QUESTION: May I first ask your academic qualifications in this subject? And secondly I want to ask how one begins to know the reason behind ones own existence? I have grown depressed and it feels my life is mostly without a sense of purpose and although I am seeing a therapist I always come back  to  the question as to why I exist and why I'm here. And I can't find any peace.

ANSWER: Ph.D. in Philosophy, Area of Specialty is Ethics, Existentialism.

The reason of our existence is a fundamental question of metaphysics and a question that philosophers (and the clergy) have been wrestling with for as long as we've been around.

There is no simple answer (that would be too easy).  And the answer you get largely depends upon whom you ask.  Ask an existentialist and you will be told that the meaning of life is not already out there in the world but must be defined through your existence.  And it is your actions alone that define who you are.  A man is the sum total of his past actions, what he has done, not what he could have done.  To make things a bit more interesting, they add that who we are is not only our past actions but the sum total of our actions so that it is possible to change our definition by changing our future actions (we are always free to choose, and thereby, act differently).  Are lives aren't defined until we are done living.

But that is the existentialist answer.

Ask a Baptist minister (and a host of other religious ministers, priests, rabbis, etc...) and you will be told that your life is already preordained by God.  Your name is already written in the book of life and your fate is determined.  You just can't know it and must have faith that everything is the way it is for a reason that might escape you and the role of faith is to fill in this absence of knowledge.

There are dozens of other answers...just depends upon who you ask.

But don't assume that because you don't have the answer to question that there is no answer or that they are all incorrect because they contradict (that is a fundamentally fallacious form of reasoning).

And don't mistake my answer as a substitute for continued therapy.  An existential crises in thought can be a stimulus for continued personal growth.  Clinical depression is a medical condition that must be treated.  So keep seeing your therapist.  And keep reading (Voltaire's Candide addresses some of these conflicting views in a very funny and sarcastic tone).

I have found that the more I pursue the fundamental questions of philosophy, the less I and others genuinely know and have come to enjoy the journeys on which my inquiries have led more than the actual answers I receive.

Best wishes

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: I don't suppose there has been any proof as to a true value behind the actions we take? Sure some things feel better than others but what makes it a contributor to who we are fundamentally? Not just adding learning experiences. Actions that can clearly be seen as  not neutral that make a difference. I feel I simply exist and although I think I'd be missed if I died I don't know what my niche in life should be based on what the world has too little of, which I can't determine.

Actions don't have a truth value.  Only propositions (or beliefs, or statements).  Actions may however, have value.  And, we impart value to actions, as well as our community.  Sure, not every action is relevant on the world stage, or to our country, or even to our neighborhood.  But as the social circle decrease, our actions increase in importance to ourselves, our friends, our co-workers or classmates, our family.

We are all insignificant on the grand scale of the universe (unless you adopt a religious perspective that has us under god's eternal and unflinching purview) but as our focus narrows to smaller circles of influence, our value as individuals increases as the scale of our attention gets smaller.  We are more important as fellow Americans than merely world citizens.  More important as alumni of the same high school or college than not.  More important as members of the same family than others.  More important as a best friend.  You get the idea.  Aristotle says it best when he states that were we to have every good that life has to offer, e.g., health, wealth, social status.  It is still not as fulfilling as a life that has all of these goods and friendship.  Genuine friendship is a paramount and necessary good that a full life must include.

The key is to stay authentically engaged so one doesn't lose perspective of what is genuinely valuable.  We not only sanction and perpetuate the value we give other things and other people but we can forget the inherent value of this ability within ourselves.



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Steven R. Storch


Ethics, Existentialism and Phenomenology, Continental Metaphysics

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