What is the philosophical definition of life?

How does philosophy define life? And how does it overlap and contrast with the concepts and nuances of other sciences such as biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics?

They ask different questions. Philosophy may ask what is life, is there a purpose behind it, etc. Biology asks how does it work, chemistry what are the chemical reactions that drive it, physics maybe how does physics allow for life and how life utilizes and impacts physics, and mathematics how can life and its components be described mathematically.

It is good to remember that all scientific disciplines branched off from philosophy (and religious philosophy) and that they are interconnected.

This is the answer to the part of your question that includes biology. If you want to discuss the meaning of life philosophically, you are welcome to come to do it on the philosophy page!

There is no difference along the lines of philosophy vs. science. However, there are broader and narrower definitions in biology.

The broadest I know of is "a self-replicating, chemical system (thing) with both exhibits heredity and some form of homeostasis (display internal negative entropy)", and some even argue the last part may be optional.

The narrowest also requires being made of cells, displaying growth, metabolism, adaptation, and response to stimuli. Some argue against these because they are either implicit in the other definition (homeostasis requires a metabolism, self-replication + heredity = adaptation), that they are unnecessary (cells or growth) or difficult to define themselves (response to stimuli).

The origin of life

Perhaps the most fundamental and at the same time the least understood biological problem is the origin of life. It is central to many scientific and philosophical problems and to any consideration of extraterrestrial life. Most of the hypotheses of the origin of life will fall into one of four categories:

Hypothesis 1, the traditional contention of theology and some philosophy, is in its most general form not inconsistent with contemporary scientific knowledge, although scientific knowledge is inconsistent with a literal interpretation of the biblical accounts given in chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis and in other religious writings. Hypothesis 2 (not of course inconsistent with 1) was the prevailing opinion for centuries. A typical 17th-century view follows:

[May one] doubt whether, in cheese and timber, worms are generated, or, if beetles and wasps, in cow’s dung, or if butterflies, locusts, shellfish, snails, eels, and suchlike be procreated of putrefied matter, which is apt to receive the form of that creature to which it is by the formative power disposed. To question this is to question reason, sense, and experience. If he doubts of this, let him go to Egypt, and there he will find the fields swarming with mice begot of the mud of the Nylus [Nile], to the great calamity of the inhabitants.

(Alexander Ross, Arcana Microcosmi, 1652.)

It was not until the Renaissance, with its burgeoning interest in anatomy, that such spontaneous generation of animals from putrefying matter was deemed impossible. During the mid-17th century the British physiologist William Harvey, in the course of his studies on the reproduction and development of the king’s deer, discovered that every animal comes from an egg. An Italian biologist, Francesco Redi, established in the latter part of the 17th century that the maggots in meat came from flies’ eggs, deposited on the meat. In the 18th century an Italian priest, Lazzaro Spallanzani, showed that fertilization of eggs by sperm was necessary for the reproduction of mammals. Yet the idea of spontaneous generation died hard. Even though it was clear that large animals developed from fertile eggs, there was still hope that smaller beings, microorganisms, spontaneously generated from debris. Many felt it was obvious that the ubiquitous microscopic creatures generated continually from inorganic matter.

Maggots were prevented from developing on meat by covering it with a flyproof screen. Yet grape juice could not be kept from fermenting by putting over it any netting whatever. Spontaneous generation was the subject of a great controversy between the famous French bacteriologists Louis Pasteur and Félix-Archimède Pouchet in the 1850s. Pasteur triumphantly showed that even the most minute creatures came from “ germs” that floated downward in the air, but that they could be impeded from access to foodstuffs by suitable filtration. Pouchet argued, defensibly, that life must somehow arise from nonliving matter if not, how had life come about in the first place?

Pasteur’s experimental results were definitive: life does not spontaneously appear from nonliving matter. American historian James Strick reviewed the controversies of the late 19th century between evolutionists who supported the idea of “life from non-life” and their responses to Pasteur’s religious view that only the Deity can make life. The microbiological certainty that life always comes from preexisting life in the form of cells inhibited many post-Pasteur scientists from discussions of the origin of life at all. Many were, and still are, reluctant to offend religious sentiment by probing this provocative subject. But the legitimate issues of life’s origin and its relation to religious and scientific thought raised by Strick and other authors, such as the Australian Reg Morrison, persist today and will continue to engender debate.

Toward the end of the 19th century, hypothesis 3 gained currency. Swedish chemist Svante A. Arrhenius suggested that life on Earth arose from “panspermia,” microscopic spores that wafted through space from planet to planet or solar system to solar system by radiation pressure. This idea, of course, avoids rather than solves the problem of the origin of life. It seems extremely unlikely that any live organism could be transported to Earth over interplanetary or, worse yet, interstellar distances without being killed by the combined effects of cold, desiccation in a vacuum, and radiation.

Although English naturalist Charles Darwin did not commit himself on the origin of life, others subscribed to hypothesis 4 more resolutely. The famous British biologist T.H. Huxley in his book Protoplasm: The Physical Basis of Life (1869) and the British physicist John Tyndall in his “Belfast Address” of 1874 both asserted that life could be generated from inorganic chemicals. However, they had extremely vague ideas about how this might be accomplished. The very phrase “organic molecule” implied, especially then, a class of chemicals uniquely of biological origin. Despite the fact that urea and other organic (carbon-hydrogen) molecules had been routinely produced from inorganic chemicals since 1828, the term organic meant “from life” to many scientists and still does. In the following discussion the word organic implies no necessary biological origin. The origin-of-life problem largely reduces to determination of an organic, nonbiological source of certain processes such as the identity maintained by metabolism, growth, and reproduction (i.e., autopoiesis).

Darwin’s attitude was: “It is mere rubbish thinking at present of the origin of life one might as well think of the origin of matter.” The two problems are in fact curiously connected. Indeed, modern astrophysicists do think about the origin of matter. The evidence is convincing that thermonuclear reactions, either in stellar interiors or in supernova explosions, generate all the chemical elements of the periodic table more massive than hydrogen and helium. Supernova explosions and stellar winds then distribute the elements into the interstellar medium, from which subsequent generations of stars and planets form. These thermonuclear processes are frequent and well-documented. Some thermonuclear reactions are more probable than others. These facts lead to the idea that a certain cosmic distribution of the major elements occurs throughout the universe. Some atoms of biological interest, their relative numerical abundances in the universe as a whole, on Earth, and in living organisms are listed in the table. Even though elemental composition varies from star to star, from place to place on Earth, and from organism to organism, these comparisons are instructive: the composition of life is intermediate between the average composition of the universe and the average composition of Earth. Ninety-nine percent of the mass both of the universe and of life is made of six atoms: hydrogen (H), helium (He), carbon (C), nitrogen (N), oxygen (O), and neon (Ne). Might not life on Earth have arisen when Earth’s chemical composition was closer to the average cosmic composition and before subsequent events changed Earth’s gross chemical composition?

Relative abundances of the elements
*0 percent here stands for any quantity less than 10 –6 percent.
atom universe life (terrestrial vegetation) Earth (crust)
hydrogen 87 16 3
helium 12 0* 0
carbon 0.03 21 0.1
nitrogen 0.008 3 0.0001
oxygen 0.06 59 49
neon 0.02 0 0
sodium 0.0001 0.01 0.7
magnesium 0.0003 0.04 8
aluminum 0.0002 0.001 2
silicon 0.003 0.1 14
sulfur 0.002 0.02 0.7
phosphorus 0.00003 0.03 0.07
potassium 0.000007 0.1 0.1
argon 0.0004 0 0
calcium 0.0001 0.1 2
iron 0.002 0.005 18

The Jovian planets ( Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) are much closer to cosmic composition than is Earth. They are largely gaseous, with atmospheres composed principally of hydrogen and helium. Methane, ammonia, neon, and water have been detected in smaller quantities. This circumstance very strongly suggests that the massive Jovian planets formed from material of typical cosmic composition. Because they are so far from the Sun, their upper atmospheres are very cold. Atoms in the upper atmospheres of the massive, cold Jovian planets cannot now escape from their gravitational fields, and escape was probably difficult even during planetary formation.

Earth and the other planets of the inner solar system, however, are much less massive, and most have hotter upper atmospheres. Hydrogen and helium escape from Earth today it may well have been possible for much heavier gases to have escaped during Earth’s formation. Very early in Earth’s history, there was a much larger abundance of hydrogen, which has subsequently been lost to space. Most likely the atoms carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen were present on the early Earth, not in the forms of CO2 (carbon dioxide), N2, and O2 as they are today but rather as their fully saturated hydrides: methane, ammonia, and water. The presence of large quantities of reduced (hydrogen-rich) minerals, such as uraninite and pyrite, that were exposed to the ancient atmosphere in sediments formed over two billion years ago implies that atmospheric conditions then were considerably less oxidizing than they are today.

