Nihilistic Philosophy
#1
I am a beginner and have just started studying Nietzsche. Does studying Nihilistic philosophy make one pessimistic? Would it lead to the following questions:
What is the point to anything at all? What is the point to life?
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#2
(02-Oct-2012, 11:43 PM)geetha Wrote: I am a beginner and have just started studying Nietzsche. Does studying Nihilistic philosophy make one pessimistic? Would it lead to the following questions:
What is the point to anything at all? What is the point to life?

"Does life have intrinsic value even devoid of purpose? What is the nature and worth of happiness? To what extent does it make sense to view humans as beings of reason?". This earlier post here attempts to confront these questions which are prone to lapses into resigned nihilism.

The BBC Series Human: All too human first aired in 1999, profiles the thought and work of three philosophers who in the popular imagination are viewed, and shunned, as bleak nihilists: Nietzsche, Heidegger and Sartre. The title of the series is aptly chosen to emphasize that these philosophers grapple with the human condition of seeking meaning, rather than treating meaning as unworthy of seeking or studying. Unlike the caricature in the popular imagination, it is not as if their life's work would be summarized in a series titled "Meaninglessness: The Only Reality".

Quoting from this earlier post, "Sartre's remains one of the most clear articulations of the rejection of any pre-ordained purpose of humanity and the insistence that choosing one's purpose is an individual's prerogative, and burden". Quoting Sartre himself:
Quote:Man cannot will unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.
What this is is a rejection of any pre-ordained purpose, but what this is not is a resignation from seeking a purpose. In fact, it may well be viewed as a prodding to seek a purpose!

Another way of saying this is, "Meaning is something that must be actively sought and prepared for our use, since human beings are neither born with a life-time supply of it nor is it available to them without effort." Now consider replacing 'meaning' in the preceding sentence with 'food' and the sentence would still be true. Does the fact that we aren't autotrophic and that we have to hunt, gather and cook our food lead us to shun these activities and question the worth of life? Likewise, the fact that meaning is not presented to us without an effort to 'search' and 'prepare' it, does not mean that this quest and preparation are futile to us. Nature does not supply Ethics to us a natural law, but this has not stopped human beings from trying to develop a conception of Ethics and Human Rights, and construct just societies. The fact that meaning hasn't dropped as manna from an imaginary heaven or that meaning does not grow on trees as easy pickings, has not precluded the flowering of civilization, but has led human beings to seek meaning through creative expression, thoughtful and engaged experience, and adoption of healthy attitudes.

Nietzsche is famously known to have said that Pontius Pilate's question "Quid est veritas?" ("What is truth?") is 'the only saying that is of any value in the New Testament'. Nietzsche, unsurprisingly, was seen as the archetypal moral nihilist in the Judeo-Christian world where the New Testament has been hailed as an inerrant moral guide for ages. Nietzsche is only rejecting the supposed Absolute Truth of vicarious Redemption and the eternal damnation it redeems from, and does the very opposite of dismissing the question "What is truth?"

An instructive examination of the question "What is truth?", challenging appeals to supernatural absolutes and placing it in a human, all too human context, can be found in this dialogue between Gora and Gandhiji with regard to the secular, inter-caste wedding of the former's daughter:

Quote:
I said, "Perhaps, in the course of the marriage ceremony, you will invoke divine blessings for the couple, or say the words: 'in the name of God'. My daughter and my son-in-law are atheistically minded. They will not be parties to such implied belief in god.

Gandhiji: In the case of your daughter's marriage, I will say 'in the name of Truth' instead of 'in the name of God'. Atheists also respect truth.

I: Yes. Atheists regard truthfulness as a social necessity. Truth binds man to man in association. Without truth there can be no social organization.

G: Not only that. Truth means existence; the existence of that we know and of that we do not know. The sum total of all existence is absolute truth or the Truth. (Gandhiji spoke at length on the subject of the absolute truth.)

I: I think, truth is only relative to human experience. The concept of the absolute truth which is beyond human experience is but a hypothesis formulated by man for the convenience of his thought process. Any absolute, like the infinite, is only an imaginary something.

