philosophy : meaning of life
Nombre de messages : 20343
Date d'inscription : 17/05/2007
|Sujet: philosophy : meaning of life Ven 2 Aoû - 9:19|| |
February 25, 2007
The Meaning Of Life
Filed under: General Philosophy — Peter @ 12:00 am
Worrying about the meaning of life seems like a popular activity. People wonder what the meaning of life is, and if their lives have meaning. And some cling to their religion because they think that their lives will be meaningless without it. Of course as it is phrased the whole issue is nonsensical. Meaning has to do with language, with how a word represents something or communicates something. And a life is not the kind of thing that can represent or communicate, and so it doesn’t make sense to inquire about its meaning. So by these questions people must mean something else, if they mean anything at all.
One way of understanding worries about the meaning of life is as worries about the purpose of life. And one way of understanding what it can mean for a life to have a purpose is to see a life with purpose as one that has a goal towards which it is working. For the religious this usually means a place in the good afterlife instead of the bad afterlife. But this isn’t the only possible goal. A life could be lived with the purpose of doing the most good possible, or of collecting the most stamps possible. As I see it, if a life has a goal it is self-assigned. It is true that external agencies may try to influence people towards living their life with one goal or another (society wants you to contribute, your boss wants you to work, ect), but I don’t think it makes those goals more real or more valid unless the individual chooses to accept them. And of course there is no obstacle to individuals deciding their own life’s goal; we can decide on smaller goals validly, such as to go to the store, to get a job, ect, so there seems to be no barrier in deciding to have a goal that requires an entire life to complete.
Another way of understanding what it can mean for a life to have a purpose is to see a life with purpose as one that is part of some greater process. Obviously the religious interpret this as god’s plan, but again there are many other possibilities. For example, we could see a life as being part of cultural or intellectual progress. And of course there are a number of human designed plans that a life could be part of; you could dedicate your life to serving some organization, which surely has far reaching plans of its own. And again there isn’t a factor that makes any one of these larger schemes more or less valid than another. Obviously personal preference will determine which an individual chooses to be part of, if any, but the fact that individuals choose differently doesn’t make their choices invalid.
A final way of understanding what it can mean for a life to have meaning, going back to the original form of the question, is as one that is important. Of course if something is important it is important for a reason, because it is valuable to someone or something, or because it serves a purpose. Since we have already investigated what it can mean for a life to have a purpose let us instead turn to the idea that it is valuable. Now in my previous discussion of what was valuable I pointed out that value was always relative to someone or some system that can be said to have interests. Again, the religious will say that it is god to whom we are valuable. And again that is not the only possibility. Our lives can be valuable to ourselves, to others, to society, ect. And, as with the previous two possibilities, individuals may decide differently on which viewpoint they want their life to be value to, and there is no reason to say that one of these choices is less valid than any other.
But some may be unhappy with the number of possibilities in each of these ways of understanding what it can mean for a life to have a purpose. It may seem like the number of possibilities devalues them all, making then essentially arbitrary, and thus unfulfilling in some way. I think this is because we may all instinctively want an understanding of the “meaning of life” to be something that makes our lives easier. If there was one simple answer then we could just follow it, and our worries about whether we were living the right way, or if our lives were important, could be set aside. But just because a single answer may be desirable doesn’t mean that there actually is one. However, even though there isn’t a single answer of the kind we may have been looking for it doesn’t mean that there is no answer either. Instead we simply have to make a choice, instead of having that choice made for us. And obviously we will make that choice based on our interests, based on what is important to us, and so the choice made will be different for different people, but that doesn’t invalidate it. Essentially then the meaning of life is what you make of it. You can choose to live in a life that has no meaning, but you can also choose to live one that does, based on the standards that seem important to you; the fact that not everyone else will agree with you has no bearing on the issue.
I read the title of this post then walked away to get a glass of water. While I was doing that, I basically thought to myself what you say in your first couple paragraphs. I’ve been annoyed about the use of the word “meaning” in “meaning of life” for a while.
Comment by Carl — February 25, 2007 @ 4:11 am
Do not waste valuable time thinking of the meaning of life. “The meaning is life”, grasp the bull by its horns and live it.
Comment by dazxito — February 25, 2007 @ 4:14 am
You seem to looking at the issue from the outside. You’ve cut it open, opened it up and put it under the microscope. There is another way to view and that’s from the inside. If you look at it from the inside you will see that the queston is asked in order to fill an affective need. If you look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs you will notice that most of them represent affective needs. People don’t do things because religion tells them to do those things. They do them because they have affective needs that are best filled by what religion says. Those who turn to science and feel at one with the cosmos are filling this affective need differently. Man is an affective animal not a rational animal. And, those things that drive men do so because they fill affective needs.
Comment by Rich Knapton — February 25, 2007 @ 11:56 am
LOL! I saw your title and thought: 42
I thought it was a post about Hitchhicker’s Guide! my mistake… good article though.
Comment by EelKat — February 25, 2007 @ 4:22 pm
The first blog i’ve read on word press that impressed me.
im with you on those thoughts on the meaning of life.
Comment by jamrose — February 26, 2007 @ 12:17 am
Just a thought that struck me while I was reading through – I guess it has to be the “one answer” ( you could also treat it as a compact, easy-to-assimilate-and-expostulate, set of “answers” / “knowledge” ) that responds to all questions ( something akin to essential knowledge ). As you say, it could anything as such for anyone, without running the risk of invalidating itself.
May I hypothesise that it is the answer that terminates further questions / regresses?
Comment by KK — March 6, 2007 @ 3:28 am
Eventually man comes to the point where he asks: “What do I live for?” In other words, one does not find any pleasure in this life anymore, or he only sees very little. One starts asking about pleasure, as well as about the meaning of life. It is because the meaning of life is to feel that one’s egoistic desire is filled. However, if there is nothing to fill it with, then what does one live for?
Comment by Mikhail — March 21, 2007 @ 11:25 am
vis a tergo
Comment by filipe carreira — March 21, 2007 @ 1:04 pm
Maybe the way that we feel is not important.
Comment by nick — April 2, 2007 @ 8:01 pm
So you say that your life can have meaning with out religion? The problem with this is that a meaning of life with out religion has no meaning because in the end you die and that is that. you have no impact and you are not happy because you are now dead and acomplished things that won’t matter because the people you have affected will die eventually. Then we are left with the meaningless existance of death. You could say you live on by how you impacted the earth while you were here but that is bull because you are dead. God gives a purpose to live a good life and the reward of heaven is a great reason to do so. All I know is if my life purpose was to collect stamps. I would wish I was already dead.
Comment by Dave — April 13, 2007 @ 10:10 am
I believe that you can indeed find a meaning in life without religion, it’s only a matter of having something else to believe your life is worth living for. For example, perhaps your life is based on discovering who you are (self exploration), or perhaps it is for a greater meaning (activism). If you only look, you will discover what you’re living for. Some people choose to live for themselves, others for their community, while others do indeed find solace in religion.
I suppose it all depends on the individual person.
Comment by Brandon — October 23, 2007 @ 6:15 pm
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Nombre de messages : 20343
Date d'inscription : 17/05/2007
|Sujet: Re: philosophy : meaning of life Ven 2 Aoû - 9:21|| |
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
This article is about the philosophical doctrines. For other uses, see Nihilism (disambiguation).
v t e
Nihilism (/ˈnaɪ.ɨlɪzəm/ or /ˈniː.ɨlɪzəm/; from the Latin nihil, nothing) is the philosophical doctrine suggesting the negation of one or more putatively meaningful aspects of life. Most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism, which argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value. Moral nihilists assert that morality does not inherently exist, and that any established moral values are abstractly contrived. Nihilism can also take epistemological or ontological/metaphysical forms, meaning respectively that, in some aspect, knowledge is not possible, or that reality does not actually exist.
The term was popularized by Ivan Turgenev in his novel Fathers and Sons, whose hero, Bazarov, was a nihilist.
The term is sometimes used in association with anomie to explain the general mood of despair at a perceived pointlessness of existence that one may develop upon realising there are no necessary norms, rules, or laws. Movements such as Futurism and deconstruction, among others, have been identified by commentators as "nihilistic" at various times in various contexts.
Nihilism is also a characteristic that has been ascribed to time periods: for example, Jean Baudrillard and others have called postmodernity a nihilistic epoch, and some Christian theologians and figures of religious authority have asserted that postmodernity and many aspects of modernity represent a rejection of theism, and that rejection of their theistic doctrine entails nihilism.
1 Forms of nihilism
1.1 Metaphysical nihilism
1.2 Epistemological nihilism
1.3 Mereological nihilism
1.4 Existential nihilism
1.5 Moral nihilism
1.6 Political nihilism
2.1 19th century
2.4 Heidegger's interpretation of Nietzsche
3 Nihilism and culture
4 See also
7 External links
Forms of nihilism[edit source | editbeta]
Nihilism has many definitions and is thus used to describe philosophical positions which are arguably independent.
This article is written like a personal reflection or opinion essay rather than an encyclopedic description of the subject. Please help improve it by rewriting it in an encyclopedic style. (October 2012)
Metaphysical nihilism[edit source | editbeta]
Metaphysical nihilism is the philosophical theory that there might be no objects at all, i.e. that there is a possible world in which there are no objects at all; or at least that there might be no concrete objects at all, so even if every possible world contains some objects, there is at least one that contains only abstract objects.
An extreme form of metaphysical nihilism is commonly defined as the belief that nothing exists as a correspondent component of the self efficient world." One way of interpreting such a statement would be: It is impossible to distinguish 'existence' from 'non-existence' as there are no objective qualities, and thus a reality, that one state could possess in order to discern between the two. If one cannot discern existence from its negation, then the concept of existence has no meaning; or in other words, does not 'exist' in any meaningful way. 'Meaning' in this sense is used to argue that as existence has no higher state of reality, which is arguably its necessary and defining quality, existence itself means nothing. It could be argued that this belief, once combined with epistemological nihilism, leaves one with an all-encompassing nihilism in which nothing can be said to be real or true as such values do not exist. A similar position can be found in solipsism; however, in this viewpoint the solipsist affirms whereas the nihilist would deny the self. Both these positions are forms of anti-realism.
