions than others.

Values Can Give Direction to Our Life

In life, Values give us clear goals. They always tell us how we should behave and act in different situations and give the right direction to our life. In life, a person with good values can take better charge.

Get the huge list of more than 500 Essay Topics and Ideas

Values Can Build Character

If a person wants a strong character, then he has to possesses good values such as honesty , loyalty, reliability, efficiency, consistency, compassion, determination, and courage. Values always help in building our character.

Values Can Help in Building a Society

If u want a better society then people need to bear good values. Values play an important role in society. They only need to do their hard work, with compassion, honesty, and other values. Such people will help in the growth of society and make it a much better place to live.

Characteristics of Values

Values are always based on various things. While the basic values remain the same across cultures and are intact since centuries some values may vary. Values may be specific to a society or age. In the past, it was considered that women with good moral values must stay at home and not voice their opinion on anything but however, this has changed over time. Our culture and society determine the values to a large extent. We imbibe values during our childhood years and they remain with us throughout our life.

Family always plays the most important role in rendering values to us. Decisions in life are largely based on the values we possess. Values are permanent and seldom change. A person is always known by the values he possesses. The values of a person always reflect on his attitude and overall personality.

The Decline of Values in the Modern Times

While values are of great importance and we are all aware of the same unfortunately people these days are so engrossed in making money and building a good lifestyle that they often overlook the importance of values. At the age when children must be taught good values, they are taught to fight and survive in this competitive world. Their academics and performance in other activities are given importance over their values.

Parents , as well as teachers, teach them how to take on each other and win by any means instead of inculcating good sportsman spirit in them and teaching them values such as integrity, compassion, and patience. Children always look up to their elders as their role models and it is unfortunate that elders these days have a lack of values. Therefore the children learn the same.

In order to help him grow into a responsible and wise human being, it is important for people to realize that values must be given topmost priority in a child’s life because children are the future of the society. There can be nothing better in a society where a majority of people have good values and they follow the ethical norms.

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  • Values Essay


Essay on Values

Values are principles or moral standards that define someone’s behavior and judgment about what is important in life. Human society cannot sustain itself if there are no values instilled in humans. They are the essence of our personality and influence us to make decisions, deal with people and organize our time and energy in our social and professional life. Values differ greatly among individuals. The character of each person is shaped by the set of values he cherishes. Along with our academic courses, we are also educated to follow certain values throughout life. This value-oriented education helps us to develop the temper of our mind, compassion in our heart, cooperation with others, tolerance towards others, respect for the culture of other groups, etc. Helpfulness, honesty, self-discipline are all examples of personalized values.

Inculcate Values from Childhood

People learn most of their values in the early years of their life from those they see around them. Children absorb these values from their parents and teachers. Families and educators play a crucial role in building values in children and students as they see them as role models. One can also learn about the morals of the good life from the holy and religious books. Childhood and the teenage period is the most crucial phase in a person’s life because it is at this time that one cultivates most of his normal principles or values. Human values are formed by different stages and incidents in one’s life, especially in teenage and college life. Education without values tends to make a man miserable. Hence, it becomes of the utmost importance to impart correct and positive values among children and students. 

Diminishing of Values in Modern Times

In modern times, people have become extremely self-centered and have forgotten their instincts. They run behind success and want to win at any cost. It has become a rat race and humans have become mechanical like robots without feelings and values. They have become heartless and lack morals. Success may come to us but in the end, we do not feel a sense of fulfillment because of the lack of values within us. It is very important to taste success in life by keeping values at the top of anything else. This will give us joy from the inside that can never be destroyed. Values such as sharing, patience, hard work, curiosity, politeness, kindness, integrity, and other good behavioral attitudes help us to get through in life. These positive instincts will bring true success in life. One can never feel happiness and peace if one tries to build a castle at the cost of someone else’s happiness. Good nature never allows one to perform under pressure or greed. It is important to have a sharp and bright mind but it is far more important to have a good heart. 