In the 1920s British geneticist J.B.S. Haldane and Russian biochemist Aleksandr Oparin recognized that the nonbiological production of organic molecules in the present oxygen-rich atmosphere of Earth is highly unlikely but that, if Earth once had more hydrogen-rich conditions, the abiogenic production of organic molecules would have been much more likely. If large quantities of organic matter were somehow synthesized on early Earth, they would not necessarily have left much of a trace today. In the present atmosphere—with 21 percent of oxygen produced by cyanobacterial, algal, and plant photosynthesis—organic molecules would tend, over geological time, to be broken down and oxidized to carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and water. As Darwin recognized, the earliest organisms would have tended to consume any organic matter spontaneously produced prior to the origin of life.

The first experimental simulation of early Earth conditions was carried out in 1953 by a graduate student, Stanley L. Miller, under the guidance of his professor at the University of Chicago, chemist Harold C. Urey. A mixture of methane, ammonia, water vapour, and hydrogen was circulated through a liquid solution and continuously sparked by a corona discharge mounted higher in the apparatus. The discharge was thought to represent lightning flashes. After several days of exposure to sparking, the solution changed colour. Several amino and hydroxy acids, familiar chemicals in contemporary Earth life, were produced by this simple procedure. The experiment is simple enough that the amino acids can readily be detected by paper chromatography by high school students. Ultraviolet light or heat was substituted as an energy source in subsequent experiments. The initial abundances of gases were altered. In many other experiments like this, amino acids were formed in large quantities. On the early Earth much more energy was available in ultraviolet light than from lightning discharges. At long ultraviolet wavelengths, methane, ammonia, water, and hydrogen are all transparent, and much of the solar ultraviolet energy lies in this region of the spectrum. The gas hydrogen sulfide was suggested to be a likely compound relevant to ultraviolet absorption in Earth’s early atmosphere. Amino acids were also produced by long-wavelength ultraviolet irradiation of a mixture of methane, ammonia, water, and hydrogen sulfide. At least some of these amino acid syntheses involved hydrogen cyanide and aldehydes (e.g., formaldehyde) as gaseous intermediates formed from the initial gases. That amino acids, particularly biologically abundant amino acids, are made readily under simulated early Earth conditions is quite remarkable. If oxygen is permitted in these kinds of experiments, no amino acids are formed. This has led to a consensus that hydrogen-rich (or at least oxygen-poor) conditions were necessary for natural organic syntheses prior to the appearance of life.

Under alkaline conditions, and in the presence of inorganic catalysts, formaldehyde spontaneously reacts to form a variety of sugars. The five-carbon sugars fundamental to the formation of nucleic acids, as well as six-carbon sugars such as glucose and fructose, are easily produced. These are common metabolites and structural building blocks in life today. Furthermore, the nucleotide bases and even the biological pigments called porphyrins have been produced in the laboratory under simulated early Earth conditions. Both the details of the experimental synthetic pathways and the question of stability of the small organic molecules produced are vigorously debated. Nevertheless, most, if not all, of the essential building blocks of proteins (amino acids), carbohydrates (sugars), and nucleic acids (nucleotide bases)—that is, the monomers—can be readily produced under conditions thought to have prevailed on Earth in the Archean Eon. The search for the first steps in the origin of life has been transformed from a religious/philosophical exercise to an experimental science.

What is the philosophical definition of life? - Biology

God (Yahweh) as the Source and Sustainer of Life . According to Genesis 2:7, "the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being." This "breath of life" does not distinguish human beings from other animals, nor perhaps even plant life, as can be seen in Genesis 1:29-30. When God declared his judgment against Noah's generation, all creation in which there was the "breath of life" would suffer the destruction of the flood ( Gen 6:17 Genesis 7:15 Genesis 7:21-23 ). The breath of life distinguishes the living from the dead, not human beings from animals ( Eccl 3:18-19 ). Consistently throughout Scripture God is portrayed as the giver of life, which distinguishes living organisms from inanimate things ( Rom 4:17 ).

Life is contingent upon the continuing, sustaining "breath" of God. When God ceases to breathe, life is no more, "How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all the earth is full of your creatures When you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust" ( Psalms 104:24 Psalms 104:29 ). Death is frequently described as the cessation of this divine activity ( Gen 25:8 Mark 15:37 ). It is for this reason that the psalmist concludes, "Let everything that has breath praise the Lord" ( Psalm 150:6 cf. Rom 1:20-21 ).

The Quality and Duration of Life . Between birth and death, creation and cessation of life, the living experience varying qualities of life and length of days. On the one hand, the Creator is the sovereign Lord of the days of one's life. He sends poverty and wealth, humility, and exaltation, makes paupers to be princes and princes to be paupers ( 1 Sam 2:6-9 ). For this reason, those who live by faith are not to worry, for they rest in the assurance that God cares about their life ( Matt 6:25-34 Luke 12:22-31 ). One cannot add a single hour to the span of life by worrying ( Matt 6:27 ). "The length of our days is seventy years — or eighty, if we have the strength yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away" ( Psalm 90:10 ). Long life is viewed as the evidence of divine favor ( Exod 20:12 Deut 5:16 Psalm 21:4 91:16 Prov 10:27 Isa 65:20 ), so to die in the midst of one's years was a calamity ( Isa 38:10-14 Jer 11:22 Lam 2:21 ). On the other hand, the situation and quality of life may be diminished and even destroyed by chance, circumstances, and the conduct of unrighteous or negligent persons. In such circumstances, the lowly pray for divine mercy and help. Worries, riches, and pleasures ( Mark 4:19 Luke 12:15 ), as well as hunger, sickness, sorrow, and sin can choke and even destroy life.

Life as a Choice . In Moses' third address to Israel ( Deut 29:1-30:20 ), he calls them to reaffirm their covenant with God. A choice, not a difficult one, must be made ( Deut 30:11 ), for God had set before them "life and prosperity, death and destruction blessings and curses. Now choose life" ( Deuteronomy 30:15 Deuteronomy 30:19 ). In a similar manner. Joshua appeals to the next generation after the settlement in the promised land ( Joshua 24:14-15 ).

The choice is not always one of obedience and disobedience, but rather one of wisdom that results in health, prosperity, honor, and a better quality of life ( Exod 15:26 Prov 3:22 Proverbs 4:13 Proverbs 4:22 6:23 8:35 Proverbs 10:17 Proverbs 10:28 19:23 21:21 22:4 Eccl 9:9-10 ). Such a Person experiences the shalom and peace of God ( Prov 14:30 Gal 1:3 ). This choice is inherent in the psalms and the Beatitudes of Jesus. The promised blessed life is contingent upon the community and/or individual response of obedience to the will of God ( Matt 7:24-27 ).

The Sanctity of Life . In a physical sense, life is associated with the blood of an animal ( Lev 17:11-14 Deut 12:23 ). As long as there is blood, there is life. When the blood is drained from the body, so is life. The connection is so strong that the law forbade the consumption of blood or meat with blood in it ( Gen 9:4 Leviticus 17:12 Leviticus 17:14 Deut 12:23 Acts 15:20 Acts 15:29 ). Also, the blood of an animal could make atonement for the transgressions and sins of the people of God ( Lev 16:14-19 ). The life-blood of the sacrifice was substituted for the life-blood of the worshiper, although inadequate and creating a longing for the perfect sacrifice of Christ ( Psalm 49:7-9 Heb 10:1-4 ).

God demands a reverence for human life ( Psalm 139:13-14 ), and forbids murder ( Exod 20:13 Deut 5:17 Matt 5:21 ). Where violence has shed blood, there must be an accounting and a just penalty ( Gen 4:10-11 9:5-6 Exod 21:23 Lev 24:17-22 Deut 19:21 Matt 5:38 ). Jesus enlarges this understanding of life to include more than physical life, proscribing angry words, insults, and name calling ( Matt 5:22 ), for these wound and kill the spirit, self-esteem, and well-being of another. The perpetrator becomes subject to judgment. The gospel of God extends a special invitation to the poor, the disabled, the weak, the oppressed, and the children, offering hope and new life.

