Presentation on theme: "Is Life Meaningless? Jean Kazez Philosophy Department, SMU."— Presentation transcript:
Is Life Meaningless? Jean Kazez Philosophy Department, SMU
Prelude A few words about solidarity vs. agreement
Alex Rosenberg’s cheerful nihilism Is he right that life is meaningless?? Professor of Philosophy, Duke University
Background The debate about God and the meaning of life
An existential crisis Everything comes to an end … my life is meaningless … I may as well be dead! Tolstoy, age 51, 1879
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)
Why no aboutness? Rosenberg’s argument why aboutness doesn’t exist
Aboutness is unreal because 1) Paris too diffuse—what are the boundaries? 2)Neurons too simple— even sea slugs, rats, frogs have them; just “circuitry”.
Aboutness is unreal because 3) Piling up doesn’t help— “Piling up a lot of neural circuits that are not about anything at all can’t turn them into a thought about stuff out there in the world.” Rosenberg, p. 184
Why should atheists pay attention? SCIENTISM* – “The physical facts fix all of the facts.” What “floats” free of physical facts is unreal, illusory. NO GOD NO ABOUTNESS * Not a dirty word in Rosenberg’s view
2. Agree, but secretly Vote for me, even though I think God doesn’t exist, life is meaningless, and nobody has thoughts about anything.
3. Dismiss Rosenberg’s view as “self-defeating” I am not thinking about anything or talking about anything!
4. Reject scientism Come to atheism by another route—e.g. argument from evil Say there are genuine facts that float free of physical facts. Accept aboutness as “floater”
5. Rebut his arguments HE SAIDLIKE SAYING “Piling up a lot of neural circuits that are not about anything at all can’t turn them into a thought about stuff out there in the world.” Rosenberg, p. 184 Piling up a lot of atoms that aren’t conscious can’t make me conscious.
6. Explain how aboutness arises from physical facts
How can there be aboutness in physical world? hard question, piles of literature
Fly detector A fly-detector has physical states ABOUT flies.
1) Love “Love saves us … from squandering our lives in vacuous activity that is fundamentally pointless” “Love makes it possible … for us to engage wholeheartedly in activity that is meaningful” -- Harry Frankfurt, The Reasons of Love
2) Objective attractiveness “Meaning arises from loving objects worthy of love and engaging with them in a positive way.” “Meaning arises when subjective attraction meets objective attractiveness.” -- Susan Wolf, Meaning in Life and Why it Matters (2010)
2) Objective attractiveness An activity is objectively attractive when— A.Benefit is not received only by me— but shared by others too B.Benefit is not seen only by me— but real, factual Susan Wolf, Meaning in Life and Why it Matters (2010)
3) A meaningful life Not just lots of different meaningful activities, but goals that give shape to life as a whole
What is meaningless? (some examples from online life) Checking email and Twitter endlessly (you don’t love it) Malicious online bullying (not objectively attractive) Endless chatter at blogs (gives no shape to life)
What adds meaning to our lives? Three examples 1) Raising children 2) Working for social justice 3) Skilled X-ing
Had all the elements of meaning but didn’t know it Blinded by … religion? Sexism? ∞
Bibliography Alex Rosenberg, The Atheist’s Guide to Life: Enjoying Life without Illusions Jean Kazez, Review of Rosenberg in Free Inquiry (August/September 2012) Leo Tolstoy, A Confession Harry Frankfurt, The Reasons of Love Susan Wolf, Meaning in Life and Why it Matters Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy – look up Intentionality; Causal theories of mental content Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains Links at my blog—kazez.blogspot.com