Education and life's meaning

Department: Educational & Family Studies
Section: Researhc & Theory in Education
Research area/-theme: education, life issues, meaningfulness
Researchers: Doret de Ruyter, Anders Schinkel

Human beings are special creatures in that they have a capacity and a need for meaning. Frustration of that need is painful and depressing. Perhaps unfortunately, as most children find out at some point, often during adolescence, it is not simply a given that life is meaningful – or at least it is not necessarily experienced as such. Especially in periods of transition, when their identity is shaken, people often experience a lack of meaning. Life may seem to have lost its coherence, and may seem void of any purpose. In contrast, even though a meaningful life is not necessarily a happy life, to have meaningful work, meaningful relationships and to experience one’s life as meaningful in general is normally a source of joy.

So there is plenty of reason to ask whether life’s meaning – or our capacity to appreciate it – is something we can influence. Is it possible to make one’s own life or that of others more meaningful? Or can we enhance our capacities to find and appreciate, or to construct meaning? And what exactly do we mean by ‘meaning’ here? Are we asking about the purpose of life as such, or even of the universe as a whole? Or are we interested in what we can do in and with our lives that might render them more meaningful? Are their objective standards of meaning, by which we can evaluate our own and other people’s lives, standards that could also guide educational efforts?

Through conceptual and normative analysis, informed by psychological and educational research, we attempt to answer questions such as these. The ultimate aim of this research project is nothing less than to clarify how education may contribute to life’s meaning.