Sin and Spiritual Death . Mortal humanity was created in the image of God ( Gen 1:26-27 ), and given the opportunity of eternal life in relationship with the Creator (Gen. 2-3). Central and vital to life in paradise was access to the tree of life in the midst of the garden of Eden ( Gen 2:9 ). There was one commandment, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." When Eve and Adam listened to the tempter and disobeyed the commandment, eating the fruit of the forbidden tree, they brought a curse upon themselves ( Gen 3:16-19 ), their descendants ( Rom 5:12-14 1 Cor 15:21-22 ), and upon all creation ( Gen 3:17 Rom 8:19-22 ). The human race lost innocence, knowing right from wrong, and, even more, the disobedience abolished a continuing privileged access to the tree of life ( Rev 2:7 Revelation 22:2 Revelation 22:14 Revelation 22:19 ), and thus eternal life. Spiritual death, separation from the tree of life, and a broken relationship with God resulted. The human race was destined to die, as were all living creatures, but now without hope beyond the grave. Spiritual death reigned from Adam to Christ ( Romans 5:14 Romans 5:21 1 Cor 15:20-26 ).

The Good News of the Gospel . Life is a central motif of the four Gospels. John summarizes his purpose in writing the Fourth Gospel: "These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name" ( 20:31 ).

Jesus announced that he alone is the narrow gate or entrance into the way that leads to life ( Matt 7:13-14 John 10:7 John 10:9 14:6 ). As the Son of God, he had been active in creation ( John 1:1-4 ), and came to give new life or birth ( John 3:3 John 3:5 John 3:7 John 6:33 John 6:51 ) to all who believe in him ( 3:16 ). Those who experience the new birth are described as having been formerly dead ( Luke 15:32 John 5:21 ). Thus, Jesus stands alone at the center of history as "the Author of Life" ( John 5:40 Acts 3:15 ). This life is nearly synonymous with entering into the kingdom of God and experiencing the restoration of the divine-human relationship intended in creation. When Jesus healed the sick, exorcised demons, and cleansed lepers, he was restoring life to its intended, physical wholeness ( Luke 4:18-19 6:9 ). When he proclaimed the good news of God, he was seeking to save and restore the spiritual life lost in Adam's sin.

Eternal Life . There is only an embryonic understanding of eternal life in the Old Testament. The psalms frequently reveal a deep longing to be permitted entrance into the presence of God, which goes beyond earthly, temporal worship in the sanctuary or temple. In Psalm 71:9 the psalmist prays in his old age, not that he might escape death, but rather that the Lord would not forsake him as his strength fades and death approaches. It is pious Job who becomes the champion of eternal hope ( Job 19:25-27 ). This hope, which seems to burst through the boundaries of death, is expressed in more apocalyptic terms in Isaiah 65:17-19. Daniel envisions a resurrection and judgment assigning those raised to everlasting life or everlasting shame and contempt ( Dan 12:1-3 ). To die, however, generally meant that one entered the mysterious underworld beyond of Sheol or Hades.

Life in the New Testament, beginning with Jesus, predominantly has a metaphysical and spiritual meaning, an indestructible quality, which supersedes physical death and the grave. This life is more important than eating, drinking, and clothes ( Matt 6:25 Luke 12:22-33 ), and more valuable than physical wholeness and health. The distinction becomes clearer when Jesus commands disciples to deny themselves, take up the cross daily, and follow him ( Mark 8:34 par. ). There is a tension, even a conflict, between the present physical existence with its passions, and the spiritual life that will continue beyond physical death. Whoever loses or denies the present life for the sake of Christ, finds eternal life, life in the age to come ( Mark 8:35-37 10:30 par. John 12:25 ). The rich young ruler desired to inherit eternal life, but to him the cost of denying his present life by selling all that he had and giving to the poor in order to gain the eternal was too great ( Mark 10:17-31 par. ).

"Eternal life ( zoen aionion )" becomes a common phrase in the Johannine writings. Jesus is life ( 1:4 5:26 11:25 14:6 1 John 1:2 ) and the giver of life ( John 5:40 John 6:33 John 6:35 John 6:48 John 6:51 John 6:63 10:10 17:2 1 John 5:11-12 ) to all who believe in him ( John 1:7 John 3:15 John 3:16 John 3:36 6:40 11:26 12:46 ). The beginning of life as a child of God is likened to a new birth ( John 3:3-8 1 John 2:29 3:9 4:7 1 John 5:1 1 John 5:4 1 John 5:18 ), which is not of human decision, but the result of the divine, spiritual action of God ( John 1:13 3:5-8 6:63 ). It is a transformation from death to life, becoming a present reality. This life is available to "all who believe" in Jesus, the Son of God.

According to Paul, the death of Jesus on the cross opens the way to reconciliation with God, and it is the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ that gives life to those who believe ( Rom 5:10 6:3-4 Gal 2:20 ). Those who have experienced the free gift of life from God ( Rom 5:15 6:23 ) are led in triumphal procession spreading the knowledge of the gospel of Christ everywhere ( 2 Cor 2:14 ). They walk in newness of life ( Rom 6:4 7:6 ), and the righteousness of God reigns in their mortal bodies to eternal life through Jesus Christ ( Rom 5:21 Romans 6:13 Romans 6:22 ). The Spirit of God at work in them gives life, peace, and freedom ( Romans 8:6 Romans 8:11 2 Cor 3:6 ), which is witnessed by the present world in their love for one another.

Bibliography . G. R. Beasley-Murray, SJT 27 (1974): 76-93 G. Bornkamm, Early Christian Experience F. F. Bruce, SJT 24 (1971): 457-72 R. Bultmann, G. von Rad, and G. Bertram, TDNT, 2:832-75 J. C. Coetzee, Neot 6 (1972): 48-66 C. H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel A. J. Feldman, The Concept of Immortality in Judaism Historically Considered G. E. Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament J. Pedersen, Israel: Its Life and Culture H. H. Rowley, The Faith of Israel R. Schnackenburg, Christian Existence in the New Testament V. Taylor, ExpT 76 (1964-65): 76-79 H. W. Wolff, Anthropology of the Old Testament .

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement. [N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary
Bibliography Information

Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Life'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology". . 1997.

2. The Scope of Aristotle’s Biological Works

There is some dispute as to which works should be classified as the biological works of Aristotle. This is indeed a contentious question that is especially difficult for a systematic philosopher such as Aristotle. Generally speaking, a systematic philosopher is one who constructs various philosophical distinctions that, in turn, can be applied to a number of different contexts. Thus, a distinction such as “the more and the less” that has its roots in biology explaining that certain animal parts are greater (bigger) among some individuals and smaller among others, can also be used in the ethics as a cornerstone of the doctrine of the mean as a criterion for virtue. That is, one varies from the mean by the principle of the more and the less. For example, if courage is the mean, then the defect of excess would be “foolhardiness” while the defect of paucity would be “cowardice.” The boundary between what we’d consider “biology” proper vs. what we’d think of as psychology, philosophy of mind, and metaphysics is often hard to draw in Aristotle. That’s because Aristotle’s understanding of biology informs his metaphysics and philosophy of mind, but likewise, he often uses the distinctions drawn in his metaphysics in order to deal with biological issues.

In this article, the biological works are: (a) works that deal specifically with biological topics such as: The Parts of Animals (PA), The Generation of Animals (GA), The History of Animals (HA), The Movement of Animals, The Progression of Animals, On Sense and Sensible Objects, On Memory and Recollection, On Sleep and Waking, On Dreams, On Prophecy in Sleep, On Length and Shortness of Life, On Youth and Old Age, On Life and Death, On Respiration, On Breath, and On Plants, and (b) the work that deals with psuche (soul), On the Soul—though this work deals with metaphysical issues very explicitly, as well. This list does not include works such as the Metaphysics, Physics, Posterior Analytics, Categories, Nicomachean Ethics, or The Politics even though they contain many arguments that are augmented by an understanding of Aristotle’s biological science. Nor does this article examine any of the reputedly lost works (listed by ancient authors but not existing today) such as Dissections, On Composite Animals, On Sterility, On Physiognomy, and On Medicine . Some of these titles may have sections that have survived in part within the present corpus, but this is doubtful.

What is the philosophical definition of life? - Biology

n., pl. lives (līvz),
adj. n.

