Futility and the Meaning of Life Debate

Sorites (14):70-84 (2002)
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Abstract

Some pessimists claim that all of our efforts are futile. Our lives, they claim, are no different from the mythical Sisyphus. Sisyphus would push a large stone to the top of a mountain, only to have the stone roll down the mountain. Despite his repeated efforts, Sisyphus accomplished nothing. As individuals, we may expend great effort in our lives, but each of us will die and humanity will eventually go extinct. Does this make our efforts futile? An effort is futile when there is a repeated failure to bring about one’s envisioned goal. Therefore, whether an effort is futile will depend on the nature of one’s goals. If one adopts unrealizable goals, such as the goal to leave an everlasting trace of one’s existence, then one’s efforts will be futile. However, if one adopts goals that are challenging, but physically possible, then one may experience accomplishment and fulfillment, instead of futility. Even if some of our efforts are futile, one’s life can still be worth living. There is more to life than just having and achieving goals.

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