Importance of Values in Life

Value creation is an ongoing process. It also means amending one’s wrong behavior. Schools and colleges must conduct regular counselling sessions and moral education classes to help in this regard. Apart from this, since early childhood, parents and guardians should talk about the importance of values with their children. 

Teaching children to help in household activities, making them share their toys and other stuff with their siblings, teaching them to respect their grandparents, etc., help in inculcating some most important values like patience and sharing among them. 

Participation in school activities like organizing events, doing group projects results in students learning values like adjustment, cooperation, perseverance and tolerance. There are also values fundamental to identifying one’s culture. 

Values Important for Society

As human values play a vital role in society, they are regarded as the basis for human beings to lead better life. Hence, the importance of values in a civilized society is immense. People with the right values in life will be a pillar for the development of society and the nation. They will not only go in the right direction themselves but will also teach others to do the same. With the right beliefs and values, one can make the right decisions in life. Being humble, empathetic towards others, self-discipline, having courage and integrity will not help one to climb the ladder of success but also make one strong so that he can make breakthroughs in all obstacles and challenges in life.

An individual's values determine the decisions that he or she makes. Using these opposing things as a basis, an individual must choose between two things. The life of someone with good values is always prosperous, whereas a person with bad values is a liability to society. Individuals' values are shaped by the schools they attend, their parents, their homes, colleagues, and friends.

A child can be made into a good person by being molded and motivated. If one were to follow such a path, they would be prevented from engaging in corrupt practices. This prevents him or her from leading an unethical life. This gives him or her a deeper understanding of what is right and wrong. In an ideal world, a person should have all moral values in place, be disciplined, and have good manners. Life in an ideal world would be simple. Life is rich and luxurious in that respect.

Values should be instilled from a Young Age

Most people learn their values from the people around them in the first few years of their lives. Parents and teachers help instill these values in children. Educators and parents play an important role in the development of values in students, as the latter view them as role models. The holy and religious books can also instruct the reader about good morals. During childhood and adolescence, a person forms the majority of the values that she or he uses in everyday living. Values are formed by different phases and incidents in a person's life, especially as they develop in the teenage and college years. Man can become miserable without values. Educating children and students about correct and positive values becomes extremely important. 

Values have diminished in Modern Times

Modern society has become extremely self-centered and has forgotten its instincts. Success is the ultimate goal, and they will do anything to win. People are becoming more robotic and valueless like robots, and they have turned into a rat race. Their morals have become skewed and they have become heartless. Even if we achieve success, we may not feel fulfilled because we lack moral values. Keeping values at the top of our priorities is vital for tasteful success in life. Doing so will give us inner happiness that we can never lose. In life, values like supporting each other, being patient, hardworking, curious, being polite, being kind, being honest, being true, and having integrity will help us succeed. We must apply these traits to succeed in the world of work. Building a castle at the expense of the happiness of others will never bring happiness and peace. It is inconceivable for a good-natured person to perform under pressure or greed. The richness of a good heart far outweighs the importance of a sharp and bright mind.

Values are Important in Life

The process of creating value is ongoing. To create value, one must also rectify undesirable behavior. Counseling programs and moral education classes in schools and colleges are helpful in this respect. Moreover, parents and guardians need to talk to their children about values from early childhood. 

Children are taught some very important values including sharing and patience by helping with household chores, sharing their toys and other belongings with their siblings, respecting their grandparents, etc. 

Students learn values such as adjustment, cooperation, perseverance, and tolerance through school activities such as organizing events, doing group projects. Cultural values are also essential to understanding oneself. 

Society's Values

Considering that human values are regarded as a basis for achieving a better quality of life, they are considered an essential part of society. A civilized society, therefore, places great importance on values. In order to develop society and the country, people should have the right values in their lives. Those who follow the right course will not only lead themselves in the right direction but will also instruct others. Making the right choices in life is possible with the right beliefs and values. The attributes of humility, empathy, self-discipline, courage, and integrity not only enable one to succeed in life but will also help one to overcome obstacles and develop resilience in the face of challenges.

