Tolstoy: My Confession (Pessimism)

This selection is part of Tolstoy’s painful recollection of his life at age 50.   when he felt that there was no God, and life was without meaning or purpose.

Schopenhauer: On the Sufferings of the World

Schopenhauer relates his pessimism about the meaning of life, arguing that life is so bereft of meaning and so wretched and painful that the nonexistence of the world is preferable to its existence. Eventually, he says, we all come to feel that life is a deep disappointment or cheat.

Baggini: What’s It All About? (Internal and External Meaning)

Baggini argues that when most people say that life is meaningless, they usually mean only that that our lives were not created with any purpose or goal in mind and that there is nothing beyond or after life that can provide a purpose for what we do in this life. He thinks this view is correct but insists that it does not imply that life is meaningless, for there are many other ways that life can be meaningful. 

Tolstoy: My Confession (Optimism)

In this excerpt Tolstoy recounts how he slowly overcame his pessimism and feelings of meaninglessness. He says he gradually came to accept a deeply religious view of life’s meaning, a perspective that he derived from the life and values of the “common people.”

Baggini: What’s It All About? (God’s Plan)

Baggini rejects the notion that we are here to do God’s will, to carry out his plan for our lives. If that were so, he says, “our lives would have a purpose for the being that created us but not a purpose for us.” He also argues that this God’s-plan view robs humanity of its dignity.

Edwards: The Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Edwards says that it’s easy to see how someone who devoted her life to a cause (whatever that is) can have a meaningful life. In addition, the fact that we die or that our lives are short is irrelevant to the meaningfulness or meaninglessness of a person’s existence.