Reason, Worth, and Desire: An Essay on the Meaning of Life

Dissertation, The University of Arizona (1982)

In this essay I defend a skeptical thesis about the meaning of life: I argue that a meaningful life is impossible. I begin by examining the attempts of several philosophers to dismiss questions of the possibility of a meaningful life as either senseless or having an affirmative answer so obvious that serious philosophical scrutiny is rendered pointless. These philosophers, I argue, offer no conclusive arguments. ;I proceed to consider some skeptical arguments about the meaning of life. Although these arguments are suggestive, I maintain that they are undeveloped at crucial points, and thus unconvincing. ;To defend my skeptical thesis, I develop an account of a necessary condition for a meaningful life. I argue that in order for a person to have a meaningful life, he must be engaged in some activity of sufficient importance so that failure in that activity would constitute a good reason for feeling a painful retrospective attitude which I call remorse. ;I argue that one is justified in feeling remorse, in my sense, only when one fails in the attempt to realize some desire for a categorical good, that is, a desire for something which is good independently of how one happens to feel about it. I argue that we lack good reason for thinking that such justification exists. It follows that we lack good reason for feeling what I call remorse and thus for believing we might have a meaningful life
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