The Tree of (the Good) Life Relativism Absolutism Inflexible One-size-fits-all Virtue+ Simple Happiness View Desire View Objective List Views Cultural Relativism Extreme Relativism Virtue Where does Nietzsche fit in?
Tolstoy’s crisis Is my life meaningful or meaningless? Tolstoy, age 51, 1879 Is my life good or bad?
The Meaning of Life 1.Life is meaningless, and that’s terrible 2.Life is meaningful because of God 3.Life is meaningless, and that’s just fine 4.Life is meaningful without God
Tolstoy’s Conversion “As I looked around at people, at humanity as a whole, I saw that they lived and affirmed that they knew the meaning of life.” Tolstoy, A Confession (1879)
Tolstoy on the necessity of faith “… only in faith can we find the meaning and possibility of life.” Faith gives “an infinite meaning to the finite existence of man; a meaning that is not destroyed by suffering, deprivation or death. Tolstoy, A Confession (1879)
Richard Taylor 1.Life is meaningless, and that’s terrible 2.Life is meaningful because of God 3.Life is meaningless, and that’s just fine 4.Life is meaningful without God
The Myth of Sisyphus The gods punished Sisyphus for stealing their secrets by forcing him to push a giant boulder up a hill forever. Over and over again it rolled back down, and he was forced to start all over again.
This is objectively meaningless... Taylor says...
Why? Taylor’s definition: a meaningful activity/life has some significant and lasting result.
The Myth of Sisyphus (Taylor’s revision #1)... and then the gods took pity on Sisyphus, and injected a drug into his veins so that he would desire his endless labors.
I love pushing! OBJECTIVELY MEANINGLESS BUT SUBJECTIVELY MEANINGFUL
The Myth of Sisyphus (Revision #2)... and then the gods took pity on Sisyphus, and allowed him to build a permanent castle on top of the hill, making his activity objectively meaningful. Taylor: Boring!
Revision #1 I love pushing! OBJECTIVELY MEANINGLESS BUT SUBJECTIVELY MEANINGFUL AND NOTHING COULD BE BETTER
What does any of this have to do with our lives?
(1) Objective meaninglessness in real life ugly worms migrating birds busy street country road
Richard Taylor, “The Meaning of Life” “On a country road one sometimes comes upon the ruined hulks of a house and once extensive buildings, all in collapse and spread over with weeds. A curious eye can in imagination reconstruct from what is left a once warm and thriving life, filled with purpose. There was the hearth, where a family once talked, sang, and made plans; there were the rooms, where people loved, and babes were born to a rejoicing mother; there are the musty remains of a sofa, infested with bugs, once bought at a dear price to enhance an ever-growing comfort, beauty, and warmth. Every small piece of junk fills the mind with what once, not long ago, was utterly real, with children’s voices, plans made, and enterprises embarked upon.”
Can objective meaninglessness be avoided? heaven (think Tolstoy) Platonic forms earthly ideals such as universal justice and brotherhood
(2) Subjective meaningfulness in real life “our deep interest in what we find ourselves doing” back to the ruined house— “the day was sufficient unto itself”
Richard Taylor, “The Meaning of Life” “The things to which they bent their backs day after day, reallizing one by one their ephemeral plans, were precisely the things in which their wills were deeply involved, precisely the things in which their interests lay, and there was no need then to ask questions... the day was sufficient to itself, and so was the life.”
Revision #1 = Us! I love pushing! OBJECTIVELY MEANINGLESS BUT SUBJECTIVELY MEANINGFUL AND NOTHING COULD BE BETTER
Taylor: We should be satisfied with living lives that are (1) objectively meaningless (2) subjectively meaningful Last two paragraphs
What do you think? 1.Is life really objectively meaningless? 2.Does Taylor define “meaningful” correctly? 3.Is it “enough” for life to be subjectively meaningful?
Next: is it enough to just want to do whatever we do in life? Harry Frankfurt The Reasons of Love
Main ideas 1.We have lots of wants/desires 2.Wanting/desiring vs. caring/loving – not just a question of intensity (p. 11) not just a question of recognizing intrinsic value (p. 13, ice cream) 3.Caring = a) desiring + b) wanting to desire + c) identifying with desire (p. 16) 4.Caring gives us “as much freedom as it is reasonable for us to desire” (p. 20)
Main ideas (con’t) 5.Caring (not just wanting) determines how we should live (p. 23) 6.Do we care about the right things? No way to answer. (p. 24) can’t assign relative weights to goods on list (p. 24) circularity problem (p. 26) can’t persuade someone to care with reasons (p. 26) should give up “pan-rationalist fantasy” (p. 28) not having reasons doesn’t produce uncertainty (p. 29)
Taylor vs. Frankfurt I want to push! [first order desire] I want to push! [first order desire] I want to want to push [second order desire, i.e. caring] I want to want to push [second order desire, i.e. caring]
Which is right? 1.Only desiring matters (Taylor) – that makes life subjectively meaningful, and that’s enough 2.Desiring and caring matter (Frankfurt) 3.Desiring and caring, and having good reasons for desiring and caring matter (Wolf, next week)