I defend the theory that one's life is meaningful to the extent that one promotes the good. Call this the good cause account (GCA) of the meaning of life. It holds that the good effects that count towards the meaning of one's life need not be intentional. Nor must one be aware of the effects. Nor does it matter whether the same good would have resulted if one had not existed. What matters is that one (...) is causally responsible for the good. I argue that the best theory of the meaning of life should clearly distinguish between subjective fulfillment and objective meaningfulness. The GCA respects the distinction. And it is superior to its leading rivals in the recent literature, most notably those of Erik Wielenberg and Susan Wolf. (shrink)
There is an apparent tension between two familiar platitudes about the meaning of life: (i) that 'meaning' in this context means 'value', and (ii) that such meaning might be ineffable. I suggest a way of trying to bring these two claims together by focusing on an ideal of a meaningful life that fuses both the axiological and semantic senses of 'significant'. This in turn allows for the possibility that the full significance of a life (...) might be ineffable not because its axiological significance is ineffable, but because its semantic significance is ineffable in virtue of the signification relation itself being unsignifiable. I then explore to what degree this claim about signification can be adequately defended. (shrink)
In parts of his Notebooks, Tractatus and in “Lecture on Ethics”, Wittgenstein advanced a new approach to the problems of the meaning of life. It was developed as a reaction to the explorations on this theme by Bertrand Russell. Wittgenstein’s objective was to treat it with a higher degree of exactness. The present paper shows that he reached exactness by treating themes of philosophical anthropology using the formal method of topology.
It’s a Wonderful Life (Capra, 1946) presents a plausible theory of the meaning of life: One's life is meaningful to the extent that it promotes the good. Although this theory is credible, the movie suggests a problematic refinement in the Pottersville sequence. George's waking nightmare asks us to compare the actual world with a world where he did not exist. It tells us that we are only responsible for the good that would not exist had we (...) not existed. I argue that this is a bad test. It fails when there are redundant causes. (shrink)
In this paper I discuss the view, put forward by several people from Aristotle to Russell, that knowledge is the ultimate purpose and meaning of human life, and I find it wanting. I also argue that all attempts to show that human life has a meaning from an external and higher point of view have been unsuccessful, human life having a meaning only from an internal point of view. I discuss such meaning and (...) argue that, while knowledge is not the ultimate purpose and meaning of human life, it is a precondition of its meaning from an internal point of view. (shrink)
Part of a special Issue on Robert Trivers’ The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self‐Deception in Human Life, with some focus on the implication of self-deception and related mental states for meaning in life.
What is the meaning of life? In the post-modern, post-religious scientific world, this question is becoming a preoccupation. But it also has a long history: many major figures in philosophy had something to say on the subject. This book begins with an historical overview of philosophers from Plato to Hegel and Marx who have believed in some sort of meaning of life, either in some supposed "other" world or in the future of this world. Young goes (...) on to look at what happened when the traditional structures that provided life with meaning ceased to be believed. (shrink)
The point of psychotherapy has occasionally been associated with talk of ‘life’s meaning’. However, the literature on meaning in life written by contemporary philosophers has yet to be systematically applied to literature on the point of psychotherapy. My broad aim in this chapter is to indicate some plausible ways to merge these two tracks of material that have run in parallel up to now. More specifically, my hunch is that the connection between meaning as philosophers (...) understand it and therapy as psychotherapists ought to practice it is much closer than is suggested by the field of existential psychotherapy, which expressly addresses the topic of life’s meaning and appeals to ideas from classic philosophers such Søren Kierkegaard, Martin Heidegger, and the like. I instead proffer the claim that psychodynamic and humanistic therapy, clinical psychology, and counselling psychology as such, not a particular branch of them, are best understood as enterprises in search of meaning in life, in the way many present-day philosophers understand this phrase. In this chapter, I spell out what I mean by this bold hypothesis and provide some good reason to take it seriously. (shrink)
What is the meaning of life? It is a question that has intrigued the great philosophers--and has been hilariously lampooned by Monty Python. Indeed, the whole idea strikes many of us as vaguely pompous, a little absurd. Is there one profound and mysterious meaning to life, a single ultimate purpose behind human existence? In What's It All About?, Julian Baggini says no, there is no single meaning. Instead, Baggini argues meaning can be found in (...) a variety of ways, in this life. He succinctly breaks down six answers people commonly suggest when considering what life is all about--helping others, serving humanity, being happy, becoming successful, enjoying each day as if it were your last, and "freeing your mind." By reducing the vague, mysterious question of meaning to a series of more specific (if thoroughly unmysterious) questions about what gives life purpose and value, he shows that the quest for meaning can be personal, empowering, and uplifting. If the meaning of life is not a mystery, if leading meaningful lives is within the power of us all, then we can look around us and see the many ways in which life can have purpose. We can see the value of happiness while accepting it is not everything. We can see the value of success, without interpreting that too narrowly. We can see the value of seizing the day as well as helping others lead meaningful lives. We can recognize the value of love, as perhaps the most powerful motivator of all. Illustrating his argument with the thoughts of many of the great philosophers and examples drawn from everyday life, Baggini convincingly shows that the search for meaning is personal and within the power of each of us to find. (shrink)
