What It Means To Take Life Seriously
What does it mean to take life seriously? A difficult question to answer, especially in any absolute fashion. A president takes life seriously in a fashion markedly different than a philosopher; and so, the word, “serious,” has some contextual aspects to its meaning. As a result, we cannot answer the question in an absolute or objective manner due to the relativity of meaning.
However, we can nevertheless derive non-contextual meanings from the word, so as to reach some general consensus on the question: “what does it mean to take life seriously?”. Put more precisely, each and every instance of serious has archetypal characteristics, of which can be extracted through analysis.
For example, no instance of serious can be characterized by a lack of effort, by definition. Certainly, words derive meaning from empirical observations, and so definitions alone cannot be sufficient evidence unless empirically agreed upon; but the definition has already been derived from a set of observations in our case, and so is indeed sufficient evidence. That is, “serious,” necessarily entails some level of effort towards or deep reflection about something in the world.
The medical doctor takes serious their discipline of biology; they search through enormous textbooks to find new and relevant information on biological subject matter. Similarly, the criminal takes serious the laws of society, as they implement strategies to avoid the watchful eyes of law enforcement. Both manifest effort in behaviour and reflect deeply about the world.
And since effort presupposes value, to which then leads to the presupposition that something in life can indeed be meaningful enough to value, we can conclude the following: to take life serious entails that we not only find meaning within life but also pursue after it in an effortful battle of will and body. Those who take life serious have both meaning and the will to pursue.
Why We Don’t Take Life Seriously
Some many among us hold dearly the notion that seriousness is superficial or unimportant; that any attempt to take seriously the phenomenon of life is either a mistake or utterly unfounded. Or that life is simply not worth taking serious, generally speaking. Fair enough. We are all able to entertain reasons and premises for either common or uncommon views of the world, and so we shall.
Among those antithetical to the thesis that life ought be taken seriously, we have: nihilists, apatheists, and some solipsists. Each school of thought has a slightly different counter-argument or sentiment towards the notion of a serious life, so we shall discuss each in part.
A nihilist would make good friends with most empiricists because nihilists are empirical about the notion of meaning. As an artist looks for something that emerges from simple interactions, the nihilist breaks down further the reality around them; only so the nihilist can find meaning. Yes. Nihilists look for meaning more than anyone else, because everyone else already has it. But their empirical sentiments, taken to extremes, blind them.
The nihilist believes life is devoid of meaning. They adopt the skeptical position in relation to the concept of, “meaning”. Put else wise, because the notion of meaning cannot be observed in the world around them, then its existence must be denied. The nihilist is empirical about meaning.
When a nihilist looks at a painting, they cannot perceive any meaningful messages that might be located therein; only because their literalist attitude stops entirely their ability to infer. If it cannot be observed, then it cannot be there.
So, when we look upon the painting that is our life, displayed upon the canvas of memory; the nihilist concludes that it is just that! Nothing more than memories of objects and their arrangements.
From therein the nihilist concludes: one has no justification to suppose life is serious. And since there is no justification to suppose life is serious, the nihilist feels self-justified in their lack of seriousness. Life has no meaning, so whether we are are serious or not has no meaningful consequent.
Someone who is deeply apathetic will meander around without any serious intent or purpose. Like a traveller with no map while in a foreign land, the apathetic individual is lost; they are uncertain about which directions to take in life and which decisions to make.
And so, unlike the nihilist, the apathetic person recognizes the existence of meaning; however, the apathetic person has given-up on their pursuit of meaning. Meaning is something unachievable for them.
The inability to take life serious is, in this case, a consequent of personality and individual difference rather than any sort of metaphysical claims about the nature of meaning. Their responses and interactions throughout life have brought about an impersonal and detached view on the world.
Apathetic individuals do not take life seriously, then, because they have given up on life entirely. They have no interest or concern about the world around them, because they have been defeated by it. They have seen the difficulties which life has brought and decided that these challenges can be handled by others.
Not every solipsist thinks life to be a matter of inconsequential jokes. That is, because a solipsist believes that all knowledge is simply knowledge of self, that all ontology is an ontology of self, they can as a result adopt a view that their actions and beliefs in the world don’t have meaningful consequences.
What difference will be made if all consequences impact one and only one person? Or, if one does not care about their own well-being, then one does not care about the world, necessarily so. These are not inherent truths about solipsism, I must clarify. But some solipsists can reach these conclusions, nevertheless.
Herein a lack of seriousness stems from the notion that life is inconsequential; that consequences don’t matter. We have no reason to suppose life is serious if each and every action brings about the same consequent; similar to having each turn taken on a journey bring one to the same destination, regardless of preference. If one has to experience the same outcome, regardless of our varied decisions, then life should not be taken seriously; because it won’t matter.
Why Take Life Seriously?
A Response To The Nihilist
The nihilist, as said before, is blinded by their reliance upon reference. They have a referential attitude towards meaning, but only insofar as the reference is outwardly towards the world around them. And that is what makes them blind to meaning.
It is a mistake, from an empirical view of the world, to presume that the subject is not a manifestation of an empirical environment. Since modern day empiricists suppose the mind is whatever the brain is doing, it thusly follows that all of experience is a singular substance: a unified material. Experience is not a dualistic property that is detached from the world.
What this then tells us is that our experiences of meaning, our attribution of meaning to the world around us, is empirically realized. Meaning becomes embodied for the materialist; it is a collection of nerves responding to some stimulus with emotional undertones.
So though meaning becomes less esoteric, that is, the experience of meaning within every person can be attributed to a handful of brain regions rather than nuance in metaphysics, we nevertheless have meaning.
And since we have meaning, the nihilist no longer has a justification for their anti-serious sentiment towards life. That is, the nihilist now has a reason to take life seriously.
A Response The Apathetic
The apathetic person has given up on their pursuit of meaning due to difficulty; life has been either far too strenuous or provided too great a challenge for the apathetic person to maintain their engagement with life.
But the problem herein is that living, inherently so, entails some level of resistance. Each day requires some minimal level of resistance to death; we are all hanging on in some way.
And so, the apatheist has really settled for a lesser form of existence. They have become minimalists about resistance towards life, but they resist nevertheless. And their minimalism brings about lower life quality, like fewer friends and lower levels of achievement.
Thus, it seems that the apatheist would, given that they are still in resistance, be happier taking life more serious.
A Response To The Solipsist
The solipsist, in their view that consequences matter very little, as each action bears the same outcome: namely, some modification to the self, becomes blinded. They fail to consider that although each and every thing might very well be the same, there are nevertheless qualitative differences.
A consciousness that is devoid from pain is more preferable than a life riddled with disease and suffering, even for the solipsist. Indeed, it is a mistake to presume that because all changes are a modification of the self that we should therefore avoid any serious attitudes towards life. For even if all change is a change to a unified consciousness, then we will nonetheless want a unified consciousness devoid of pain and misery. Put otherwise, even the solipsist ought take life serious, as their preferences will not be reached without effort.
The reason we should all take life serious is because we are all alive. We have not yet withdrawn entirely from being; and so we must care about, to some extent, the qualities of experience. We are attached to consciousness and its offerings, such that we value them.
And since that is a self-evident truth, then it is reasonable to suppose that one ought take life seriously; that is, though we all take life serious to some extent, by virtue of being alive, we should more overt and deliberate with our efforts.
One should take life seriously because they evidently care.