Values as Characteristics

The value of something is always determined by many factors. Although some values might differ from culture to culture, some values have remained intact for centuries. Cultures and eras may have different values. Women with moral values were previously considered to be expected to stay at home and not express their opinions, but this has changed over time. Values are largely determined by culture and society. Our childhood years are the time when we imbibe values that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.

When it comes to valuing something, the family is our top priority. Our values influence our choices in life. They are rarely altered. You can always tell who someone is by the values they possess. An individual's personality and attitude are constantly determined by his values.

We learn about some good and bad actions through education, but we learn how to distinguish between them by virtue of values. An educational experience should be as rich in moral values and character as possible. Education filled with values can empower a student to become virtuous. With values-laden education, poverty, corruption, and unemployment can be eliminated while social ills are banished. Having high values instills self-motivation and helps a person progress in the right direction. 

Respect for elders, kindness, compassion, punctuality, sincerity, honesty and good manners are important values. Little ones are often seen throwing rocks and garages at animals, pelting stones at animals on the roadside, teasing animals, and bullying their friends and younger siblings. They might ultimately commit big crimes in the future if no steps are taken to check on these activities.

People with high moral values are respected in society. That contributes to their spiritual development. Valuable characteristics define a person as a whole. The path of righteousness motivates people to reach their goals by following all good values. A person is also responsible for instilling values in the upcoming generations. It is important that people never stray from their morals and always motivate others to pay attention to the same. 

Education teaches about good and bad actions while values help us to differentiate between them. Real education should come with moral values and character. Education with values can lead a person to the path of virtue. Education laden with values can help to eradicate poverty, corruption, and unemployment and remove social ills. A person can be self-motivated and advance in the right direction only when he is instilled with high values. 


FAQs on Values Essay

1. What Do You Understand By Values?

Values are principles or moral standards that define someone’s behaviour and judgment about what is important in life.

2. How Can Parents and Teachers Help Children to Learn Values of Life?

Parents and teachers must teach children about values of life with their own life experiences. They should discuss the moral values taught in the holy and religious books. Teaching them to help each other by doing household chores, sharing toys and other stuff with their siblings and respecting their elders and grandparents will inculcate good values in their lives. Participation in school activities like organizing events, doing group projects result in students learning values like adjustment, cooperation, perseverance and tolerance.

3. What are the Behavioural Attitudes a Man Must Have?

A man must have humility, empathy, courage, integrity, kindness, perseverance, and self-discipline as behavioural attitudes.

4. How is Value Important for Society?

People with the right values in life will be a pillar for the development of society and the nation. They will not only go in the right direction themselves but will also teach others to do the same. With the right beliefs and values, one can make the right decisions in life. Being humble, empathetic towards others, self-discipline, having courage and integrity will not help one to climb the ladder of success but also make one strong so that he can make breakthroughs in all obstacles and challenges in life.

5. How can We inculcate Values into Young Children in Five Innovative Ways?

Children can be inculcated with values in five innovative ways:

Show movies and pictures that inspire.


Providing the opportunity for Service.

A self-reflection exercise.


6. What are the Most Important Values that Need to be Taught to Children?

Be respectful of elders.

A willingness to sacrifice.

Education is of great importance.

Love for the family.

The ability to persevere.

Embrace the spirit of religion.

The act of being charitable.

The ability to be honest.

Being self-disciplined can be rewarding.

 7. What is the Secret to Becoming Courageous?

A willingness to take on difficult tasks in challenging circumstances. A person's courage can be measured by how they deal with fear in difficult or unpleasant situations. Under unfavorable circumstances, it is about facing agony and pain with bravery. In order for this habit to be successful, children must also be involved.

8. How does it Result in a Prosperous Society?

Growing physically and intellectually.

A society free of crime is possible.

Social development.

A boon for the nation.

Make the world a better place.

Eradicating social ills.

Law Without Values

Law Without Values

The life, work, and legacy of justice holmes.

Albert W. Alschuler

336 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2000

Biography and Letters

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  • Essay On Values

Essay on Moral Values

500+ words essay on moral values.

