Pascal and the Voicelessness of Despair

European Journal for Philosophy of Religion 8 (2):5-17 (2016)
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Abstract

Thaddeus Metz’s Meaning in Life is like a magnificent castle, covering vast ground, with towers high into the heavens, and astoundingly intricate architecture. It covers the literature on meaning with enviable completeness and weaves together the many and various strands within that literature, ‘towering’ over the debates and issues and provides a wide and inclusive perspective on them. Meaning in Life is a striking achievement and, just as the intricacy of those fortresses testified to the growing maturity of architecture, so Metz’s book is a testament to the growing maturity of the literature on the meaning of life. But such castles had a dual purpose, which did not always cohere. They were fortresses intended to withstand armed assault, yet they were also supposed to manifest and project the aristocratic loftiness, status, and elegance of their masters. These purposes conflicted, especially in the design of a castle’s central tower, the keep or donjon, where elegant ornamentation was most necessary, but which could hamper or compromise its defensive functions. Meaning in Life likewise seeks to fulfil a dual purpose: on the one hand, to weave all the literature together into a coherent conception of meaning, including supernaturalist conceptions of meaning; and, on the other, to neutralize supernaturalist claims that only the existence of God or of an immortal soul could provide the necessary conditions for meaning. Does Metz’s synthesis stand, or has it compromised its defence? I argue in this Symposium piece that Metz’s methodology, as developed and deployed in Parts I and III of his book, is a poor weapon against supernaturalist skeptics, and develop an argument in the work of Blaise Pascal to explain why he, and those endorsing similar positions, would not be convinced by this type of argumentation.

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Alexander Jech
University of Notre Dame

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