A sketch on the old Muppet Show with their very special guest star Harvey Korman had a panel discussion on The Meaning of Life. Harvey Korman came down on the side of “Life is like a tennis game,” with which Miss Piggy disagreed, while one of the other panelists favored “Life is like a garbage dump.” The discussion ended with a general exchange of insults and the announcement that the next discussion would cover whether conversation was a dying art . . . whereupon all the Muppets keeled over leaving Korman shaking his head.
|"Ditch the philosophy, Frog. We want entertainment!"|
No one seemed to notice that “Life is like a tennis game” and “Life is like a garbage dump” are metaphors. They don’t really tell us anything about the meaning of life. Saying life is like a tennis game, a garbage dump, or “a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/Signifying nothing” tells us what life is like, not what life is for.
Of course, no one really expected to get the meaning of life from the Muppet Show. The fact that no one was able to give even a direct (albeit humorous) answer, however, is revealing. Diverting the question into another topic, even unconsciously, suggests that few people today think about the meaning of life, even in a shallow fashion, e.g., “Life is for getting stuff,” “Life is for having fun,” and the most insidious of all, “Life is for being happy” (as opposed to “pursuing happiness,” which is substantially different).
|Pierre Leroux, Saint-Simonian socialist.|
As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, however, “the New Christianity” of Henri de Saint-Simon revised the Christian message (and mission) by declaring that the meaning and purpose of life is “the amelioration of the moral and physical existence of the poorest class; society ought to organize itself in the way best adapted for attaining this end.”
In other words, according to the adherent of “the Democratic Religion” and prophet of the Church of Saint-Simon that was intended to replace all traditional forms of State, Church, and Family (later termed “socialism” by the Saint-Simonian Pierre Leroux), the Meaning of Life is to have material needs met. “Morality,” in fact, was redefined as having a “scientific basis,” the most moral thing being that which most efficiently met human material needs.
This, by the way, seems to be the source of the idea that capitalism is more moral than socialism. As Milton Friedman liked to say, capitalism is more moral than socialism because it makes more people richer than socialism . . . in other words, capitalism is more moral than socialism because it is more socialist! That is, if we take the principle of socialism — social betterment — at face value.
All this, of course, is either a diversion or simply a wrong answer to the question, What is the meaning and purpose of life? Ironically, the question can be answered very easily from an Aristotelian perspective. The meaning and purpose of life is to become more fully human. How? By acquiring and developing “virtue” or “humanness.”
|"Virtue consists of becoming more fully human"|
Human beings become more fully human by conforming themselves more closely to their own nature. That can only be done by exercising natural rights, thereby becoming more “natural” or what What- or Whoever created us wants us to be.
And that requires work. No one gets to be more fully human except by working at it. A virtue is the habit of doing good (just as a vice is the habit of doing evil), and building habits — good or bad — takes constant practice.
If you wish, for example, to acquire and develop the virtue of generosity, you don’t do it by giving a beggar a nickel once a year or so. No, you become generous by being generous so that it gradually becomes part of your nature — generosity becomes natural to you.
As Aristotle pointed out, becoming more fully human, then, requires constant practice in exercising those natural rights that enable us to build the habits of being just, courageous, temperate, and prudent. The three most important natural rights of life, liberty, and private property are (in a sense) custom made to help human beings develop the classic natural virtues of fortitude, temperance, prudence and justice, this last being the greatest natural virtue.
Justice is the greatest natural virtue?
Yes. Charity is the greatest supernatural virtue, and cannot even exist until and unless justice has been fulfilled. Why this is so is what we’ll look at in our next posting on this subject.