G: The concepts of truth may differ. But all admit and respect truth. That truth I call God. For sometime I was saying, 'God is Truth,' but that did not satisfy me. So now I say, 'Truth is God.'

I: If truth is god, then why don't you say 'Satyam ... ' instead of 'Raghupati Raghava'? 'Raghupati Raghava' conveys to others a meaning very different from what it conveys to you.

G: Do you think I am superstitious? I am a super-atheist.

There was visible emphasis in these words.

Out of recognition that 'truth is only relative to human experience', we do not lapse into moral relativism, but we strive that our shared standards of truth are informed by the full diversity of human experience, through an inclusive, participative process of public reasoning about morality. This recognition itself supplies secular humanists with a sense of purpose, to participate fully in this shared endeavour to find truth; and also with a sense of urgency to empower others whose participation is hindered by lingering injustices.
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#3
I haven't read Nietzsche, but I will comment about nihilism in general.

The very basic tenet of nihilism is that "objective ethics" or absolute morality doesn't exist. This tends to upset a lot of people and might lead to some sort of pessimism.

The bad news from my side is that I agree that absolute morality doesn't exist. There is no objective way to weigh the inherent moral worth of an action. We, being naturalists, do not have absolute references like purpose of universe or a supernatural deity.

Having said that I still think that lack of objectivity should not necessarily lead to pessimism. And that is where Nihilism, IMO, gets it wrong. Absence of objective ethics doesn't necessarily lead to Anything goes kind of ethics. The best way to think about this is
If you figure out that there is no special purpose to your life, does it make it meaningless?
The answer should be No. There is still the option of "one deciding the meaning of life for oneself". Similarly in ethics we, as a society, can decide what do we want for our society. And ethics can be a guide for every individual to help achieve the society's goals. So basically ethics now becomes an exercise in intersubjectivity (discussed here in further detail)
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#4
There is no objective purpose in life.

But that doesn't mean there is no purpose at all. I think making the best out of whatever time we have for ourselves and our society could be an objective in itself. One can have own goals, own subjective objectives in life. I think a person who doesn't have an objective purpose in life could consider himself lucky, as he or she can break social norms and barriers.

As for me, my objectives keep changing.
Since there is no objective purpose in life, I consider myself lucky. I consider having fun as my only objective for now.
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#5
(03-Oct-2012, 09:32 PM)Nibir Wrote: There is no objective purpose in life.

But that doesn't mean there is no purpose at all. I think making the best out of whatever time we have for ourselves and our society could be an objective in itself. One can have own goals, own subjective objectives in life. I think a person who doesn't have an objective purpose in life could consider himself lucky, as he or she can break social norms and barriers.

As for me, my objectives keep changing.
Since there is no objective purpose in life, I consider myself lucky. I consider having fun as my only objective for now.

There is the opposite side of objectivity and that is absolute subjectivity. Or total moral relativism. That is not good either. Very very interestingly this approach also takes us to, the earlier mentioned, Anything Goes kind of ethics which is harmful. There is nothing to stop privilege perpetuation in such societies leading to big social disparity.

As a freethinker we should always think in terms of rationality. And hence intersubjective approach is much more appealing.
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#6
(03-Oct-2012, 09:32 PM)Nibir Wrote: I think a person who doesn't have an objective purpose in life could consider himself lucky, as he or she can break social norms and barriers.

Freethought demands a continual re-examination of social norms in a process of public reasoning, and not a rejection of norms for its own sake. Why this is a crucial distinction to make can be illustrated via this example from a previous discussion, which highlights the point that the audience we are trying to reach out to is not an 'I don't care!' bunch, but a group that unremittingly asks itself 'What do we care for the most?', even if they may appear uncertain at times. "What do we care for the most?" or in other words, "What do we consider to be most at stake here?" is a question on which clarity is a pre-requisite for any ethical inquiry.