Moral values are considered an essential aspect of human life. Moral values determine one’s nature, behaviour and overall attitude towards life and other people. In our lives, our decisions are primarily based on our values. The choices we make in our lives impact us and our society, organisation and nation. It is believed that a person with good values makes wise decisions that benefit everyone. On the contrary, people who have no moral values think only of themselves. They don’t care about others’ needs or society and make choices based solely on their needs. They create an unfriendly and sometimes unsafe environment around themselves.

Importance of Moral Values

The value of a person reflects their personality. Moral values help us understand the difference between right and wrong, good and evil and make the right decisions and judgements. They empower and drive a person to be a better human being and work for the betterment of society. Some moral values a person can inculcate in themselves are: dedication, honesty, optimism, commitment, patience, courtesy, forgiveness, compassion, respect, unity, self-control, cooperation, care and love. A person becomes humble and dependable with good values. Everyone looks up to a person with good values, whether personally or professionally.

If a person has good values, he spreads love, joy, and positive vibes. A person with good values works for the upliftment of society, along with taking care of their life. Such people are always considerate of the needs of others and understand the importance of unity and teamwork. They don’t lose their temper very easily and forgive others. People with good values are an asset to the organisation they work in and the society they live in.

Values Must Be Imbibed

We need to imbibe good values to function as humans and live in a society. Good values include dedication towards work, honesty, respect, commitment, love, helping others, taking responsibility for others’ deeds and acting responsibly. All these values are essential for the positive growth of an individual.

If you want to become a true leader and inspire others, you need to have good values. People always show respect and love to a person with good values. Additionally, they’ll trust and depend on a person of good values because they get proper advice and opinion from such a person.

Ethics Must Be Followed

A person with good values behaves ethically. We often hear of an ethical code of conduct. These are a set of rules or codes an individual is expected to follow. For example, talking politely with others, respecting elders/co-workers, handling difficult situations calmly, maintaining discipline and acting responsibly. Following these ethics helps create a healthy and safe work environment. So, it is essential for everyone to follow the ethical code of conduct.

The Role of Parents and Teachers

Moral values are not just born in a person but must be taught and inculcated right from childhood. When we talk about raising or nurturing children with good values, the credit goes to parents and teachers. It is their responsibility to teach children good values and should make them understand why it’s necessary to follow ethical behaviour. Schools should also take the responsibility to have a separate class dedicated to teaching ethics and moral values from the beginning. They should also train the students so that they imbibe these values.

An individual should imbibe good moral values to do well both in their professional and personal lives. A person with good values is also recognised among the crowd and is always appreciated for his behaviour and attitude towards others. On the contrary, people who lack good values often get into trouble and are not accepted in society. So, we should make sure that we teach our children good values and ethical behaviour from an early age. It is our responsibility to make our future generation learn moral values and ethics. This will help them become good human beings and upstanding citizens of the world. Additionally, it will give them the strength and courage to achieve great things in their lives.

The importance of moral values cannot be overstated. A nation with a high proportion of good values will undoubtedly progress and develop more rapidly than where people lack values. Moral values nurture us individually, build strong character and help create a better world around us.

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61 Personal Values Essay Topic Ideas & Examples

🏆 best personal values topic ideas & essay examples, 💡 interesting topics to write about personal values, ✅ good essay topics on personal values.