The question "What is the meaning of life?" is one of the most fascinating, oldest and most difficult questions human beings have ever posed themselves. Often linked to the religious issue of whether we are part of a larger, divine scheme, even in an increasingly secularized culture it remains a question to which we are ineluctably and powerfully drawn. In this acute and thoughtful book, John Cottingham asks why the question vexes us so much and assesses some of (...) the most influential attempts to explain it. John Cottingham examines the view, widely held within science, especially since Darwin, that the cosmos is devoid of value and meaning. He asks what is involved in the "disenchantment" of the natural world by science, and argues that, properly understood, modern cosmology and evolutionary theory need not foreclose the possibility of ultimate meaning. He reflects on the paradox that the very impermanence and fragility of the human condition may lend support to the quest for a "spiritual" dimension of meaning. Drawing on the history of philosophy, he also ponders the costs of insisting that any path to meaning must be a narrowly rational one, and he argues that our human need for meaning may properly be approached by drawing on shared traditions of practice, such as social ceremonies and rites of passage, whose value cannot be analyzed in purely intellectual terms. (shrink)
The phrase "the meaning of life" for many seems a quaint notion fit for satirical mauling by Monty Python or Douglas Adams. But in this spirited, stimulating, and quirky enquiry, famed critic Terry Eagleton takes a serious if often amusing look at the question and offers his own surprising answer. Eagleton first examines how centuries of thinkers and writers--from Marx and Schopenhauer to Shakespeare, Sartre, and Beckett--have responded to the ultimate question of meaning. He suggests, however, that (...) it is only in modern times that the question has become problematic. But instead of tackling it head-on, many of us cope with the feelings of meaninglessness in our lives by filling them with everything from football to sex, Kabbala, Scientology, "New Age softheadedness," or fundamentalism. On the other hand, Eagleton notes, many educated people believe that life is an evolutionary accident that has no intrinsic meaning. If our lives have meaning, it is something with which we manage to invest them, not something with which they come ready made. Eagleton probes this view of meaning as a kind of private enterprise, and concludes that it fails to holds up. He argues instead that the meaning of life is not a solution to a problem, but a matter of living in a certain way. It is not metaphysical but ethical. It is not something separate from life, but what makes it worth living--that is, a certain quality, depth, abundance and intensity of life. Here then is a brilliant discussion of the problem of meaning by a leading thinker, who writes with a light and often irreverent touch, but with a very serious end in mind. "If you were to ask what provides some meaning in life nowadays for a great many people, especially men, you could do worse than reply 'football.' Not many of them perhaps would be willing to admit as much; but sport stands in for all those noble causes--religious faith, national sovereignty, personal honor, ethnic identity--for which, over the centuries, people have been prepared to go to their deaths. It is sport, not religion, which is now the opium of the people.". (shrink)
The phrase "the meaning of life" for many seems a quaint notion fit for satirical mauling by Monty Python or Douglas Adams. But in this spirited Very Short Introduction, famed critic Terry Eagleton takes a serious if often amusing look at the question and offers his own surprising answer. Eagleton first examines how centuries of thinkers and writers--from Marx and Schopenhauer to Shakespeare, Sartre, and Beckett--have responded to the ultimate question of meaning. He suggests, however, that it (...) is only in modern times that the question has become problematic. But instead of tackling it head-on, many of us cope with the feelings of meaninglessness in our lives by filling them with everything from football to sex, Kabbala, Scientology, "New Age softheadedness," or fundamentalism. On the other hand, Eagleton notes, many educated people believe that life is an evolutionary accident that has no intrinsic meaning. If our lives have meaning, it is something with which we manage to invest them, not something with which they come ready made. Eagleton probes this view of meaning as a kind of private enterprise, and concludes that it fails to holds up. He argues instead that the meaning of life is not a solution to a problem, but a matter of living in a certain way. It is not metaphysical but ethical. It is not something separate from life, but what makes it worth living--that is, a certain quality, depth, abundance and intensity of life. Here then is a brilliant discussion of the problem of meaning by a leading thinker, who writes with a light and often irreverent touch, but with a very serious end in mind. (shrink)
Human beings have the unique ability to consciously reflect on the nature of the self. But reflection has its costs. We can ask what the self is, but as David Hume pointed out, the self, once reflected upon, may be nowhere to be found. The favored view is that we are material beings living in the material world. But if so, a host of destabilizing questions surface. If persons are just a sophisticated sort of animal, then what sense is there (...) to the idea that we are free agents who control our own destinies? What makes the life of any animal, even one as sophisticated as Homo sapiens, worth anything? What place is there in a material world for God? And if there is no place for a God, then what hold can morality possibly have on us--why isn't everything allowed? Flanagan's collection of essays takes on these questions and more. He continues the old philosophical project of reconciling a scientific view of ourselves with a view of ourselves as agents of free will and meaning-makers. But to this project he brings the latest insights of neuroscience, cognitive science, and psychiatry, exploring topics such as whether the conscious mind can be explained scientifically, whether dreams are self-expressive or just noise, the moral socialization of children, and the nature of psychological phenomena such as multiple personality disorder and false memory syndrome. What emerges from these explorations is a liberating vision which can make sense of the self, agency, character transformation, and the value and worth of human life. Flanagan concludes that nothing about a scientific view of persons must lead to nihilism. (shrink)