  1. (It seemed to him that) all man&rsquos life was like a tiny spurt of flame &mdashThomas Wolfe
  2. The art of living rightly is like all arts it must be learned and practiced with incessant care &mdashJohann Wolfgang von Goethe
  3. The eventful life has dates it swells and pauses like a plot &mdashPaul Theroux
  4. How ridiculous it [life] all seems &hellip like a drop of water seen through a microscope, a single drop teeming with infusoria, or a speck of cheese full of mites invisible to the naked eye &mdashArthur Schopenhauer
  5. In life as in a football game, the principle to follow is: Hit the line hard &mdashTheodore Roosevelt
  6. Let us play the game of life as sportsmen, pocketing our winnings with a smile, leaving our losings with a shrug &mdashJerome K. Jerome
  7. Life &hellip empty as statistics are &mdashBabette Deutsch
  8. Life &hellip flat and stale, like an old glass of beer &mdashAndre Dubus
  9. Life folds like a fan with a click &mdashHerbert Read
  10. Life goes on forever like the gnawing of a mouse &mdashEdna St. Vincent Millay
  11. Life had been like a cloud rainbowed by the sun &mdashBarbara Reid
  12. Life imposes by brute energy, like inarticulate thunder art catches the ear, among the far louder noises of experience, like an air artificially made by a discreet musician &mdashRobert Louis Stevenson

A variation of this, also found on a gravestone, is &ldquoOur life is nothing but a winter&rsquos day.&rdquo

Judge Hand compared life to a piece of tapestry at the 1912 proceedings in memory of Mr. Justice Brandeis.

This begins the second stanza of the poem, My Life.

Another simile from Wilde&rsquos My Life, this one the opening line.


What if you went into an interview and someone asked you, “what is your philosophy of life?” How easily could you answer that question?

By “philosophy of life” I mean a mental framework for understanding how the world works and how you fit into the world. The philosophy of life would include things like how you decide what is “good” and “bad”, what “success” means, what your “purpose” in life is (including if you don’t think there is a purpose), whether there is a God, how we should treat each other, etc.

There are many names you might be use to label your philosophy oflife: Libertarian, Feminist, Liberal, Conservative, Buddhist, Christian, Entrepreneur, Artist, Environmentalist, Tea Party, and any number of others. Maybe you feel you could summarize your philosophy of life with one of those words, but for most of us I’d suspect that our actual philosophies of life are more complex and nuanced. They are not so easily boxed in. If we sat down in an interview, could you explain yours?

Knowing what I do about you as a group of readers, I’d guess I could divide you into three groups.

The first group has a clear philosophy of life that you have thought through in-depth, have tested, and use regularly and explicitly for guiding your actions. I’ll call you “The True North Group.” You have a compass for life and you know which direction is the right way — the true north. If I asked about yourphilosophy of life, you could explain it to me immediately, cogently, and concisely from the top of your head. You may not be able to give it a one-word label but you have thought it through and could explain why yourphilosophy of life makes sense to you and how it governs your thinking. I would guess this is the smallest group of the three.

The second group are those of you who have a loosely organized philosophy oflife in which things basically hang together, but which you couldn’t summarize quickly from the top of your head. If I gave you a little more time, you could come up with an overarching framework that covers most things, though the fringes and the corner cases of life would remain gray. I will call you “The Dusty Compass Group.” It’s like you have a compass for directing your life, but you forget to use it. You have a roughly coherent system for understanding the world, and you pretty much know it intuitively, but most of the time you don’t explicitly use it to filter and direct your experience. The compass lies on the shelf collecting dust. When you eventually pull it out, you see it’s gotten a little wacky and you need to recalibrate it. My guess is that this experience describes the largest group of people.

The third group I will call “The Inbox Group.” For The Inbox Group I’m abandoning the compass metaphor because if you are in this group, you do not actually have a governing magnetic orientation for what life is about and where you are going. Life may be about something, heck, your life may be about something, but you don’t know. You’re too busy to think about it. Your approach is just to deal with what is coming at you, the way you manage email. People and companies constantly send you messages to direct your attention and you basically follow their lead. Why are you watching that new Netflix show? Why are you listening to that new Kanye song? Why did you decide to be a surgeon anyway? You don’t really know. Or you think you know, but the reasons turn out to be pretty superficial. I think this is likely the second biggest group, though it might be the biggest.

The difference between members of these three groups is almost entirely internal. You wouldn’t be able to pick them out on the street. But their internal experience of life will be entirely different. One man plays squash because he has a true north philosophy about pushing himself to his limits, maintaining his health and investing in friendships with his playing partners. Another may value these same things but couldn’t articulate them. He just knows he likes to play. A third has no real reason for playing other than someone asked him to. Maybe he just wants to be seen at the racquet club. Maybe he just likes being asked. The external action of chasing a ball around a court is the same but the internal motivation and experience is totally different.

In general, I think it is better to live as a member of the True North group. I say “in general” because there are exceptions. Some people have clear, explicit lifephilosophies, but locking in those ideas has made them narrow un-curious thinkers, who are a little too arrogant that they’ve figured it all out.

For the most part however, I think it is healthy to have a comprehensive framework for life and to live in line with it. True North is the way to go, provided you remain humble, curious, and open to the possibility you may be wrong. The alternative, of being in the Dusty Compass Group or the Inbox Group, is to not have an orienting vision for your life. It means you are constantly at-risk of forgetting what you are about, know getting what life is about and steering off-course (i.e., wasting your time).

Death is the great leveler for these groups. You might be in the Dusty Compass Group or the Inbox Group most of the time, but when you brush near death -your own death or the death of someone you care about — your philosophy oflife has a way of getting clearer. The experience of nearness to death acts as a jolt that prompts you to yearn to be in the True North Group — to live, as it were, on purpose. To make it count.

You may have had someone guide you through the exercise of thinking about what your obituary will say when you die. For many of us, it is an arresting exercise because, if we are honest, the way we are spending our time isn’t totally in line with what we want our lives to be about. Realizing that fact is like waking from from a daydream.

For many of us, when we come near death the experience moves us closer to the True North Group and away from what Paul Graham describes as “the things life is too short for.” In the face of mortality, we think hard about what matters and the things that come to mind are no surprise: family, friendships, treating people well, learning, keeping our health. We promise ourselves that those things will be our priority. And we actually begin to live more in line with our aspirations.

But the weeks and months go by, and slowly, imperceptibly to us, but almost inevitably, we drift back to distraction. We look at the compass less frequently. We just deal with what is coming at us. We don’t completely forget what is important us, but we figure we can get to it later. We don’t completely forget what we think life is all about, but the notion becomes less clear, less poignant, like an old photograph faded by the sun. Without the vivid orienting direction of a clear philosophy of life, it becomes easy to do whatever’s easiest instead of living the way we’d want our obituaries to read.

I like to think I’m a True North Guy, but honestly, the reality is I probably am a Dusty Compass with momentary leaps up into True North territory. That’s why I find remarkable those souls who somehow maintain a consistency of philosophy, and who live in line with it. They are remarkable because it is hard to live with character. It is hard to live as if life won’t go on forever. And it’s why, every now and again, I find that reflecting on the reality of death is one of the best things I can do to make the most of the reality of my life.

(Originally Published in The Weekend Reader)

The Weekend Reader is a guide exploring culture, technology, and how to lead a meaningful life in the modern world. 5 articles and associated reflections in your inbox every weekend. Read previous editions or subscribe to get The Weekend Reader every week.

What is the philosophical definition of life? - Biology

1. Introduction

Academic bioethics and environmental ethics were imported from the United States and Europe to Japan in the 1980s. At that time I was a graduate student. I started studying the English literature on those disciplines, but I soon developed a huge frustration with them.

The first reason for this was that bioethics at that time lacked deep philosophical investigations on the concept of life and the concept of death, and without having undertaken such investigations they were trying to figure out sound guidelines on difficult ethical issues surrounding advanced medicine. Of course, consensus building is very important, but it seemed to me that pursuing consensus without a deep philosophical understanding of life and death was senseless and fruitless.

For example, in the 1970s and 80s there was a worldwide debate on whether or not brain death is human death, and many advanced nations concluded that a human being that has lost the integrated function of the whole body should be considered dead, and that when the function of the whole brain is irreversibly lost the integrated function of the human being should be considered to disappear permanently. However, in the debate about brain death, the fundamental question of &ldquowhat is death?&rdquo has rarely been investigated from a philosophical point of view. Philosophically speaking, the reason that a human being that has irreversibly lost the function of the whole brain should be considered dead is not so crystal clear. It should also be noted that this question was heavily discussed in the Japanese debate on brain death in the 1980s and 90s.

The second reason for my frustration derived from the fact that bioethics in the 1980s was established in the disciplines of medicine and biotechnology even though the term &ldquobioethics&rdquo had been first defined by V. R. Potter in 1970 as the science of survival in the age of global environmental crisis. At its inception, therefore, bioethics was conceived as a kind of &ldquoenvironmental ethics&rdquo, and this aspect was stripped away from the concept of bioethics later in the 1980s. I was frustrated because I had the intuition that our moral attitude toward human life should be deeply connected with our moral attitude toward nature and the environment. I believed that bioethics and environmental ethics should never be separated from each other.

