The Meaning of Life
Table of Contents
Comparison of the Hero and the Saint 3
Socrates and the Rewards of Virtue. 7
Transforming Innovator: Jesus. 8
The Spirit of Modernity: Michelangelo. 9
Sigmund Freud and the Human as a ‘Rational Animal’ 10
Conclusion and My View on the Meaning of Life. 10
Professor Ambrosio views a saint as a person concerned more about religious virtues and others. The saint’s approach to life is focused on oneself relationship with others through caring, loving, and nurturing founded on religion (Canda & Furman, 2009). Thus, a saint will look at the inward self, the concern that he/she has for humankind, and the meaning of religion. On the other hand, a hero has a secular life view where such a person’s world is impersonal. The life of a hero is led by fate or chance, with each having a devotion that is indifferent to humankind. In the view of a hero, a person tries to achieve their own will and encroach in life through obtaining necessary or essential equipment and tools needed for achieving their desires. The saint side leans on the religious perceptions of life, while the heroic side leans on the secular perceptions of life (Weinstein & Bell, 2010). A secular saint, therefore, is one who achieves a balance of the two. Accordingly, discussing the perception of life and its meaning is essential, incorporating my personal belief that I am a proponent of a heroic rather than a saint or secular saint.
Comparison of the Hero and the Saint
The hero and the saint differ in their existence of ideal types that suggest how people live their lives (Kohen, 2013). Although these approaches differ from each other, none is ideal or distinct by itself. For a person to live a fulfilling life, it is believed that one needs to consider both sides. Therefore, proponents believe both sides are essential in equal capacity, and none is superior or better. Both have ideals with regard to life’s different sides.
After listening to Professor Ambrosio’s lectures, it becomes evident that a hero can be defined as a person who pursues their individual interests but sacrifices themself for other people. An example is a police officer who signs up for a career to fulfill his personal ambitions; however, the police officer has to put his life on the line dangerously for the sake of the citizens he protects. The hero, then, is a person that does something of great significance to others and requires sacrificing of equal if not higher magnitude. However, the main intention is to achieve something on an individual level (Allison, 2016).
On the other hand, a saint focuses on living to attain life after death, which is a religious perspective (Burton & Collins, 2012). The belief is on one’s divine purpose of life where a person living like a saint here on earth believes that God put him/her to fulfill a particular calling or purpose, after which such a person will attain eternal life after physical death. Hence, a saint will focus their life here on earth on caring and loving others with much obedience and concern, among other virtues of religion.
A hero lives to gain recognition, receive rewards or win. A hero does what people like to do, and the actions taken make them feel good and satisfied (Langer, 2009). A saint does what most people do not want to do or against worldly and natural desires. A saint will live by denying themself worldly pleasures in the hope that they will access eternal pleasures. A saint will refuse to exploit their natural desires, and all actions are religious-based, seeking to meet the demands set by the religion. A saint will go unnoticed as personal gains and recognition are not the aims of living. The actions of a saint are judged by the religious will and never by their individual will (Burton et al., 2012). A hero is judged by actions based on personal will.
At this juncture, I would like to point out that, in my opinion, there is no difference in the driving force in life between the heroic and the saint. The ‘difference’ is in the realms. A saint is just as individualistic as a hero, but rather than working at human recognition; the saint works at gaining the recognition of a higher deity as described by their religion. A saint is as selfish in their actions as a hero is. A hero takes action to find satisfaction and feel good while on earth (physical realm). A saint takes actions to feel good and find satisfaction, but these are delayed for a later life outside of earth (the spiritual realm). So in both cases, the hero and the saint achieve the feel-good and satisfaction that comes from their way of life, the difference being they experience these at different timelines.
