Excellence Reporter: Dr. Block, what is the meaning of life?
Walter E. Block: As an Austrian economist, I am a subjectivist. My response to this question is that there is no one meaning of life. There are no objective criteria to determine that one answer to this question is better than another. Different people have different meanings of life and there is simply no metric by which we can judge them.
Well, maybe, I speak too quickly here. The meaning of life of Mao (60million), Stalin (20 million) and Hitler (11 million) is to murder as many innocent people as they can. These life’s meanings can be judged inferior to virtually all others, at least in terms of adherence to just law. But, YoYo Ma’s meaning in life is to play the cello the best it has ever been played, Ussain Bolt’s is to run the 100 and 200 meters the fastest it has ever been run, Einstein’s was to unlock the mysteries of the universe, Salk’s was to cure polio. All of these seem very meaningful to me, and I would not want to be put into the position of saying which of them is more meritorious.
The meaning of life of more ordinary people is also valuable in my opinion. The man who loves his wife and children, and takes care of them to the best of his ability. The bus driver who carries passengers around safely. The baker and the candlestick-maker who plies his trade to the best of his ability. These, too, are worthwhile meanings of life in my view.
What gives meaning to my own life? Let me narrow that down a bit: What gives meaning to my own professional life? That is easy for me to answer. One element of this is to pursue libertarian theory to the furthest reaches it has ever been pursued; to get that proverbial one millionth of an inch closer to the Truth, with a capital T. What is the correct (e.g., libertarian) view of immigration? Which side is more nearly correct, the pro-lifers or the pro-choicers? What is ideal punishment theory? How can we best live with one another in fairness and justice? Attempting to tackle these questions gives meaning to my life. Another element is Austrian economics. What causes unemployment? Inflation? Recessions and depressions? I wake up each morning inspired by these questions, and determined to add my teeny little bit to their solution. That turns my crank splendidly.
Then, on a personal note, I have been blessed with a loving family. My hobbies also add meaning to my life: baroque and classical music (my favorites, in order, are Bach, Mozart, Handel, Vivaldi and Beethoven). I am a mediocre athlete, but partaking in sports perks me up quite a bit. I have enjoyed running, volleyball, handball, swimming and race walking.
I have many co-authors in my professional life. Once upon a time I was in the midst of some half dozen different articles with a writing partner, and he asked me which of them he should work on at that point in time. My answer, right from the heart was (apart from deadlines): whichever is the most fun to work on. I think we should have fun in this life, and I am very lucky in that I deeply enjoy all the things I do. They give meaning to my life.
~Walter E. Block, an Austrian school economist and anarcho-libertarian philosopher, is Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Chair in Economics and Professor of Economics at Loyola University New Orleans and Senior Fellow with the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
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Categories: Academia, Economics, Excellence
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