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The Meaning of Life

The Meaning of Life. Lecture 1: Tolstoy’s Confession. What is the Meaning of Life?. You will hear how some philosophers answer this question You will better understand the question (hopefully!) You will become enlightened with the answer…. …Which you will write about in the exam!.

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The Meaning of Life

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  1. The Meaning of Life Lecture 1: Tolstoy’s Confession

  2. What is the Meaning of Life? • You will hear how some philosophers answer this question • You will better understand the question (hopefully!) • You will become enlightened with the answer…

  3. …Which you will write about in the exam! • All readings and lectures for this section are related to 1 question in the exam • You should be able to guess the main question • Note that you will have to discuss the material from the lectures and readings in your answer

  4. Leo Tolstoy • Or Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy • Famous Russian author • War and Peace, Anna Karenina etc. • Anarchist, Pacifist, Christian • Loved, respected, healthy, very wealthy, famous, politically influential

  5. Tolstoy’s Confession • When middle-aged, and successful on all accounts, he became plagued by “foolish, simple, and childish” questions • Qns that would lead him to question the purpose of his life and life in general

  6. Tolstoy’s Questions • E.g. “Why. Well, and then? • Qn: Why write this book this? Ans: For fame. Qn: But why should I want fame? Etc. • He realised they were important qns about the meaningfulness of his actions and even of his life • Questions that he thought unanswerable • Questions that paralysed him • “I ought to know why I should do that. So long as I did not know why, I could not do anything. I could not live.”

  7. Trapped Between Death and Meaninglessness • Life seems “a mean, stupid trick” played on us by a mocking observer • He had it all, but it was all meaningless • “there was nothing in life and never would be.” • “Sooner or later there would come diseases and death… and there would be nothing left but stench and worms.” • “All my affairs, no matter what they might be, would sooner or later be forgotten”

  8. Infuriated ..Beast “Eastern Story”

  9. Tolstoy’s Moral of the Story • The problem of the meaning of life is that… • Life is meaningless! • And then you die! • What a bummer! • Note that life is meaningless because we all die and nothing is left of us

  10. Get Over it! • Some say: “You cannot understand the meaning of life, do not think, live!” • But Tolstoy saw every event as bringing him closer to inevitable death • (Including licking honey off leaves and going to parties!)

  11. On Loving Family • “they are also human beings” • “they must either live in the lie or see the terrible truth… [a]nd the truth is death” • So, “[w]hy should I love them[?]”

  12. On Loving Authorship • Looking at life through the mirror of art was once pleasurable • But knowing that there was no meaning of life made the mirror “useless, superfluous, ridiculous and painful” • Art cannot help us to escape death

  13. Will Science Help? • “I know… all which science wants to know…, but there is no answer to the question about the meaning of my life” • “What will come of my life?” • “Nothing” • “Why does everything that exists exist…?” • “Because it exists” • “You are a temporal, accidental conglomeration of particles”

  14. No • Tolstoy: What is the meaning of my life? • Science: “You are an accidentally cohering globule of something. The globule is fermenting. This fermentation the globule calls its life.” • Science: “[But] the globule falls to pieces, and all fermentation and all questions will come to an end.”

  15. Tolstoy had 4 Options… • Of people’s attitudes towards the meaning of life problem: • 1) living in ignorance of the problem • 2) admitting the problem and trying to maximise their pleasure • 3) admitting it and committing suicide • 4) admitting it and continuing to live aimlessly

  16. …Until He Hung with the Masses (Normal People) • Who didn’t fit his classificatory scheme • 1) They knew the problem well • 2) Their lives were full of suffering, not pleasure • 3) Killing themselves is taboo • 4) They can explain why they perform every act

  17. Science vs Religion 2 • “Rational knowledge” AKA science “did not give any meaning to life” • We are just fermenting globules • “the meaning which… all humanity… ascribed to life was based on… false knowledge” AKA faith in religion • “creation in six days, devils and angels, and all that I could not accept so long as I had not lost my senses”

  18. Science vs Religion 3 • Problem: • Faith demands that reason/rationality be abandoned to gain meaning • (the meaning of life) • But we only need meaning if we have exercised reason/rationality • (asked what it’s all about)

