Is it good to exist?
This was a question put to my philosophy class today, while we were studying the environmental ethics of Hans Jonas, a German philosopher.
When discussing whether it’s wrong to destroy a rainforest or a species or even the future of our own race … all arguments for preserving nature are null and void if existence is not a good thing.
My lecturer told us that for the Buddhists, life is suffering (which is why detachment is the way to enlightenment — if you don’t have something you are not sad when you lose it). I cannot refute this. Life is suffering. Some have suffered more than me, some less — but we all suffer.
“Life is a disease: sexually transmitted, and invariably fatal.”~ Neil Gaiman
So why is existence good? Why do we strive to live? Why do all things strive? Why do we think killing is one of the highest sins? Why is the destruction of the human race to be feared, rather than desired? There is a clear way to end all suffering, yet most of us deny it with every fibre of our being.
I’ve thought about this before, perhaps more than is healthy. The conclusion I’ve come to, the only true answer I can find … is one of potential.
Sure, most of us will experience happiness at some point, but it will not last, before we descend once more into sadness, stress and general angst. So is the sadness balanced out by this happiness? Not necessarily, perhaps for some of us.
But when we are at our worst … death offers us nothing. I do not believe in an afterlife (you may differ from me, here), but death … leads to nothing. It means that your life had an imbalance of sadness. But if you choose to live … there is a chance. It might be small, it might be vaguely irrational, depending on your circumstances, but it is there. This hope of happiness. That is what we strive for. And as someone who has experienced what I believe to be both intense joy and intense sorrow … I think the joy is worth waiting for. A gamble. We exist for all those little moments in which we are happy, or hope to be happy. We live to see it in others, see it for others when they can’t see it for themselves.
“All things strive.” ~ Terry Pratchett
I believe life is worth it for that chance. Because nothing compares to that joy. We have all heard Sartre’s famous quote, “Hell is other people” yet he fails to mention that only with other people, choosing life alongside us, will we reach a form of heaven. It may be fleeting, it may fade, but it existed, and it was utterly beautiful.
We may see it again.
“FOR THE SAKE OF PRISONERS AND THE FLIGHT OF BIRDS. WHAT CAN THE HARVEST HOPE FOR, IF NOT THE CARE OF THE REAPER MAN?” ~ Terry Pratchett
While I don’t dislike Buddhism, I could never adopt it for myself. Life is suffering, true. And you minimise this suffering through detachment. However … when you are detached, you lose that chance at euphoria. I don’t think it’s worth it.
Someday … we shall all be gone. All that we know, all that we have done, all that we have thought and dreamed and achieved shall have faded. But not yet. There is beauty to be found that has not yet come to pass.
I ask only that you give it a chance.
“After all this time, it still seems to me like straight and fast is the only way out — but I choose the labyrinth. The labyrinth blows, but I choose it.” ~ ‘Looking for Alaska’ by John Green.
So … is it good to exist? Not always. Existence can be good or bad. But who are we to deny anyone, including ourselves, that chance?
Let me know what you think. Let me know if you have questions. I wrote this at 1am. Bear that in mind, please.
If you have a thought that you think is relevant, or might change my own view, I might write something else on this topic incorporating your philosophies.
Influences: Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, John Green, Sartre, moral philosophy, life, Buddhism, etc.
The first photograph is not mine. The second is (it’s of Stephen’s Green Park, in Dublin, Ireland).