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#7
(03-Oct-2012, 04:39 AM)Kanad Kanhere Wrote: If you figure out that there is no special purpose to your life, does it make it meaningless?
The answer should be No. There is still the option of "one deciding the meaning of life for oneself".

Why should the answer be no? If a meaning is derived by an entity doesn't the meaning become what we define as "made up"? It sounds as if we are defining something for the sake of hope. Is that the case? If so, is it necessary?
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#8
(02-Oct-2012, 11:43 PM)geetha Wrote: I am a beginner and have just started studying Nietzsche. Does studying Nihilistic philosophy make one pessimistic? Would it lead to the following questions:
What is the point to anything at all? What is the point to life?

The simplest answer to the last two questions are ‘Nihil’ (Nothing), However, in my opinion studying Nihilistic philosophy does not make one pessimistic.
Me too, being not a master of Philosophy, yet, let me try to throw some light on Nietzsche’s work as a novice.
Someone said “Science is a description of Nature and not a prescription for humanity” for that matter any knowledge is like that, not just science. So knowledge can neither be optimistic nor pessimistic.
Nihilistic nature of nature itself has been known long before Nietzsche to human,
Quote:"Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle.
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”
-Macbeth, Shakespeare.
It is this knowledge of “nothingness” that lead to many ideas sprouting from human imagination as a purpose of living. Religions are among them.
Here I would like to elucidate how Nietzsche respond’s to your questions.
Nietzsche and many philosophers agree that there is no objective meaning of life, but never made it too pessimistic. Yes, Nietzsche was pessimistic about ‘idealism’. Given the nature of human mind and nature itself, he says there is no ideal world or life that exists or can exist.
Nietzsche’s work in my opinion is more of literary nature built on philosophy, than Philosophy itself because his arguments are rather explanatory and not so logical. Nevertheless there are many answers to philosophical questions.
Nietzsche was against the way people lived (mostly Christians) than life itself. As far as the nature is concerned he believed one is bound to live and survive (His Darwinian thoughts were different from the interpretation of his contemporary Nazis).
In his work “The Birth of Tragedy” he says
Quote:'Miserable, ephemeral race, children of hazard and hardship, why do you force me to say what it would be much more fruitful for you not to hear? The best of all things is something entirely outside your grasp: not to be born, not to be, to be nothing. But the second-best thing for you—is to die soon.'
Here the word “soon’ is very important without that word, it will become a pronouncement advocating suicide, he is actually suggesting the impossibilities. He being admirer of art and music, he feels one can live for art.
Quote:“Without music, life would be a mistake.” –“ Twilight of the Idols”
In other words it is the ‘happiness’ that could be the purpose (still not objective, since there is not one), nothing different from Indian Carvaka’s “While life is yours, live joyously”
Like the old Latin saying "Aut inveniam viam aut faciam" (I shall either find a way or make one) he too leaves it to the individuals.
He says “You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.”

Again in many places he suggests ‘Art’ for which one can live, he is very careful in writing.