The goal of “(modern) Chinese Philosophy” established during the period of the May 4th Movement is to reestablish the meaning of life for Chinese people. However, because it takes the approach of interpreting Chinese thinking through a Western lens, thus forming a discourse pattern of “Chinese A is Western B,” which is only capable of manifesting Western culture, “Chinese Philosophy” is made logically impossible as the ideological source from which modern Chinese thinkers could construct the meaning of (...)life. The ideological source of the still lasting traditional lifestyle is Yili Xue 义理学 (The Learning of Righteousness and Principles); whereas that of modern life, which was established as an imitation of the West, is Western culture. Neither of them takes “Chinese Philosophy” as its ideological source. Therefore, “Chinese Philosophy” is excluded from the construction of the meaning of life, and falls into the dilemma of lifemeaning. (shrink)
What happens when the meaning of life based on a divine revelation no longer makes sense? Does the quest for transcendence end in the pursuit of material success and self-absorption? Luc Ferry argues that modernity and the emergence of secular humanism in Europe since the eighteenth century have not killed the search for meaning and the sacred, or even the idea of God, but rather have transformed both through a dual process: the humanization of the divine and (...) the divinization of the human. Ferry sees evidence for the first of these in the Catholic Church's attempts to counter the growing rejection of dogmatism and to translate the religious tradition into contemporary language. The second he traces to the birth of modern love and humanitarianism, both of which demand a concern for others and even self-sacrifice in defense of values that transcend life itself. Ferry concludes with a powerful statement in favor of what he calls "transcendental humanism"--a concept that for the first time in human history gives us access to a genuine spirituality rooted in human beings instead of the divine. (shrink)
Opponents of voluntary euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide often maintain that the procedures ought not to be accepted because ending an innocent human life would both be morally wrong in itself and have unfortunate consequences. A gravely suffering patient can grant that ending his life would involve such harm but still insist that he would have reason to continue living only if there were something to him in his abstaining from ending his life. Though relatively rarely, the notion (...) of meaning of life has figured in recent medical ethical debate on voluntary euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. And in current philosophical discussion on meaning of life outside the medical ethical debate on voluntary euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide several authors have argued that being moral and having a meaningful existence are connected to each other. In this article, I assess whether his intentionally refraining from causing the harm related to voluntary euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide would involve something to such a patient in the sense that it would promote the meaningfulness of his life. (shrink)
Featuring nine new articles chosen by coeditor Steven M. Cahn, the third edition of E. D. Klemke's The Meaning of Life offers twenty-two insightful selections that explore this fascinating topic. The essays are primarily by philosophers but also include materials from literary figures and religious thinkers. As in previous editions, the readings are organized around three themes. In Part I the articles defend the view that without faith in God, life has no meaning or purpose. In (...) Part II the selections oppose this claim, defending instead a nontheistic, humanistic alternative--that life can have meaning even in the absence of theistic commitment. In Part III the contributors ask whether the question of the meaning of life is itself meaningful. The third edition adds substantial essays by Moritz Schlick, Joel Feinberg, and John Kekes as well as selections from the writings of Louis P. Pojman, Emil L. Fackenheim, Robert Nozick, Susan Wolf, and Steven M. Cahn. The only anthology of its kind, The Meaning of Life: A Reader, Third Edition, is ideal for courses in introduction to philosophy, human nature, and the meaning of life. It also offers general readers an accessible and stimulating introduction to the subject. (shrink)
Many writers in various fields--philosophy, religion, literature, and psychology--believe that the question of the meaning of life is one of the most significant problems that an individual faces. In The Meaning of Life, Second Edition, E.D. Klemke collects some of the best writings on this topic, primarily works by philosophers but also selections from literary figures and religious thinkers. The twenty-seven cogent, readable essays are organized around three different perspectives on the meaning of life. (...) In Part I, the readings assert and defend the theistic view that without the existence of God--or faith in God--life has no significance or purpose. In Part II the selections deny this thesis, defending instead the humanistic alternative--that life has or can have meaning and worth without any theistic beliefs or commitment. In the final group of readings, contributors ask if the question of the meaning of life is in itself legitimate and significant. The volume also includes an introduction by the editor and a selected bibliography. This new edition adds essays by A. J. Ayer, Hazel Barnes, William Lane Craig, Owen Flanagan, Antony Flew, Thomas Nagel, Kai Nielsen, Philip L. Quinn, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Walter T. Stace. The only anthology of its kind, The Meaning of Life, Second Edition, is ideal for courses in introduction to philosophy and human nature. It also provides an accessible and stimulating introduction to the subject for general readers. (shrink)
Many major historical figures in philosophy have provided an answer to the question of what, if anything, makes life meaningful, although they typically have not put it in these terms. Consider, for instance, Aristotle on the human function, Aquinas on the beatific vision, and Kant on the highest good. While these concepts have some bearing on happiness and morality, they are straightforwardly construed as accounts of which final ends a person ought to realize in order to have a significant (...) existence. Despite the venerable pedigree, it is only in the last 50 years or so that something approaching a distinct field on the meaning of life has been established in analytic philosophy, and it is only in the last 25 years that debate with real depth has appeared. Concomitant with the demise of positivism and of utilitarianism in the post-war era has been the rise of analytical enquiry into non-hedonistic conceptions of value grounded on relatively uncontroversial (but not universally shared) judgments or “intuitions,” including conceptions of meaning in life. Englishspeaking philosophers can be expected to continue to find life's meaning of interest as they increasingly realize that it is a distinct line of enquiry that admits of rational enquiry to no less a degree than more familiar normative categories such as well-being, right action, and distributive justice. (shrink)