  • Role of Personal and Organizational Values in Job Satisfaction The relationship between the organizational and personal values is often referred to as the value congruence that generates various organizational values and individual predilections to understand how well the individual match to the organization as […]
  • Personal Values and Beliefs in Ethical Issues Therefore, the constructs of deontology have enabled me to make decisions based on my responsibilities and obligations as per the expectations of society.
  • Study of Values: ‘A Scale for Measuring the Dominant Interests in Personality’ by G. Allpor Therefore, within the scope of such studies, it is interesting enough what the way out of such bias will be since the questions are created by the test author who actually decides himself what the […]
  • Nursing Ethic: Personal, Cultural and Spiritual Values The value of integrity is crucial in my nursing practice because it helps me to be honest in my profession and adhere to nursing standards and code of ethics.
  • Daniel Roth’s and Sam Hazen’s Personal Values in Leadership Hazen’s primary personal values in his leadership style are commitment, which was mentioned previously, and interpersonal connection: Hazen constantly aims to improve the relationships with his juniors.
  • Comparing Personal Values With Core Values The justification for personal and core values is that, in a workplace setting, employees are happier and more motivated to perform their jobs when their values coincide with those of the business.
  • Personal Values and Sexuality in Christianity As a Christian, I think that there is life after death which means that I will be accountable for the sins I did of fornication and premature sex.
  • Taking Into Account the Personal Values of a Patient First of all, the preceptor illustrated the active participation in the policy of the hospital unit and healthcare organization as a whole.
  • Purchase of Fast Fashion Clothing and Ethical & Personal Values On the other hand, the emergence of the practice threatened the aesthetic value and ethical approach based on the utilization of the available facilities.
  • Personality and Values in Human Services Practice In order to overcome this problem, I plan to find a colleague who can help me review the plans and assessments of current situations to ensure that I cover all the basic issues.
  • Personal Values and Counseling Sessions However, non-verbal clues may reveal the personal values of the counselor to the patient. Counselors should pay special attention to trying to avoid the impact of their personal values on the counseling process and advice […]
  • Personal Values and Cardinal Values of the Social Work The proponent of this paper will identify the personal values that are congruent and those that are in conflict with social work’s professional values and what can be done to resolve the conflict in order […]
  • Nursing Values: Professional and Personal The nurse manager encourages staff to implement innovations in care and try new approaches to enhance the quality of services. It is possible to conclude that the nurse manager at my workplace presents the professional […]
  • Core Values in Personal Belief System These are my core values and include happiness, family, friends, pleasure and financial security and stability. In conclusion, I agree that values are important to my life.
  • Personal Values Importance in Child and Youth Care These three values that are of importance to me fall under the category of values that I acquired as a result of my socialization.
  • Career Path Aligned With Personal Values As such a person has to be aware that the goal of writing a text is to communicate and not to merely write thereby choosing the appropriate writing skills.
  • Personal Values and Its Contributions on Life Mission As it would be observed, the list of personal values is endless, and this means that different people in the world have different types of personal values that they tend to implement into their lives.
  • Business Ethics: Job Requirements vs. Personal Values As underlined by the client, the management’s attitudes to proprietary information are relaxed, and most of the employees would go to great extents to obtain the information required for their projects.
  • Personal Values vs. Organizational Values In such a situation, an employee can always refer to the statement when compelled to perform tasks that violate personal values.
  • Business Protocols and Personal Values Conflict In order to avoid such conflicts, Chappell asserts that if faced with this type of conflict, one may leave the workplace, do what is required, or come up with a strategy that addresses the issue […]
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IvyPanda. (2024, March 2). 61 Personal Values Essay Topic Ideas & Examples.

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Essays about: "life without values"

Showing result 1 - 5 of 103 essays containing the words life without values .

1. Oaserna : ett gestaltningsförslag för Östra kyrkogårdens minneslund och dess närmaste omgivning i Malmö

Author : Linnéa Alverbrink ; [2024] Keywords : Sigurd Lewerentz ; Östra kyrkogården ; urbana kyrkogårdar ; multifunktionella kyrkogårdar ; multikulturella kyrkogårdar ; kyrkogårdsdesign ; urbana grönytor ; rekreation ; kontemplation ; meditation ;

Abstract : Under de senaste decennierna har trycket på de urbana grönområdena ökat till följd av att städerna växer. Under coronapandemin utnyttjades de gröna offentliga platserna i städerna i större utsträckning än tidigare och när SVT gjorde ett reportage om pulkaåkande barn på Skogskyrkogården i Stockholm var samhällsdebatten i gång. READ MORE