Quote:"If there is to be art, if there is to be any aesthetic doing and seeing, one physiological condition is indispensable: frenzy. Frenzy must first have enhanced the excitability of the whole machine; else there is no art."
He say’s “physiological condition” avoids words like ‘spirit and soul’. He doesn’t believe in dualistic body and soul.
Quote:“Thy soul will be dead even sooner than thy body: fear, therefore, nothing any more!" – Thus spake zarathusthra,
here the soul can be equated to the modern day’s word ‘Consciousness’.
So he discards purpose beyond death like re-birth, heaven, hell.
He says the current culture (his period, with Christianity, also to some extent democracy) has made the opportunities of happy life bleak. He believes that the Greeks or ancient people were happier.
Quote:“The man of the antique world understood better how to rejoice, we understand better how to grieve less. They continually found new motives for feeling happy, for celebrating festivals, being inventive with all their wealth of shrewdness and reflection. We, on the other hand, concentrate our intellect rather on the solving of problems which have in view painlessness and the removal of sources of discomfort. With regard to suffering existence, the ancients sought to forget or in some way to convert the sensation into a pleasant one, thus trying to supply palliatives. We attack the causes of suffering, and on the whole prefer to use prophylactics. Perhaps we are only building upon a foundation whereon a later age will once more set up the temple of joy.” - Human, All Too Human
As he says, ‘happiness’ is the motive and ‘art and music’ is a suggested way for happiness, he strongly advocates Darwinian survival too.
Quote:“I call an animal, a species, an individual corrupt, when it loses its instincts, when it chooses, when it prefers, what is injurious to it.” – Antichrist
However he did not equate human survival as similar to the other living species, he commends something more than just living.
He says
Quote:“To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.” ‘Thus spake zarathusthra’
Then he also says
Quote: “Thou shalt not only propagate thyself but propagate thyself upwards”
He suggests that one has to become something called Übermensch (more than or above human or Superhuman in German).
Having said all this, Nietzsche has written volumes about how to conduct ourselves, in the absence of god, for he says “god is dead’ in ‘The gay science’
He ridiculed the Christian god by announcing the death of god and in ‘Thus spake zarathusthra’ he jests
Quote:“For the old Gods came to an end long ago. And verily it was a good and joyful end of Gods! They did not die lingering in the twilight although that lie is told! On the contrary, they once upon a time laughed themselves to death! That came to pass when, by a God himself, the most ungodly word was uttered, the word: "There is but one God!. Thou shalt have no other Gods before me"
An old grim beard of a God, a jealous one, forgot himself thus.
And then all Gods laughed and shook on their chairs and cried: "Is Godliness not just that there are Gods, but no God?"
Whoever hath ears let him hear.”
After declaring ‘god dead’ Nietzsche makes all the morality that is so far considered morality in the name of god as irrelevant now. And asks to create new virtue and vice, by accepting the reality.
He preaches to employ the insatiability towards the achievement of Übermensch. By yielding to the temptation of perfection.
Quote:“how greatly men prefer the uncertainty of their intellectual horizon, and how in their heart of hearts they hate truth because of its definiteness” - Human, all too human
Therefore he ordains ‘lies’ but in the form of art and not as knowledge.
Quote:“The lightness and looseness of the Homeric imagination was necessary to soothe and temporarily suspend the Greeks' inordinately passionate heart and oversharp mind. When their reason speaks, how bitter and horrible life then appears! They do not deceive themselves, but they deliberately play over life with lies. Simonides advised his countrymen to take life as a game; they were all too familiar with seriousness in the form of pain (indeed, man's misery is the theme that the gods so love to hear sung about), and they knew that only through art could even misery become a pleasure. As punishment for this insight, however, they were so plagued by the wish to invent tales that in everyday life it became hard for them to keep free of falsehood and deceit, just as all poetic people have this delight in lying, and, what is more, an innocence in it. That must sometimes have driven their neighboring nations to despair.” – Human, all too human.

Friedrich Nietzsche in spite of his miseries, mishaps and failure in his own life, still endorses that having been born, it is worth living. – Not pessimistic.

However as Will Durant says in his criticism
Quote:“Nietzsche wins us with his imagination rather than with logic; he offers us not a philosophy merely, nor poem, but a new faith, a new hope, a new religion”
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#9
(04-Oct-2012, 10:25 PM)Soorya Sriram Wrote:
(03-Oct-2012, 04:39 AM)Kanad Kanhere Wrote: If you figure out that there is no special purpose to your life, does it make it meaningless?
The answer should be No. There is still the option of "one deciding the meaning of life for oneself".

Why should the answer be no? If a meaning is derived by an entity doesn't the meaning become what we define as "made up"? It sounds as if we are defining something for the sake of hope. Is that the case? If so, is it necessary?

The question of whether life has a purpose indeed does not have an answer that a person should accept. It is not an inviolable answer that we are burdened with, but with an inescapable question. In Sartre's famous words, "Man is condemned to be free". We are condemned to be free and cope with seeming purposelessness, not enslaved (or ensconced) in sheer necessity to fulfil a purpose laid down from outside by imagined Providence or a determinist biology, because 'Biology is not destiny, but capacity'. That there is no single necessary meaning, does not mean that there can be many possible meanings. If the fact we can find many possible meanings does not imply that we should seek any of them, it also does not imply that we should not seek any of them!

