If we look at Friedrich Nietzsche’s writings, we will find a third, very different conception of meaning. Nietzsche doesn’t use the words “a meaningful life,” but he speaks about something very similar –about a noble life that is worth living.
In his Thus Spoke Zarathustra, we find the ideas of “self-overcoming” and “self-creation.” This means that the individual overcomes his small psychology – his conformist, fearful self. He creates for himself a bigger self, a self which creates its own values, and follows them passionately.
Nietzsche’s conception of meaning is obviously very different from the views of Marcel or of James. There is almost no similarity between his self-creating “overman” and Marcel’s witness to a light, or James’ hard-working worker. These three visions are not even opposites – they cannot be put on the same coordinate.
But this radical difference is the door to an important insight. Each of the three visions creates its own separate world. Each of them revolves around a different center – around the concept of “self-overcoming,” around the concept of “witness,” and of “effort towards a goal.” And around these three centers, each vision builds additional ideas.
Marcel’s main concepts can be sketched like this:
Faithfulness WITNESS - OBSERVER Uninvolved
Creative receiving Objective facts
James’ important concepts are completely different:
Will EFFORT - GOAL
Nietzsche’s basic concepts are a different story:
Accepted norms Self-created values
Comfort SMALL SELF - SELF-OVERCOMING Passion
Conformity SELF-CREATION Creativity
This is what I call “networks of ideas.” Three different philosophical theories about the same topic, each of them using a completely different network of ideas!
Philosophers construct networks of ideas about basic life-issues. But not only philosophers. Every human being interprets his world, organizes his world – in short, constructs networks of ideas. Every human being has an understanding of “the meaningful life,” although usually not in words. A person LIVES his network of ideas through his choices, emotions, fantasies, hopes.
And this is an important point of contact between philosophy and everyday life. The person in the street LIVES what philosophers PHILOSOPHIZE about. Philosophers are experts in networks of ideas. They can help people understand their worlds and expand them.