Epistemological nihilism[edit source | editbeta]
Nihilism of an epistemological form can be seen as an extreme form of skepticism in which all knowledge is denied.
Mereological nihilism[edit source | editbeta]
Mereological nihilism (also called compositional nihilism) is the position that objects with proper parts do not exist (not only objects in space, but also objects existing in time do not have any temporal parts), and only basic building blocks without parts exist, and thus the world we see and experience full of objects with parts is a product of human misperception (i.e., if we could see clearly, we would not perceive compositive objects).
This interpretation of existence must be based on resolution. The resolution with which humans can see and perceive the "improper parts" of the world is not an objective fact of reality, but is rather an implicit trait that can only be qualitatively explored and expressed. Therefore there is no arguable way to surmise or measure the validity of mereological nihilism. Example: An ant can get lost on a large cylindrical object because the circumference of the cable is so large with respect to the ant that the ant effectively feels as though the cable has no curvature. Thus, the resolution with which the ant views the world it exists "within" is a very important determining factor in how the ant experiences this "within the world" feeling. We humans once believed the world was likely flat and planar.
Existential nihilism[edit source | editbeta]
Main article: Existential nihilism
Existential nihilism is the belief that life has no intrinsic meaning or value. With respect to the universe, existential nihilism posits that a single human or even the entire human species is insignificant, without purpose and unlikely to change in the totality of existence. The meaninglessness of life is largely explored in the philosophical school of existentialism.
Moral nihilism[edit source | editbeta]
Moral nihilism, also known as ethical nihilism, is the meta-ethical view that morality does not exist as something inherent to objective reality; therefore no action is necessarily preferable to any other. For example, a moral nihilist would say that killing someone, for whatever reason, is not inherently right or wrong. Otherwise in simple terms, a lack of a moral system. Other nihilists may argue not that there is no morality at all, but that if it does exist, it is a human construction and thus artificial, wherein any and all meaning is relative for different possible outcomes. As an example, if someone kills someone else, such a nihilist might argue that killing is not inherently a bad thing, or bad independently from our moral beliefs, because of the way morality is constructed as some rudimentary dichotomy. What is said to be a bad thing is given a higher negative weighting than what is called good: as a result, killing the individual was bad because it did not let the individual live, which was arbitrarily given a positive weighting. In this way a moral nihilist believes that all moral claims are false. An alternative scholarly perspective is that moral nihilism is a morality in itself. Cooper writes, "In the widest sense of the word 'morality', moral nihilism is a morality."
Political nihilism[edit source | editbeta]
Political nihilism, a branch of nihilism, follows the characteristic nihilist's rejection of non-rationalized or non-proven assertions; in this case the necessity of the most fundamental social and political structures, such as government, family, and law. The Nihilist movement in 19th century Russia espoused a similar doctrine. Political nihilism is rather different from other forms of nihilism, and is generally considered to be more like a form of utilitarianism. An influential analysis of political nihilism is presented by Leo Strauss.
History[edit source | editbeta]
19th century[edit source | editbeta]
The term nihilism was first used by Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi (1743–1819). Jacobi used the term to characterize rationalism and in particular Immanuel Kant's "critical" philosophy in order to carry out a reductio ad absurdum according to which all rationalism (philosophy as criticism) reduces to nihilism, and thus it should be avoided and replaced with a return to some type of faith and revelation. Bret W. Davis writes, for example, "The first philosophical development of the idea of nihilism is generally ascribed to Friedrich Jacobi, who in a famous letter criticized Fichte's idealism as falling into nihilism. According to Jacobi, Fichte’s absolutization of the ego (the 'absolute I' that posits the 'not-I') is an inflation of subjectivity that denies the absolute transcendence of God." A related but oppositional concept is fideism, which sees reason as hostile and inferior to faith.
With the popularizing of the word nihilism by Ivan Turgenev, a new Russian political movement called the Nihilism movement adopted the term. They supposedly called themselves nihilists because nothing "that then existed found favor in their eyes."
Kierkegaard[edit source | editbeta]
Main article: Philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard
Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855) posited an early form of nihilism, to which he referred as levelling. He saw levelling as the process of suppressing individuality to a point where the individual's uniqueness becomes non-existent and nothing meaningful in his existence can be affirmed:
Levelling at its maximum is like the stillness of death, where one can hear one's own heartbeat, a stillness like death, into which nothing can penetrate, in which everything sinks, powerless. One person can head a rebellion, but one person cannot head this levelling process, for that would make him a leader and he would avoid being levelled. Each individual can in his little circle participate in this levelling, but it is an abstract process, and levelling is abstraction conquering individuality.
—Søren Kierkegaard, The Present Age, translated by Alexander Dru with Foreword by Walter Kaufmann, p. 51-53
Kierkegaard, an advocate of a philosophy of life, generally argued against levelling and its nihilist consequence, although he believed it would be "genuinely educative to live in the age of levelling [because] people will be forced to face the judgement of [levelling] alone." George Cotkin asserts Kierkegaard was against "the standardization and levelling of belief, both spiritual and political, in the nineteenth century [and he] opposed tendencies in mass culture to reduce the individual to a cipher of conformity and deference to the dominant opinion." In his day, tabloids (like the Danish magazine Corsaren) and apostate Christianity were instruments of levelling and contributed to the "reflective apathetic age" of 19th century Europe. Kierkegaard argues that individuals who can overcome the levelling process are stronger for it and that it represents a step in the right direction towards "becoming a true self." As we must overcome levelling, Hubert Dreyfus and Jane Rubin argue that Kierkegaard's interest, "in an increasingly nihilistic age, is in how we can recover the sense that our lives are meaningful".
Note however that Kierkegaard's meaning of "nihilism" differs from the modern definition in the sense that, for Kierkegaard, levelling led to a life lacking meaning, purpose or value, whereas the modern interpretation of nihilism posits that there was never any meaning, purpose or value to begin with.
Nietzsche[edit source | editbeta]
Main article: Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche
Nihilism is often associated with the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who provided a detailed diagnosis of nihilism as a widespread phenomenon of Western culture. Though the notion appears frequently throughout Nietzsche's work, he uses the term in a variety of ways, with different meanings and connotations, all negative. Karen Carr describes Nietzsche's characterization of nihilism "as a condition of tension, as a disproportion between what we want to value (or need) and how the world appears to operate." When we find out that the world does not possess the objective value or meaning that we want it to have or have long since believed it to have, we find ourselves in a crisis. Nietzsche asserts that with the decline of Christianity and the rise of physiological decadence, nihilism is in fact characteristic of the modern age, though he implies that the rise of nihilism is still incomplete and that it has yet to be overcome. Though the problem of nihilism becomes especially explicit in Nietzsche's notebooks (published posthumously), it is mentioned repeatedly in his published works and is closely connected to many of the problems mentioned there.
Nietzsche characterized nihilism as emptying the world and especially human existence of meaning, purpose, comprehensible truth, or essential value. This observation stems in part from Nietzsche's perspectivism, or his notion that "knowledge" is always by someone of some thing: it is always bound by perspective, and it is never mere fact. Rather, there are interpretations through which we understand the world and give it meaning. Interpreting is something we can not go without; in fact, it is something we need. One way of interpreting the world is through morality, as one of the fundamental ways in which people make sense of the world, especially in regard to their own thoughts and actions. Nietzsche distinguishes a morality that is strong or healthy, meaning that the person in question is aware that he constructs it himself, from weak morality, where the interpretation is projected on to something external. Regardless of its strength, morality presents us with meaning, whether this is created or 'implanted,' which helps us get through life.
Nietzsche discusses Christianity, one of the major topics in his work, at length in the context of the problem of nihilism in his notebooks, in a chapter entitled 'European Nihilism'. Here he states that the Christian moral doctrine provides people with intrinsic value, belief in God (which justifies the evil in the world) and a basis for objective knowledge. In this sense, in constructing a world where objective knowledge is possible, Christianity is an antidote against a primal form of nihilism, against the despair of meaninglessness. However, it is exactly the element of truthfulness in Christian doctrine that is its undoing: in its drive towards truth, Christianity eventually finds itself to be a construct, which leads to its own dissolution. It is therefore that Nietzsche states that we have outgrown Christianity "not because we lived too far from it, rather because we lived too close." As such, the self-dissolution of Christianity constitutes yet another form of nihilism. Because Christianity was an interpretation that posited itself as the interpretation, Nietzsche states that this dissolution leads beyond skepticism to a distrust of all meaning.
Stanley Rosen identifies Nietzsche's concept of nihilism with a situation of meaninglessness, in which "everything is permitted." According to him, the loss of higher metaphysical values which existed in contrast to the base reality of the world or merely human ideas give rise to the idea that all human ideas are therefore valueless. Rejection of idealism thus results in nihilism, because only similarly transcendent ideals would live up to the previous standards that the nihilist still implicitly holds. The inability for Christianity to serve as a source of valuating the world is reflected in Nietzsche's famous aphorism of the madman in The Gay Science. The death of God, in particular the statement that "we killed him", is similar to the self-dissolution of Christian doctrine: due to the advances of the sciences, which for Nietzsche show that man is the product of evolution, that earth has no special place among the stars and that history is not progressive, the Christian notion of God can no longer serve as a basis for a morality.
One such reaction to the loss of meaning is what Nietzsche calls 'passive nihilism', which he recognises in the pessimistic philosophy of Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer's doctrine, which Nietzsche also refers to as Western Buddhism, advocates a separating oneself of will and desires in order to reduce suffering. Nietzsche characterises this ascetic attitude as a "will to nothingness," whereby life turns away from itself, as there is nothing of value to be found in the world. This mowing away of all value in the world is characteristic of the nihilist, although in this, the nihilist appears to be inconsistent:
A nihilist is a man who judges of the world as it is that it ought not to be, and of the world as it ought to be that it does not exist. According to this view, our existence (action, suffering, willing, feeling) has no meaning: the pathos of 'in vain' is the nihilists' pathos — at the same time, as pathos, an inconsistency on the part of the nihilists.