As for 'many possible meanings' and 'made-up' meanings, here is a transcript of the introduction by the headmaster of Montclair Kimberley Academy during Stephen Colbert's interview of Neil de Grasse Tyson on January 29th 2010:

Quote:D. Tyson has been a frequent guest on the Colbert Report, or 'Repor' I guess is the proper pronunciation.We are delighted that he is here and we are also delighted and very grateful that Mr. Stephen Colbert has agreed to interview him for our benefit. Stephen Colbert, comedian, author and host of the Colbert Report is both one of the funniest and possibly the bravest comedians of our time. I want you to consider his performance at the national press-club dinner in 2007, as he stood just a few feet from the President of the United States, known to the rest of us as the most powerful man in the world. Dr. Neil De Grasse Tyson, astrophysicist, Director of the Hayden Planetarium, author of nine books, teacher, lecturer, host of Nova's four-part series, 'Origins' and member of two presidential commissions on the United States aerospace industry and the future of our country's space exploration. Dr. Tyson has a gift for working successfully within the realms of research, education and policy formation. I owe you all an explanation about our theater tonight.

What you are seeing on stage is the beginning of a set for a 7th grade production of 'Romeo and Juliet', this year's selection for what I said was an annual performance and I think it's fitting that Dr. Tyson is going to warm up the stage for the two most famous star-crossed lovers in all of American literature.

It occurred to me that there are a few things that Stephen Colbert and Neil Tyson have in common and I wanted to comment on them. Both of them share an overarching purpose to make sense of the world. They also share a common strategy. They often look to the stars, human or heavenly, for evidence of how things work;though Stephen Colbert is far tougher on the objects caught in his gaze whereas Dr. Tyson is only known to have obliterated Pluto. They share methods in their respective fields, whether it is the search for evidence that makes sense of the world and the universe or the creative construction of questions and tests by which the truth and significance of who or what is before them are evaluated. Perhaps then, they both have something in common with William Shakespeare, the desire to provide their audience with a lens to see the world from a previously unconsidered point of view and not just as others would have us see it. So while the stars maybe dazzling, training and instinct appear to have taught each of them to look away from celestial bodies (I am sorry, I had to get that bad cliche in there somewhere) and to consider the effects that those celestial bodies have on everything and everyone around them. In addition to the challenging questions that each of them makes us confront, their work has given the world a little more of that very rare and gem-like substance known as the truth, or in Stephen Colbert's case, 'truthiness', and we are very grateful.

The scientist 'makes up' theories and predictions to describe Nature's workings which by themselves defy understanding and are devoid of obvious meaning, and the comedian 'makes up' sketches and impressions framing a narrative of the rabble of human affairs which by themselves defy logic and are sometimes devoid even of attempted meaning. The headmaster noted the apparent incongruity of the anachronistic Shakespeare set and then resolved the incongruity by deftly 'making up' a connection between the playwright, the comedian and the science-popularizer as storytellers and stargazers in their own ways. Does the fact that the scientist's theory, the comedian's sketches and this headmaster's wordplay are not spontaneous and necessary outcomes, but were 'made up' from amid possibilities, render them worthless? Worth and worthlessness are judgments of value and not statements of fact, and hence cannot be objectively proven or disproven, but only presented for an individual's consideration. This very interview is as apt a stimulus for individual consideration as any other, to examine worth in human scientific and artistic endeavour and challenge debilitating life-denying interpretations of nihilism.
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#10
(05-Oct-2012, 12:10 PM)arvindiyer Wrote: The scientist 'makes up' theories and predictions to describe Nature's workings which by themselves defy understanding and are devoid of obvious meaning, and the comedian 'makes up' sketches and impressions framing a narrative of the rabble of human affairs which by themselves defy logic and are sometimes devoid even of attempted meaning. The headmaster noted the apparent incongruity of the anachronistic Shakespeare set and then resolved the incongruity by deftly 'making up' a connection between the playwright, the comedian and the science-popularizer as storytellers and stargazers in their own ways. Does the fact that the scientist's theory, the comedian's sketches and this headmaster's wordplay are not spontaneous and necessary outcomes, but were 'made up' from amid possibilities, render them worthless? Worth and worthlessness are judgments of value and not statements of fact, and hence cannot be objectively proven or disproven, but only presented for an individual's consideration. This very interview is as apt a stimulus for individual consideration as any other, to examine worth in human scientific and artistic endeavour and challenge debilitating life-denying interpretations of nihilism.