As mentioned earlier, I prescribe to the heroic school of thought. Whichever means by which man found himself on earth does not really count, as different theories are prone to criticism. The creation theory has its loopholes, and so too does the big bang theory (Robertson & Combs, 2014; Lerner, 2010). Whichever way, man lives on earth with their fellow humankind. Where man came from and where he is going is a subject open for debate. What is absolute is that man is physically here on earth at this time and moment. Additionally, each person is unique and has equal rights to life here on earth. People live in a society that has diverse individuals, with some living with lesser ‘rights’ than others because of their own doing or the doing of others. So while people may be entitled to equal rights to life, the case is not so. There will always be someone who is better, stronger, wiser, more privileged, healthier, or wealthier than a person, and the reverse is true. There are people who look out for other’s interests, and an individual, too, probably looks out for the interests of others (Gergen, 2009). For example, most parents look out for the interests of their children, some employers for their employees and vice versa, and the government for its citizens. In other words, man lives in a world where most people are concerned about others because the well-being of others contributes to their individual well-being (Smith, 2011). For example, a government that takes measures to protect its citizens from external invasions from hostile countries does so to retain the integrity of the nation, protect its resources, and ensure that the people live in peace. The government, in turn, knows that when it protects its citizens, the latter will work at building the economy and those holding government positions can only continue to do so in a peaceful state.
Therefore, no matter how insignificant one may perceive himself, they are born in the role of a hero, looking out for the interests of others while seeking their individual achievement. Also, looking at the status quo from a religious perspective, it fails to add up when a deity arranges that man should live on earth only for man to spend his whole life working to live a better life in heaven. This raises the question, therefore, why would a person living the saint life forego the life that the very deity they want to please, gave them here on earth? Suppose the purpose of such a person was to deny themselves all freely-given resources by the deity to serve others to gain a reward in heaven. Does it mean that the deity does not think or believe that the saint is worthy of a good life here on earth and therefore has to wait for the afterlife to enjoy it?
A saint to me is like a man who adopts a baby pet snake; feeds it, and cares for it all its life at the expense of the man’s finances and societal perceptions; and when the snake is fully grown to a man-eating adder, the snake swallows the man without any hesitation. With the many warnings from people that the man may have received right from the time he adopted, the man dismisses the pet snake as he hopes that the snake will be tamed and that it would be appreciative of his efforts. The man in this analogy is like a person who denies himself (saint) the pleasures of the earth and tries to change an inherently devious person in the hopes that the people will change and that he will receive a reward in the afterlife. Instead, such a person will spend his life doing the nearly impossible, die, and live the world as it is or even in a worse situation. The impact that such a person was hoping to make may last for a while and, if lucky, a while longer, but at the end of the day, as years go by, the person will become a note in history annals and the world won’t care what he did for it.
Therefore, I believe it is better to live as a hero than a saint or a secular saint. Living a life where one is personally gratified with what one has to offer while going out of one’s way to improve another person’s life is more sensible. A hero creates the world they want to live in while at the same time helping others to live in their close-to-ideal world.
Socrates and the Rewards of Virtue
Socrates argued that virtue is knowledge because living things aim at perceived good; therefore, if a person does not know what is good, then such a person is incapable of doing good because they will aim for a wrong target; but if a person knows what good is, they will do good because their aim will be for that good (Colaiaco, 2013). Simply, a person does good because they know what good to do. Socrates also stated that virtue brings happiness; when one does good, one becomes happy. Virtue gives a person a type of happiness that they can never find in other things. Socrates also states that a person obtains happiness through self-examination, and nothing is better than wisdom. Wisdom is defined as one’s ability to think and utilize insight, experience, and knowledge; hence, wisdom is an important virtue to possess in order for man to be happy (Colaiaco, 2013).
In relation to my stance on heroic living, when a person knows what is good and does it for another, both the doer of the action and the recipient end up being happy. For example, if a young man willingly helps a wheelchair-bound man use the bathroom, the young man will feel a sense of happiness incomparable to any other happiness, and so will the man. This act of good is both heroic and virtuous, with the reward of happiness being instantaneous and not deferred, as would be the case of a saint’s reward.
