I would like to have some non-theistic response from you about the value of life. (I don't know if people asking about the "meaning of life" are asking what I want to ask, but I'll try to be specific.) One thing is the value of other people's lives. I am not concerned about this: I'm pretty sure that homicide is a terrible crime even in the cases I will mention next. A different thing is the value of one's own life (the value of life for the person living it). Of course, many people have good, rewarding, happy lives. Such lives are very valuable. But many other people have no such lives. I would like you to consider two cases. The first case is that of very ill and depressed people, continuously and permanently suffering with their illnesses, or that of incarcerated people, tortured from time to time, without any hope of getting out of their suffering: I mean people who will commit suicide if they have the courage and the chance to. I think that those lives have no value and that, for instance, if we could not change one of those lives but could help that person to commit suicide, we should do so. The second case is that of people whose lives are just bad, unhappy, without being terrible as those that I referred to before. I believe that many millions of people have such lives. People who have to work too much for a barely decent living, who are part of unhappy families or live alone, people who have no hope for a better future (and have no reason to have such hope), and aren't resourceful enough to change their lives or even other people's lives for better. I suppose there is a non insignificant percentage of people who qualify themselves as "unhappy", and I believe a good part of them has definite reason to think so. What is the value of life for those people?

From an entirely secular point of view, plus some simple ethical assumptions that seem quite convincing (suffering illness, incarceration...are bad), plus a strong principle of respecting persons' choices (imagine the persons suffering would take their own lives if they could or they are actually asking others to assist them in committing suicide) it seems one can recognize cases when life has ceased to be of value to those suffering and one may well be sympathetic with providing (for example) a way that the prisoner could, if he chose, take his own life (imagine being able to get the prisoner a pill that would bring about an instantaneous, painless death, hence putting an end to the torture). BUT, even in such cases it may be that simply BEING ALIVE is a good, whether or not this is welcomed or valued by the person who is alive. It is hard to think of a compelling argument that life itself is and should be valued, quite apart from suffering and so on. Speaking personally, whether or not I am suffering, I find the bare fact of life itself an awesome good. And yet, in the absence of this kind of experience of value, it is hard to conjure up the experience in others. Perhaps, though, three further points can be made:

First, there is some evidence that persons who are under such desperate conditions often do not seek to end their lives. Apparently, we have a tendency to value life even amid horrible catastrophes. Victor Frankel has written on this.

Second, in real life, we rarely know with certainty that there will be or can be no rescue, some deliverance from depression and suffering. I suppose we might here come close to looking for a religious reply to your question(s) but one may be thoroughly secular and yet hope for a better end.

Third, you might be putting us on a slippery slope. So, if we accept your first case, why not go with your second case? One reason not to is that you are winding up viewing large numbers of people having lives not worth living. This may not be bad if it motivates you to try to change the conditions of the unhappy people, but if you and others are of the opinion that such cases are pretty hopeless, I would think this would lead you to find the existence of these people a matter of regret. Imagine you are one of the unhappy people you describe in the second case and you meet a philosopher on a train. After you tell him your story, the philosopher looks sad, but he also wants to make things better and he tells you: "To be perfectly honest, if what you tell me is true, I am sad that you came into existence; your life is pointless and without value. Still, I think I can help. When the train goes through the next tunnel if you stick your head out the window and...."

OK, very grim thought experiment, but I introduce it to urge you to think that life itself may be of value. And I have not once mentioned theism. Ah, but I suppose I just did. If you are interested in theistic responses to such matters you might look at Stewart Goetz's The Purpose of Life. There are also lots of non-theistic religious responses to consider, e.g. Buddhism.

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