On the other hand, I cannot help having a strange feeling when I turn my eyes to the discipline of contemporary philosophy that is to say, while we have &ldquophilosophy of language,&rdquo &ldquophilosophy of religion,&rdquo &ldquophilosophy of law&rdquo, and so on, we do not have &ldquophilosophy of life&rdquo as an independent philosophical discipline. This is a very strange phenomenon. Of course we have &ldquophilosophie de la vie&rdquo and &ldquoLebensphilosophie,&rdquo but these terms only mean a series of philosophical theories that appeared in 19th and 20th century Europe, for example, those of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bergson, and other philosophers. It is clear beyond doubt that philosophies motivated by a keen interest in the phenomenon and concept of life had appeared in the age of ancient Greece, and other parts of the ancient world such as India and China. In Japan, we have many philosophers who contemplated the philosophy of life from the 9th century to the modern period. We have to broaden our eyes to include different traditions, continents and centuries when talking about the philosophy of life.

2. Image of Life

In the late 1980s, I conducted a questionnaire study on the image of life in contemporary Japan. I asked ordinary people and children to write freely about what kind of image they would have when hearing the word &ldquolife&rdquo (&ldquoinochi&rdquo in Japanese). I collected more than 1,000 responses from them. In 1991, I published the paper &ldquoThe Concept of Inochi&rdquo, which was republished under the title &ldquoThe Concept of Life in Contemporary Japan&rdquo in 2012 (1). While there were many books on Japanese view of life, what was discussed in those books was the views of life held by famous scholars or religious figures in the past. I could not discover any ideas of life currently held among ordinary people just by reading such books. This was the main reason I conducted the above questionnaire research.

I will show you an example of the image of life found among ordinary citizens. The following is the response from a female Christian in her 30s.

&hellip. I feel that life means something which embraces one&rsquos whole life, one&rsquos mind, one&rsquos way of life, love, and whole human existence. And I think one&rsquos life is something that is entirely given. I think life is irreplaceable because we cannot get it at all by our own will, nor with effort, nor with money&hellip. If my life is irreplaceable, then others&rsquo life must be the same. Others&rsquo lives are connected to mine, and all these are in the stream of a large life. Life is, on the one hand, each individual being, unique and irreplaceable. On the other hand, however, it is one large life of the whole human race.&hellip Aren&rsquot such formless reminders of a deceased person, such as influence, impression, his/her way of life, thought, and religious belief a part of life? In this sense, I think lives could be taken over, be connected, and meet each other beyond space and time. (2)

She says she is Christian, but I do not find any special Christian ideas on life in her response. This is a very well written image of life that is frequently expressed by ordinary Japanese people, and I suppose many people in the world would be able to share her view of life. This might show that the basic views of life are shared by people in various cultures and traditions around the world. The difference is in the way they express their ideas.

By analyzing their responses, I found two key terms: &ldquoirreplaceability&rdquo and &ldquointerrelatedness.&rdquo Many respondents use these two words dialectically when thinking about life. I made the hypothesis that there is a metaphysical position among people that &ldquoLife is irreplaceable because it is interrelated. Life is interrelated because it is irreplaceable.&rdquo I called this &ldquothe metaphysical structure of life.&rdquo

Another interesting thing found in the replies is that many respondents were thinking about life in connection with nature and the environment. They talked about the life and death of a human being against the backdrop of nature: the rising sun, flowing rivers, singing birds, and breathing wind. They seemed to think that human life and nature are closely connected on a deeper level.

3. Proposal of &ldquoPhilosophy of Life&rdquo as a Philosophical Discipline

I gradually began to think that &ldquophilosophy of life&rdquo should be a discipline of academic philosophy. In today&rsquos academic philosophy, we have &ldquophilosophy of biology,&rdquo which deals with creatures&rsquo biological phenomena, &ldquophilosophy of death,&rdquo which concentrates on the concept of human death, and &ldquophilosophy of meaning of life,&rdquo which investigates difficult problems concerning the meaning of life and living. However, we do not have &ldquophilosophy of life,&rdquo which deals with philosophical problems concerning human life and the life of non-human creatures. Hence, I proposed to establish &ldquophilosophy of life&rdquo as an academic discipline, and started publishing a peer-reviewed open access journal entitled Journal of Philosophy of Life in 2011.

The journal defines &ldquophilosophy of life&rdquo as follows:

We define philosophy of life as an academic research field that encompasses the following activities:

1) Cross-cultural, comparative, or historical research on philosophies of life, death, and nature.

2) Philosophical and ethical analysis of contemporary issues concerning human and non-human life in the age of modern technology.

3) Philosophical analysis of the concepts surrounding life, death, and nature. (3)

We have published papers and essays on a variety of subjects such as &ldquothe ethics of human extinction,&rdquo &ldquodeath and the meaning of life,&rdquo &ldquoFukushima nuclear disaster,&rdquo &ldquowhether or not God is our benefactor,&rdquo &ldquoHans Jonas and Japan,&rdquo &ldquoHeidegger and biotechnology,&rdquo and &ldquofeminism and disability.&rdquo All these topics are considered to be examples of philosophical approaches to life, death, and nature. Some of them are topics in the field of applied philosophy or applied ethics, and others are meta-philosophical and metaphysical ones.

In recent issues of the journal, we have particularly concentrated on the issue of philosophical approaches to &ldquomeaning of/in life.&rdquo The question of &ldquomeaning of/in life&rdquo is a central axis of philosophy of life in contemporary society. In 2015, we published a special issue entitled Reconsidering Meaning in Life: A Philosophical Dialogue with Thaddeus Metz, in which philosophers around the world intensely discussed Thaddeus Metz&rsquos book Meaning in Life (Oxford University Press, 2013). And in 2017, we published a special issue entitled Nihilism and the Meaning of Life: A Philosophical Dialogue with James Tartaglia, which deals with James Tartaglia&rsquos book Philosophy in a Meaningless life (Bloomsbury, 2016). In the field of analytic philosophy, there has not been so much philosophical research on meaning of/in life, however, important works are now beginning to emerge and attract readers. Metz is currently looking at East Asia, especially Confucian traditions in China and Japan, and trying to connect some good aspects of Confucianism with Analytic discussions. We might be able to witness the emergence of a philosophy of life that bridges the East Asian traditions and analytic philosophy.

The following is a list of the topics in the field of philosophy of life in which I am strongly interested.

1) Meaning in life in a secular society

Thaddeus Metz classifies philosophical approaches to meaning in/of life into three categories: 1) supernaturalism, 2) subjectivism, and 3) objectivism(4). Supernaturalism thinks that meaning of life is given by a supernatural being such as God. Subjectivism thinks that meaning in life differs from one person to another. Objectivism thinks that we can judge which one is more meaningful, A&rsquos life or B&rsquos life. Metz himself argues that objectivism is the best approach to the question of meaning in life, but I do not think so. I have argued that there is a layer in the meaning in life that cannot be compared with anything, and I have called it &ldquothe heart of the meaning in life.&rdquo And my approach is different even from subjectivism in that I argue that the heart of meaning in life cannot be legitimately applied to another person&rsquos subjective meaning in life(5). This can be called a &ldquosolipsistic&rdquo approach to the meaning in life.

2) From anti-natalism to birth affirmation

From Sophocles to Schopenhauer, there has been a line of powerful arguments insisting that human beings should not have been born at all. One of the recent advocators of this thought is David Benatar. In his book Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence (Oxford University Press, 2006), Benatar argues that having been born is always wrong. I think his argument is flawed however, I highly appreciate that he has reintroduced one of the most important issues in philosophy of life into analytic philosophy. Contrary to Benatar, I have long proposed the concept of &ldquobirth affirmation,&rdquo which means &ldquothe state of being able to say &ldquoyes&rdquo to the fact that I have been born,&rdquo and I think this concept should be placed at the center of philosophical discussions of human life. Which should be the basis of our lives, a negative attitude to one&rsquos life or an affirmative attitude to it? And how can we advocate the latter philosophically?

3) The problem of life extension

&ldquoLife extension&rdquo and &ldquoage-retardation&rdquo have been among the most ardently pursued goals in human history. Today, some scientists argue that using future technologies we will be able to live indefinitely without aging. Although many people would welcome life extension and age-retardation technologies, some philosophers suspect that those technologies will not bring true happiness and meaning of life to humans. For example, Hans Jonas and Leon Kass argue that in the age of super life extension our lives will become superficial ones, and we will lose meaning of life because our lives can become meaningful only when they are limited and not indefinite in this world. This topic is closely connected to the question of how we can accept our own death in a secular society.

