The Meaning of Life

What is the meaning of life? What gives meaning to an individual’s life? These are not simple questions.

What is the meaning of life? What gives meaning to an individual’s life? These are not simple questions. Sometimes it seems we do not really understand what we are asking; indeed, some scholars claim we cannot understand life in principle. As a  result, questions about the meaning of life have often been ignored or mocked within many disciplines and practices.

In the last two decades, researchers from various fields have shown renewed interest in the question of the meaning of life and the possibility of creating a meaningful life. The increasing interest in the question of meaning does not only concern the academic world. It is also closely linked to the crisis of meaning that resonates across the modern world. Although it is a crisis which has its roots in the seventeenth century and in the cultural, economic and social processes that have taken place since then, it manifests itself today in a sense of emptiness, lack of direction in life, accompanied by a radical rise in loneliness and even underground political changes internally connected to the crisis of meaning.

The question of meaning has also different formulations, so sometimes it seems that we are dealing with completely different problems. The question may seem too broad; it may seem too narrow. However, in the end, the question presents an existential and emotional encounter between the ‘logic’ of research world and the daily human demand for a meaningful and intelligible life. Closer observation reveals one central and important truth: no matter how the question or the need of it are formulated, the question or elements of it are present in the life of each person, shaping their identity and touching their personal, social, economic, cultural and political life.

The question of the meaning of life embodies many other questions and distinctions: Metaphysical questions such as the question “What does all this mean?”; distinctions between the “meaning of life” and “meaning in life”, and a wide range of close and related concepts. For example: the question of suffering and the essence of suffering, the question of death and coping with it, the question of suicide, the demand for happiness, God’s place in human life and more. The question of meaning, even if it cannot always be answered directly, serves as an intellectual junction to which many questions and basic human existential elements are channelled.

At the same time, the question of the meaning of life or the possibility of living a meaningful life touches on a variety of fields: psychology, philosophy, behavioural economics, theology, education, sociology, management and more. Because the demand for the meaning is a fundamental force in life and in the establishment of society, it appears in each of the fields, but always in a partial and incomplete manner. Here we are required to make a mutual contribution of different fields in order to get a complete picture of the place of meaning in our lives. For example, in recent years, the vast place of meaning in economic life has become apparent, but it seems that the picture lacks philosophical analysis. It seems that the philosophical analysis needs the empiricism of the behavioural economics, while the latter needs the clarity of philosophical analysis. Multidisciplinary engagement is necessary to bridge those gaps.

However, the question of meaning is not found only within the academic world. Writers, parents, principals, educators, leaders, poets, clerics, life coaches, and many others touch upon the question of meaning in their daily practice. A multidisciplinary meeting can lead to the development of diverse tools to deal with the question of meaning and to make organisations and activities more meaningful. A better understanding of the question of meaning as a source of psychological or philosophical motivation will also have an economic, educational or managerial impact. We can even go so far as to say that the basic question of the 21st century is and will be the question of meaning. A multidisciplinary discussion here has not only an intellectual importance, but also a social and existential significance.

We may also look more broadly not only at the sources that shape our perceptions of life’s meaning but also how these influences operate vis-à-vis each other to inform our beliefs. The stories we tell through arts and literature, guidance from educators and mentors and the validation of particular practices and attitudes are among the most significant forces for shaping the way we understand the concept of meaning in relation to life generally, as well as our own individual existence. These powerful forces operate upon us in ways that are not always readily visible, or even related to questions about life’s meaning. But there can be no doubt that our worldview about meaning is being shaped by, for example, narratives that define success in terms of the acquisition of wealth material good, narratives that posit the ideal of the nuclear family, economic structures that require people to work more hours and spend less time pursuing other aspects of life, education requirements that marginalise liberal arts in favour of job-based training, and political discourses promoting individualism at the expense of community.


1st Global Inclusive Interdisciplinary Conference
The Meaning of Life
Saturday 4th April 2020 – Sunday 5th April 2020
Lisbon, Portugal