I am not attempting to judge anything as worthwhile/worthless. But how can the purpose of life be made up in similar terms?
In short, what is the motivation to live at all?
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#11
(05-Oct-2012, 04:20 PM)Soorya Sriram Wrote: I am not attempting to judge anything as worthwhile/worthless. But how can the purpose of life be made up in similar terms?
In short, what is the motivation to live at all?

As mentioned earlier, motivation/purpose is up to an individual to choose. Again there is no objective purpose for a human life, no divine destiny, no karma to be fulfilled.

An individual can find meaning in arts, music, social activism, relationships, or just in the fact that its once in a lifetime opportunity smile
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#12
Quote:I am not attempting to judge anything as worthwhile/worthless. But how can the purpose of life be made up in similar terms?
In short, what is the motivation to live at all?

In my earlier post I had written what Nietzsche had to say about purpose of life and how even others in this thread have said that you can make or you have the freedom of creating your purpose. In spite of the reiteration it is found that you are still looking for something different.
See if this argument of mine does some justice.
The first question “Is there a purpose for life”
We have agreed it is a truth that there is no objective purpose for life.
So the next question of yours
What is the motivation to live at all?
There is a famous question in between these two, asked by Shakespeare in Hamlet.
Quote:“To be or not to be”

Shakespeare also candidly elicits the ground for this question, by explaining the problems of life

Quote:“To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether 'tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to? 'Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; Aye, there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There's the respect
That makes Calamity of so long life:
For who would bear the Whips and Scorns of time,
The Oppressor's wrong, the proud man's Contumely,
The pangs of despised Love, the Law’s delay,
The insolence of Office, and the Spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his Quietus make
With a bare Bodkin? Who would Fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life.”

Then later he reasons it out that death is worse than living and makes Hamlet decide to live

Quote:“But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered Country, from whose bourn
No Traveller returns, Puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of.
Thus Conscience does make Cowards of us all,
And thus the Native hue of Resolution
Is sicklied o'er, with the pale cast of Thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment,
With this regard their Currents turn awry,
And lose the name of Action.”

The second part is something similar to “Hope”, its empty but the question remains un-answered
“to be or not to be?”

So as long as the question is answered, we got to ‘be’.
This is the “will to live”.
Now since there is no logical option other than to ‘be’ , we need motivation to live (your question).

So the motivation can be anything as Kanad Kanhere said in arts, music, social activism, relationships or you are free to find something as Jean-Paul Sartre said

Quote:“Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does. It is up to you to give [life] a meaning.”

And it is privileged (I am avoiding the word luckily) that the world has multitude of options for this.

But, I understand that this blends well with the second question and not much with the first question “purpose of life”

So, let me ask you why should there be a purpose at all, isn’t it so nice the answer to that is 'nothing'?

What a boring life it could be if there was a single purpose, like any one of those religions preaches. A place in heaven, karma, nirvana, etc.
Everyone living the same life with same set of rules for centuries and thousands of years again and again.

How beautiful it is to live with a freedom to choose and live?

In my opinion, or for me it’s a great pleasure that there is no ‘single purpose’ and this freedom motivates me to live as long as possible.

Now, lets meet up for a cup of coffee and explore the multitude of options

"A lot can happen over coffee." Thumbup



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