Meaning(s) of Life: Some Metaphors

(from R. Solomon, The Big Questions)


Life is a Game: What are games? They are self-contained activities, played on their own rules. They are often competitive. They usually have winners and losers.

Life is a Story: What are stories like? They make sense. They have beginnings, middles and endings. They are judged based on how interesting they are, not on how true they are.

Life is Tragedy: Perhaps life should be understood by the fact that it ends. We all die. This would suggest that life is a serious, perhaps unhappy process.

Life is Comedy: Is life a joke? Is it a bad joke? Often humour is about irony, about absurdity. What would it be to say that life is comedy?

Life is a Mission: Many people believe that they have a calling that makes sense out of their lives. Certainly religious people often say something like this, but they are not the only ones. Goethe, for instance, saw it as his mission in life to create poetry to give the German people a positive sense of themselves.

Life is Art: What is art like? How do we look at it, how do we judge it, how do we tell it from what isn't art?

Life is an Adventure: Life could be aesthetic and exciting without being artistic. It could be about living "to the fullest", living to take risks.

Life is a Disease: If life is tragedy, it has a kind of grandeur; if it is a disease, it is just pathetic. But various people have compared us as a species to viruses, to cancer always spreading, never stopping, consuming ourselves. So, what would count as a healthy life?

Life is Desire: Myth of Sisyphus always desiring, but never achieving. Is life in the striving, not the having?

Life is Nirvana: The thing about Nirvana, it is not about desire, but the opposite. Getting rid of desire. There is peace and contemplation.

Life is Altruism: altruism is acting for the benefit of others. Maybe the meaning of life is to make things better for others.

Life is Honour: This means, living up to the expectations of your community. This is not just a military virtue, which is where we often hear the word honour, but others have been honourable. Socrates, for instance.

Life is Learning: Many might be inclined to say that life is a learning experience. Of course, the question of why we are learning remains open. Maybe it is for the satisfaction of knowledge itself. Maybe it is for wisdom.

Life is Suffering: this is a bit like the myth of Sisyphus again life is difficult, and pointless, or has meaning in its struggle, not in its achievements.

Life is an Investment: maybe the metaphor should be that of business.


Life is Acquisition: Whoever dies with the most toys, wins.

Life is a Relationship: maybe the meaning of life lies in love, marriage, and friendship.