Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Nikita Agarwal 
PHIL 3375- The Meaning of Life
November 13, 2012


For this project, I chose to interview my friend and colleague who wished to remain anonymous. For the purpose of this blog, we shall name her ‘Mary’. She is a senior college student at Southern Methodist University, majoring in psychology and French. After college, Mary plans on pursuing her education in graduate school to attain her Ph.D. She was born in Mumbai, India, until the age of one when she and her family moved to Muscat, Oman. She remained in the Middle East until the age of six due to her father’s career. Since then, Mary has been living in Irving, Texas from age six to twenty-one. She is a devout Hindu. Mary has a mother, father, and one older brother in her family. She has taken only one prior philosophy class, but participated in a philosophy-based debate team throughout high school. 

SURVEY:  Mary took the survey, and her results revealed the following information. 

1a) Bella’s life can’t be going entirely well. This suggests that Mary values autonomy. 
2b) It’s quite possible Norbert’s life is going very well. This suggests that Mary 
does not believe ‘self’ is a necessity.
3a) Constance’s life can’t be going entirely well. This suggests that Mary values progress. 
4a) & 5a) Maggie’s life can’t be going entirely well. This suggests that Mary places value on happiness with good or valuable things. 
6a) Not at all. This answer suggests that Mary doesn’t believe pleasure adds to life when achieved morally wrongly.
7a) Carlo’s life can’t be going entirely well. This suggests that Mary believes that everyone has the same list which includes morality. Therefore, Mary values morality. 
8b) Alan’s life is going no better than Ben’s. This suggests that Mary believes achievement is not inherently life-enhancing. 
9b) The extra pain is not worth it, to avoid her error about where she is. This answer suggests that Mary believes an error in knowing your place is not so important. 
10b) The extra pain would not be worth it, to understand where she really is. This suggests that Mary believes it is not worth the pain to obtain knowledge.
11b) & 12c) No. These answers suggest that Mary believes Sisyphus’s life is meaningless, regardless of his desire to push the rock. 
13a) Making him keep pushing, but with a strong desire to push. This answer suggests that Mary values subjective meaningfulness. 
14a) Since he wants to push and enjoys it, his situation is good for him. This answers tells us that Mary doesn’t see a need for Sisyphus to want or identify with that desire. Therefore, Mary only requires the enjoyment of pushing. 
15a) Yes. The lives of the glow worms are meaningless.
16a) The person driven by morality. This answer suggests that Mary believes morality is more important for people than doing what you care about. 
17b), 16b), 19b), & 20b) All of these answers suggest that Mary highly values contact with reality. 
21a) He was probably living a good life. This answer suggests that Mary is not a relativist. 

Through the survey, we are able to conclude several things about the way Mary views the good life. It is clear that she values autonomy, progress, happiness with good things,  morality, and contact with reality. These elements fit her objective list view. When faced with questions that do not follow the guidelines of her objective list view, Mary becomes uneasy and hesitant of what to do next. Throughout the survey, we can also identify what is not important or necessary for Mary to live a good life. She does not believe having a 'self' and knowing your place is very necessary. Mary also believes there is a balance between the amount of pain people can handle and the knowledge they will gain. 

IN DEPTH: After Mary took the survey, I interviewed her on her opinions of what makes a good life. Below is an excerpt from our conversation. Taking information from both the survey and the interview, I am able to report that Mary's opinions about the good life are consistent. She values family, education, and friends. Mary highly values progress and achievement. She also believes a strong educational background will help her attain this achievement. However when pressed to choose between an education and her family, she has difficulty choosing a definite answer. We continue our conversation to sports and games, which are also highly important to Mary. Games add to her sense of achievement. Next we move on to a more delicate topic of conversation. Mary's mother is not in perfect health, and has been unwell for sometime. Her mother is handicapped to a wheelchair and is no longer able to do many of the things she used to enjoy before. I asked Mary if her mother's disabilities hinder her from a good life. Mary answered affirmatively, stating that if her mother was not handicapped, her life would be better. 

  • Do you believe you have a good life right now? “Um.. Can I come back to you? Yeah, yeah.”
  • How would you define a good life? “Um, having a family, being able to achieve an education, having a very good group of good friends.That’s kind of it for me. Being able to spend time for family friends.”
  • If there was something preventing you from getting an education, would you say your life is still good? “If I knew I could continue it after, maybe. But I would mostly say no.”
  • So if you didn’t have any education at all, would you still say your life.. “No, in the sense that I want to advance in my life. And my family holds education very highly. But I wouldn’t put education above my family. 
  • What if you have family, but no education? Would your life still be okay? “Maybe. Ugh Nikita, you’re killing me.”
  • Okay. So you hold achievement highly as well. Could we say if you had achievement in other means, not through education, could we say your life was still a good life? “No.”
  • Are games/sports important to you? “Yes, very important.”
  • Why are they important? “They’re a source of happiness. I enjoy them. It also has built my competitive nature.”
  • I know that your mother is not in perfect health. Why is your mother not well? “She has a lot of complications in her body. Like heart stuff and cancer.”
  • Would you say her life is hindered because of her ailments? “Yes. She tries for it not to,but it does physically. 
  • Would you say her life is not as good because of her difficulties? “She’s had to sacrifice a lot of things. From an outsider point ,some things could be better. The sacrifice is tremendous. From her point, she’s given up a lot but she’s still staying strong.”
  • She used to be a teacher, correct? “Yes, but she hasn’t been able to work since 2000.”
  • Okay. Let's continue. 
  • Is morality important to you? “Very important.”
  • Why is it important? “I don’t think you can progress in life without having morals.” 
  • Would you steal money to save your family? “I don’t think I could forgive myself if I did  something like that. I don’t think my family would want me to.”
  • What is the meaning of life? “It’s what you make it.”
  • What does that mean? “You define your own life. But I also feel like an individual’s life is also defined by the people around them and their background.” 

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