  19. Tolstoy’s Mistake • He was asking: • “What is the extra-temporal, extra-causal, extra-spatial meaning of my life?” • I.e. “What… indestructible essence will come from my… destructible life?” • I.e. “What meaning has my finite existence in this infinite world?” • But gave an answer to the question: • “What is the temporal, causal, spatial meaning of my life?” • To which, science answered: “none”

  20. The Flaw of Reason • Rational knowledge only says that the real question of the meaning of life cannot be meaningfully answered • It gives the answer: Life = Life • because it cannot reconcile the finite with the infinite (our lives with greater meaning) • So rational knowledge leads to the limited “What is the temporal, causal, spatial meaning of my life?” question • Which is not what we are really asking!

  21. Faith’s Virtue • Despite being “irrational and monstrous”, faith provides answers that always reconcile the finite with the infinite • Qn: “What is the meaning which is not destroyed by death?” • Ans: “The union with infinite God, paradise.”

  22. Tolstoy’s Argument • The finite must be reconciled with the infinite to give meaning to our lives • Reason cannot do this • Faith can • Therefore, we should use faith to answer the question: “what is the meaning of life”

  23. Tolstoy’s Position • We need faith to avoid the catch 22 of meaninglessness vs death/suicide • He needed faith to become un-paralysed by the problem of the meaning of life • Faith is the power of life that allows all people to live • He thinks that we should have faith & live “According to God’s law”

  24. Summary of Tolstoy • If you think about it, life is absurd – we live a meaningless life and then we die! • Only faith can properly answer the question of the meaning of life • By reconciling the finite & infinite • Despite being irrational, faith in religion is the only way to know the meaning of life • We must know the meaning of life to go on living

  25. Take Home Lessons • Everyone with big ears should grow a beard to hide them • Life is like a well with a dragon at the bottom and mice harassing you while you lick honey of leaves • Well, sort of… • Do the rational thing here – abandon your rationality!

  26. The Meaning of Life Lecture 2: Taylor’s Subjective Meaning in Life

  27. This Time: Richard Taylor • More on meaninglessness • An account of how to find meaning in your life • Brief summary: • the meaning of life is to live in accordance with your nature • for humans, that is to use our will – to make plans and follow them through

  28. Richard Taylor • Maybe we can better understand this tricky qn (what is the meaning of life) if we consider what a meaningless existence would be • It’s rude to examine real people so…

  29. The Myth of Sisyphus • Sisyphus made a deal with the Gods and then went back on it • They punished him by giving him a meaningless chore to do for eternity • Nothing ever comes of Sisyphus’ labours • His existence is meaningless • Nothing comes of it

  30. A New Myth of Sisyphus • The Gods changed Sisyphus’ desires so all he wants is to roll rocks • He now gets exactly what he wants for all eternity • Sounds great! • But, this doesn’t make his existence any more meaningful • Nothing comes of it

  31. Taylor on Meaningfulness • Meaninglessness is endless pointlessness • Meaningfulness is activity with a point, a result, a significant culmination • So, which of these best represents all life as we know it? • This includes plants and animals

  32. Is Animal Life Objectively Meaningful? • Glow worms, cicadas and the meaningless cycle of life • The only point of any living thing’s life is just life itself

  33. Is Human Life Objectively Meaningful? • Humans also perpetuate the meaningless cycle of life • We have goals and plans, but are they ultimately for anything other than surviving & reproducing? • Even when our achievements create lasting results • how long will they persist? • and will it prevent our children from merely surviving and reproducing?

  34. “Whatever!!! My Life is Objectively Meaningful!!!” • Sorry buddy – that’s just absurd! • You need to consider the dramatic difference between: • Your (internal) perception of the significance of your life, and • The objective (external) perception of the significance of your life

  35. Our Significance from the Inside • We think that all events in the universe are only significant if they are likely to affect us • I.e. The universe revolves around us • We are all like this to some extent, but some people don’t realise that this is the same for other people!

