Meaning in Life: The Creation of Value

I’ve been reading this slim book for several months now. It’s not the kind of work you greedily devour in one sitting, but necessitates a sip here, a sip there, with lots of mulling in between. Do not make the mistake many have made in reading the title as “Meaning of Life,” because that choice of preposition is crucial. The “of” question delves into trying to ascertain the mystery of life, while “in” implies that we create meaning (and thus answer the “of”). Singer dives into Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Plato, Tolstoy, Hegel, Camus, Santayana, Heidegger, Sartre, Shaw, Spinoza, Shakespeare; he evaluates what each of these heavy hitters has contributed and places it neatly in his framework for how to create meaning. Singer divides his work into five sections, exploring life, death, meaning, and lives of meaning/significance, then his conclusion. This is a book I dare not quote extensively from, at least not yet. It will probably remain in constant rotation with me as I endlessly re-read it to try and peel back the densely packed thoughts into something manageable by my own meager head.

Surely we may agree that human existence cannot be meaningful unless it is imaginative – which is to say, unless it surmounts the routine, repetitive, mechanical elements in life by using them for purposive activity that stimulates our thought with new perspectives, sharpens our sensations while also gratifying them, awakens our emotions to fresh possibilities of expression, and in general encourages the onward flow of consciousness to explore unknown capacities of our being. A life that is boring or without novelty is not meaningful for us.