The “units of selection” debate in philosophy of biology addresses which entity benefits from natural selection. Nanay has tried to explain why we are obsessed with the question about the meaning of life, using the notion of group selection, although he is skeptical about answering the question from a biological point of view. The aim of this paper is to give a biological explanation to the meaning of life. I argue that the meaning of (...) class='Hi'>life is survival and reproduction, appealing to the teleological notion of function in philosophy of biology. (shrink)
Contemporary philosophers and bioethicists argue that life extension is bad for the individual. According to the agency objection to life extension, being constrained as an agent adds to the meaningfulness of human life. Life extension removes constraints, and thus it deprives life of meaning. In the paper, I concede that constrained agency contributes to the meaningfulness of human life, but reject the agency objection to life extension in its current form. Even in (...) an extended life, decision-making remains constrained, and many obstacles to the fulfilment of an agent’s goals are preserved. Agents with longer lives are also presented with new challenges: for instance, it might be harder for them to avoid chronic boredom, and sustain their motivation to act in the pursuit of their goals. Although objections from agency and boredom are often used in combination to support the view that a much longer life is likely to bring misery or become meaningless, I argue that the acceptance of the boredom objection undermines the persuasiveness of the agency objection. (shrink)
I seek to step back from the discussion of what it is that confers meaning and concentrate rather on the issue of our reasons to search for meaning. I seek to show that we always have reason to search for meaning, and that this is the case even if we are in a crisis that has rendered us ignorant of what it is that could make the rest of our life worthwhile. Consider: even if presented with (...) an argument that has mean- inglessness as its conclusion, one always has reason to investigate either the premises or the validity of the argument. (shrink)
From the New York Times bestselling author Derrick Bell, a profound meditation on achieving success with integrity. As one of the country's most influential law professors, Derrick Bell has spent a lifetime helping students struggling to maintain a sense of integrity in the face of an overwhelming pressure to succeed at any price. Frequently asked how he managed to be so extraordinarily successful while never giving up the fight for justice and equality, Bell decided to spend his seventieth year writing (...) a book of insight and guidance. The result, Ethical Ambition , is a deeply affecting, uplifting, and brilliant series of meditations that not only challenges us to face some of the most difficult questions that life presents, but dares to offer some solutions. Using incidents from his own life, Bell also looks to literature, history, and other contemporary figures who have refused to compromise their beliefs. In chapters that explore passion, faith courage, inspiration, humility, and relationships, Ethical Ambition address the most fundamental issues of life. (shrink)
Several philosophers have argued that if we examine our lives in context of the cosmos at large, sub specie aeternitatis, we cannot escape life's meaninglessness. To see our lives as meaningful, we have to shun the point of view of the cosmos and consider our lives only in the narrower context of the here and now. I argue that this view is incorrect: life can be seen as meaningful also sub specie aeternitatis. While criticizing arguments by, among others, (...) Simon Blackburn, Nicholas Rescher, and Thomas Nagel, I show that what determines assessments of the meaning of a life are the standards of meaningfulness one endorses rather than the size of the context in which that life is assessed. Employing non-demanding standards of meaningfulness to assess a life is compatible with examining it in the context of the cosmos at large. That is also the case if we accept Nagel's claim that to examine a life sub specie aeternitatis is to examine it externally, impersonally and objectively: life can be evaluated as meaningful also when under these perspectives if the standards of meaningfulness we adopt are not overly challenging. Nor does the contingency of our existence, realized sub specie aeternitatis, render our life meaningless. Contrary to a commonly accepted view, then, examining our lives sub specie aeternitatis does not necessitate that we see them as meaningless. (shrink)
In this chapter, I critically explore John Cottingham's most powerful argument for the thesis that the existence of God is necessary for meaning in life. This is the argument that life would be meaningless without an invariant morality, which could come only from God. After demonstrating that Cottingham's God-based ethic can avoid not only many traditional Euthyphro meta-ethical concerns, but also objections at the normative level, I consider whether it can entail the unique respect in which morality (...) is normative, and, upon considering various ways to develop the view, I conclude that it can. However, I then raise another objection that I maintain cannot be replied to satisfactorily. The objection is that, if we had conclusive evidence for a God-based meta-ethic, then our evidence for the existence of God and of wrongness would be comparable, but they are not, either for Cottingham or for readers more generally. That is, I argue that it is incoherent to claim to know that wrongness is a function of God, given that one knows that wrongness exists, but does not know that God does. I also present an alternative, naturalist meta-ethic that avoids this incoherence, fits better with our extant metaphysical knowledge, and grounds an invariant moral system. (shrink)
It is a common pessimistic worry among both philosophers and non-philosophers that our lives, viewed sub specie aeternitatis, are meaningless given that they make neither a noticeable nor lasting impact from this vast, cosmic perspective. The preferred solution for escaping this kind of pessimism is to adopt a different measure by which to evaluate life’s meaningfulness. One of two primary routes is often taken here. First, one can retreat back to the sub specie humanitatis perspective, and argue that (...) class='Hi'>life is meaningful only when viewed within the local context of human values, cares, and concerns. Or, second, one can distinguish between perspectives and standards for meaningfulness, arguing that the latter are independent of the former and are the most appropriate means by which evaluations of life’s meaningfulness are made. Importantly, none of these issues can be sufficiently addressed without first answering a prior question, and one that is surprisingly under-addressed in the literature: What is the sub specie aeternitatis perspective? Unfortunately, many philosophers who employ this perspective do so without carefully defining or clarifying it, or, if they do clarify what it means, they only note its time and spatial components. I will argue that, in addition to these components, this perspective includes something like a modal component (following Thomas Nagel), and an ontological Normative component. I will then apply this more nuanced understanding of the sub specie aeternitatis perspective to the question of whether perspectives can be distinguished from standards for meaningfulness. (shrink)