—Friedrich Nietzsche, KSA 12:9 , taken from The Will to Power, section 585, translated by Walter Kaufmann
Nietzsche's relation to the problem of nihilism is a complex one. He approaches the problem of nihilism as deeply personal, stating that this predicament of the modern world is a problem that has "become conscious" in him. Furthermore, he emphasises both the danger of nihilism and the possibilities it offers, as seen in his statement that "I praise, I do not reproach, [nihilism's] arrival. I believe it is one of the greatest crises, a moment of the deepest self-reflection of humanity. Whether man recovers from it, whether he becomes master of this crisis, is a question of his strength!" According to Nietzsche, it is only when nihilism is overcome that a culture can have a true foundation upon which to thrive. He wished to hasten its coming only so that he could also hasten its ultimate departure.
He states that there is at least the possibility of another type of nihilist in the wake of Christianity's self-dissolution, one that does not stop after the destruction of all value and meaning and succumb to the following nothingness. This alternate, 'active' nihilism on the other hand destroys to level the field for constructing something new. This form of nihilism is characterized by Nietzsche as "a sign of strength," a wilful destruction of the old values to wipe the slate clean and lay down one's own beliefs and interpretations, contrary to the passive nihilism that resigns itself with the decomposition of the old values. This wilful destruction of values and the overcoming of the condition of nihilism by the constructing of new meaning, this active nihilism, could be related to what Nietzsche elsewhere calls a 'free spirit' or the Übermensch from Thus Spoke Zarathustra and the Antichrist, the model of the strong individual who posits his own values and lives his life as if it were his own work of art. It may be questioned, though, whether ‘active nihilism’ is indeed the correct term for this stance, and whether Nietzsche takes the problems nihilism poses seriously enough.
Heidegger's interpretation of Nietzsche[edit source | editbeta]
Many postmodern thinkers who investigated the problem of nihilism, as put forward by Nietzsche, were influenced by Martin Heidegger’s interpretation of Nietzsche. It is only recently that Heidegger’s influence on nihilism research by Nietzsche has faded. As early as the 1930s, Heidegger was giving lectures on Nietzsche’s thought. Given the importance of Nietzsche’s contribution to the topic of nihilism, Heidegger's influential interpretation of Nietzsche is important for the historical development of the term nihilism.
Heidegger's method of researching and teaching Nietzsche is explicitly his own. He does not specifically try to present Nietzsche as Nietzsche. He rather tries to incorporate Nietzsche's thoughts into his own philosophical system of Being, Time and Dasein. In his Nihilism as Determined by the History of Being (1944–46), Heidegger tries to understand Nietzsche’s nihilism as trying to achieve a victory through the devaluation of the, until then, highest values. The principle of this devaluation is, according to Heidegger, the Will to Power. The Will to Power is also the principle of every earlier valuation of values. How does this devaluation occur and why is this nihilistic? One of Heidegger’s main critiques on philosophy is that philosophy, and more specifically metaphysics, has forgotten to discriminate between investigating the notion of a Being (Seiende) and Being (Sein). According to Heidegger, the history of Western thought can be seen as the history of metaphysics. And because metaphysics has forgotten to ask about the notion of Being (what Heidegger calls Seinsvergessenheit), it is a history about the destruction of Being. That is why Heidegger calls metaphysics nihilistic. This makes Nietzsche’s metaphysics not a victory over nihilism, but a perfection of it.
Heidegger, in his interpretation of Nietzsche, has been inspired by Ernst Jünger. Many references to Jünger can be found in Heidegger’s lectures on Nietzsche. For example, in a letter to the rector of Freiburg University of November 4, 1945, Heidegger, inspired by Jünger, tries to explain the notion of “God is dead” as the “reality of the Will to Power.” Heidegger also praises Jünger for defending Nietzsche against a too biological or anthropological reading during the Third Reich.
A number of important postmodernist thinkers were influenced by Heidegger's interpretation of Nietzsche. Gianni Vattimo points at a back and forth movement in European thought, between Nietzsche and Heidegger. During the 1960s, a Nietzschean 'renaissance' began, culminating in the work of Mazzino Montinari and Giorgio Colli. They began work on a new and complete edition of Nietzsche's collected works, making Nietzsche more accessible for scholarly research. Vattimo explains that with this new edition of Colli and Montinari, a critical reception of Heidegger's interpretation of Nietzsche began to take shape. Like other contemporary French and Italian philosophers, Vattimo does not want, or only partially wants, to rely on Heidegger for understanding Nietzsche. On the other hand, Vattimo judges Heidegger's intentions authentic enough to keep pursuing them. Philosophers who Vattimo exemplifies as a part of this back and forth movement are French philosophers Deleuze, Foucault and Derrida. Italian philosophers of this same movement are Cacciari, Severino and himself. Habermas, Lyotard and Rorty are also philosophers who are influenced by Heidegger’s interpretation of Nietzsche.
Postmodernism[edit source | editbeta]
Postmodern and poststructuralist thought question the very grounds on which Western cultures have based their 'truths': absolute knowledge and meaning, a 'decentralization' of authorship, the accumulation of positive knowledge, historical progress, and certain ideals and practices of humanism and the Enlightenment.
Jacques Derrida, whose deconstruction is perhaps most commonly labeled nihilistic, did not himself make the nihilistic move that others have claimed. Derridean deconstructionists argue that this approach rather frees texts, individuals or organizations from a restrictive truth, and that deconstruction opens up the possibility of other ways of being. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, for example, uses deconstruction to create an ethics of opening up Western scholarship to the voice of the subaltern and to philosophies outside of the canon of western texts. Derrida himself built a philosophy based upon a 'responsibility to the other'. Deconstruction can thus be seen not as a denial of truth, but as a denial of our ability to know truth (it makes an epistemological claim compared to nihilism's ontological claim).
Lyotard argues that, rather than relying on an objective truth or method to prove their claims, philosophers legitimize their truths by reference to a story about the world which is inseparable from the age and system the stories belong to, referred to by Lyotard as meta-narratives. He then goes on to define the postmodern condition as one characterized by a rejection both of these meta-narratives and of the process of legitimation by meta-narratives. "In lieu of meta-narratives we have created new language-games in order to legitimize our claims which rely on changing relationships and mutable truths, none of which is privileged over the other to speak to ultimate truth." This concept of the instability of truth and meaning leads in the direction of nihilism, though Lyotard stops short of embracing the latter.
Postmodern theorist Jean Baudrillard wrote briefly of nihilism from the postmodern viewpoint in Simulacra and Simulation. He stuck mainly to topics of interpretations of the real world over the simulations of which the real world is composed. The uses of meaning was an important subject in Baudrillard's discussion of nihilism:
The apocalypse is finished, today it is the precession of the neutral, of forms of the neutral and of indifference…all that remains, is the fascination for desertlike and indifferent forms, for the very operation of the system that annihilates us. Now, fascination (in contrast to seduction, which was attached to appearances, and to dialectical reason, which was attached to meaning) is a nihilistic passion par excellence, it is the passion proper to the mode of disappearance. We are fascinated by all forms of disappearance, of our disappearance. Melancholic and fascinated, such is our general situation in an era of involuntary transparency.
—Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, "On Nihilism", trans. 1995[page needed]
Nihilism and culture[edit source | editbeta]
Television[edit source | editbeta]
Thomas Hibbs suggested that the show Seinfeld is a manifestation of nihilism in television. The very basis of the sitcom is that it is a "show about nothing." The majority of the episodes focused on minutiae. The view presented in Seinfeld is arguably consistent with the philosophy of nihilism, the idea that life is pointless, and from which arises a feeling of the absurd that characterizes the show's ironic humor.
Dada[edit source | editbeta]
The term Dada was first used by Tristan Tzara in 1916. The movement, which lasted from approximately 1916 to 1922, arose during World War I, an event that influenced the artists. The Dada Movement began in Zürich, Switzerland – known as the "Niederdorf" or "Niederdörfli" – in the Café Voltaire. The Dadaists claimed that Dada was not an art movement, but an anti-art movement, sometimes using found objects in a manner similar to found poetry. The "anti-art" drive is thought to have stemmed from a post-war emptiness. This tendency toward devaluation of art has led many to claim that Dada was an essentially nihilistic movement. Given that Dada created its own means for interpreting its products, it is difficult to classify alongside most other contemporary art expressions. Hence, due to its ambiguity, it is sometimes classified as a nihilistic modus vivendi.
Literature[edit source | editbeta]
Anton Chekhov portrayed nihilism when writing Three Sisters. The phrase "what does it matter" or such variants is often spoken by several characters in response to events; the significance of some of these events suggests a subscription to nihilism by said characters as a type of coping strategy.
In the graphic novel Watchmen, the character The Comedian/Edward Blake is characterized as being a nihilist, both moral and political, to the extent of openly committing murder in order to demonstrate the lack of human concern or nerve (stating that Dr. Manhattan could have stopped him at any moment, but chose not to). Dr. Manhattan is also portrayed as a nihilist on the cosmic scale by stating if the Earth was destroyed and all life on it eradicated, the universe would not notice.
The comic book supervillain The Joker has been portrayed as both an anarchist and a nihilist, typically by condemning life as a meaningless, harsh joke. Living through such a life to him is "crazy", while the insane ones are truly the normal people. In Batman #663 (The Clown At Midnight) the Joker says "The real joke is your stubborn, bone deep conviction that somehow, somewhere, all of this makes sense! That's what cracks me up each time!" and during The Killing Joke he goes as far to call everyone's ideals and struggles in life a "monstrous, demented gag".
In the manga-graphic novel series Bleach The Espada Ullquiorra Cifer's aspect of death is Nihilism.
In the novel Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand condemns nihilism quite aggressively. The philosophical ideas of the French author, the Marquis De Sade, are often noted as early examples of nihilistic principles.
Music[edit source | editbeta]
In Act III of Shostakovich's opera "Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District", a nihilist is tormented by the Russian Police.
A 2007 article in The Guardian noted that "...in the summer of 1977, ...punk's nihilistic swagger was the most thrilling thing in England." The Sex Pistols' God Save The Queen, with its chant-like refrain of "no future", became a slogan for unemployed and disaffected youth during the late 1970s.
Black metal and death metal music often emphasize nihilistic themes.