Transforming Innovator: Jesus
Jesus can be considered an innovator because of His hermeneutical approach to the Scriptures He taught (Porter & Stovell, 2012). Jesus believed in the Scriptural authority (Mathew 4:4) and intended that people gain a truer understanding of Scriptural meaning (Mathew 23:23). The scripture interpretations that He gave led Him to a theological innovator and patterned what is referred to as the Grace/Trouble school of preaching. The hermeneutics of Jesus foreground issues of justice on earth, inclusivity, and mercy. Jesus avoids scriptural passages that affirm religious imperialism, separatism, and violence. Jesus taught a level of truths as illustrated in one of His teachings that the entire law and the prophets (Mathew 22:40) are summed in the love of God and of mankind, thus dismissing several clear prescriptions and laws.
As can be seen, Jesus’ teachings were based on how man should live life here on earth by loving his fellow mankind through words and actions. These acts of love were not a guarantee of eternal life but rather a way of manifesting God’s love for man through man’s acts of love. Jesus made it clear that salvation or entry into an eternal life did not depend on works but on accepting the saving grace of God that came from the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. In other words, man was encouraged to do good here on earth just as God does good to man here on earth. However, the good that man does is not the ticket to eternal life, but believing in Jesus Christ is the way to eternal life. This then nullifies the saint’s way of life in that if a saint lives by doing good to man here on earth but rejects Jesus as the savior as the only way to heaven, then their perceived purpose of earthly life is null and void. Every person is encouraged to do good, and those who go the extra mile of accepting salvation will reap eternal rewards. Here, Jesus affirms, in my opinion, that man is cut out to live a heroic life where he gives himself for others and attains happiness from the actions and even additional bonus happiness and reward of eternal life if he accepts the free gift of salvation. From this view, God wants man to live a heroic rather than a saintly life; the secular saint is not an option.
The Spirit of Modernity: Michelangelo
The image of God in Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam is one where God wears a light tunic that exposes his arms and legs. This is an intimate portrait, unlike the paintings that dominated that era, where God was depicted as an all-powerful ruler who wore royal garments. The intimate depiction of God shows that He is not remote and untouchable by man but rather is accessible to man. On the other hand, Adam responds in a lackadaisical way to the imminent touch of God. This touch gives life to Adam and to all mankind as well (De Campos et al., 2015). Adam’s body is concave shaped while that of God is convex shaped, which is a correspondence of man to God and that man is created in the image of God.
In this modernist view of the Christian religion, God is seen as wanting man to draw closer to Him and be like Him in His nature. God is love and wants man to live in love right here on earth. Adam in the picture receives the character of God, which is spread to the human race. Love is to be shared among men. In my view, sharing love requires actions that depict love and care toward another human being. Again, the acts of love are more heroic than a saintly way of life. This is because the givers and recipients of love are on earth, and they benefit from the said acts while living on earth. When a person shows acts of love and kindness to another, they both experience the love and the joy that comes with it.
Sigmund Freud and the Human as a ‘Rational Animal’
Freud thought that all human behavior indicates that man operates according to the pleasure principle, where the satisfaction of impulses is sought after. This makes man appear like an animal despite the fact that man derives satisfaction from the artistic and the intellectual (Weiner, 2013). Freud replied that these were mild satisfaction while higher ones, such as sex, drinking, and eating, drove a person to want to satisfy them. Freud never addressed the satisfaction that comes from lasting and reliable interactions such as parenting, friendship, music, and more (Rohman, 2009).
In my opinion, man is not an animal that seeks to satisfy every need to gain pleasure. If that were the case, then no one person would go out of their way to help others in times of need, such as the police officers do in protecting a country’s citizens. The pleasurable thing would be to stay home and earn an income while in the comfort of one’s zone. However, in the day to day life, people meet and interact with others and help out even when it may not seem pleasurable, but subsequently, it brings individual happiness.