Have evolution, science and the trappings of the modern world killed off God irrevocably? And what do we lose if we choose not to believe in him? From Newton and Descartes to Darwin and the discovery of the genome, religion has been pushed back further and further while science has gained ground. But what fills the void that religion leaves behind? This book is an attempt to look at these questions and to suggest a third way between the easy consolations (...) of religion and the persuasive force of science that the everyday modern reader can engage with. (shrink)
I examine two recent books by analytic philosophers that address the underexplored topic of whether the meaning of life depends on the existence of a supernatural realm including God and a soul. John Cottingham’s On the Meaning of Life defends a supernaturalist conception of life’s meaning, whereas Kurt Baier’s Problems of Life and Death defends the opposite, naturalist perspective. I show that their respective arguments are worth serious consideration, indicate some potential weaknesses in (...) them, and suggest some other argumentative strategies that those interested in this fascinating topic might pursue elsewhere in more depth. (shrink)
The emergent new science of synthetic biology is challenging entrenched distinctions between, amongst others, life and non-life, the natural and the artificial, the evolved and the designed, and even the material and the informational. Whenever such culturally sanctioned boundaries are breached, researchers are inevitably accused of playing God or treading in Frankenstein’s footsteps. Bioethicists, theologians and editors of scientific journals feel obliged to provide an authoritative answer to the ambiguous question of the ‘meaning’ of life, both (...) as a scientific definition and as an explication with wider existential connotations. This article analyses the arguments mooted in the emerging societal debates on synthetic biology and the way its practitioners respond to criticism, mostly by assuming a defiant posture or professing humility. It explores the relationship between the ‘playing God’ theme and the Frankenstein motif and examines the doctrinal status of the ‘playing God’ argument. One particularly interesting finding is that liberal theologians generally deny the religious character of the ‘playing God’ argument—a response which fits in with the curious fact that this argument is used mainly by secular organizations. Synthetic biology, it is therefore maintained, does not offend so much the God of the Bible as a deified Nature. While syntheses of artificial life forms cause some vague uneasiness that life may lose its special meaning, most concerns turn out to be narrowly anthropocentric. As long as synthetic biology creates only new microbial life and does not directly affect human life, it will in all likelihood be considered acceptable. (shrink)
In the first part of the paper, I try to clarify the cluster of moods and questions we refer to generically as the problem of the meaning of life. I propose that the question of meaning emerges when we perform a spontaneous transcendental reduction on the phenomenon my life, a reduction that leaves us confronting an unjustified and unjustifiable curiosity. In Part 2, I turn to the film ikiru, Kurosawa''s masterpiece of 1952, for an existentialist resolution (...) of the problem. (shrink)
Even if the question, “What is the meaning of life?” is coherent, the fact remains that it is vague. Its vagueness largely centers on the use of the term “meaning.” The most prevalent strategy for addressing this vagueness is to discard the word “meaning” and reformulate the question entirely into questions such as, “What is the purpose of life?” or “What makes life valuable?” among others. This approach has philosophical merit but does not account (...) for the intuitions and sub-questions driving the original question as plausibly as does an interpretation that I call the narrative interpretation. I will argue that the question, “What is the meaning of life?” should be understood as the request for a narrative that narrates across those elements and accompanying questions of life of greatest existential import to human beings. (shrink)
The Brain and the Meaning of Life Paul Thagard Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010 274 pages, ISBN: 9780691142722 (hbk): $29.95 This paper criticizes central arguments in Paul Thagard's The Brain and the Meaning of Life, concluding, contrary to Thagard, that there is very little that we can learn from brain research about the meaning of life. The paper offers a critical review of Thagard's argument against nihilism and his argument that it is love, work, (...) and play, rather than other activities, that make life meaningful. Moreover, the paper argues that the rich neurological information Thagard presents throughout the book does not contribute at all to his arguments and, more generally, that neurological research is irrelevant also to almost all other aspects of meaning of life research. (shrink)
Abstract In discussing the meaning of life in the Bhagavad Git? two obvious questions arise: first, what is the meaning of ?the meaning of life'?, and second, how does that meaning apply to the Bhagavad Git?? In Part I of this brief paper I will attempt to answer the first question by focusing on one of the common meanings of that phrase; in Part II, I will apply that very common meaning to the (...) Bhagavad Git?; and in the third and final part, I will point to a puzzle, the paradox of the jivanmukta, that would seem to follow from the discussion in the first two parts of this paper. My own feeling is that the concept of ?the meaning of life? is a Western invention . This being so, perhaps it would be wise to probe for that concept and its meaning among Western authors. We turn first, then, to one ancient writer, Aristotle of Stagira, and conclude Part I with a modern writer also concerned with the meaning of life, Albert Camus. (shrink)