The Nine Inch Nails album The Downward Spiral has several nihilistic themes and concepts throughout the overall storyline, with the narrator rejecting the world and the concept of God and attempting to forge his own versions (with lines such as "God is dead/ And no one cares/ If there is a Hell/ I'll see you there"), although other lines such as "you get me Closer to God," suggest the narrator finds meaning and faith once more through his sexuality.
"Nihilism" is also the name of a song released by the band Rancid in their 1994 album Let's Go.
Film[edit source | editbeta]
The character John Morlar from Peter Van Greenaway's 1973 novel The Medusa Touch and the 1978 film version holds nihilistic beliefs as does the character Animal Mother from Stanley Kubrick's 1987 film Full Metal Jacket and the ruthless thug O-Dog from the 1993 film Menace II Society by the Hughes Brothers.
Three of the antagonists in the 1998 movie The Big Lebowski are explicitly described as "nihilists," but are not shown exhibiting any explicitly nihilistic traits during the film. The 1999 film The Matrix portrays the character Thomas A. Anderson with a hollowed out copy of Baudrillard's treatise, Simulacra and Simulation, in which he stores contraband data files under the chapter "On Nihilism." The 1999 film Fight Club also features concepts relating to Nihilism by exploring the contrasts between the artificial values imposed by consumerism in relation to the more meaningful pursuit of spiritual happiness.
See also[edit source | editbeta]
Anti-art and Anti-anti-art
Paradox of nihilism
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Notes[edit source | editbeta]
^ Alan Pratt defines existential nihilism as "the notion that life has no intrinsic meaning or value, and it is, no doubt, the most commonly used and understood sense of the word today." Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy
^ Camus, Albert (1951) The Rebel. New York: Vintage Books. Page 154.
^ Bazarov, the protagonist in the classic work Fathers and Sons written in the early 1860s by Ivan Turgenev, is quoted as saying nihilism is "just cursing", cited in Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (Macmillan, 1967) Vol. 5, "Nihilism", 514 ff. This source states as follows: "On the one hand, the term is widely used to denote the doctrine that moral norms or standards cannot be justified by rational argument. On the other hand, it is widely used to denote a mood of despair over the emptiness or triviality of human existence. This double meaning appears to derive from the fact that the term was often employed in the nineteenth century by the religiously oriented as a club against atheists, atheists being regarded as ipso facto nihilists in both senses. The atheist, it was held [by the religiously oriented], would not feel bound by moral norms; consequently, he would tend to be callous or selfish, even criminal" (at p. 515).
^ a b Phillips, Robert (1999). "Deconstructing the Mass". Latin Mass Magazine (Winter). "For deconstructionists, not only is there no truth to know, there is no self to know it and so there is no soul to save or lose." and "In following the Enlightenment to its logical end, deconstruction reaches nihilism. The meaning of human life is reduced to whatever happens to interest us at the moment…"
^ For some examples of the view that postmodernity is a nihilistic epoch see Toynbee, Arnold (1963) A Study of History vols. VIII and IX; Mills, C. Wright (1959) The Sociological Imagination; Bell, Daniel (1976) The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism; and Baudrillard, Jean (1993) "Game with Vestiges" in Baudrillard Live, ed. Mike Gane and (1994) "On Nihilism" in Simulacra and Simulation, trans. Sheila Faria Glasser. For examples of the view that postmodernism is a nihilistic mode of thought, see Rose, Gillian (1984) Dialectic of Nihilism; Carr, Karen L. (1988) The Banalization of Nihilism; and Pope John-Paul II (1995), Evangelium vitae: Il valore e l’inviolabilita delta vita umana. Milan: Paoline Editoriale Libri.", all cited in Woodward, Ashley: Nihilism and the Postmodern in Vattimo's Nietzsche, ISSN 1393-614X Minerva - An Internet Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 6, 2002, fn 1.
^ For example, Leffel, Jim; Dennis McCallum. "The Postmodern Challenge: Facing the Spirit of the Age". Christian Research Institute. "…the nihilism and loneliness of postmodern culture..."
^ Oxford Dictionary Answers dictionary defines one form of nihilism as "an extreme form of skepticism that denies all existence." Answers.com
^ Alan Pratt defines nihilism as "the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
^ Cooper, Neil. "Moral Nihilism". Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 74 (1973-1974): 75–90. JSTOR 4544850.
^ L. Strauss, “German Nihilism”, Interpretation 26 (3) (1999): pp. 353-378.
^ George di Giovanni, "Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi", The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.). Stanford.edu
^ Davis, Bret W. - "Zen After Zarathustra: The Problem of the Will in the Confrontation Between Nietzsche and Buddhism" Journal of Nietzsche Studies Issue 28 (2004):89-138 (here 107).
^ Douglas Harper, "Nihilism", in: Online Etymology Dictionary, retrieved at December 2, 2009.
^ Dreyfus, Hubert. Kierkegaard on the Internet: Anonymity vs. Commitment in the Present Age. Berkeley.edu
^ a b Hannay, Alastair. Kierkegaard, p. 289.
^ Cotkin, George. Existential America, p. 59.
^ a b Kierkegaard, Søren. The Present Age, translated by Alexander Dru with Foreword by Walter Kaufmann
^ Kierkegaard, Søren. The Sickness Unto Death
^ Barnett, Christopher. Kierkegaard, pietism and holiness, p. 156.
^ Wrathall, Mark et al. Heidegger, Authenticity, and Modernity, p. 107.
^ Carr, K., The Banalisation of Nihilism, State University of New York Press, 1992, p. 25.
^ F. Nietzsche, KSA 12:6 
^ a b Steven Michels, "Nietzsche, Nihilism, and the Virtue of Nature," Dogma, 2004, Free.fr
^ F. Nietzsche, KSA 12:10 
^ F. Nietzsche, KSA 13:14 
^ Carr, K., The Banalisation of Nihilism, State University of New York University Press, 1992 p. 38.
^ F. Nietzsche, KSA 12:5 
^ F. Nietzsche, KSA 12:2 
^ F. Nietzsche, KSA 12:2 
^ Carr, K., The Banalisation of Nihilism (1992), p. 41-42.
^ Rosen, Stanley. Nihilism: A Philosophical Essay. New Haven: Yale University Press. 1969. p. xiii.
^ F. Nietzsche, the Gay Science: 125.
^ This "will to nothingness" is still a willing of some sort, because it is exactly as as pessimist that Schopenhauer clings to life. See F. Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, III:7.
^ F. Nietzsche, KSA 12:7 
^ Friedrich Nietzsche, Complete Works Vol. 13.
^ F. Nietzsche, KSA 12:9 
^ K. Carr, The Banalisation of Nihilism, State University of New York Press, 1992, pp. 43-50.
^ J. Doomen, “Consistent Nihilism”, Journal of Mind and Behavior 33 (1/2) (2012): pp. 103-117.
^ “Heideggers ,Aus-einander-setzung’ mit Nietzsches hat mannigfache Resonanz gefunden. Das Verhältnis der beiden Philosophen zueinander ist dabei von unterschiedlichen Positionen aus diskutiert worden. Inzwischen ist es nicht mehr ungewöhnlich, daß Heidegger, entgegen seinem Anspruch auf ,Verwindung’ der Metaphysik und des ihr zugehörigen Nihilismus, in jenen Nihilismus zurückgestellt wird, als dessen Vollender er Nietzsche angesehen hat.” Wolfgang Müller-Lauter, Heidegger und Nietzsche. Nietzsche-Interpretationen III, Berlin-New York 2000, p. 303.
^ Cf. both by Heidegger: Vol. I, Nietzsche I (1936-39). Translated as Nietzsche I: The Will to Power as Art by David F. Krell (New York: Harper & Row, 1979); Vol. II, Nietzsche II (1939-46). Translated as “The Eternal Recurrence of the Same” by David F. Krell in Nietzsche II: The Eternal Recurrence of the Same (New York, Harper & Row, 1984).
^ “Indem Heidegger das von Nietzsche Ungesagte im Hinblick auf die Seinsfrage zur Sprache zu bringen sucht, wird das von Nietzsche Gesagte in ein diesem selber fremdes Licht gerückt.”, Müller-Lauter, Heidegger und Nietzsche, p. 267.
^ Original German: Die seinsgeschichtliche Bestimmung des Nihilismus. Found in the second volume of his lectures: Vol. II, Nietzsche II (1939-46). Translated as “The Eternal Recurrence of the Same” by David F. Krell in Nietzsche II: The Eternal Recurrence of the Same (New York, Harper & Row, 1984).
^ “Heidegger geht davon aus, daß Nietzsche den Nihilismus als Entwertung der bisherigen obersten Werte versteht; seine Überwindung soll durch die Umwertung der Werte erfolgen. Das Prinzip der Umwertung wie auch jeder früheren Wertsetzung ist der Wille zur Macht.”, Müller-Lauter, Heidegger und Nietzsche, p. 268.
^ “What remains unquestioned and forgotten in metaphysics is being; and hence, it is nihilistic.”, UTM.edu, visited on November 24, 2009.
^ Müller-Lauter, Heidegger und Nietzsche, p. 268.
^ Müller-Lauter, Heidegger und Nietzsche, pp. 272-275.
^ Müller-Lauter, Heidegger und Nietzsche, pp. 301-303.
^ “Er (Vattimo) konstatiert ,,in vielen europäischen Philosophien eine Hin- und Herbewegung zwischen Heidegger und Nietzsche”. Dabei denkt er, wie seine späteren Ausführungen zeigen, z.B. an Deleuze, Foucault und Derrida auf französischer Seite, an Cacciari, Severino und an sich selbst auf italienischer Seite.”, Müller-Lauter, Heidegger und Nietzsche, p. 302.
^ Müller-Lauter, Heidegger und Nietzsche, pp. 303-304.
^ Borginho, Jose 1999; Nihilism and Affirmation. Retrieved 05-12-07.
^ Spivak, Chakravorty Gayatri; 1988; Can The Subaltern Speak?; in Nelson, Cary and Grossberg, Lawrence (eds); 1988; Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture; Macmillan Education, Basingstoke.
^ Reynolds, Jack; 2001; The Other of Derridean Deconstruction: Levinas, Phenomenology and the Question of Responsibility; Minerva - An Internet Journal of Philosophy 5: 31–62. Retrieved 05-12-07.
