The Meaning Of Life: According To Plato
‘Each of us is a tiny being, permitted to ride on the outermost skin of one of the smaller planets for a few dozen trips around the local star,’ said Carl Sagan.
Twentieth Century philosopher Albert Camus added that life, for all practical purposes, is altogether meaningless. We’re simply biological matter living on a rocky planet orbiting a star swirling around a galaxy that is part of a huge indifferent universe.
Camus stood in a long line of thinkers from Kierkegaard to Nietzsche to Heidegger and Sartre who wrestled with the notion that there is in fact no preordained meaning to life, and that purpose and meaning is what each of us prescribe to it.
Camus set himself apart from the former philosophers however, for they tended to be melancholy in their views. Camus reasoned that while there is no greater purpose to it all, there is no point in wallowing in depression; “We are to live and love and laugh and dance,” was his philosophy.
Plato believed in three levels of meaning. The lowest, he felt, was biological reproduction. “Reproduction,” he reasoned, “goes on forever, and it is what we have in place of immortality.”
Biological reproduction is the purpose and end goal of all life on this planet. It is at the core of the drive behind Richard Dawkins’ 'Selfish Gene’. All biological lifeforms participate in the act of procreation. It is the effort by an organism to prolong it’s existence by passing down it’s genetics to subsequent generations.
Through This, something of the organism continues to exist even after it’s death; our children carry part of our name and biology, but most relevant to Plato was that they carry part of our beliefs, wisdom, and values.
Plato’s tenet was that while a man’s primal instinct is to gain immortality through biological reproduction, he can also — more importantly — gain immortality through ethereal reproduction.
That is, to gain immortality through words, deeds and actions.
Some are pregnant in body,“ he said, “while some are pregnant in soul.”
While the former give birth to biological offspring which ensures their survival through their genetics, the latter give birth to non-biological offspring which ensures their survival through their works.
They give birth to words and works of a worthy cause, to art and culture and music, to personality and podcast, to knowledge and wisdom, to acts of bravery, courage and achievements in sport, life and industry. To works of art and craft which adds beauty to life; to labours of literature, science and philosophy, to skill and method. To works of philosophical reflection and critical introspection which pass down rational thought and sound reasoning.
Their words, their deeds and their actions become immortal.
“Everyone would rather have such children than human ones,” argues Plato.
Biological reproduction is the lowest form of procreation as one’s genetics are destined to dissipate after several generations.
The higher pursuit should be in the pursuit of the reproduction of non-biological children.
Plato’s tutor was Socrates, the famed philosopher martyr who left no written texts of his philosophies but made such a strong impression on his students that antiquity honours him as the father of philosophy. Aristotle, a direct student of Plato, became Alexander the Great’s greatest mentor, rearing the boy from youth to adolesnce under the willing consent and commission of his father Philipp II.
In America, George Washington, the 1st president of the United States is remembered as “The father of the nation,” even though he had no children.
The composer J.S. Bach is remembered for the inspiring music that he wrote, not the 13 children that he fathered. Nor is Bob Marley for his 12 but for his music and culture. Religious leaders continue to inspire people to become their spiritual children thousands of years after their physical deaths.
According to Plato we get the greatest reward in life when we live it full of purpose and meaning.
We are to work and live and love not only for the benefit of our own lives but for the benefit of those who are to come after us.
The greatest fulfilment is found when we not only father biological children, but non-biological children as well.