  36. Our Significance from the Outside • All of us are completely insignificant to 99.99999999 etc.% of what exists • How big are we? (Not very big) • How long do we live compared to the universe? (Not very long) • When heat death kills the universe, our plans would seem beyond insignificant to anything left to observe

  37. “It is not surprising, then, that men invent ways of denying it” • Religious beliefs centre around a departure from this meaningless cycle • Going to heaven • Becoming enlightened, etc. • This would be nice! But which, if any, is right? • Are there any good reasons to believe in one over another?

  38. What Does ‘What is the Meaning of Life?’ Mean? 1 • What does ‘life’ mean? (Not interesting) • To us, it means not being dead or lifeless • To a God, it means amusement or experiment • To a plant, it doesn’t mean anything • What is the purpose for life (objective meaning/significance)? • Various religious purposes - e.g. heaven • Continuing the cycle of life - e.g. glow worm • There is no purpose for life • Taylor: But, if there is a purpose for life, then life is meaningless!!

  39. Taylor: A Purpose for Life (Objective Meaning) Makes it Meaningless • If life had an ultimate purpose, then you could achieve it • Then, for the rest of the time you would lead a boring meaningless life • E.g. Sisyphus’ Temple

  40. What Do We Want ‘What is the Meaning of Life?’ to Mean? • So, if Taylor is right, an objective meaning of life leads to either: • Fulfilling it and then being bored • Not fulfilling it • Both end in meaninglessness! • Taylor: Since an objective meaning of life would be bad, the best way to understand the MoL question is taking it to ask: • ‘How can we make our lives subjectively meaningful?’

  41. Taylor’s Answer: • Simply understand that the MoL is to live in the manner in which it is our nature to live • The glow worm does what is in it’s nature • For humans, then, the meaning of life is living as we will to live • Making plans and seeing them through • Dissatisfied with this? • Remember, if there were a purpose for life, then life would be boring or meaningless! • So, the best MoL we can hope for comes from within us

  42. Taylor’s Position on tMoL • So, the meaning of life comes from within us – living in accordance with our will is how we can achieve meaning in our lives • Our plans are the only significant thing we have – only the pursuit of them brings (subjective) meaning to our lives • These plans are absurdly insignificant from the outside, but not so from the inside – thank goodness! • Without the subjective importance of our own plans, our lives might truly be meaningless

  43. Summary of Taylor • The MoL is the same for all life • The meaning of life is to live in accordance with your nature • For humans, that is to use our will – to make plans and follow them through • Life may seem absurd but we should make plans and take them very seriously (don’t consider their significance from the outside) • So, the meaning each of our lives have for us, is very significant for us (thank goodness!)

  44. The Meaning of Life Lecture 3: Schlick’s Meaning in Play

  45. This Time: Moritz Schilck • Plans and goals are a curse • The meaning of life is to do things for themselves (not for some future purpose) • E.g. Living fully in the moment, like when children play

  46. We, the Seekers • Some have not yet asked themselves if life has a meaning • Others have given up the search after finding no meaning in their own life • But, we are the “seekers”, still looking for an answer

  47. Meaning in Goals/Purpose? • Some “believe… that [meaning] continues to be found where a person has reached his [or her] goals” • “Once the goal is reached, however, after the first flush of triumph has passed away, there follows inevitably a mood of desolation.” • “A void remains…” which only “the painful emergence of new longings” can fill

  48. Why Our Goals are Not Enough • The view that meaning can be found where a person has fulfilled their goals/purposes makes our lives only a dull and painful voyage from one ‘satisfaction’ to the next… until we die! • “In truth, we shall never find an ultimate meaning in existence, if we view it only under the aspect of purpose”

  49. Why the Hurry? • Stop someone in a rush on Lambton Quay at 9am • Ask them why they are rushing? • Keep asking them questions until you find their ultimate purpose • Schlick: if they are honest, it will be “maintenance of life” • But why is that important?

  50. Why Maintain Life? • If all purposes lead to the ultimate purpose of preserving life, then we would hope that life has some value • But, where is the value in mere existence? • “The core and ultimate value of life can lie only in such states as exist for their own sake and carry their satisfaction [in] themselves”

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