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Quotations on the Meaning of Life

The world's foremost scientists, philosophers, writers, thinkers, politicians, and artists draw conclusions about the meaning of life that fall into the eight key concepts of The Meaning of Life.  Quotations from these figures are listed below and categorized by concept.

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Growth

“Life is a journey, not a destination.” — Proverb

O'Toole, Garson.  “Life Is a Journey, Not a Destination.”  Quote Investigator, 31 Aug. 2012, quoteinvestigator.com/2012/08/31/life-journey/.  Accessed 4 July 2017.

 

“Life is growth.  If we stop growing, technically and spiritually, we are as good as dead.” — Morihei Ueshiba

Morihei, Ueshiba, and John Stevens.  The Art of Peace.  Boston, Shambhala, 2010.

 

"I think you can say that life is a system in which proteins and nucleic acids interact in ways that allow the structure to grow and reproduce.  It's that growth and reproduction, the ability to make more of yourself, that's important." — Andy Knoll, paleontologist and professor of biology at Harvard University

McMaster, Joe.  “How Did Life Begin?”  PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 1 July 2004, www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/evolution/how-did-life-begin.html.

 

"Meaning can only ever exist within the confines of the human mind, and in this way the meaning of life is not somewhere out there but right between our ears." — Stephen Hawking

“The Meaning of Life.”  Huntley, Matthew, director.  Stephen Hawking's Grand Design, Discovery Channel, 24 June 2012.

Experience

“People grow through experiences if they meet life honestly and courageously.  This is how character is built.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

Roosevelt, Eleanor.  “My Day, August 2, 1941.”  The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Digital Edition, 2017, www2.gwu.edu/~erpapers/myday/displaydoc.cfm?_y=1941&_f=md055954.  Accessed 4 July 2017.

 

“That all our knowledge begins with experience there can be no doubt.” — Immanuel Kant

Kant, Immanuel, et al.  The Critique of Pure Reason.  Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2009.

 

“All knowledge of reality starts from experience and ends in it.” — Albert Einstein

Einstein, Albert, and Sonja Bargmann.  Ideas and Opinions.  New York, Dell Publ. Co., 1978.

Desire

“The significance of man is not in what he attains, but rather in what he longs to attain. . . . We are all climbing toward the summit of our hearts' desire.” — Kahlil Gibran

Gibran, Kahlil.  Sand and Foam.  New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1926.

 

“Just don't give up trying to do what you really want to do.  Where there is love and inspiration, I don't think you can go wrong.” — Ella Fitzgerald

“Quotes by Ella Fitzgerald.”  Ella Fitzgerald, Universal Music Enterprises, 30 Mar. 2017, www.ellafitzgerald.com/about/quotes.  Accessed 4 July 2017.

Belief

“Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right.” — Henry Ford

Wallace, DeWitt, and Lila Acheson Wallace, editors.  The Reader's Digest.  Sept. 1947, p. 64.

 

“The mind is the limit. As long as the mind can envision the fact that you can do something, you can do it, as long as you really believe 100 percent.”— Arnold Schwarzenegger

Dychtwald, Ken.  “Powers of Mind: A New Age Interview with Arnold Schwarzenegger.”  New Age, Jan. 1978, pp. 38–52.

 

“Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.” — William James

James, William.  The Will to Believe: and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy.  Urbana, IL, Project Gutenberg, 2009.

 

To paraphrase the Chinese philosopher Laozi, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Laozi.  The Tâo Teh King (Tao Te Ching).  Translated by James Legge, Wisehouse Classics, 2016.

(Note: literally translated as, “A journey of a thousand li starts beneath one's feet,” while commonly translated as, “The journey of a thousand li commenced with a single step.”)

Emotions

“Your intellect may be confused, but your emotions will never lie to you.” — Roger Ebert

Martin, Douglas.  “Roger Ebert Dies at 70; a Critic for the Common Man.”  The New York Times, 4 Apr. 2013, www.nytimes.com/2013/04/05/movies/roger-ebert-film-critic-dies.html.  Accessed 4 July 2017.

 

“Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

Roosevelt, Eleanor.  You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life.  New York, NY, Olive Editions, 2016.

 

“I say [happiness] is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing or that but simply growth.  We are happy when we are growing.” — John Butler Yeats

Yeats, John Butler., et al.  Letters to His Son W.B. Yeats and Others: 1869-1922.  London, Faber and Faber, 1999.

(Note: This quotation is commonly attributed to W.B. Yeats but originates from his father)

Ethics

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” — The Golden Rule

Gensler, Harry J.  Ethics and the Golden Rule.  New York, Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2013.
(Note: The Golden Rule comes in many forms; this source lists many versions of it used throughout history and quotes this version as the most common form in use in 2013)

 

“Let me give you a definition of ethics: It is good to maintain and further life; it is bad to damage and destroy life.” — Albert Schweitzer

Seaver, George, and Albert Schweitzer.  Albert Schweitzer: The Man and His Mind.  London, Adam & Charles Black, 1947.

Choice

“Every man builds his world in his own image. He has the power to choose, but no power to escape the necessity of choice.” — Dr. Hugh Akston in Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Rand, Ayn.  Atlas Shrugged.  New York, New American Library, 1957.

 

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” — Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”

Frost, Robert.  “The Road Not Taken.”  Mountain Interval, New York, Holt, 1921.

 

“If then whereas we wish for our end, the means to our end are matters of deliberation and choice, it follows that actions dealing with these means are done by choice.” — Aristotle

Aristotle, et al.  The Nicomachean Ethics.  Hertfordshire, Wordsworth Editions Limited, 1996.

On Proceeding with This Understanding

"Three things are necessary to man for salvation, that is to say: 1. a knowledge of what he must believe; 2. a knowledge of what he must desire; 3. a knowledge of what he must do.” — St. Thomas Aquinas

Thomas, and H. A. Rawes.  St. Thomas Aquinas on the Two Commandments of Charity: and the Ten Commandments of the Law.  Translated, with Prayers Added, by Father Rawes, D.D.  London, Burns and Oates, 1879.

 

“Well, life for none of us has been a crystal stair, but we must keep moving.  We must keep going.  And so, if you can’t fly, run.  If you can’t run, walk.  If you can’t walk, crawl, but, by all means, keep moving.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

King, Martin Luther.  “Martin Luther King Jr.'s Glenville High School Speech.”  26 Apr. 1967, Cleveland, Glenville High School.