2. Working hard or hardly working. A critical discourse analysis of the quiet quitting phenomenon in the past decade.

Author : Julia Lundberg ; Petter Winberg ; [2024] Keywords : Quiet quitting ; Discourse ; Counterproductive work behavior ; Empty labor ; Meaning of work ;

Abstract : The concept of "quiet quitting," characterized by employees merely fulfilling minimum work requirements without going above and beyond, gained widespread attention on TikTok in 2022, however, the behavior existed before this. Surveys suggest that Sweden is one of the countries where quiet quitting is most prominent in the workforce. READ MORE

3. Production of succinic acid by Actinobacillus succinogenes in attached-growth bioreactors and dynamic modelling of biofilm formation

Author : Henrik Östberg ; [2023] Keywords : Actinobacillus succinogenes ; Succinic acid ; Biofilm ; Attached-growth bioreactor ; Dynamic modelling ; Cell cultivation ; Applied microbiology ; Biology and Life Sciences ;

Abstract : Actinobacillus succinogenes is a microorganism is a very efficient producer of succinic acid, a chemical with a wide range of industrial applications. The bacterium is prone to form biofilm, a flocculation of cells attached to a surface. READ MORE

4. From words to action : A study of a child perspective in planning

Author : Markus West Wittenberg ; [2023] Keywords : Children’s perspective ; child perspective ; child impact analysis ; communicative planning ; collaborative planning ; Convention of the Rights of the Child ; citizen participation ; urban and regional planning ; Barns perspektiv ; barnperspektiv ; barnkonsekvensanalys ; kommunikativ planering ; barnkonventionen ; medborgardeltagande ; samhällsplanering ;

Abstract : This study examines how well the children’s perspective is taken into account in modern day urban planning, according to professionals within the field. It highlights both positive and negative experiences of the implementation of this perspective, in order to distinguish both flaws and strengths in the current methods. READ MORE

5. Liljeholmen cold bath; - the re-birth of a historical meeting place in Stockholm

Author : Helena Maripuu ; [2023] Keywords : Cold bath ; health ; recovery ; social cohesion ; public space ;

Abstract : Whether it’s a moment for yourself or time spent with others, public baths should be a space free from the hectic pace that characterizes the city-life. Liljeholmsbadet in Stockholm, a now closed public bath built in the 1930’s, is presently discussed to be demolished and rebuilt as a replica of the original building. READ MORE

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"World Needs Indian Leadership": Japan CEO After Moving To Bengaluru

Appreciating india's "diverse environment," mr nishiyama said that it helps to move forward by creating a large plan which "can encompass heterogeneous values.".

'World Needs Indian Leadership': Japan CEO After Moving To Bengaluru

Naotaka Nishiyama moved to Bengaluru in April.

The founder of Tech Japan, Naotaka Nishiyama, moved to Bengaluru in April and described it as a "definitely big new chapter" in his life. The Chief Executive Officer of the Japanese company added that the world needs Indian leadership and he is amazed by the diversity in the country. "World needs Indian leadership. It has been a month since I moved to India, and once again I am amazed at the diversity of values in India. It is a miracle that India is one country despite being a large country with various religions, races, and values. It is a good opportunity to think about leadership, as India is in the election season now," he said in a LinkedIn post .

Mr Nishiyama also discussed the importance of collective effort, which helps bring new and diverse ideas. "In socialist countries and military-like organizations, the traditional top-down approach has been effective. However, in today's unstable and uncertain society, it is necessary to move forward in a collaborative manner, taking advantage of diverse ideas. When a top-down approach is based solely on the ideas of a dictator, many blind spots occur," he continued.

The executive also compared the working scenario between Japan and India. He said, "Management in Japan has a nuanced connotation of locking other people into their own way of thinking and controlling them. Keep within the same one small framework. India is a large country with issues with neighboring countries, a history of independence, and a variety of religions, races, and values. Trying to confine ourselves to only one set of values will not work here. That is why they try to create a big framework that can include all things as much as possible, instead of fitting different things into their one small framework. And each of them is able to move forward utilizing differences, although they are different individually."