4) The connection of the living and the deceased

In Japan, as well as other countries in East Asia and many other areas of the world, there are ordinary people who do not think that a deceased family member completely disappears from this world. They are inclined to think that a deceased family member continues to exist somewhere in this world and sometimes comes back to the place she died or lived, and that they can meet the deceased family member&rsquos spirit there. Some people say that our society is composed not only by the living but also by the deceased. The topic of &ldquothe deceased as an indispensable piece of our society&rdquo has not been fully discussed in the field of philosophy.

After the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, local people have said that they sometimes can feel the presence of a missing/dead family member, for example, in the midst of the breeze of the wind at the seashore near their home. Philosophers should think deeply about what those local people were experiencing when they had such unusual experiences. By doing this, we can shed a new light on the concept of personhood from a very different angle.

5) The dignity of the human body

In the debate of brain death in Japan, not a few scholars and journalists argued that the body of a brain-dead patient has its own preciousness although the patient is considered to have lost her self-consciousness. In modern European philosophy, dignity has been considered to be found in a person&rsquos rationality, not a person&rsquos body, and this idea created the personhood argument in bioethics, which insists that only the person who has self-consciousness and rationality has the right to life. I have long argued that the body of a human being has its own dignity that is different from the dignity of the mind of a human person. Interestingly, the French law on bioethics states that the human body is inviolable (&ldquole corps human est inviolable&rdquo), which can be interpreted to mean that the human body has dignity. The value or preciousness of the human body is an important theme of philosophy of life in the age of biotechnology.

6) The connection and difference between biological life and human life

Our intuition tells us that biological life is completely different from human life because while the existence of self-consciousness is the essence of the latter, the former lacks this. But if that is correct, why do we apply the same word &ldquolife&rdquo to biological life and human life? Don&rsquot we see the same essence both in biological life and human life, and call that essence &ldquolife&rdquo? This is a fundamental question in philosophy of life. Hans Jonas tried to connect these two dimensions. He wrote in his The Phenomenon of Life that &ldquo[a] philosophy of life comprises the philosophy of the organism and the philosophy of mind. This is itself a first proposition of the philosophy of life, in fact its hypothesis, which it must make good in the course of its execution.&rdquo(6) Jonas also writes that a philosophy of life &ldquomust deal with the organic facts of life, and also with the self-interpretation of life in man.&rdquo(7) This is the point where philosophy of life parts company with philosophy of biology. Philosophy of life deals with a biological aspect of life, an existential aspect of human life, and the connection between these two dimensions of life.

7) The history of ideas in philosophy of life

As I have said earlier, philosophical thoughts on life, death, and nature can be found in every philosophical tradition and in every area of the world. Philosophy of life should not be equated with Lebensphilosophie or la philosophie de la vie. In ancient India, we can find very interesting philosophies of life in the texts of Upanishad and Buddha&rsquos teachings. In ancient China, we can find them in Analects, Tao Te Ching, and Zhuangzi. In ancient Greece, we find them in the writings of pre-Socratic thinkers and Aristotle. In the 20th century, we find them in philosophy of biology, deep ecology, autopoiesis, biopolitique, and other philosophical thoughts. Of course, bioethics and environmental ethics should be included in this list of thoughts.

The most important philosopher in contemporary philosophy of life is Hans Jonas. His books The Phenomenon of Life and The Imperative of Responsibility are the basic literature for philosophers who are interested in this field.

In Japan, to study philosophy has long been considered to study &ldquoWestern&rdquo philosophy. However, in order to study philosophy of life we have to go beyond &ldquoWestern&rdquo philosophy to include every philosophical tradition in the world from ancient times to the current century. This is truly a practice of studying world philosophy.

1) Masahiro Morioka, &ldquoThe Concept of Life in Contemporary Japan,&rdquo The Review of Life Studies Vol.2 (April 2012):23-62.

2) Ibid., pp.33-34.


4) Thaddeus Metz, Meaning in Life (Oxford University Press, 2013).

5) Masahiro Morioka, &ldquoIs Meaning in Life Comparable?: From the Viewpoint of &lsquoThe Heart of Meaning in Life,&rsquo&rdquo Journal of Philosophy of Life Vol.5, No.3 (2015):50-65. (

6) Hans Jonas, The Phenomenon of Life: Toward a Philosophical Biology, (Northwestern University Press 1966, 2001), p.1.

7) Jonas, p.6.

*This text was reprinted from my talk "Philosophy of Life in Contemporary Society" at China-Japan Philosophy Conference, Kyoto, September 9, 2017.

Philosophy of life has a close connection with "life studies" below.

2. What is life studies?

Life studies is an interdisciplinary approach to life, death, and nature. We have gender studies, disability studies, and peace studies. I would like to propose one more interdisciplinary-oriented approach, life studies.

Life studies is a study method that can only be accomplished by "never detaching oneself from the subject being investigated".

In order to achieve that goal, we need to explore a new field in philosophy, the humanities, and the social sciences. With our program we seek to promote research on the meaning of life, the essence of contemporary industrialized society that makes us lose sight of the fulfillment of life, and scientific technology that can result in the exploitation of human life and the environment. Life studies is an open research program any person concerned with these issues can join.

The ultimate goal of life studies is to help people to live their own lives without regret. We aim to connect philosophical wisdom, academic research, and researchers' own lives.

> See the description of "life" and "meaning of life" in Wikipedia.

Essence of Life Studies

The following are the "methodology" and "guiding concepts" that constitute the essence of life studies.

<The Methodology of Life Studies>

1) One's own life as a starting point and ultimate end
The most important thing is that one's own life should be the starting point and the ultimate end of life studies. In life studies we should never detach ourselves from the problems we are tackling, and should never think of ourselves as exceptions. Knowledge or discussion completely separated from one's own life should not be included in life studies. Mere analysis of ethical concepts or social structure does not constitute life studies. A good starting point for the life studies analyasis of human psychology and ethics, for example, would be a private narrative of one's own experiences. I followed this approach in How to Live in a Post-religious Age and Painless Civilization. Subjective knowledge is as important as objective knowledge in life studies. We need to explore ways to share subjective knowledge among people with different backgrounds. Recently translated book Confessions of a Frigid Man: A Philosopher's Journey into the Layer of Men's Sexuality shows a good example of a life study approach to one's sexuality.

2) Pursuit of "a life without regret"
The pursuit of a life which is not regretted is the ultimate end of life studies. In life studies, all intellectual activities, for example, reading, research, analysis, contemplation, discussion and writing, are connected and integrated toward this end. We should be aware of the fact that our life in this world is limited. We are all going to die sooner or later. Hence, as mentioned above, life studies should be an attempt to acquire the intellectual capacity, wisdom and systematically organized knowledge from a variety of disciplines needed to live our limited lives without regret. In Painless Civilization I presented the idea of a "central axis" that exists at the very core of ourselves, and can enable us to live our lives without regret if we learn how to follow it.

3) Confrontation with our own desires and evil
Life studies encourages us to keep our eyes on our own "desires" and the "evil" that are deeply engraved in hearts. We cannot entirely escape from our own desires and the evil within us. What is needed is not to unconditionally accept them, but to forgive those of us who cannot escape from these parts of ourselves and to constantly seek ways to overcome our tendency to return to them. We need to explore the wisdom and social systems that can aid us in these efforts. Moral imperatives alone cannot change our fundamental attitudes. In the book Painless Civilization I presented the possibility of transforming "the desires of the body" into "the desires of life" and in the book Life Studies Approaches to Bioethics I presented the idea of "retroactive method from the evil."

4) Criticism of contemporary society, civilization, and scientific technology
A search for the meaning of life usually tends to aim at personal healing and self-realization, but we must also go on to the next important step, the criticism of contemporary society, civilization, and scientific technology, because contemporary civilization cleverly takes away from us the meaning of life and the possibility of living life without regret (See Painless Civilization). This criticism should lead to a reconsideration of existing scientific methodology and social systems. We should make clear what kind of society is most desirable in order for all of us to be able to fully pursue lives without regret, and we should make clear how we can create these sorts of social systems. A transformation of the self without any social reform is not the goal of life studies.