^ "Observer Newspaper - News". Nd.edu. 1999-12-03. Retrieved 2009-09-02.
^ de Micheli, Mario (2006). Las vanguardias artísticas del siglo XX. Alianza Forma. p.135-137.
^ a b Tzara, Tristan (December 2005). Trans/ed. Mary Ann Caws "Approximate Man" & Other Writings. Black Widow Press, p. 3.
^ de Micheli, Mario (2006). Las vanguardias artísticas del siglo XX. Alianza Forma, p. 137.
^ Stuart Jeffries. "A right royal knees-up." The Guardian. 20 July 2007.
^ Robb, John (2006). Punk Rock: An Oral History (London: Elbury Press). ISBN 0-09-190511-7. From the foreword by Mike Bracewell. Nihilism is strongly associated with many styles of metal music. Death Metal is specifically defined by its nihilistic subject matter.
^ Reddick, Brad H.; Beresin, Eugene V. (March 2002). "Rebellious Rhapsody: Metal, Rap, Community, and Individuation". Academic Psychiatry (American Psychiatric Publishing) 26 (1): 51–59. doi:10.1176/appi.ap.26.1.51. ISSN 1042-9670. PMID 11867430. Retrieved 2010-01-04.
^ Jack Levin; Jack McDevitt (2002). Hate Crimes Revisited: America's war against those who are different. Westview Press. p. 41. ISBN 0-8133-3922-7. Retrieved 2010-01-04. "Known widely as Black metal or the Satanic Metal Underground, this latest genre represents the hardest strain of heavy metal, emphasizing cold-blooded murder, hate and prejudice, nihilism, and the unbridled expression of masculine lust."
^ Ardet, Natalie (2004). Teenagers, Internet and Black Metal (PDF). Proceedings of the Conference on Interdisciplinary Musicology. Retrieved 2010-01-04.
References[edit source | editbeta]
Jacobi, Friedrich Heinrich, Jacobi an Fichte (1799/1816), German Text (1799/1816), Appendix with Jacobi's and Fichte's complementary Texts, critical Apparatus, Commentary, and Italian Translation, Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Filosofici, Naples 2011, ISBN 978-88-905957-5-2.
Heidegger, Martin (1982), Nietzsche, Vols. I-IV, trans. F.A. Capuzzi, San Francisco: Harper & Row.
Kierkegaard, Søren (1998/1854), The Moment and Late Writings: Kierkegaard's Writings, Vol. 23, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-03226-9.
Kierkegaard, Søren (1978/1846), The Two Ages : Kierkegaard's Writings, Vol 14, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong, and Edna H. Hong, Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-07226-5.
Kierkegaard, Søren (1995/1850), Works of Love : Kierkegaard's Writings, Vol 16, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-03792-9.
Nietzsche, Friedrich (2005/1886), Beyond Good and Evil, trans. Helen Zimmern.
Nietzsche, Friedrich (1974/1887), The Gay Science, trans. Walter Kaufman, Vintage, ISBN 0-394-71985-9.
Nietzsche, Friedrich (1980), Sämtliche Werken. Kritische Studienausgabe, ed. C. Colli and M. Montinari, Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-007680-2.
Nietzsche, Friedrich (2008/1885), Thus Spake Zarathustra, trans. Thomas Common.
Arena, Leonardo Vittorio (1997), Del nonsense: tra Oriente e Occidente, Urbino: Quattroventi.
Arena, Leonardo Vittorio (2012), Nonsense as the Meaning, ebook.
Barnett, Christopher (2011), Kierkegaard, pietism and holiness, Ashgate Publishing.
Carr, Karen (1992), The Banalisation of Nihilism, State University of New York Press.
Cunningham, Conor (2002), Genealogy of Nihilism: Philosophies of Nothing & the Difference of Theology, New York, NY: Routledge.
Dreyfus, Hubert L. (2004), Kierkegaard on the Internet: Anonymity vs. Commitment in the Present Age. Retrieved at December 1, 2009.
Fraser, John (2001), "Nihilism, Modernisn and Value", retrieved at December 2, 2009.
Gillespie, Michael Allen (1996), Nihilism Before Nietzsche, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Giovanni, George di (2008), "Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Edward N. Zalta (ed.). Retrieved on December 1, 2009.
Harper, Douglas, "Nihilism", in: Online Etymology Dictionary, retrieved at December 2, 2009.
Harries, Karsten (2010), Between nihilism and faith: a commentary on Either/or, Walter de Gruyter Press.
Hibbs, Thomas S. (2000), Shows About Nothing: Nihilism in Popular Culture from The Exorcist to Seinfeld, Dallas, TX: Spence Publishing Company.
Korab-Karpowicz, W. J. (2005), "Martin Heidegger (1889—1976)", in: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, retrieved at December 2, 2009.
Kuhn, Elisabeth (1992), Friedrich Nietzsches Philosophie des europäischen Nihilismus, Walter de Gruyter.
Löwith, Karl (1995), Martin Heidegger and European Nihilism, New York, NY: Columbia UP.
Marmysz, John (2003), Laughing at Nothing: Humor as a Response to Nihilism, Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
Müller-Lauter, Wolfgang (2000), Heidegger und Nietzsche. Nietzsche-Interpretationen III, Berlin-New York.
Parvez Manzoor, S. (2003), "Modernity and Nihilism. Secular History and Loss of Meaning", retrieved at December 2, 2009.
Rose, Eugene Fr. Seraphim (1995), Nihilism, The Root of the Revolution of the Modern Age, Forestville, CA: Fr. Seraphim Rose Foundation.
Rosen, Stanley (2000), Nihilism: A Philosophical Essay, South Bend, Indiana: St. Augustine's Press (2nd Edition).
Slocombe, Will (2006), Nihilism and the Sublime Postmodern: The (Hi)Story of a Difficult Relationship, New York, NY: Routledge.
Villet, Charles (2009), Towards Ethical Nihilism: The Possibility of Nietzschean Hope, Saarbrücken: Verlag Dr. Müller.
Williams, Peter S. (2005), I Wish I Could Believe in Meaning: A Response to Nihilism, Damaris Publishing.
External links[edit source | editbeta]
Look up nihilism in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Nihilism
Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus spake Zarathustra, translated by Thomas Common
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Nihilism
"Fathers and Sons" by Ivan Turgenev
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Moral Skepticism, "Skeptical Hypotheses"
Wikisource-logo.svg "Nihilism". New International Encyclopedia. 1905.
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|Sujet: Re: philosophy : meaning of life Ven 2 Aoû - 9:27|| |
january 2nd 2012
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Meaning of Life: The Analytic Perspective
Depending upon whom one asks, the question, “What is the meaning of life?” may be one of the most profound questions of human existence or nothing more than a nonsensical request built on conceptual confusion, much like, “What does the color red taste like?” Ask a non-philosopher, “What do philosophers discuss?” and a likely answer will be, “The meaning of life.” Ask the same question of a philosopher within the analytic tradition, and you will rarely get this answer. Within the analytic philosophical community, the disinterest in the question of life’s meaning, and in some cases outright logical suspicion, is likely partly a result of the question’s inherent lack of clarity and partly a result of the suspicion that it is a request for which no answer exists because it is built on suspect assumptions about what would have to be the case in order for life to have a meaning. Indeed, it is not immediately clear what is being requested in asking the question of life’s meaning, nor is it clear that life could have such a meaning, given latent assumptions often accompanying the asking of the question.
Despite the relative disinterest in the question of life’s meaning among analytic philosophers for a large part of the twentieth century, there has been a growing body of work on the topic by contemporary analytic philosophers since the 1980’s. The parameters in which the philosophical discussion of the meaning of life is unfolding within analytic philosophy largely center on two dimensions: the first, with bringing clarity and sense to the question, and the second, on fitting the concept of meaning within the realm of normativity in general, and then with discovering the necessary and sufficient conditions for a meaningful life.
This article surveys the important trajectories in discussions of life’s meaning within contemporary analytic philosophy. It begins with a consideration of an important generating condition of the question of life’s meaning, one that Thomas Nagel has particularly noted (Nagel 1971, 1989)—the human ability to view life sub specie aeternitatis. Next, it surveys current analytic philosophical discussions over the following prominent themes: (i) strategies for understanding what the question is asking, (ii) extant views of how a meaningful life can be secured, and (iii) the connection between death, futility, and a meaningful life. This article concludes by noting some considerations that may bring further depth to discussions over life’s meaning as they progress.
Table of Contents
The Human Context
The Meaning of Life in Contemporary Analytic Philosophy
Addressing the Question’s Lack of Clarity: Securing a Non-linguistic Usage of “Meaning”
Addressing the Question’s Lack of Clarity: The Amalgam Thesis
A Meaningful Life: Current Views
Pessimistic Naturalism: Nihilism
Death, Futility, and a Meaningful Life
The Future of the Discussion
References and Further Reading
Vis-à-vis the meaning of life, there are two juxtaposed and incongruent realities. On the one hand, for a large part of the twentieth century, analytic philosophers generally ignored the question of life’s meaning because they were doubtful that it had no answer. This doubt was because of latent assumptions on the part of many who ask the question about what would have to be the case for life to have a meaning or because they were suspicious that it is incoherent and meaningless. On the other hand, most non-philosophers consider it one of the most important questions, if not the most important question, of human existence. This, of course, creates a prima facie impasse, given that the question of life’s meaning is one that many of those supposedly functioning as guardians of the canons of reason think is rationally sub-par or at least less deserving of philosophical energy than is a consideration of, for example, how consciousness and accompanying qualia arise from matter or whether discussions of epistemic luck and control hold the key to discovering the necessary and sufficient conditions of propositional knowledge.
