Department of Philosophy
In this semester, I am holding a liberal arts lecture entitled “Human being and Philosophical Thinking”. It covers four topics: art, photography, life (existence), and friendship. In this column, I want to talk about the meaning of life. The meaning I am trying to describe is neither an ultimate, nor a metaphysical truth that is valid for every life. It is rather a direction. To find the meaning of life is to give life a direction. This direction is inevitable for the significance of life, insofar as every movement would be meaningless without any direction. The sum of all meaningless movements does not give any spirit to life. The inevitability of the direction has been already expressed by a Stoic philosopher Seneca. He said that no wind is the right wind for those who do not know which harbor they are heading for.
In order to talk about the direction of life, I refer to a Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. He emphasized the existence of the individual person. Kierkegaard described the process in which a human being becomes a true individual person whose life has a direction. Considering this direction, Kierkegaard made an interesting remark: “Certainly it is true, as philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But, they forget the other proposition that it must be loved forwards.” This remark contains two propositions. The first one reminds me of the song Someday by Lee Sang-eun. It starts with the following lyrics: “When we were young we didn’t realize that we were young; when we were in love, our love was invisible. Looking back at us, however, we now realize we were young and loved each other. […]” It is very unfortunate that we do not understand and realize our life (youth) and love when we are living and loving. Why do we become aware of them only afterwards? Kierkegaard did not deal with this problem. He just said the first proposition “life must be understood backwards” is certainly true. However, I think that the soul of Kierkegaard’s remark is the second proposition “it [life] must be loved forwards”. If we practice the second proposition, then we do not have the problem of the first proposition.
When we live and love, we have to make choices every moment. Unfortunately, we do not know the result of our choices. Only afterwards, are we able to realize which choice was a good or bad one by noticing the consequence in our life. This backwards understanding is a utilitarian way of thinking. In contrast, the second proposition is not based on any calculations, but only on love. We could have made some “bad” choices. However, they would have been just necessary for us to be who we are now. When taking these necessary choices into account, we can do nothing but love. When we love all of our choices, we will not regret any of them. In the perspective of loving of our life, we also never regret the fact that we loved it too much. Instead, what we always regret is that we did not sufficiently adored it. Therefore, we should welcome every moment of our life, even if we do not know its result. As Kierkegaard remarked, life must be loved forwards.
The interesting thing about Kierkegaard’s remark is that it has a misspelling. The right word is not “loved”, but “lived”. He said life must be lived forwards. Nevertheless, I believe that the change of the word does not affect my interpretation. I hope you will think about his correct remark by loving your life.
Han Choong-su (Philosophy) email@example.com