In Greek mythology, King Sisyphus was punished by the gods, being forced to roll a boulder up a hill only to have it come crashing back down onto him once it reached the top. Image by Schaukel-Maler.
In Greek mythology, King Sisyphus was punished by the gods, being forced to roll a boulder up a hill only to have it go rolling back down once it reached the top. Image by Schaukel-Maler.

Objective Futility and Psychological Frustration

Is it possible to address these issues?

“To counter objective pointlessness… Sisyphus rolls his boulders to the top of the hill, in order to create a beautiful and enduring temple.”  This, explains Dien Ho, “amounts to something” and, therefore, makes Sisphus’s task meaningful. To counter psychological frustration, “…the gods implant in Sisyphus an impulse to roll boulders that also grants him great satisfaction and joy from doing so.”

The King’s life is filled with both mission and meaning because he has been reconciled to his fate and has learned to embrace it.

Richard Taylor develops his theory by pointing out that nothing lasts forever and, in the end, “We must recognize the ultimate pointlessness of our work.”  In other words, everything amounts to nothing due to “our inability to fight against the laws of thermodynamics.”  So, how can there be meaning if nothing endures?

With regard to creating meaning through accomplishments, Richard Taylor describes Sisyphus contemplating his work for eternity, but being unable to add to it. Taylor says: “Now in this picture we have a meaning for Sisyphus’s existence, a point for his prodigious labour, because we have put it there, yet, at the same time, that which is really worthwhile seems to have slipped away entirely.”

What About Abstract Ideas?

Dien Ho does not entirely agree with Taylor. He agrees that no work can endure indefinitely but that “abstract ideas, the products of intellectual achievement are immune to thermodynamic laws.”  Time and wear might undo the work, but cannot cast aside the fact that it was done. “Time might destroy Mount Everest, but it cannot destroy the fact that Sir Edmund Hillary climbed to the top of it.”  As for the eternal boredom that worried Richard Taylor, Dien Ho asks, “Why not start a new project?”

Zombies Do Not Reflect

Zombies are not motivated by value or the worthwhile pursuit of a project. They have no conception of meaningfulness that we are aware of. Human beings value pleasure and comfort, and if we found ourselves the survivors of a zombie invasion and succumbed to joining them, we would “lose the complex cognition necessary for a meaningful life.”

Dien Ho suggests that “How ever wondrous a project might be, if the person undertakes it unwillingly and lacks any commitment to it, it seems implausible to say that his existence was meaningful to him. So the pursuit of a great project cannot be a sufficient condition of meaningfulness.”

Maybe it would be better to be dead than live “a zombie-esque existence – an existence devoid of reflection and thus meaning.”

Halloween Philosophy

Maybe better to stay indoors on 31 October, lest the dead awaken and claw themselves out of their gloomy tombs, their stinking, festering, flesh drooling from their bones, to plunder our living brains.

Happy Hallowe’en all.


Ho, Dien. What’s So Bad About Being A Zombie. Philosophy Now. (2013). Accessed October 20, 2013.

Ho, Dien. LinkedIn Profile. Accessed October 20, 2013.

  • Darla Dollman

    Acts of compassion and love are meaningful simply because they take place. Zombies cannot feel emotions. There would be no point in existing without emotions, and zombies have no emotions. The argument discusses negative emotions, such as fear, pain, loss, but not the positive emotions one also experiences in life. The question is worded as a statement, but if I understand it correctly the answer is no, it would not be “better” to be a zombie. That would be the equivalent to comparing a chemical weapon to a human. I could choose to be a chemical weapon, kill many people, cause tremendous pain and suffering for survivors, and have no remorse because I have nor feelings, or I could be a human who suffers at times, but also has opportunities to show compassion, kindness, and to show love and receive love in return.