While this trend of neglect is unfortunate, it is partly understandable given that the question, “What is the meaning of life?” is at least moderately characterized by a lack of clarity (and some would say a lack of coherence). Philosophically, the question therefore has seemed unmanageable to many. It is surely not a question about the semantic meaning of the word “life,” but what then is it a question about? Is it a question about human life? Is it a question about all biological life? Is it a question about all of existence? Is it asking for a comprehensive explanation of why the universe exists and of our place within it? And if so, is it asked with strong teleological assumptions at the fore, such that a purely efficient, mechanistic causal story would leave the inquirer unsatisfied? These latter questions with a global focus seem to track a request like, “What is it all about?” Indeed, there is a profound human impulse to seek a sweeping, deep explanation, context, or narrative through which to interpret existence, and then to move beyond localized foci by living into this universal, totalizing narrative. This first cluster of questions highlights the explanatory dimension of the question of life’s meaning whereby some sort of explanation (perhaps even narrative explanation) is sought that will render the universe and our lives within it intelligible. Conceding the question’s lack of clarity, these requests partially illuminate what is being asked.
However, raising these questions alone neglects other important questions in the neighborhood of life’s meaning. Though connected, they are conceptually distinct from the first set; although, depending on how robust the above explanation of what it is all about is, one might have good reason to think that it would also encompass this second dimension. In any case, while related to the explanatory dimension, these next questions highlight the normative dimension of the meaning of life question. When asking these, we are more concerned with the aim of securing a meaningful life. We wonder what we must, or should, or ought to order our lives around so as to render them meaningful. Meaningfulness, then, perhaps supervenes on a life properly ordered around the right stuff. Questions within this dimension include, “What is (are) the purpose(s) of life (my life)?” “What makes life valuable?” or “What makes life worthwhile and not irredeemably futile?”
Most philosophers currently writing on the topic think the question of life’s meaning is somehow a question about all of these and other related topics, but only insofar as it is viewed as a long disjunctive question or an amalgam of related yet distinct requests about purpose, value, worth, significance, death, and futility, among others. Furthermore, though it is viewed as a request that moves us into normative territory, this question is thought to be distinct from purely ethical requests about rightness and wrongness, purely aesthetic requests about the good and beautiful, and purely eudaimonistic requests about human happiness and flourishing, while bearing some relationship to all three. There is little consensus beyond this minimal agreement.
2. The Human Context
The human preoccupation with the question of life’s meaning is at least partly generated by our capacity to get-outside-of ourselves and view our pursuits and very lives first-person oriented and distantly from a detached, more-or-less dispassionate standpoint (see Nagel 1971; 1989; Fischer 1993). We, unlike butterflies or cats for example, can take a critical viewpoint on our lives. We possess the ability to shift from engagement to reflection. We question what we do. We question how what we do coheres with the rest of reality, and whether reality, at the deepest level, in any way cares about us and our pursuits. We can view our lives sub specie aeternitatis, after which we can either experience profound angst, indifference, or hope, among other reactions, depending upon what we think that viewpoint entails. Whether, in normative appraisals of life, it is reasonable to privilege this detached perspective over our immediate, human perspective is beside the point. The fact is we often do, and this human propensity is correlated with inquiring into the meaning of life.
3. The Meaning of Life in Contemporary Analytic Philosophy
Contemporary analytic philosophy has inherited important trajectories from the ancient and modern worlds, whether from Qohelet, Schopenhauer, Tolstoy, Camus, or Sartre among others, vis-à-vis the meaning of life. But, understandably, the analytic philosophical impulse toward conceptual clarification has given discussions of the meaning of life within this tradition a unique shape. Indeed, a significant portion of the discussion within this contemporary context has been primarily concerned with trying to understand the question itself. Is it coherent? Is it meaningful? What is it asking? What assumptions motivate the question? Asking such questions is necessary because the question of life’s meaning lacks clarity and has an elusive quality to it. Analytic philosophers have rightly noticed this. There exist a couple of options for addressing this lack of clarity short of the outright charge of incoherence that was common for a substantial portion of the twentieth century in the wake of logical positivism’s once strong grip.
a. Addressing the Question’s Lack of Clarity: Securing a Non-linguistic Usage of “Meaning”
One option for addressing the clarity problem is to retain the use of the word “meaning” and to secure a usage that applies to non-linguistic phenomena, given that in asking the question of life’s meaning, one is not asking for the semantic meaning of the word “life.” This strategy is especially concerned with finding a natural interpretation of the question through a plausible employment of the term “meaning.” “Meaning” has multiple meanings, and at least some of the more prominent ones mitigate its usefulness in the context of trying to formulate the intuitions driving the question of life’s meaning. Indeed, if one is asking for the semantic meaning of life rather than “life,” then the accusation of incoherence is plausible. We ask for the meanings of semantic constructions, but not of things like physical entities, events, or life in general. The problem then is that “meaning” is a term which appears to most naturally find its home within a linguistic context. However, life itself is not such a context. That is to say, in asking the question, one is not asking for any sort of definition of “life” or a description of this term’s usage. But then, what is being asked? This is where the problem lies.
The problem is solvable, though, given that asking what something means need not be a request for a definition or description. There are additional non-linguistic contexts in which the locution, “What is the meaning of x?” makes perfect sense (for example, intentional signification, non-intentional signification (that is, natural signs), and so forth.) (see Nozick 1981). Some of them even share family resemblances to the question of life’s meaning. One in particular is especially relevant.
The question, “What is the meaning of x?” functions naturally in the largely non-linguistic context in which we seek to know how something fits within a larger context or narrative. We naturally and legitimately invoke the formula, “What is the meaning of x?” in situations where x is some fact, event, or phenomenon we encounter and of which we want to know the fact’s or event’s or phenomenon’s “. . . implication in the wider world within which this notion [or fact, event, or phenomenon] makes the sense it makes” (Wright 2003: 719). This “wider world” Wright considers to be a worldview, metanarrative, or something similar.
To make his point, Wright uses the example of how one comes to understand the Easter Event (that is, the putative bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazerath). For example, a well-educated Roman soldier who comes to learn of the event may contextualize it, and therefore “fix” its meaning, through the myth of Nero redivivus, the idea that Nero had come back to life in order to return to Rome in all his glory. The event means something different for him than for, say, Saul of Tarsus. The wider worldview framework or narrative (or even simply a more localized narrative which is, itself, part of a larger worldview narrative) will play a heavy hermeneutical role, then, in “discovering” (some may prefer determining) what any given fact, event, or phenomenon means. Discovering this meaning will be a product of asking and answering questions like: In what larger narrative(s) does the sentence (intended to refer to a fact, event, or phenomenon) belong? What worldviews do such narratives embody and reinforce? What are the universes of discourse within which this sentence, and the event it refers to, settle down and make themselves at home – and which, at the same time, they challenge and reshape from within? (Wright 2003: 719).
In terms of the meaning of life, one could argue that we are trying to find the “wider world” (i.e., worldview, metanarrative) in which the existentially salient elements and accompanying questions of life fit. These existentially salient elements and accompanying questions of life, for which the word “life” is a marker, are perennial meaning of life themes. They are what often prompt in us the grand question: “What is the meaning of life?” and include:
(1) Fact—something exists, we [humans] exist, and I exist / Question—Why does anything or we or I exist at all?
(2) Question—Does life have any purpose(s), and if so, what is its nature and source?
(3) Fact—we are often passionately engaged in life pursuits and projects that we deem valuable and worthwhile / Question—Does the worth and value of these pursuits and projects need grounding in something else, and if so, what?
(4) Fact—pain and suffering are part of the universe / Question—Why?
(5) Question—How does it all end? Is death final? Is there an eschatological remedy to the ills of this world?
(1) – (5) constitute the cluster of considerations that track discussions of life’s meaning, even though reasonable debate will exist about the details. In asking, “What is the meaning of life?” it is plausible to view this as the request for a “wider world” (that is, worldview, metanarrative) through which to secure answers to these questions. Viewed as such, this renders the question, “What is the meaning of life?” coherent and intelligible by securing a usage of “meaning” that fits naturally within a non-linguistic context.
b. Addressing the Question’s Lack of Clarity: The Amalgam Thesis
The most common interpretive strategy for understanding what the question, “What is the meaning of life?” involves discarding the word “meaning” and reformulating the question entirely. With this approach, the question is morphed into a cluster of other supposedly less vague questions, even if no less difficult to answer: “What is (are) the purpose(s) of life?”, or “What makes life valuable?”, or “What makes life worthwhile and not irredeemably futile?” among others.
Following precedent in the literature, especially R. W. Hepburn, this approach for addressing the vagueness in the question of life’s meaning may be called the amalgam thesis (Hepburn 1966). Roughly, the amalgam thesis entails that the original question, framed in terms of meaning, is a largely ill-conceived place-holder for a cluster of related requests, and thus, not really a single question at all. One way of understanding the amalgam thesis is to view it as making the question of life’s meaning little more than a disjunctive question:
What is the purpose of life, or what makes life valuable, or what makes life worthwhile?
On amalgam thesis premises the question, “What is the meaning of life?” ought to be a question about purpose, or value, or worth or something else. However one worry is that these questions are primarily about purpose, value, and worth and then secondly about the meaning of life.
Due to the dominance of the amalgam thesis as an interpretive strategy and its arguable philosophical merit, most contemporary philosophical treatments of the question of life’s meaning consider it in one of its reformulated versions such as, “What makes life valuable?”, “What makes life significant?”, “What is (are) the purpose(s) of life?”, “Does a particular life achieve some good purpose?”, or “What makes life worth living?” among others. So, there exist at least two interpretive levels of the question using the amalgam thesis, one tracking something like the question’s formal properties, and the other tracking the subsequent questions’ material content. In other words, the amalgam thesis implies that the question, “What is the meaning of life?” is really just a disjunctive question whereby requests about purpose, value, worth, and significance are made.
c. A Meaningful Life: Current Views
Beyond discussions over the nature of the question itself, one will find competing views on what gives life meaning, whereby meaningfulness is meant. That is to say, by virtue of what can life be said to be meaningful, if it all? The four primary competitors are: (1) Supernaturalism, (2) Objective Naturalism, (3) Subjective Naturalism, and (4) Nihilism (inter-subjectivism and non-naturalism are additional options, but are much less prevalent). Importantly, both objective and subjective naturalism can be categorized as optimistic naturalisms, in that these views allow for a meaningful existence in a world devoid of finite and infinite spiritual realities. Pessimistic naturalism is what is commonly called “nihilism.” Nihilism is generally a view adopted alongside an entirely naturalistic ontology (though vigorous debate exits about whether naturalism entails nihilism), although there is nothing logically impossible about someone adopting nihilism while being a religious believer. One will be hard-pressed, however, to find genuine examples of this belief, save some sort of rhetorical, provisional nihilism, as found in Ecclesiastes in the Bible.