5) Inquiry into the world of life
All living things on Earth are closely connected with one another. Humans are no exception. We cannot live without killing and eating other creatures. Our life is supported by fresh air, water, crops, and domesticated animals. One of the most important features of life studies is to think about the meaning of human life in relationship with other creatures on the earth and nature as a whole -- the matrix of life. After we die, our bodies return to the earth and the air. All of the materials that constitues our bodies return to the matrix of life, and the meaning of human life and death should thus also be considered from the point of view of our relationship with nature and the environment. All creatures on the earth, including humans, share both a lot of their genes and the process of evolution by which they are formed, and thus a life without regret cannot be separated from our relationships with other creatures and the natural environment. (See The Concept of Life in Contemporary Japan , and Life Torn Apart).

6) A third way between religion and science
Life studies deals with the journey of our irreplaceable life, which cannot be scientifically replicated, because we cannot live any moment of our life twice. At the same time, life studies says nothing about the existence of God, transcendent beings, and the afterlife, because these are things about which we cannot have certain knowledge. Life studies does not deny science or religion. Life studies simply follows a different path from both science and religion. Life studies seeks a post-religious spirituality of life, death, and nature, without using the language of religion. It is important have a dialogue between life studies and religion. In other words, we need both religious approaches to life studies and life studies approaches to religion.

<Guiding Concepts in Life Studies>

1) Painless civilization
The endless drive to eliminate pain and suffering in our society makes us totally lose sight of the meaning of life that is indispensable to human beings. I refer to this as the emergence of a "painless civilization" in my book of the same title >> See section 3.

2) Fundamental sense of security
In the book Life Studies Approaches to Bioethics I presented the idea of "the fundamental sense of security" as a key concept for future research in life studies.This is "a sense of security that allows me to strongly believe that even if I had been unintelligent, ugly, or disabled, my existence in the world itself would have been equally welcomed, and whether I succeed or fail, and even if I become a doddering old man, my existence will continue to be welcomed." (quoted from this paper). I believe that this will be an important concept in the coming age of new eugenics.

3) The central axis
I introduced this concept in Painless Civilization. I conceived of personal identity as having three layers: a surface identity, a deep identity, and a central axis. The central axis is the most basic layer, but in everyday life many people forget that it exists. The central axis is a path that, if followed, enables you to say at the end of your life that you are happy to have been born. One's central axis can be found by dismantling his or her deep identity. This concept is closely connected with that of "a life without regret."

4) The desires of the body and the desires of life
In the book Painless Civilization I distinguished two kinds of desires, namely, "the desires of the body" and "the desires of life." While the desires of the body seek to protect things such as pleasure, pleasantness, and vested interests, the desire of life tries to discard such things, dismantle the current self, and open oneself to an unexpected future. It is our "desires of the body" that engender the drive towards a "painless civilization." These desires of the body take away from us the deep "joy of life" that can visit us in unexpected ways when we transform ourselves by going through pain and suffering.

5) The reality of a deeply shaken self
When we encounter a situation we have never wanted to experience, especially one that contains a profound self-contradiction, we are emotionally shaken by it, and wish to avert our eyes from what disturbs us. Japanese feminist Mitsu Tanaka calls this kind of experience "the turmoil of the shaken self." But paradoxically, only people in this state of distress can truly understand the deep suffering of others and enter into relationships of mutual support with other suffering people. "The reality of a deeply shaken self" is a concept I introduced in the book Life Studies Approaches to Bioethics in order to enlarge Tanaka's idea. "The reality of a deeply shaken self" is closely connected to "the advent of an absent being."

6) Relationship and irreplaceability
All beings in the universe, especially all living things on the earth, are incorporated into a web of &ldquorelationships.&rdquo They cannot exist without these relationships. At the same time, every being in these relationships is fundamentally &ldquoirreplaceable&rdquo to each other. Life studies urges us to view everything from the perspective of the correlation between "relationship" and "irreplaceability." (see The Concept of Life in Contemporary Japan .)

7) Three natures of human life
In a series of essays in Life Torn Apart, I argued that there are three fundamental qualities which are deeply embedded in human beings: "the nature of connectedness (with all living things)," "the nature of self-interest," and "the nature of mutual support." Some of the time these qualities are in harmony, but at other times they come into conflict with each other. I believe that it is important to see the relationships between humans and other living creatures from this perspective.

I would like to propose the following research agenda.

1) Philosophy of life
Philosophy of life deals with such questions as: "What is a life without regret?" and "Why must we live while we all die in the end?"

2) Criticism of contemporary civilization
Life studies should include a fundamental reconsideration of our society which is driven by capitalism, materialism, and scientific technology. The question to be addressed here is whether people can live a life without regret in a contemporary society in which they are obsessed with pleasure and pleasantness. >> See section 3

3) Research on ideas of life
One of the most important research areas within life studies is the study of the ideas of life, death and nature held by ordinary people in different areas of the world. It would be of great help to researchers in life studies if they could find out what ideas and conceptions people have in contemporary society. My paper, "The Concept of Life in Contemporary Japan," describes the results of preliminary research among people in Japan. This research is still going on. In the future research comparing the results of this kind of investigation in different countries will also be needed.

4) Criticism of bioethics
Criticism of "bioethics" is needed because it often lacks insight into the meaning of life, and it also lacks a critical view of the essence of the contemporary civilization that has created bioethical problems. As bioethics research is expanding around the world, now is the time to restructure it by introducing the perspective of life studies. I attempted to do this in Life Studies Approaches to Bioethics (2001) and other writings, some of which (1 2) were written in English. It is also important to connect bioethics to "environmental ethics" because our attitudes toward life are closely connected to our attitudes toward nature. I have written a series of papers in Japanese addressing this issue.

5) Research on human nature and social factors that interfere with our attempts to change
We seek to live a good life and create a good society, but we almost always fail. I suspect there might be aspects of human nature and/or social factors that interfere with our attempts to change our society and ourselves. I propose to research these factors that interfere with positive change from the viewpoint of various disciplines including biology, psychology, history, and the social sciences. This is the sort of research we are going to carry out in the future and we intend to implement a totally interdisciplinary approach in doing so.

6) Research on the fate of social reform movements
This research has a close connection to the approach discussed above. We have had various social reform movements arisen in the past, for example, Marxism, totalitarianism, American capitalism, various religious communities, etc., but there have been few movements that succeeded in creating a sustainable community where severe oppression against minorities did not occur. We need to understand the end results of these movements in order to think seriously about the limitations of "life studies." Future research should also be conducted in this area.

7) Criticism of science from the viewpoint of life studies
The aim of science, especially natural science, is to increase objective knowledge. However, as science progresses, a set of questions that science has avoided asking are starting to emerge before us as unavoidable, such as the question of "the meaning of life", the methodology to be employed in handling "qualitative data", the interpretation of the inner emotions or values of other persons, and so forth. We need a new methodology to handle this kind of "subjective knowledge." As a first step towards attaining this goal, I propose that we begin by criticizing science from this perspective. We can then go on to the second step, the creation of a new methodology for dealing with subjective knowledge. This is another area of potential future research.

8) An untouchable area in regard to human life
In the near future various advanced technologies are expected to invade the human body, DNA, and the brain much more deeply in the near future than they ever have before. It may be time to set up an "untouchable area" in regard to human life where technological interventions are prohibited. We need to protect this untouchable area from our own desires. (But we do not necessarily need to be conservative to support this idea).

9) Life studies approaches to various disciplines
I think it would be an interesting idea to introduce some basic concepts of life studies to various other disciplines or movements, such as psychology, nursing, sociology, religion, ethics, cultural studies, and so on. Life studies would presumably be able to stimulate these disciplines, and as a result lead to engagement in fruitful dialogue. I tried to do this in Life Studies Approaches to Bioethics (2001), a book in which I criticized the framework of contemporary bioethics from the viewpoint of life studies. I am thinking about taking a similar approach to ecology. Many similar initiatives should be possible in future.

10) Connection of academic research to the researcher's own life
The most important thing in pursuing life studies is that a researcher him or herself live his or her own life without regret. In this sense, academic research that will not help transform the researcher's own life should not be called "life studies." Life studies encourages a researcher to rethink his or her actual life and transform it, and then express this painful process in some form in order share it with the rest of us. I tried to depict this process in Painless Civilization (2003). Following this approach should lead to the transformation of both our social systems and our intellects.

3. What is a painless civilization?

Life studies urges us to rethink the whole system of contemporary civilization because it doesn't seem to provide us with a sufficient opportunity to live lives without regret both in developed and developing countries. Criticism of contemporary civilization is required in life studies.