Appreciating India's "diverse environment," Mr Nishiyama said that it helps to move forward by creating a large plan which "can encompass heterogeneous values." He added that it is different in Japan where there is a "homogenous environment."

The entrepreneur asserted that India was capable of taking the lead in a global environment and that the country exemplified both competition and collaboration, citing the examples of Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. "The world is a chaotic place, with a diverse mix of values and power balance. It is definitely India that can move this forward. Because India has already experienced a lot of such things domestically. In the business field, Neither Sundar Pichai nor Satya Nadella are second-generation Americans. They were born in India, educated in India, and then went to the US for graduate school. In other words, it is only because India embodies both competition and collaboration that it is capable of leadership in a global organization," he continued.

Concluding the post, Mr Nishiyama said that he will learn from Indian leadership and apply it to his organisation. He also shared a picture of himself alongside an auto-rickshaw with a placard reading "World needs Indian leadership."

Since being shared, his post has amassed a lot of reactions on the networking platform.

"Indians have a knack for finding order in chaos , confusion , constraints and change," said a user.

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Another added, "There are many techniques which Indian and Japanese can learn from each other and create a win win situation."

"Indians are good in leadership because of crisis handling capabilities, which is available in India everyday in abundance. On other hand Japanese are good in diligent leadership and hard working. Both countries has a lot great opportunities for collaboration," remarked a third user.

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essay on life without values


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  1. Exploring Life Without Principle: A Literary Analysis by Henry David

    Thoreau's concept of a life without principle is a thought-provoking idea that challenges the traditional notions of morality and ethics. In his essay "Life Without Principle," Thoreau argues that individuals should live their lives based on their own principles and values, rather than conforming to societal norms and expectations.

  2. Essays About Values: 5 Essay Examples Plus 10 Prompts

    10. Schwartz's Theory of Basic Values. Dive deeper into the ten universal values that social psychologist Shalom Schwartz came up with: power, achievement, hedonism, stimulation, self-direction, universalism, benevolence, tradition, conformity, and security. Look into their connections and conflicts against each other.

  3. Life without Principle: The Analysis of the Essay

    Life without Principle is one of the most remarkable short works by an American author and critic Henry David Thoreau. The essay was published in 1863, 15 years after the famous Civil Disobedience. In summary, Life without Principle and other Thoreau's books influenced many people of different ages and social statuses.

  4. "Life Without Principle" by Henry David Thoreau Essay

    Introduction. To begin with, it is necessary to emphasize that the central point of Thoreau's "Life without principle" is the necessity to have the aim in every action performed and do not chase the evanescent values. The aim is the defining moment of any activity, and the rightness of its formulation presupposes the success of this action.

  5. Summary of Life Without Principle

    Summary & Analysis of Thoreau's S Life Without Principle. 'A Life Without Principle' is an essay written by Henry David Thoreau, published posthumously in 1863. This essay is a thought-provoking exploration of the societal pressures and moral dilemmas that arise in a rapidly industrializing and materialistic world.

  6. Who Would You Be Without Your Morals?

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  7. What makes a good life? Existentialists believed we should embrace

    What a good, flourishing human life involves, therefore, is "some kind of practical life of that part that has reason". This is the starting point of Aristotle's ethics.

  8. A Life Worth Living: Albert Camus on Our Search for Meaning and Why

    "To decide whether life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question of philosophy," Albert Camus (November 7, 1913-January 4, 1960) wrote in his 119-page philosophical essay The Myth of Sisyphus in 1942. "Everything else … is child's play; we must first of all answer the question."

  9. Life without Principle

    Essay by Thoreau, posthumously published in the Atlantic Monthly (1863). Modern American culture is criticized as being excessively preoccupied with acquisition, at the expense of an awareness of values. "The aim of the laborer should be, not to get his living … but to perform well a certain work ….

  10. What Are Your Values?

    Your values are the things that you believe are important in the way you live and work. They (should) determine your priorities, and, deep down, they're probably the measures you use to tell if your life is turning out the way you want it to. When the things that you do and the way you behave match your values, life is usually good - you're ...

