The Meaning Of Life
by Philip Atkinson (August 2011)

The Observer Supplies Meaning
There is no meaning in events, this is something understanding supplies to what the senses observe. A tasty meal for one creature can be a dreadful death for another; the death of a person may be a vile crime or an accident or an act of justice; it all depends upon the understanding of the observer.

Meaning Rests Upon Morality
The reliance upon understanding for meaning reveals the importance of morality, for this is the foundation of understanding. Meaning is generated from the set of values we adopted during infancy to allow the invoking of reason. This means that our infancy determines our understanding, which in turn determines the meaning of our lives.

Understanding Determines Knowledge
From the almost unlimited number of possible observations of its surroundings an understanding selects only those it considers to be meaningful, and these it accumulates in memory as its experience or knowledge. And this knowledge it employs as the axioms for judging cause and effect.

Morality Determines Reality
Meaning and knowledge are used by an understanding to construct a view of the world —reality. Hence it is the moral foundation of an understanding, as well as experience, that dictates reality. And there can be no reality except that realised by an understanding. Thus:

Understanding is the bestowing of meaning upon observations.

Meaning is the recognition of right or wrong determined by the application of a set of beliefs; directives to do, or not do, particular acts— the set of beliefs that control the understanding—its morality.

A Morality is the set of beliefs that control the understanding and are thus the necessary foundation of every understanding—the Axioms of the understanding.

i. Must exist before understanding can occur.

ii. Is unchangeable, as it is formed only during the creation of the understanding.

iii. Dictates the character of the understanding as it is used in every judgement made by the understanding.

iv. Is established by accidental events.

Axiom is any belief that forms a basis for judgement. It can only be demonstrated to be false by showing it contradicts a previously accepted axiom.

Knowledge is the experience of an understanding; the observations selected by an understanding as meaningful and accumulated in memory as the axioms for judging cause and effect. This accumulation of knowledge allows the recognition of patterns in the knowledge, which can result in the development of abstract notions such as True and False, Good and Evil, Language, Logic, Mathematics, etc., which enhance the power of the understanding by becoming the tools of the understanding.

Two Kinds Of Morality Supply Two Kinds Of Understanding
Morality is the essence of understanding and thus life, but there are two kinds of morality, and these obtain two different understandings (see diagram):

Sanity
is the ability to recognize right from wrong independently of private feelings. This in turn allows:

i. Rational Thinking—Disciplined to resist the influence of private feelings and so allow acceptance of truths that contradict fears and fancies.

ii. Self-Sacrifice— Recognition of the need to sacrifice self for the benefit of others.

—two qualities that must obtain the notions of:

Duty: what a citizen should and should not do, regardless of private feelings.

Justice: the belief that the dutiful be rewarded while the undutiful are punished.

Truth: the essential requirement of duty and justice and independent of fears and fancies.

Knowledge: the correct and exact recording of events obtained by the accumulation of truth.

iii. A Sense Of Immortality:—Implicit in our personal acceptance of a social code is the notion that we are of less importance than the community; this means that we consider our personal well being inferior to the needs of the society. This allows us to face the prospect of death with some equanimity, because even though we know each one of us must eventually die, the most important thing —the community —survives.

A Single Shared Understanding—A Community
The result of sanity is a shared understanding—a Community: by being independent of the personal feelings of an individual a single set of values can be adopted by a group to form a single communal understanding, which allows them to act as one creature, an animal that is much stronger and cleverer than its individual members as it is empowered by:

Scientific Knowledge: the discoveries of citizens free from superstition are shared and remembered by all which are shared and remembered by all and so allow the creation of a rapidly increasing body of accurate information.

Common Purpose: the promotion of the well-being of all citizens. This gives us the will to resist, along with the determination to prevent, the accidents of life. Famine, pestilence, wars and natural disasters become inspirations for effort and activity, a spur to keep improving our technology and so protect our society.

Institutions: Enhanced by accumulated knowledge, empowered by public order, and inspired by duty, the society can organize itself to better win its objects by creating institutions. Observe all the institutions formed by the society first exist in citizens minds, which makes the organization of society a mental projection of its members.

Tradition Defined
Thus, only the unselfish are sane and their sanity is their unselfish moral code, which is the tradition of their community. Hence:

Tradition is the sanity of the community and its citizens.

A Selfish Understanding Is Insane
A selfish understanding is founded upon the value that self is paramount, and that right is what private feelings desire and wrong is what private feelings dislike. As feelings change with mood and circumstances, so must judgement which can never be predictable or rational; which is insanity. Hence:

Insanity
is the inability to recognize right from wrong independently of private feelings because understanding is founded upon a set of values that sets private needs as paramount, subservient only to the demands of convenience. This obtains:

i. Irrational Thinking—As private feelings rule reason, so truth becomes what fears and fancies demand.

ii.Self-Seeking The pursuit of immediate gratification regardless of others.

—two qualities that must corrupt the notions of:

Duty as it becomes doing what is best for the immediate and private concerns of the understanding.

Justice being what the fears and fancies of the understanding demand from others.

Truth as observation becomes the servant of private fears and fancies.

Knowledge The corruption of truth results in the accumulation of delusions: superstition.

iii. A Sense Of Impending Doom—Implicit in selfishness is the realisation that the most valuable thing, self, is doomed to die. This means the selfish are haunted by notions of inevitable universal catastrophe that destroys everything.

No Single Shared Understanding—No Community
The impact of which must destroy any existing Community by inhibiting all achievements, allowing only the exploitation and destruction of the actual achievements of others, through:

Confusion: caused by notions of right and wrong varying with mood and circumstance.

Disorder: Opposing notions of right and wrong obtain implacably opposed groups of people within the community. For the crime of murder some may demand the death penalty, others may demand only a term of imprisonment, while others may believe the victim deserved death and the murderer merits reward. So regardless of the sentence imposed for the crime, an injustice will be seen to be done by all but one of the groups.

Delusion: Inability to resist the fears and fancies inspired by emotions must result in adoption of irrational notions: superstition.

Cowardice: A selfish character immediately retreats in the face of hardship as it demands private sacrifice. Without an unselfish perception the individual, and hence the community, cannot show resolution in the face of hardship.

Despair: Being concerned only with self and aware of the inevitable approach of their death, must obtain an ultimate feeling of futility and impending doom.

The Sanity Test
As the insane have no way of judging right from wrong except by their feelings, a simple test of sanity is the question:

How do you recognise right from wrong independently of your feelings?

Unless the truthful answer is a traditional moral code, such as a religion, then insanity is demonstrated.

Conclusion
Sanity gives a clear meaning to life but it forces its devotees into a constant struggle to control their emotions as they suppress appetites that conflict with the stated code of behaviour. While Insanity imposes only the restraints of convenience on behaviour, otherwise licensing every animal urge, but it cannot supply any long term meaning to life.

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