On the Meaning of Life (Thinking in Action)
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The question 'What is the meaning of life?' is one of the most fascinating, oldest and most difficult questions human beings have ever posed themselves. In an increasingly secularized culture, it remains a question to which we are ineluctably and powerfully drawn.
Drawing skillfully on a wealth of thinkers, writers and scientists from Augustine, Descartes, Freud and Camus, to Spinoza, Pascal, Darwin, and Wittgenstein, On the Meaning of Life breathes new vitality into one of the very biggest questions.
accident or by-product of blind forces, our lives would be seen as having a purpose – that of attuning ourselves to a creative order that is inherently good. Our deepest responses would be seen as pointing us towards such a goal, and our deepest fulﬁlment to be attained in realising it. But of course mere possibility is not enough. De posse ad esse non valet consequentia, says the ancient logical maxim: from the fact that something can be true, it does not follow that it is 63 The Barrier to
Vulnerability and Hope Three The yarns of seamen have a direct simplicity, the whole meaning of which lies within the shell of a cracked nut. But Marlow was not typical (if his propensity to spin yarns be excepted), and to him the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze, in the likeness of one of these misty halos that sometimes are made visible by the spectral illumination of moonshine. 64 On the
On the Meaning of Life 6 a guiding principle since the seventeenth century that such teleology must always eventually be explained in terms of underlying microstructures of an entirely mechanical nature. It is in this sense that the great seventeenth-century philosopher-scientist René Descartes is often said to have banished teleology from science. He envisaged a uniﬁed style of explanation based ultimately on the universal laws of mathematical physics that governed the behaviour of all
and evil. It is to see individual responsibility as the central fact about Meaning, Vulnerability and Hope 91 who we are. It may be quite compatible with this to feel the pull of the other secular moral frameworks (involving goals such as the maximisation of happiness or the development of human excellences);46 but the fundamental meaning of our status as moral agents will be seen in terms of a momentous confrontation with our own freedom, our ability to chart the moral course of our lives.
strange incoherent mindset of the kind philosophers sometimes disparage by using the label ‘mystical’. Rather, he was pointing to something that few humans can honestly deny: our ability, in those lucid moments that Wordsworth called ‘spots of time’,64 to see the world transﬁgured with beauty and meaning. There is a clear and unbroken continuum from our immediate everyday experience of the natural world, through the more reﬂective poetic musings of Blake and Wordsworth, through to the ecstatic