[This is an excerpt, consisting of the main bulk of the letter, from correspondence by Murphey with his daughter dated January 12, 1989.  It follows up on a discussion they had had of “the meaning of life.”  It is included here because it supplements his discussion of that subject in several of his other writings.  For a list of those other writings, see the caption that appears on this Web site at the head of his “unpublished work” on “The Affirmatives of Liberal Religion,” which is item U5 here.] 


Elaboration on “The Meaning of Life” 

            I’ve made a copy of the final paragraphs of my article in The Occasional Review – the ones that were omitted when the main part of the article was published, and then were published as a postscript in the next issue.  They speak briefly of my own views on “the meaning of life.”  In the article, I had been critical of the views of three psychologists – Maslow, Frankl and Branden – because each asserted some source of value other than a God and other than human consciousness.

            The subject of “what, then, is the meaning of life?” deserves a lot more attention than the few paragraphs I devoted to it.  At the end of my article, I say “there is meaning in life through our own affirmation as living beings of its value to us,” although earlier I say “it is just as human to detest life as it is to cherish it.”  Why should our reaction be one rather than the other?  This is a question of the greatest importance – but one that it’s easy to fall into platitudes about while discussing.  Here, at least, are some of the thoughts that come to my mind about it:

            1.  Ayn Rand’s books are excellent on the subject of the meaning of life (despite her flaws in many things).  In her book The Romantic Manifesto she talks about “the sense of life” that differs among people.  This seems to me to be an important concept, since it relates meaning to our own will and outlook and inner strength.  Her novels Anthem and Atlas Shrugged are monuments to a creative spirit.  Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning is also splendid (even though I criticized it in terms of technical philosophy). [Note in 2005: I have less appreciation for Franl's book now, after yet another reading, because it seems to me to lack authenticity.  This is due to its lack of specific description and to Frankl’s very evident lack of concern about his fellow inmates, whom he evidently made no effort to assist, in the concentration camp.]

            2.  In our conversation, we talked about how, when all is said and done, it is love that remains as most meaningful and important.  On the flight home I thought that this should actually be cast in broader terms – not just as a love for people who are most dear, even though that is enormously significant, but as a love for the specifics that have formed the whole rich texture of our individual existence.  What I mean is such things as my love for Icy Cave Canyon up at Palmer Lake or the view of Mt. Sneffels near Ouray.  I love Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Wagner’s Tannhauser.  And every bit as much I love the search for understanding in all the areas of study that have attracted me.  I hesitate to say what it is that you love, since these things are very personal.  I would be surprised if you have not invested something of yourself in your favorite teddy bears (just as I’ll always have a special place in my heart for a bean bag and a rag doll I had when we lived in Miami [age 1 to 7]).  And, despite all the hassle, there should always be excitement within you about Washington.  These are just examples – there’s much more.

            3.  I am not sure that these loves would be enough by themselves, though, if I didn’t draw meaning from something larger and, to me, more permanent.  The circumstances of my own life gave me a lifetime commitment to a set of ideals.  When we went to Mexico [when I was seven], I learned to love what this country had always been thought to stand for.  (Of course, it took me a number of years to find out how imperfectly people actually carry out any ideal; and how the ideal is in part  a description of real people and events, and in part a life-giving myth.)

            It is probably impossible for you to understand that ideal, much less with the passion I’ve felt.  Since long before you were born, the deep hatreds that the intellectual culture bears toward the main society have caused almost all films and literature to drum home the message: “There is no American ideal – only brutality and ugliness.”

            The question for you, and for your and subsequent generations, will be whether you will accept this at face value as a true depiction of what America stands for.  I see it as mainly false, since I don’t believe that it has ever been true that brutality and ugliness have made up the core of American life.  For the future, it is a question of whether, as tarnished as the ideal has become, you can rediscover and reassert it.  You need your own freshly discovered “life-giving myth” that you make the central motor of your own being and of the country’s continuing life.

            4.  This leads to the observation that the meaning of life must come not just from each individual’s seeking – but from a cultural texture, a common and shared set of values and of things-that-are-valued.  All true “conservatives” would tell us that – and it’s true.  The answers to the “meaning of life” are only in part to be found on an individual level.

            5.  One last thought that comes to mind about the meaning of life has to do with “the need to hang tough.”  Most of the ancient philosophies (and especially stoicism) considered life so precarious that the only thing that could ultimately be counted on was the nobility of the human being when all else is stripped away.  This relates, of course, to Ayn Rand’s “sense of life.”  The ancients braced themselves to be noble even if everything crumbled around them.  This was an act of will – a determination to set their own terms for existence.

            This toughness is vital, since tragedy is inherent in life.  The ******s have to be inwardly tough to handle *******’s death and *******’s drug problems.  Bud and Carol have to have carried a great burden of pain with the loss of Margot and then of Carol.  And even if we’re lucky and avoid those kinds of losses, the very fact that we’re all mortal means the gradual emptying of the world of the people we love.

            But as true as all this is, must tragedy define our sense of life?  Is it what should form us?  It would be a morbid sense of life that would say so, especially in the United States in our generations.  There is so much more!

            There’s a lot more to say, and maybe you’ll have some thoughts to share with me…..