Life is limited but this does not negate its potential for value or meaning. The very limit to life is what enables us to give our lives value and meaning.
If no one ever died, there would also be no particular value to one’s life or individual moments in it. After all, you’re going to live forever. So, why treasure any given moment? Why think that there is anything particularly special about any given moment?
More than that, there would be no urgency or even very much reason to do anything if no one ever died. Knowing you had an infinite amount of time would likely lead many people to do nothing figuring they could always do whatever they were thinking about doing later. And, they could. But, this possibility would lead to many negative results. Among them: boredom, loss of motivation, loss of interest in friendship, love, life itself. After all, there’s just so much of it!
On the other hand, the fact that you are going to die and the fact that you only have so much time to embrace life means you’d better do something with it while you have it. It’s the only chance you have to: experience, love, wonder, think, ask questions, learn, build friendships, embrace others, experience nature, and on and on. But, there is an end to it so it makes sense to get to it now.
The biologist Richard Dawkins offers an interesting, and perhaps helpful, perspective in his book Unweaving the Rainbow: "We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born." You have been fortunate beyond belief in being alive. Also, you have been fortunate to be alive in a time when so many things are possible. But, your time is limited.
Questions like this about death implicitly seem to be questioning the very possibility of meaning in life which makes me think of the work of Viktor Frankl. He was an Austrian psychiatrist and holocaust survivor who wrote extensively about the importance of meaning. His approach, called logotherapy, is based on the idea that the central feature of human existence is the quest for meaning.
According to Frankl “We can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering" and that "everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances.” (Viktor Frankl Institute of Logotherapy)
It is up to you to discover the meaning in your life. This can be done despite death and suffering. It can only be discovered in light of these things. Perhaps it’s a paradox but that is how life is.
Perhaps this Alan Watts video will help:
A2A on Quora: Can a teacher make you read a book that does not fit your moral standards?
No one can make you read a book. You can be assigned a book but are not compelled to read it.
Of course, not reading an assigned book has academic consequences (as it should). But, these pale in comparison to other consequences to not reading a book that differs from your beliefs.
Learning is about broadening your horizon, your perspective, and your knowledge. As a student taking a class, you are in the position of someone who has something to learn. Of course, you have knowledge and beliefs coming into the class but you could also benefit from an expansion of your knowledge and some challenges to your beliefs. Both of those will come by doing such reading.
As a result of reading a book that does not fit your moral standards, you may discover more about yourself and your moral beliefs. You may discover ways to strengthen your moral position. You might also discover that there are flaws in your moral reasoning that should be addressed.
In either case, you will certainly learn something useful and that is the whole point of reading books in the first place.
As an adult, you should then continue this practice of reading material you might disagree with. Reading and exposing yourself only to ideas you already agree with is not the way to grow as a human being and certainly not the way to become actively engaged in a diverse community.
One of the best lessons you will learn from your education is that it is possible to examine ideas and understand them even without accepting them. Ultimately, you have a choice about what ideas to accept and reject. You should strive to evaluate ideas in light of the best available evidence and reason and accept those ideas.
In some cases, the best available reason and evidence might support the beliefs you already hold. In other cases, reason and evidence will show that your ideas are not well-founded. In those cases, you still have a choice to make.
A good education will help you become a good critical thinker and good critical thinkers follow reason and the evidence where it leads recognizing that sometimes it will lead them to adopt different ideas than the ones they started with.
Quora Question: How can a normal person deal with having conflicting beliefs? What philosophers or philosophy should one read?
Holding beliefs that conflict with one another is more common than you might think. Often, these conflicts go unnoticed because most people do not examine their beliefs deeply or carry them through to their logical conclusion.
One of the problems with doing this is that it increases the likelihood of something called cognitive dissonance where a person has to directly confront the fact that their beliefs are in conflict. The most common response to this cognitive dissonance is denial. People simply deny that their beliefs are in conflict.
Let me give you three tips that can help deal with this conflict and then suggest some good philosophical books.
Your beliefs are tools that can advance your values. But, if your beliefs are not advancing your values, they can and should be changed. Changing them becomes easier if you can recognize that they are not the same as your values.
Here are some good books that can provide you with more insights:
Julia Galef The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don't
Adam Grant Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know
Jamie Holmes Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing
Quora Question: I'm a school custodian and when people ask me what's my job I'm ashamed to tell them what's the best way I could say what I do without saying I'm a custodian?
Let me begin with a lengthy quote from Barry Schwartz’s excellent TED talkwhich I think sheds light on your question:
“Let me begin with an example. This is the job description of a hospital janitor that is scrolling up on the screen. And all of the items on it are unremarkable. They're the things you would expect: mop the floors, sweep them, empty the trash, restock the cabinets. It may be a little surprising how many things there are, but it's not surprising what they are. But the one thing I want you to notice about them is this: even though this is a very long list, there isn't a single thing on it that involves other human beings. Not one. The janitor's job could just as well be done in a mortuary as in a hospital.
“And yet, when some psychologists interviewed hospital janitors to get a sense of what they thought their jobs were like, they encountered Mike, who told them about how he stopped mopping the floor because Mr. Jones was out of his bed getting a little exercise, trying to build up his strength, walking slowly up and down the hall. And Charlene told them about how she ignored her supervisor's admonition and didn't vacuum the visitor's lounge because there were some family members who were there all day, every day who, at this moment, happened to be taking a nap. And then there was Luke, who washed the floor in a comatose young man's room twice because the man's father, who had been keeping a vigil for six months, didn't see Luke do it the first time, and his father was angry. And behavior like this from janitors, from technicians, from nurses and, if we're lucky now and then, from doctors, doesn't just make people feel a little better, it actually improves the quality of patient care and enables hospitals to run well.
“Now, not all janitors are like this, of course. But the ones who are think that these sorts of human interactions involving kindness, care and empathy are an essential part of the job. And yet their job description contains not one word about other human beings. These janitors have the moral will to do right by other people. And beyond this, they have the moral skill to figure out what "doing right" means.”
Your job description may be similar to the one Schwartz describes which does not mention other human beings. But, your work supports the learning that goes on in school as much as the teachers, other staff, or the principal. Without your work, that school simply could not function.
And, if you’re like Mike or Charlene, or Luke, you do your job with an eye towards supporting the students and teachers in the school.
Your job is nothing to be ashamed of. It is important work and creates an environment where students can enjoy coming to learn. Be proud of that and be proud to tell people what you do!
KEVIN J. BROWNE
Philosopher / Educator