Roughly, supernaturalism maintains that God’s existence, along with “appropriately relating” to God, is both necessary and sufficient for securing a meaningful life, although different accounts can be given as to the nature of this relationship. Among countless others, historic representatives of supernaturalism in the Near-Eastern ancient world and in subsequent Western history are Qoheleth, Jesus, Paul, Augustine, Aquinas, Edwards, Pascal, and Tolstoy. The supernaturalist position can be plausibly viewed as possessing three distinct yet related dimensions: metaphysical, epistemological, and relational-axiological. Metaphysically, it is argued that God’s existence is necessary in order to ground a meaningful life because, for example, conditions necessary for securing a meaningful existence like objective value are most plausibly anchored in an entity like God (Cottingham 2005; Craig 2008). In addition to the metaphysical dimension, supernaturalism often requires, at some level, orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxy (right practice), although much debate exists on the details. God’s existence may be a necessary condition for securing a meaningful life, but it is generally thought that one must additionally relate to God in some relevant way in the epistemological and axiological dimensions (In addition to God-based supernaturalist theories, there are soul-based theories, where meaning in life is thought to be a function, not so much of God, but rather of having an indestructible soul whereby immortality is possible).
ii. Objective Naturalism
Objective naturalism, like supernaturalism, posits that a meaningful life is possible, but denies that a supernatural realm is necessary for such a life. Life in a purely physical world, devoid of finite and infinite spiritual realities, is sufficient for meaning according to objective naturalism. Objective naturalists claim that a meaningful life is a function of appropriately connecting with mind-independent realities that are, contra supernaturalism, entirely natural. Objective naturalism is further distinguished (from subjective naturalism) by its emphasis on mind-independence. One way of putting the point is to say that wanting or choosing is insufficient for a meaningful life. For example, choosing to spend one’s waking hours counting and re-counting blades of grass is likely insufficient for meaning on objective naturalism. Rather, meaning is a function of linking one’s life to inherently valuable, mind-independent conditions that are not themselves the sole products of what one wants strongly and chooses (contra subjective naturalism). Put simply, with objective naturalism it is possible to be wrong about what confers meaning on life—something is meaningful, at least partly, in virtue of its intrinsic nature, irrespective of what is believed about it. This is why spending one’s entire existence counting blades of grass or reading and re-reading phone books is probably not meaningful on objective naturalism, even if the person strongly desires to do so.
iii. Subjective Naturalism
Like objective naturalism, subjective naturalism posits that a meaningful life is possible apart from something like supernaturalism being true, but unlike objective naturalism, it differs on what confers meaning to life. According to subjective naturalism, what constitutes a meaningful life varies from person to person, and is a function of one getting what one strongly wants, or by achieving self-established goals, or through accomplishing what one believes to be really important. Caring about or loving something deeply has been thought by some to confer meaningfulness to life (Frankfurt 1988). Subjectivism seems most plausible to some in light of perceived failures to ground objective value, either naturally, non-naturally, or supernaturally. A worry for subjective naturalism, however, is analogous to ethical worries over moral relativism. Many protest that surely deep care and love simpliciter are not sufficient to confer meaningfulness on life. What if someone claims to find meaning in life counting blades of grass, or reading and re-reading the phone book, or worse, torturing people for fun? Can a life centering on such pursuits be a meaningful life? The strong, nearly universal intuition here towards objective value in some form inclines in the direction of requiring an objective standard that comes to bear on the meaningfulness of an activity or life in general. Subjectivism still has its defenders, with some proposals moving towards grounding value inter-subjectively—in community—as opposed to in the individual exclusively.
Nuanced forms of naturalism, vis-à-vis meaningfulness in life, make room for both objective and subjective elements, as is captured nicely by Susan Wolf, “Meaning arises when subjective attraction meets objective attractiveness” (Wolf 1997: 211). On this view, the objective and the subjective must unite in order to give birth to robust meaningfulness. Meaningfulness is not present in a life spent believing in, being satisfied by, or caring about worthless projects.However neither is it present in a life spent engaging in worthwhile, inherently valuable projects without believing in, or caring about, or being satisfied by them.
Though they are in disagreement on the conditions for meaningfulness, both objective and subjective naturalism are united in their rejection of supernaturalism and supernaturalism’s insistence that God is necessary in order to secure a meaningful life. In this way, both forms of naturalism, vis-à-vis meaningfulness in life, can be thought of as optimistic naturalisms—that is, meaningful life is possible in a godless universe. An optimistic naturalist sees no problem in thinking that a meaningful life can be secured within an entirely naturalistic ontology. Nothing additional, nothing of the transcendent sort, is needed to ground those things in life that we, pre-philosophically, find to be meaningful. The raw materials for meaningfulness are available apart from God.
iv. Pessimistic Naturalism: Nihilism
Against all views which think a meaningful existence is possible, is the view of pessimistic naturalism, more commonly called nihilism. Roughly, nihilism is the view that denies that a meaningful life is possible because, literally, nothing has any value. One way to understand nihilism is by seeing it as the fusion of theses and assumptions drawn from both supernaturalism and naturalism. That is to say, nihilism may be seen as requiring (i) that God or some supernatural realm is likely necessary for value and a meaningful existence, but (ii) that no such realm exists, and therefore nothing is of ultimate value. Other forms of nihilism focus on states like boredom or dissatisfaction, arguing that boredom sufficiently infuses life so as to make it meaningless, or that human lives lack the requisite amount of satisfaction to confer meaning upon them. Another form of nihilism that is logically compatible with the existence of God is one based upon a disparity between standpoints. It has been argued that from the most distant, detached viewpoint, nothing we do seems to matter at all. If one thinks that it is possible to view even God and the economy of his workings from some more distant standpoint, then even supernaturalism may face a nihilistic threat of this form.
d. Death, Futility, and a Meaningful Life
The meaning of life is closely linked with a cluster of related issues surrounding death, futility, and the way life is going to end, in regards to both the individual life and to the universe as a whole. These are common threads in the meaning of life literature, from Ecclesiastes to Camus to contemporary analytic philosophy. Death (and the end of the universe itself) often is thought to bear a close relationship with futility. The common pessimistic claim is that cosmic futility supervenes upon the entirety of human existence, given a naturalistic view of the ultimate fate of life, both human life as well as the universe itself, where death and entropy will very likely be the final, irreversible state of reality.
Why is death in an exclusively naturalistic world thought by many to be a challenge to a meaningful life? One reason may be the widespread view that, ceteris paribus, meaningful things last, as in ‘’diamonds are forever’’. Vis-à-vis the meaning of life, most people judge various aspects of life, pre-philosophically, to be meaningful. When subsequently engaged in conscious reflection on the necessary conditions for meaningfulness, immortality is often thought to be transcendentally necessary (though not sufficient) for meaningfulness. Many people desire consciousness, memory, personhood, love, creativity, and achievement to be part of the deep structure of reality, in that the universe, in the long run, makes space for these things. An exclusively naturalistic universe likely does not. From the perspective of a universe that will very likely become unfavorable to the existence of intelligent life, nothing we do seems of any real consequence or value. Death, both our own and the universe’s (speaking metaphorically of course), is a profound barrier to the meaningful properties and activities that populate human existence continuing on in any robust sense. And so the threat of futility lingers for many who worry that we live in an exclusively naturalistic universe.
The kind of futility surfacing in this context can be thought of as strong futility or weak futility. In the strong sense, it is claimed that if the final state of affairs of the universe (e.g. heat death) is one in which nothing matters, then nothing ever really mattered and everything is irredeemably futile. In the weaker sense, it is claimed that if the final state of affairs of the universe is one in which nothing matters, then the mattering or significance of current states of affairs is in some way mitigated, either minimally or considerably, though not completely destroyed. This futility partly arises, then, through an asymmetry between the vantage points of the lifeless, distant future that lacks consciousness of any sort, and the present filled with conscious life and its various dimensions. A “bad” ending is thought to threaten the meaningfulness of the entire story.
Critics of these strong and weak futility claims counter by calling into question what can be called the-arbitrary-privileging-of-the-future. They ask, “Why should the end state of affairs be given such veto power over the worth and meaning of the here and now?” It has been noted that appealing to such asymmetry by which to charge naturalism with irredeemable futility is contingent upon a suspect assumption; namely, arbitrarily placing an undue amount of importance (perhaps all the importance) on the final state of affairs to which life leads. But why give the future priority over the present and the past? If life is meaningful now, how can the fact that it will cease to exist make it less meaningful now? And, if life is not meaningful now, how could its un-ending continuation confer meaningfulness to it? Critics of such futility claims argue that the most plausible way to appraise the meaningfulness and worth of life here and now, is by adopting the here and now perspective, not the distant, detached perspective of some indifferent future of a universe in ruins. Of course, one might make the converse claim, “Why privilege the present over the future?” Principled reasons must be offered that will help settle the question of which viewpoint—the distant-future or the immediate-present—gets normative priority for appraisals of life as either worthwhile or futile.
4. The Future of the Discussion
Within normative theory, one underexplored question is where the concept of meaningfulness fits within the normative realm shared by the ethical, aesthetic, and eudaimonistic. Meaning seems closely connected to these other normative categories, but reducible to none (though it is perhaps closest to the third). One can perhaps imagine ethical lives that are, for example, profoundly unsatisfying to the one who lives them. And even if the ethical is one component of the meaningful, it seems implausible to think that an apathetic, yet morally exemplary life, qualifies as fully meaningful, especially if one thinks that meaningfulness is at least partly a function of being subjectively attracted to objective attractiveness. Meaningfulness extends beyond the ethical, while somehow including it. These same sorts of questions can be raised regarding the relationship between meaningfulness and other normative categories.
In addition, the debate between reductive naturalists and non-reductive naturalists has direct implications for whether it can be thought that normative properties are part of the deep structure of reality on naturalism. If they are, then optimistic naturalism of the objective variety will gain the upper hand over subjective optimistic naturalism. So, progress in the debate between objective and subjective naturalism will track progress in discussions within metaphysics more generally.