Thomas Nagel contends that the actual philosophical problem in the meaning of life is the independent world we live in, and only requires a self-transcendent being who glimpses an independent world. I argue that Nagel is mistaken to think that self-transcendence evokes the same anxiety for humans living in the world of Dante as Darwin. Nagel’s view from nowhere is rather a modem version of the world. Secondly, while I concede that there is a common anxiety felt by (...) self-transcendence in glimpsing an independent objective world, we also view that world through a set of beliefs that conditions how we see that world. (shrink)
This paper discusses the views of Moritz Schlick connecting aesthetics with the meaning of life. The fundamental question that Schlick asks is how anything appears beautiful. The discussion of the beautiful comes down to a discussion of aesthetic pleasure. Aesthetic pleasure has the characteristic of having no use defined in survival terms of self-preservation and propagation. Art, for Schlick, is seen as essentially play. Schlick addressed how his view that connects aesthetic pleasure and play essentially to the non-useful, (...) can be explained in light of the theory of natural selection. Then this is related to the meaning of life as play or youth. (shrink)
In his ?Nihilism, Skepticism, and Philosophical Method,? Paul Thagard claims that my critique of his The Brain and the Meaning of Life misapprehends his argument. According to Thagard, the critique wrongly assumes that the book offers foundationalist justifications for Thagard's views whereas, in fact, the justifications his book presents are coherentist. In my response, I show that the claim that my critique depends on foundationalist assumptions is ungrounded. Moreover, the appeal to coherentist rather than foundationalist justifications does not (...) salvage Thagard's discussion, since it is problematic under both foundationalism and coherentism. Thagard does not show that the anti-nihilist position he supports is more coherent than the nihilist position he rejects, and brain research does not justify his claims about the meaning of life under coherentism any more than under foundationalism. (shrink)
The aim of this paper is to make an unlikely connection between the old question about the meaning of life and some important concepts in philosophy of biology. More precisely, I argue that while biology is unlikely to help us to figure out the meaning of life, the fact that this question has been considered to be such a crucial one could be explained with the help of some consideration of our evolutionary past. I argue that (...) if there is evidence for group selection in the course of human evolution, this may explain not the meaning of life but rather the reason why we are preoccupied with this question. First, I examine what group selection is and what role it played in human evolution. After surveying the evidence for the claim that in the course of human evolution we lived in isolated group societies, I analyse what influence this social structure had on our present psychological dispositions, including our quest for the meaning of life. (shrink)
van Behrens, Dierk Review(s) of: Darwin, God and the meaning of life: How evolutionary theory undermines everything you thought you knew, by Steve Stewart-Williams Cambridge University Press, 2010, ISBN 9780521762786.
In 1975 E. O. Wilson called for biologists to appropriate ethics.1 Few philosophers worried deeply about this potential usurpation because they felt firmly ensconced on the other side of the Humean wall from the biologists. Science can provide neither guidance (“oughts”) nor values. Perhaps nowhere is this more clear than in the crowning question of ethics; namely, what is the meaning of life? Since evolution proposes an ateleological account of the natural world, biologists can dismiss the question to (...) which we all desperately want an answer as a category mistake. If pressed to understand the question metaphorically, biologists begrudgingly reply that the meaning of life is to get as much of your genetic material .. (shrink)
This is an article that explores the question "what is the meaning of life?" particularly with respect to humanism and theism. It defends a humanist position, and refutes a number of arguments for the conclusion that a meaningful human existence requires the existence of God.
In this article I survey philosophical literature on the topic of what, if anything, makes a person’s life meaningful, focusing on systematic texts that are written in English and that have appeared in the last five years (2002-2007). My aims are to present overviews of the most important, fresh, Anglo-American positions on meaning in life and to raise critical questions about them worth answering in future work.
This article addresses the utilitarian theory of life's meaning according to which a person's existence is significant just in so far as she makes those in the world better off. One aim is to explore the extent to which the utilitarian theory has counter-intuitive implications about which lives count as meaningful. A second aim is to develop a new, broadly Kantian theory of what makes a life meaningful, a theory that retains much of what makes the utilitarian (...) view attractive, while avoiding the most important objections facing it and providing a principled explanation of their force. (shrink)
The question of the meaning and meaningfulness of life is neglected by philosophers today. Meaning is implicitly assumed to be associated with individual choices and preferences. This article argues that meaningfulness works in another way as well, when something provokes meaningfulness. One of the consequences of this vision is that there may well be implicit "standards" for meaning. Certain benchmarks for meaning-references concerned with our "being-in-the-world"-have not been explored fully enough. Another point that as been (...) neglected in the recent discussion on meaningfulness is the very structure of being that is appealed to. This is the key to the experience of a deeper kind of meaningfulness. (shrink)
Abstract A meaningful life, we shall argue, is a life upon which a certain sort of valuable pattern has been imposed by the person in question?a pattern which involves in serious ways the person having an effect upon the world. Meaningfulness is thus a special kind of value which a human life can bear. Two interrelated difficulties face ths proposal. One concerns responsiblity: how are we to account for the fact that a life that satisfies the (...) above criteria can have more meaning than a life with the same positive outcomes but which lacks responsiblity on the part of the agent? The other turns on these outcomes themselves: how can the meaningfulness engendered by actions you perform now be affected by what those actions go on to produce in the future, perhaps even after your death? We provide a response to both of these difficulties. (shrink)