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    My Values in Life. One of the educational values that are fundamental to me is achievement. This is a result of my belief that what defines me most as a person is my determination to succeed and my desire to make a positive contribution to society through my career. Achievement is, therefore, one of the values that are most important to me ...

  12. A World without Values: Essays on John Mackie's Moral Error Theory

    The papers in A World without Values can be divided into two groups, depending on the extent to which they take a sympathetic view of Mackie's overall project. In the first, and mainly sympathetic, group can be counted the papers by John P. Burgess, Charles Pigden, Richard Joyce, David Phillips, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Caroline West and ...

  13. The Meaning of Life

    3. Naturalism. Recall that naturalism is the view that a physical life is central to life's meaning, that even if there is no spiritual realm, a substantially meaningful life is possible. Like supernaturalism, contemporary naturalism admits of two distinguishable variants, moderate and extreme (Metz 2019).

  14. My Personal Values in Life: [Essay Example], 773 words

    Body Paragraph 1: Personal Value 1. One of my core values is respect. I define respect as treating others with dignity, kindness, and consideration, regardless of their background or beliefs. I learned the importance of respect from my parents, who instilled this value in me from a young age. In college, I have practiced respect by listening ...

  15. Analysis Of No Life Without Values

    Professor Liddell. Analysis essay Rough draft. October 5, 2017 No Life Without Values As human beings, we all have our own values, beliefs, and attitudes that we have followed throughout the course of our lives. Our family, friends, community and the experiences we have had all contribute to our sense of who we are and how we view the world.

  16. The Absurdity of Life without God

    The Absurdity of Life without God and Immortality ... All we are confronted with is, in Jean-Paul Sartre's words, the bare, valueless fact of existence. Moral values are either just expressions of personal taste or the by-products of socio-biological evolution and conditioning. ... In his important essay "Existentialism Is a Humanism," Sartre ...

  17. Essay on Values for Students and Children

    500+ Words Essay on Values. Values are the positive teachings provided to help us and tread the right path in life. Every parent wants his child to imbibe these. These can even be referred to as good qualities. A person who imbibes good values grows on to become a responsible individual and he is capable of demarcating right and wrong.

  18. Values Essay for Students in English

    Learn about Values Essay topic biology in details explained by subject experts on Register free for online tutoring session to clear your doubts. ... Human values are formed by different stages and incidents in one's life, especially in teenage and college life. Education without values tends to make a man miserable. Hence, it ...

  19. Law Without Values: The Life, Work, and Legacy of Justice Holmes, Alschuler

    Albert W. Alschuler. In recent decades, Oliver Wendell Holmes has been praised as "the only great American legal thinker" and "the most illustrious figure in the history of American law.". But in Albert Alschuler's critique of both Justice Holmes and contemporary legal scholarship, a darker portrait is painted—that of a man who ...

  20. 500+ Essay on Moral Values

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  21. 61 Personal Values Essay Topic Ideas & Examples

    These are my core values and include happiness, family, friends, pleasure and financial security and stability. In conclusion, I agree that values are important to my life. These three values that are of importance to me fall under the category of values that I acquired as a result of my socialization.


    Essays about: "life without values" Showing result 1 - 5 of 90 essays containing the words life without values. 1. Oaserna : ett gestaltningsförslag för Östra kyrkogårdens minneslund och dess närmaste omgivning i Malmö University essay from SLU/Dept. of Urban and Rural Development ...

  23. essay on life without values

    Absolute values are used for determining the magnitude of a number, so they are often used for distance measurements. They are also sometimes used for financial transactions. Absolute values are used when negative values are not possible.... An informative essay is any type of essay that has the goal of informing or educating an audience. By definition, it is not used to persuade or to give ...

  24. "World Needs Indian Leadership": Japan CEO After Moving To Bengaluru

    Naotaka Nishiyama moved to Bengaluru in April. The founder of Tech Japan, Naotaka Nishiyama, moved to Bengaluru in April and described it as a "definitely big new chapter" in his life. The Chief ...