Various experiences, considered good, bad, beautiful, ugly, etc., are believed to give life "meaning." This implies that there is some underlying purpose beyond the natural processes of growth found everywhere in nature. A tree doesn't need to "mean" anything to be a tree...Is this yearning for "meaning" in life simply a human coneptualization and nothing more?

What exactly are meant by the 'natural processes of growth'? I ask because it doesn't seem to me that this is obvious even with respect to trees, much less human beings. Let me give a tree-based example: an apple tree, which I can in fact see through my window right now. My understanding of the science of horticulture is pretty poor, but let us suppose that an apple tree can allowed to grow large but then it tends to die more quickly OR it can be trained so as to be quite stunted, and yet produce lots of fruit, and live for decades. Which is more 'natural'? The first involves less human interference, to be sure; but the second accords with concepts of long life and 'fruitfulness' (reproduction). My purpose here is simply to argue that we are not working with a clear-cut account of what 'natural processes of growth' are. In fact, some of the criteria we might want to use here are just straight-forwardly cultural: the move from formal garden design in the 18th Century, to a more 'wild' style in the 19th, was based upon two different conceptions of what nature was.

So, to human beings. If we knew what it meant for humans to 'grow naturally', then fine. For the vast majority of human (pre-)history, a natural life meant something like gradually accumulating diseases, malnutrition and broken bones, so that you were too slow by the age of 26 to get out of a mammoth's way. Nowadays, that would be to die 'tragically young'. With generally longer life-spans, the questions become more numerous: should I have more children? should I better myself through education? should I make wads of money? should I strive to make the world a better place? should I 'burn brightly' with self-gratification and die sooner rather than later? should I learn to paint, and express myself? and so forth. All of these are versions of the question of life's 'meaning'. It is difficult to imagine that these questions were absent even for our caveman: 'one more mammoth? or should I spend some time with that cave painting I started...?'

It is precisely because we do not know what is 'natural' for a human being, that the question of the 'meaning' of life arises. Aristotle thought he knew, and built a whole ethics around it; and while his answer is very thoughtful and far from the least plausible, there are certainly alternatives. One might also argue that even trying to answer the question once and for all involves considerable moral or political dangers: many and perhaps most persecutions or prejudices throughout history have been perpetrated by those who 'knew' what human beings were, should be, and how they should live.

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