In this paper, I explore the traditional religious account of what can make a life meaningful, namely, the view that one's life acquires significance insofar as one fulfils a purpose God has assigned. Call this view ‘purpose theory’. In the literature, there are objections purporting to show that purpose theory entails the logical absurdities that God is not moral, omnipotent, or eternal. I show that there are versions of purpose theory which are not vulnerable to these reductio arguments. (...) However, I then contend that there is a problem facing purpose theory which no version can avoid. I argue that the best reason for holding a God-centred theory of life's meaning logically precludes the possibility of purpose theory being the correct version of it. More specifically, I argue that if a relationship with God is necessary for one's life to acquire meaning, this must be because God would have properties such as atemporality and simplicity, perfections which are incompatible with purposiveness. I conclude that religious thinkers have good reason to develop other theories of the way God could confer meaning on our lives. (shrink)
Three of the great sources of meaning in life are the good, the true, and the beautiful, and I aim to make headway on the grand Enlightenment project of ascertaining what, if anything, they have in common. Concretely, if we take a (stereotypical) Mother Teresa, Mandela, Darwin, Einstein, Dostoyevsky, and Picasso, what might they share that makes it apt to deem their lives to have truly mattered? I provide reason to doubt two influential answers, noting a common flaw (...) that supernaturalism and consequentialism share. I instead develop their most plausible rival, a naturalist and non-consequentialist account of what enables moral achievement, intellectual reflection, and aesthetic creation to confer great meaning on a person's life, namely, the idea that they do so insofar as a person transcends an aspect of herself in some substantial way. I criticize several self-transcendence theories that contemporary philosophers have advanced, before presenting a new self-transcendence view and defending it as the most promising. (shrink)
The ethical problems surrounding voluntary assisted suicide remain formidable, and are unlikely to be resolved in pluralist societies. An examination of historical attitudes to suicide suggests that modernity has inherited a formidable complex of religious and moral attitudes to suicide, whether assisted or not. Advocates usually invoke the ending of intolerable suffering as one justification for euthanasia of this kind. This does not provide an adequate justification by itself, because there are (at least theoretically) methods which would relieve suffering without (...) causing the physical death of the suffering person. Carried to extremes, these methods would finish the life worth living, but leave a being which was technically alive. Such acts, however, would provide no moral escape, since they would create beings without meaning. Arguments seeking to justify ending the lives of others need some grounding in concepts of the meaning of a life. The euthanasia discourse therefore needs to take at least some account of the meaning we construct for our lives and the lives of others. (shrink)
The evolution of life on Earth has produced an organism that is beginning to model and understand its own evolution and the possible future evolution of life in the universe. These models and associated evidence show that evolution on Earth has a trajectory. The scale over which living processes are organized cooperatively has increased progressively, as has its evolvability. Recent theoretical advances raise the possibility that this trajectory is itself part of a wider developmental process. According to these (...) theories, the developmental process has been shaped by a larger evolutionary process that involves the reproduction of universes. This evolutionary process has tuned the key parameters of the universe to increase the likelihood that life will emerge and develop to produce outcomes that are successful in the larger process (e.g. a key outcome may be to produce life and intelligence that intentionally reproduces the universe and tunes the parameters of ‘offspring’ universes). Theory suggests that when life emerges on a planet, it moves along this trajectory of its own accord. However, at a particular point evolution will continue to advance only if organisms emerge that decide to advance the evolutionary process intentionally. The organisms must be prepared to make this commitment even though the ultimate nature and destination of the process is uncertain, and may forever remain unknown. Organisms that complete this transition to intentional evolution will drive the further development of life and intelligence in the universe. Humanity’s increasing understanding of the evolution of life in the universe is rapidly bringing it to the threshold of this major evolutionary transition. (shrink)
Feng Youlanâs Xin Shixun æ°ä¸è® (New Treatise on the Way of Life) written in the late 1930s differed from traditional moral teachings because it focused on nonmoral life lessons and how to virtuously pursue success. It advanced an interpretation of traditional virtues as life lessons for young people, so that these virtues could transform an individual life in modern society. Thereby the morals of ancient sages could transfer to the modern, individual, and morality. The problem is (...) just how the ideals of traditional Chinese culture have adjusted themselves to modern society. Following the phrase after-virtue , this effort can be called a pursuit of after-sage. (shrink)
'The unconsidered life is not worth living' - Socrates. Thinking about life, what it means and what it holds in store does not have to be a despondent experience, but rather can be enlightening and uplifting. A life truly worth living is one that is informed and considered so a degree of philosophical insight into the inevitabilities of the human condition is inherently important and such an approach will help us to deal with real personal dilemmas. This (...) book is an accessible, lively and thought-provoking series of linked commentaries, based on A. C. Grayling's 'The Last Word' column in the Guardian. Its aim is not to persuade readers to accept one particular philosophical point of view or theory, but to help us consider the wonderful range of insights which can be drawn from an immeasurably rich history of philosophical thought. Concepts covered include courage, love, betrayal, ambition, cruelty, wisdom, passion, beauty and death. This will be a wonderfully stimulating read and act as an invaluable guide as to what is truly important in living life, whether facing success, failure, justice, wrong, love, loss or any of the other profound experience life throws out. (shrink)
Van den Belt recently examined the notion that synthetic biology and the creation of ‘artificial’ organisms are examples of scientists ‘playing God’. Here I respond to some of the issues he raises, including some of his comments on my previous discussions of the value of the term ‘life’ as a scientific concept.
