[SOLVED] Moritz Schlick’s “On the Meaning of Life”
Moritz Schlick’s “On the Meaning of Life”
Schlick contrasts work and play. If an activity is simply for the sake of some further end, then it counts as work. If an activity is its own end, then it counts as play.
It is therefore the characteristic mark of work that it has its purpose outside itself, and is not performed for its own sake. The doctrine that would wish to install work as such at the centre of existence, and exalt it to life’s highest meaning, is bound to be in error, because every work-activity as such is always a mere means, and receives its value only from its goals. (64)
life means movement and action, and if we wish to find a meaning in it we must seek for activities which carry their own purpose and value within them, independently of any extraneous goals; activities, therefore, which are not work in the philosophical sense of the word. (64)
There really are such activities. To be consistent, we must call them play, since that is the name for free, purposeless action, that is, action which in fact carries its purpose within itself. (64)
The setting of certain goals is admittedly needed in order to produce the tension required for life; even playful activity is constantly setting itself tasks, most palpably in sport and competition, which still remains play so long as it does not degenerate into real fighting. But such goals are harmless, they impose no burden on life and do not dominate it; they are left aside and it does not matter if they are not achieved, since at any moment they can be replaced by others. (67f.)
Schlick claims that the meaning of life is found in play, rather than in work. Work is valuable only to the extent that it makes moments of play possible.
the meaning of existence is revealed only in play. (65)
The greater part of our existence, filled as it is with goal-seeking work at the behest of others, has no value in itself, but obtains this only by reference to the festive hours of play, for which work provides merely the means and the preconditions. (68)
Work and toil, so long as they have not themselves become joyous play, should make joy and play possible; therein their meaning lies. But they cannot do it if man has forgotten how to rejoice, if festive hours do not see to it that the knowledge of what joy is, is retained. (69)
Schlick maintains that play can take many forms. For instance, he claims that artistic creation, scientific activity, and the activity of a craftsperson can (if performed in a certain way) all count as cases of play.
Every true craftsman can experience in his own case this transformation of the means into an end-in-itself, which can take place with almost any activity, and which makes the product into a work of art. It is the joy in sheer creation, the dedication to the activity, the absorption in the movement, which transforms work into play. As we know there is a great enchantment which almost always brings this transformation about – rhythm. (66)
The objection may be raised at this point, that such a life would represent a relapse to a lower level, to the status of plants and animals … But this objection is easy to meet. Man does not have to forfeit the range of his life, his joy in the moment will not be blind and bestial, but bathed in the clearest light of consciousness … He still sees even the remotest consequences of his action clearly before him, and not only the real consequences, but all possible ones as well; but no specific goal stands there as an end to be necessarily attained, so that the whole road would be meaningless if it were not; every point, rather, of the whole road already has its own intrinsic meaning, like a mountain path that offers sublime views at every step and new enchantments at every turn, whether it may lead to a summit or not. (67)
Schlick identifies moments of play, and thus the meaning of life, with youth. Schlick challenges the idea that youth is merely a preparatory stage for the achievement of some later, more meaningful, goal.
The meaning of the whole is concentrated and collected, rather, into a few short hours of deep, serene joy, into the hours of play. And these hours crowd thickest in youth. (69)
Youth, in fact, is not just a time of growing, learning, ripening and incompleteness, but primarily a time of play, of doing for its own sake, and hence a true bearer of the meaning of life. Anyone denying this, and regarding youth as a mere introduction and prelude to real life, commits the same error that beclouded the mediaeval view of human existence: he shifts life’s centre of gravity forwards, into the future. Just as the majority of religions, discontented with earthly life, are wont to transfer the meaning of existence out of this life and into a hereafter, so man in general is inclined always to regard every state, since none of them is wholly perfect, as a mere preparation for a more perfect one. (70)
But from this it follows that youth, in our philosophical sense, can by no means be confined to the early stages of life; it is present wherever the state of man has reached a peak, where his action has become play, where he is wholly given over to the moment and the matter in hand. We talk in such cases of youthful enthusiasm, and that is the right expression: enthusiasm is always youthful. (71)
… I assert the proposition that the meaning of life is youth. (71)
Is Schlick right to distinguish between work and play? Is this distinction coherent?
Is Schlick right to suggest that artists, scientists, and craftspeople can all (in certain conditions) count as engaging in play?
Is Schlick right to suggest that play, rather than work, reveals the meaning of life?
How should we understand the relationship between youth, play, and the meaning of life?
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