Conclusion and My View on the Meaning of Life
In my view, life’s meaning lies in our interactions with others. The quality of interactions and the result of those interactions bring meaning to life. As mentioned earlier, I prescribe to the heroic life school of thought. We are beings that derive happiness from finding satisfaction in what we do. It makes little sense to deprive oneself of happiness here on earth in the hopes that doing things will result in a cumulative reward in the afterlife. From a religious perspective, Jesus, as an innovator, showed man that loving one’s neighbor was essential yet did not guarantee access to eternal life. In his painting, Michelangelo depicted man as God’s image and that God passed on His character and personality to man so that man can live in harmony, happiness, and fulfillment while on earth. I, therefore, believe that a saintly life is a life of slavery that a person self-condemns in the hopes of attaining eternal freedom. To truly enjoy one’s purpose on earth and to live a life that is fulfilling, one has to put oneself first in terms of finding satisfaction, and this satisfaction should include bringing happiness to others. Hence, a heroic life is the true meaning of life.
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HUM-101: INTRODUCTION TO THE HUMANITIES I: PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT
There is no midterm or final examination in this course. A paper of 2,000 to 2,500 words, described below, acts as your final assessment and is worth 30 percent of your grade. You may begin work on this paper at any time during the course, but you must submit it by the last day of the semester.
This course has explored the meaning of life in terms of central themes and personages in the history of philosophy and religion. Dr. Ambrosio’s lectures have emphasized two genetic lines, that of the hero and that of the saint, concluding along the way that these are both incommensurable and yet complementary. The ideal of the secular saint has arisen as a person who lives the question of meaning in human existence fully open to its mystery and fully committed to searching for meaning along the paths of both hero and saint. The secular saint does not live human questions in terms of their truth or falsehood, but in terms of the way his or her participation in the dialogue shapes that one human identity for which he or she alone is responsible. Does that describe you? Do you see yourself in the image of the secular saint? Whether you do or do not, how do you move forward from here? How do you view a meaningful life, and how do you come to understand that meaning?
This final paper gives you the opportunity to interact with at least one figure mentioned in each module en route to coming to your own conclusions regarding the question: How does a person live a meaningful life? You should consider what each figure’s key teachings were as they contribute, whether positively or negatively, to your own understanding of a meaningful life. Do not feel you must just recite what was said in the lectures or found in the reading; this is your opportunity to interact with the material, to accept or challenge certain ideas or assumptions. The purpose is to participate responsibly in the dialogue! Begin by summarizing your own understanding of what it means to live a meaningful life in your opening paragraph, and then proceed to flesh out this introductory statement through interaction with and analysis of at least one key figure discussed in each module.
Your paper will be evaluated both in terms of the mastery of concepts you demonstrate as you discuss the figures you have chosen and the coherence of your own explanation of your personal point of view. Your paper will also be evaluated, of course, in terms of its conformity to grammatical form and style.
In your paper, you should:
- Use as the paper’s thesis your personal understandings about life’s meaning and purpose and what it means to live a meaningful life
- Discuss a central figure from each module (not each lecture) in terms of key contributions, whether positively or negatively, to your understanding
- Demonstrate comprehension of leading ideas and themes presented in the lectures and readings through discussion of the figures chosen
- Analyze the pros and cons of the ideas discussed
- Demonstrate the relevance of these ideas to your stated thesis
- Conclude with a summary of your main points and a final statement and validation of your thesis.
The list just given provides content criteria; the following list provides additional requirements for your paper :
- Your paper should be 2,000 to 2,500 words (with a typical font and spacing, this will be approximately 8 to 10 pages),
- All sources should be properly cited and referenced, using either APA or MLA formatting consistently.
- Your paper should be well developed and convey your understanding of the readings and concepts studied in this course.
- Your paper should tie together and synthesize concepts from the course and the contributions of at least one key figure mentioned in each of the modules. You should be able to recognize pertinent issues and analyze them adequately.
- Your paper should have a clear thesis and controlling idea.
- Your paper should be organized, coherent, and unified; it should also be free of spelling and grammatical errors. If you need help in writing such a paper, take a look at The Writing Center: University of Wisconsin-Madison.
When quoting or paraphrasing from the text or other sources, be sure to cite the source of information properly according to MLA or APA guidelines.
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