Jay Elliott raises an important objection to the central claim of my paper "It’s a Wonderful Life: Pottersville and the Meaning of Life.” There I defend the good cause account (GCA) of the meaning of life. GCA holds that one's life is meaningful to the extent that one is causally responsible for objective good. Elliott argues that although GCA correctly implies that George Bailey lives a meaningful life, it might also imply that Potter's (...)life is meaningful. But this is absurd. To avoid this problem, Elliott defends a highly compelling alternative to GCA. He also challenges my interpretation of the most important sequence in the movie, George Bailey's trip to Pottersville. In this short reply, I will focus on his objection to GCA, as the interpretive differences are relatively minor. (shrink)
Drawing on ideas presented in the Bible, Jewish teachings, and his experience as a psychotherapist, Lerner examines the roots of the vague discontent felt by so many Americans about our political system and explains how values can be put back into these broken politics.
Theories of well-being tell us what makes a life good for the one who lives it. But there is more to what makes a life worth living than just well-being. We care about the worth of our lives, and we are right to do so. I defend an objective list theory of the worth of a life: The most worthwhile lives are those high in various objective goods. These principally include welfare and meaning. By distinguishing between (...) worth and welfare, we can capture the intuitive pull of broad theories of welfare without their liabilities. (shrink)
In what respects is Western civilization superior or inferior to its rivals? In raising this question we are addressing a particularly strong form of the problem of relativism. For in order to compare civilizations one with another we would need to be in possession of a framework that is neutral and objective, a framework based on principles of evaluation which would be acceptable, in principle, to all human beings. Morality will surely provide one axis of such a framework (and we (...) note in passing that believers in Islam might quite reasonably claim that their fellow-believers are characteristically more moral than are many in the West). Criteria such as material wellbeing, too, will need to play a role, as also will happiness or pleasure (and again we note that it is not clear a priori that there is more happiness in the West than there is among the citizens of other civilizations). Since, however, these axes of evaluation do not run in tandem, we cannot expect to be able to formulate some single criterion which would enable us to rank civilizations in a simple unilinear order. Even happiness (pace some proponents of the utilitarian philosophy) comes in different types, and to count in the civilization stakes the happiness involved would presumably need to be of the right kind. Thus it is not clear that happiness derived from, say, taking drugs or torturing small animals is going to be able to count in favor of a civilization as much as, say, happiness derived from reading poetry or planting corn. Hence, for these and other reasons, we will have to deal with a multidimensional framework, in which some civilizations may excel along some axes but do badly on others. A further problem turns on the fact that there is no such relation as better than. Rather, when A is better than B then this is always in some respect C. Yet even when we compare one thing with another in some given respect we are not always dealing with a simple linear order. This is because the relation ‘being better than in respect C’ is not in every case transitive.. (shrink)
Part of Robert Kane’s response to the contemporary cultural condition of pluralism is to attempt to ground morality in the _search_ for wisdom about how to live. With regard to the right, Kane argues, roughly, that a new principle capturing what all morally permissible actions have in common warrants belief on the part of all inquirers, even in the face of reasonable uncertainty, because it is justified as an essential means to ascertaining wisdom. Upon embarking for wisdom, one quickly discovers (...) an important chunk of it about right action, namely, that wisdom will not be found unless one treats others in a particular kind of way. Although, as I discuss, this rationale has some similarities with transcendental arguments to be found in the literature, it is novel and merits careful attention from meta-ethicists. In this critical notice, I focus largely on Kane’s interesting justification of a principle of right action, paying somewhat less attention to the content of this principle, which is akin to Kant’s Formula of Humanity, and the not-merely-mental account of the good that Kane also advances; however, these elements of Kane’s intricate worldview about how to live should also be of interest to normative ethicists. (shrink)
The aim of this contribution is to critically examine the metaphysical presuppositions that prevail in (Stewart in Found Sci 15(4):395–409, 2010a ) answer to the question “are we in the midst of a developmental process?” as expressed in his statement “that humanity has discovered the trajectory of past evolution and can see how it is likely to continue in the future”.
On old age that steals on us fast -- Spiritual development -- The search for happiness -- Meaningful living according to logotherapy -- Guiding principles of logotherapy -- The courage to be authentic : philosophical sources of logotherapy -- The concept of meaning in religion and literature -- Life as a task -- On fate and meaningful living -- Despair as mortal illness in aging -- The gifts of the Gods : sources for discovering meaning in (...) class='Hi'>life -- The importance of humor and laughter in old age -- Dealing with guilt and remorse -- Coping with loneliness -- A logotherapeutic perspective on death. (shrink)
The grandest unification theory of them all got its start in 1948, when two remarkable publications appeared. Claude Shannon's paper ''A Symbolic Analysis of Relay and Switching Circuits" and Norbert Wiener's book ''Cybernetics'' brought to the world's attention an idea that had been bubbling beneath the surface for years: information, like matter and energy, can be considered a thing in itself -- a fundamental building block of reality. Ever since, there has been a growing effort to explain the brain, the (...) body, civilization and, most recently, the universe itself as information processors. (shrink)
Introduction: The problem of vitalism : active/passive -- Brain, system, model : the affective turn -- Vitalism and theoria -- Inorganic art -- Inorganic vitalism -- The vital order after theory -- On becoming -- Living systems, extended minds, gaia -- Conclusion.
What can one expect to unfold when they choose to do a face-to-face study of children on the farm and their use of space in rural southwestern Ontario? The process of getting the research off the ground from an ethics point of view was one where it was anything but normative, and to a large extent, a grueling process. This article situates the researcher’s dilemma and lays out the unfolding of the research process with reference to the Tri-Council Policy Statement (...) on Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans and the major components found to trouble a research ethics board on a university campus. Last, academic freedom and the rights of researchers are considered in the context of undertaking the proposed research agenda. (shrink)