Or, consider the problem of evil in the philosophy of religion. The experience of evil links to the meaning of life, especially when one considers death and futility. Quite apart from philosophical reflections on the problem, the experience of evil is often one of those generating conditions of the question of life’s meaning born out of existential angst. Is there an intelligible, existentially satisfying narrative in which to locate the experience of pain and suffering and to give the sufferer some solace and hope? Evil in a meaningful universe may not cease from being evil, but it may be more bearable. In this way, the problem of meaning may be more foundational than the problem of evil. And one especially thinks of what we might call the eschatological dimension of the problem of evil—is there any hope in the face of pain, suffering, and death, and if so, what is its nature? Bringing future-oriented considerations of pain and suffering into the philosophical discussion will also naturally link to perennial meaning of life topics like death and futility. Additionally, it will motivate more vigorous research and debate over whether the inherent human desire for a felicitous ending to life’s narrative, including, for example, post-mortem survival and enjoyment of the beatific vision or some other blessed state is mere wishful thinking or a cousin to our desire for water, and thus, a truly natural desire that points to a referent capable of fulfilling it. In any case, discussions over the problem of evil are correlated with discussions over the meaning of life, and progress in one might be significant for progress in the other.
Finally, an underexplored area in contemporary analytic philosophy is how the concept of narrative might shed light on the meaning of life. One reason this is important can be seen in the following. Historically, most of the satisfying narratives that in some way narrated the meaning of life were also religious or quasi-religious. Additionally, many of these narratives count as narratives in the paradigmatic sense as opposed to non-narrative modes of discourse. However, with the rise of modern science, both the narratives and the religious or quasi-religious worldviews embodied in them were diminished in certain spheres. This led to the anxious questioning of life’s meaning and the fear that a thoroughly scientific-naturalistic narrative of the universe is far from existentially satisfying. This elicits the following important question: Are such paradigmatic instances of narratives which, in some way, narrate the meaning of life, thought to be more existentially satisfying in virtue of their explicitly religious perspective on the world or in virtue of the fact that they are paradigmatic instances of narrative or both? In terms of an interdisciplinary approach, the work of cognitive scientists who are informing us that personal identity has a substantial narrative component may be of benefit here. Perhaps our deep human need to construct meaningful narratives in order to contextualize parts of our lives and our very lives themselves is genetically hardwired. More specifically, perhaps our existential need to locate our lives and the profound elements that populate human life within grand narratives that are paradigmatic instances of narrative is genetically hardwired. If something like this is correct, then it may become clearer why questioning the meaning of life with such intensity and angst is correlated with the rise of a grand narrative (that is, naturalism) that is not a narrative in the paradigmatic sense.
Within a philosophical tradition that has had relatively little to say about the meaning of life, there are signs of change. Since the 1980’s, some within the ranks of analytic philosophy have turned their attention to life’s great question. The question is approached with an analytic rigor that will hopefully illumine some of the assumptions motivating it and point in the direction of possible approaches for answering it. Much work remains to be done. The philosophical waters remain murky, but they are clearing.
5. References and Further Reading
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Nombre de messages : 20343
Date d'inscription : 17/05/2007
|Sujet: Re: philosophy : meaning of life Ven 2 Aoû - 10:06|| |
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Philosophy Forums » General Philosophy » Why do we live? » Why do we live?
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Why do we live?
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Why do we live?
Joined: Oct 07, 2011
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Posted 10/07/11 - 5:10 AM:
Subject: Why do we live?
We know life is meaningless, so why do we live? There's no rational basis to prefer life over death.
If life has no inherent meaning how can self-preservation be fundamentally judged superior to self-destruction?
We know are emotions not reason that lead our preference for life. If science is to continue its purposeless advance, then curiosity, wonder, and happiness must be disenchanted and vivisected. Science and philosophy might be motivated by a sense of poetic wonder, but what happens when wonder, curiosity, and the joy of understanding have been reduced and explained in terms of chemical reactions of the brain. Is it possible to synthesize this knowledge with the experience of it? How far is one willing to lie to one's self in the belief of the goodness of the truth when science has conquered the non-scientific behaviors that motivate science?
If we have a technical understanding of the biochemical basis of the experience of curiosity, wonder, amazement, awe, and mystery themselves, does this diminish our experience of them? Do these experiences fall into the same category as myths, lies, and illusions? What rational basis is there to treat them any differently? What then, does it mean to lead a "rational life"? If science and knowledge are supposedly pursued for its own sake, then how about the knowledge that life has no discernable purpose, knowledge that happiness, wonder, and curiosity are based in material organizations that were likely selected for their evolutionary survival value, and knowledge that there is no fundamentally rational basis for choosing life over death.
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Posted 10/07/11 - 5:18 AM:
"The long habit of living indisposeth us for dying" - Sir Thomas Brown
I think in some appropriate sense each of us is 4 billion years old. Evolution does not favor those who do not want to live.
Welcome to philosophy forums Ornella.
Edited by Legion on 10/07/11 - 7:00 AM
Joined: Jun 02, 2003
Location: Chesapeake, VA
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Posted 10/07/11 - 5:54 AM:
We know life is meaningless, so why do we live? There's no rational basis to prefer life over death.
If life has no inherent meaning how can self-preservation be fundamentally judged superior to self-destruction?
If life is meaningless then why should you care enough to ask the question?
Usually if you logic appears to contradict reality it means something is wrong with your basic assumptions or logic. What can be demonstrated in this case is that statements about life, the universe, and everything are themselves so vague as to be meaningless and anyone can interpret them anyway they prefer.
To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
Its nice poetry, but does it really say anything rational? Likewise, just because something sounds rational doesn't make it so.
Joined: Sep 28, 2011
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Posted 10/07/11 - 8:58 AM:
"Why do we Live"?
I though about the outcome of our existence, what will be our purpose in a million years. Well one idea popped into my head. If you take a look around, what is one fundamental thing we are always trying to do? It's organize our surroundings. We clean things up, we fix things, we take raw materials and make them into something...
I figure if we keep this up, a million years from now we may be able to organize solar systems, galaxies, maybe even the universe.
In other words, we become the care takers of the Universe, in a word, God.
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Posted 10/07/11 - 9:42 AM:
Life may be meaningless to people who think they need to discover it but I believe it can be very purposeful to people who are willing to invent their own meaning.
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Posted 10/07/11 - 10:22 AM:
Well, I sincerely hope not to derive too much. Don't like talking about any sensation, behavior without focusing on brain's circuits. When I talk about influxes, I talk about downward influxes from the motor cortex.
1) Cerebral influxes live and die depending on the stimulating/non-stimulating environment.
2) Newly made influxes leads to a sensation of acting categorically or acting without purpose
3) Purpose and interest are the result of a strong synchronous influxes.
4) A purposeful behavior is structure in such a way as to provide a runup, dynamical inertia to influx generation.
5) Influxes easily die (e.g during the night). And therefore we have to live "categorically" if we want to behave. Amplify an influx = acting by love.
6) Acting by love is what make existence possible. Such a choice (should I act or not) makes sense only when you exist.
"There's no rational basis to prefer life over death. "
What about: "We better be sure to be able to act to know why we are acting." ?
Joined: Jul 06, 2011
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Posted 10/07/11 - 10:46 AM:
We live to seek truth and to control chaos.
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Posted 10/07/11 - 12:41 PM:
Life strives to live simply because it's built to do so. Knowing that fact doesn't change it.
Why you or I as individuals choose to live is up to us, but it's hard to overcome our hard-wired desire for life. I read a book where the author described working on a ward for suicidal patients; one day it caught fire and burnt down, yet everyone escaped unharmed.
Joined: Jul 01, 2009
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Posted 10/08/11 - 10:41 PM:
Life strives to live simply because it's built to do so. Knowing that fact doesn't change it.
Why you or I as individuals choose to live is up to us, but it's hard to overcome our hard-wired desire for life. I read a book where the author described working on a ward for suicidal patients; one day it caught fire and burnt down, yet everyone escaped unharmed.
That's uncanny. I've always thought the best way to help people who are clinically depressed and suicidal is to throw them in the Amazon jungle without food and water and force them to survive.
here's the analogy frank jackson used that I got from wikipedia--probably will make you think about physicalism a bit differently.
Mary is a brilliant scientist who is, for whatever reason, forced to investigate the world from a black and white room via a black and white television monitor. She specializes in the neurophysiology of vision and acquires, let us suppose, all the physical information there is to obtain about what goes on when we see ripe tomatoes, or the sky, and use terms like ‘red’, ‘blue’, and so on. She discovers, for example, just which wavelength combinations from the sky stimulate the retina, and exactly how this produces via the central nervous system the contraction of the vocal cords and expulsion of air from the lungs that results in the uttering of the sentence ‘The sky is blue’. (…) What will happen when Mary is released from her black and white room or is given a color television monitor? Will she learn anything or not? It seems just obvious that she will learn something about the world and our visual experience of it. But then is it inescapable that her previous knowledge was incomplete. But she had all the physical information. Ergo there is more to have than that, and Physicalism is false.
I should also add, he recanted on the final sentence.
Now why to live? Consider the opposite. Why kill yourself? Camus says that to kill your self is to confess. A confession to the world that shows them you cannot handle existence. Just know that. If the lack of meaning in life tormented you so much, than that wouldn't compel you to end your existence. Your inability to deal with that lack of meaning would compel you. And maybe you might be able to find meaning by battling through this.
Edited by brianjones on 10/08/11 - 10:47 PM
Joined: Oct 06, 2011
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Posted 10/09/11 - 6:46 AM:
I've always thought the best way to help people who are clinically depressed and suicidal is to throw them in the Amazon jungle without food and water and force them to survive.
I once came too close to overcoming my inherent desire to live. Interestingly, it was the realisation that at any point I could leave society and fend for myself in the wild that prevented me from doing so. It was an empowering thought that put control of my life firmly back in my hands. It made me ask the question, why wouldn't I want to live on my own in the wild? The answers to that question set me on the right path.
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Nombre de messages : 20343
Date d'inscription : 17/05/2007
|Sujet: Re: philosophy : meaning of life Ven 2 Aoû - 10:06|| |
|Sujet: Re: philosophy : meaning of life || |