A Scientific View of When Life Begins

Questions about the very beginning of human life continue to surface in the media, usually in the context of a public policy issue like contraceptives vs. abortifacients, conscience policy, or cloning and related techniques. Recently, in an interview on Fox News, the issue was brought up by a public figure, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who, in response to a question about climate change, cited it as an example of political liberals refusing to recognize long-established science about human biology. “Facts are stubborn things,” the adage goes, but, unfortunately, so are politically or morally useful attempts to tailor the facts. CLI is pleased to publish this slightly updated version of Dr. Maureen Condic’s fine essay on the science of new life. The original version was published by Human Life International (HLI) and we offer it here with thanks to Dr. Condic and HLI for their permission to do so. For more information about HLI publications, please visit

A Scientific View of When Life Begins

The question of when human life begins has been answered in a variety of ways by different religious and philosophical traditions throughout the ages, leading many to conclude the question cannot be definitively answered. Yet what does science tell us about when life begins?[1] One of the basic insights of modern biology is that life is continuous, with living cells giving rise to new types of cells and, ultimately, to new individuals. Therefore, in considering the question of when a new human life begins, we must first address the more fundamental question of when a new cell, distinct from sperm and egg, comes into existence.

The scientific basis for distinguishing one cell type from another rests on two criteria: differences in what something is made of (its molecular composition) and differences in how the cell behaves. These two criteria are universally agreed upon and employed throughout the scientific enterprise. They are not “religious” beliefs or matters of personal opinion. They are objective, verifiable scientific criteria that determine precisely when a new cell type is formed.

Based on these criteria, the joining (or fusion) of sperm and egg clearly produces a new cell type, the zygote or one-cell embryo. Cell fusion is a well studied and very rapid event, occurring in less than a second. Because the zygote arises from the fusion of two different cells, it contains all the components of both sperm and egg, and therefore this new cell has a unique molecular composition that is distinct from either gamete. Thus the zygote that comes into existence at the moment of sperm-egg fusion meets the first scientific criterion for being a new cell type: its molecular make-up is clearly different from that of the cells that gave rise to it.

Subsequent to sperm-egg fusion, events rapidly occur in the zygote that do not normally occur in either sperm or egg. Within minutes, the zygote initiates a change in its internal state that will, over the next 30 minutes, block additional sperm from binding to the cell surface. Thus, the zygote acts immediately to oppose the function of the gametes from which it is derived while the “goal” of both sperm and egg is to find each other and to fuse, the first act of the zygote is to prevent any further binding of sperm to the cell surface. Clearly, the zygote has entered into a new pattern of behavior, and therefore meets the second scientific criterion for being a new cell type.

What is the nature of the new cell that comes into existence upon sperm-egg fusion? Most importantly, is the zygote merely another human cell (like a liver cell or a skin cell) or is it something else? Just as science distinguishes between different types of cells, it also makes clear distinctions between cells and organisms. Both cells and organisms are alive, yet organisms exhibit unique characteristics that can reliably distinguish them from mere cells.[2]

An organism is defined as “(1) a complex structure of interdependent and subordinate elements whose relations and properties are largely determined by their function in the whole and (2) an individual constituted to carry on the activities of life by means of organs separate in function but mutually dependent: a living being.” (Merriam-Webster) This definition stresses the interaction of parts in the context of a coordinated whole as the distinguishing feature of an organism. Organisms are “living beings.” Therefore, another name for a human organism is a “human being” an entity that is a complete human, rather than a part of a human.

Human beings can be distinguished from human cells using the same kind of criteria scientists use to distinguish different cell types. A human being (i.e., a human organism) is composed of human parts (cells, proteins, RNA, DNA), yet it is different from a mere collection of cells because it has the characteristic molecular composition and behavior of an organism: it acts in an interdependent and coordinated manner to “carry on the activities of life.”

Human embryos from the one-cell (zygote) stage forward show uniquely integrated, organismal behavior that is unlike the behavior of mere human cells. The zygote produces increasingly complex tissues, structures and organs that work together in a coordinated way. Importantly, the cells, tissues and organs produced during development do not somehow “generate” the embryo (as if there were some unseen, mysterious “manufacturer” directing this process), they are produced by the embryo as it directs its own development to more mature stages of human life. This organized, coordinated behavior of the embryo is the defining characteristic of a human organism.

In contrast to human embryos, human cells are alive and, under some circumstances, they can assemble into primitive tissues and structures. Yet under no circumstances do mere human cells produce the kind of coordinated interactions necessary for building a fully integrated human body. They do not produce tissues in a coherent manner and do not organize them so as to sustain the life of the entity as a whole. They produce tumors i.e., parts of the human body in a chaotic, disorganized manner. They behave like cells, not like organisms.

The conclusion that human life begins at sperm-egg fusion is uncontested, objective, based on the universally accepted scientific method of distinguishing different cell types from each other and on ample scientific evidence (thousands of independent, peer-reviewed publications). Moreover, it is entirely independent of any specific ethical, moral, political, or religious view of human life or of human embryos. Indeed, this definition does not directly address the central ethical question surrounding the embryo: What value ought society place on human life at the earliest stages of development? A neutral examination of the evidence merely establishes the onset of a new human life at a scientifically well-defined “moment of conception,” a conclusion that unequivocally indicates that human embryos from the one-cell stage forward are indeed living individuals of the human species i.e., human beings.

*Dr. Condic is Associate Professor of Neurobiology and Adjunct Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Utah School of Medicine. She is also Director of Human Embryology instruction for the Medical School and of Human Neuroanatomy for the Dental School.

Basic Principles of Biology

The foundation of biology as it exists today is based on five basic principles. They are the cell theory, gene theory, evolution, homeostasis, and laws of thermodynamics.

    : all living organisms are composed of cells. The cell is the basic unit of life. : traits are inherited through gene transmission. Genes are located on chromosomes and consist of DNA. : any genetic change in a population that is inherited over several generations. These changes may be small or large, noticeable or not so noticeable. : ability to maintain a constant internal environment in response to environmental changes. : energy is constant and energy transformation is not completely efficient.

Subdiciplines of Biology
The field of biology is very broad in scope and can be divided into several disciplines. In the most general sense, these disciplines are categorized based on the type of organism studied. For example, zoology deals with animal studies, botany deals with plant studies, and microbiology is the study of microorganisms. These fields of study can be broken down further into several specialized sub-disciplines. Some of which include anatomy, cell biology, genetics, and physiology.

What is the meaning of life? To that end, what is meant by the meaning of life? Is it the meaning of human life in general, or the meaning of life to each particular person living it? Many people find the question of the meaning of life a religious one. As John argues, our lives could stand for something or be given meaning by a deity just as we give meaning to the words we utter. But, Ken objects, why should we have meaning simply because we were created by God? There is always the question of how God got his/her meaning. Furthermore, as Kant argued, human beings could just as plausibly be ends in themselves with the autonomy to define their own meaning for their lives. Even if there isn't an answer to the question of life's meaning, there is still the need to get through the day to day. Perhaps the question is not so much about the meaning of life, but about living it answering the question “How should I live?” and finding something beyond yourself to help discover an answer.

Howard Wettstein studied at Notre Dame where he became an atheist. Soon after leaving the college, however, he found religion in the midst of personal loss. When his mother died, Wettstein found comfort in a God—not in terms of life after death or the unreality of death which he feels are illusions, but in terms of meaning. So, Ken asks Wettstein about the meaning he was seeking in reflecting on his mother's death. What did he mean by “meaning”: what does meaning mean? In philosophy of language especially, this question is hard to pin down. Wettstein argues that it is better to talk about significance or its derivative, importance, rather than meaning itself. Whether or not someone attaches importance to something beyond herself she must still need to find significance in who she is and what she is doing.

While he was at Notre Dame, Wettstein met a professor studying the philosophy of religion. In one of their conversations, the professor spotted an ant hill and remarked that without God, his life would be as meaningless as the lives of the ants on the hill. But for Wettstein, this didn't seem like a case of meaninglessness at all. It occurred to him that people who believe strongly in God could still feel their lives are meaningless. On the other hand, atheists who have significant projects and relationships could feel their lives are full of meaning. So, it seems to still be unclear as to how religion helps bring meaning to a person's life.

  • Roving Philosophical Reporter (Seek To 00:04:21): In San Francisco, Amy Standen takes a poll of various men and women on the meaning of life. There are, she says, as many different types of people as there are philosophies.
  • Sixty-Second Philosopher (Seek To 00:49:59): What is the meaning of life? Throughout the millennia, different philosophers had different answers. Existentialists think life has no meaning. Wittgenstein believed that the question itself was meaningless. Darwinians, of course, thought the meaning of life was to produce more life. If we change the question to be how to gain satisfaction from life, we get a whole new set of answers.