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Intro to the Meaning of Life PHIL105 – T3, 2011 Lecture 5.

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1 Intro to the Meaning of Life PHIL105 – T3, 2011 Lecture 5

2 Nagel (1937) on the Absurd Human existence is absurd But let’s face it with irony (not angsty heroism or despair)

3 ‘Absurd’ in the Ordinary Sense A noticeable difference between what someone intends or claims and reality

4 Absurd to Philosophers The dramatic difference between: –O–Our (internal) perception of the significance of our lives –T–The objective (external) perception of the significance of our lives It’s absurd because, from the external view, our lives have only a tiny fraction of the significance that we feel and act as though it has

5 Our Significance from Inside Events are only significant if they are likely to or actually do significantly affect us –T–The universe revolves around us We are all like this to some extent, but some people don’t realise that this is the same for other people! –Y–You may know people like this

6 Our Significance from the Outside 1 We are completely insignificant to % of what exists –W–When heat death kills the universe, our plans seem beyond insignificant –H–How big are we? (Not very big) –H–How long do we live compared to the universe? (Not very long) Nagel thinks these arguments are misleading (justifications end OK)

7 Our Significance from the Outside 2 Even if we do have free will, so many of our ‘choices’ are still the result of our prior causes –W–Why will most of you vote for the same political party that your parents do? –W–Where did you get your very cool “individual” ideas from?

8 Skepticism & the Absurd We can’t be sure that we’re not dreaming etc. And yet we carry on caring It’s like taking a cheating spouse back!??!?!

9 The Human Condition Also known as the Human Situation From the inside, our significance is paramount From the outside, our significance is basically none-existent The Human Condition is being aware of the absurd contradiction between these two points Humans are thought to be unique in their ability to be aware of this situation

10 Which Story is True? From the inside, our significance is paramount From the outside, our significance is basically none-existent So, which one of these ‘stories’ is true? Probably both

11 Nagel’s Answer If ‘nothing matters’, then it’s also true that it doesn’t matter that nothing matters So, don’t despair And don’t fight it Just go along for the ride, have a cosmic giggle when you get a parking ticket, enjoy the irony

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

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

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

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

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

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

18 The Sweetest Honey… “[T]he love of family” “and of authorship” …Isn’t Sweet Enough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

33 Read for Next Time Taylor, Richard (2000). The Meaning of Life, in E.D. Klemke (ed.), The Meaning of Life, 2 nd edition, pp New York: Oxford University Press. Schlick, Moritz (1988). On the Meaning of Life, in Hanfling, Oswald (ed.), Life and Meaning, pp New York: Basil Blackwell.

34 More on the Meaning of Life PHIL105 – T3, 2011 Lecture 6

35 What Does it all Mean? What is the meaning of life? Purpose, point, reason for, etc? Why this and not something else? Why is my existence meaningful? What should I be doing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

51 The Moral of Taylor’s Story: Whatever your dreams and goals are – you should live them as only you can… like this guy

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

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

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

55 The MoL: Warm up Think seriously about how you would answer this question: –What would you tell a child if you could tell them just one thing and they would take it on board? Turn to your neighbour and tell them what your answer was

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

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

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

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

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

61 But, Pleasure from Achieving Goals is Not Enough Pleasure from achievement of goals is a state that is good in itself… But the striving for this pleasure (which is inevitably attached) is not Aiming at this kind of state is to join Schopenhauer’s dull and painful voyage from one ‘satisfaction’ to the next… until we die!

62 Schlick: The MoL is Play “to find a meaning in [life] we must seek for activities which carry their own purpose and value within them, independently of any… goals” –I.e. activities that are “not work” “play… is the name for free, purposeless action, … [play] carries its purpose within itself” “the meaning of existence is revealed only in play”

63 Err… What about War ‘n’ Stuff? Surely we need work to prevent the suffering of the less fortunate… and ourselves!? Schlick: Play can also be work

64 Schlick: Creative Play – The Future’s Life Philosophy In the future we will need to play creatively in order to survive Creative play is play that produces something good or useful We’ll need more than the play/work of artists – we’ll need people to ‘play’ farmers and parents and doctors

65 Stop all “Evil” Work Evil work (no e.g. given) is “mechanical, brutalizing, degrading” and it “produce[s] only trash and empty luxury”

66 So, Live the Life of Animals!?! They sure seem to live in the moment! Schlick: they feel pleasure & pain, but they lack our superior consciousness

67 Schlick: We are “supremely self- conscious being[s]” “[Our] joy in the moment will not be blind and bestial, but bathed in the clearest light of consciousness.”

68 We Don’t Have Our Heads in the Sand! Of course we see possible consequences of our actions… “but no specific goal stands there as an end to be necessarily attained” Of course we set little goals in order to play, but they are fine

69 Live the Life of Youth “the meaning of [life] is concentrated and collected… into a few short hours of deep, serene joy, into hours of play” “these hours crowd thickest in youth” Youth doesn’t care about purposes Youth really refers to anyone enthusiastic about activities for their own sake

70 Summary of Schlick There is no reason to think that the meaning of life only comes after you are dead or when you get older Goals/purposes/work only lead to boredom and frustration tMoL is Play/the spirit of youth ‘Play’ is activities done for their own sake – for the joy they bring The spirit of youth is enthusiasm about activities for their own sake

71 How to Answer the Question Be clear about what you are asking! Try to give a single answer that all people (& maybe animals) can use. “tMoL is what each of us chooses it to be” could be a bad answer –This would mean we couldn’t be wrong about the meaningfulness of our lives –E.g. A depressed man could claim that tMoL is to be depressed, making his life meaningful! –E.g. Or a Nobel-winning all-round nice gal might think that her life was meaningless – necessarily making it so!

72 Summary of Questions Nagel: How can we deal with the Absurd? Tolstoy: How can my finite (destructible) existence be meaningful in this infinite universe? Taylor: How can we make our lives subjectively meaningful? Schlick: What gives our lives meaning or value?

73 Summary of Answers Nagel: Ironically Tolstoy: Faith in religion reveals the meaning and purpose of life – live according to God’s law Taylor: Live in accordance with your nature - use your will to make plans that are significant to you Schlick: Be like a youth and play – enthusiastically do things for their own sake

74 A Religious Clean Sweep? Irony, faith, plans, play If you have ironic faith in and enjoy your religion and plan to continue doing so, then you achieve all 3 of these! ‘Ironic faith’ because it’s hard to know if you have the right religion Not clear if ‘ironic faith’ is enough like ‘faith’ to help Tolstoy

75 What if Life is Meaningless? If you believe that life is ultimately meaningless, don’t do anything rash… Watch a child play, see how they can find joy in nearly anything The fact that your experiences feel real to you is enough to give your life significance & meaning to you at least And the same is true of others as well So, make some plans, do something fun, or do something for someone else and then see if life feels meaningless


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