Many philosophers have argued that death is harmful and evil. Others have tried to counterbalance these arguments by pointing out ways in which our finitude is good for us. I have analyzed the claim that death gives meaning to “life.” There is not sufficient support for this far-reaching claim, but there is support for the more limited conclusion that our finitude enhances or upholds the meaning in the lives of some individuals under certain circumstances. Upon first hearing a statement such as “death gives the meaning to life,”
I have attempted to demonstrate, our finitude does not necessarily give meaning to a person’s life. Before finitude can enhance the meaning in one’s life, one must first:
(1) Face up to one’s mortality and engage in meaning-conferring activities or projects;
(2) Transcend one’s finitude to connect to final value; or
(3) Devote some of the limited moments in one’s life to help other people (a sacrifice that only a mortal person can make). At this time, for most people, intrinsic motivation probably plays a more substantial role in giving meaning to their lives than does our finitude. But if more people begin to face up to our finitude, or if human beings have much longer life spans in the future, then death could play a larger role in enhancing or upholding the meaning in our lives.