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Matt Nelson

But 1 it is not at all clear that there is or even can be some form of eternal afterlife that involves the survival of the personal ego.


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If the eternal afterlife has a predetermined purpose, again, we do not know what this purpose is and, whatever it is, we would much rather be free to determine our own purpose or purposes, which we can just as well do in this life. I do not personally believe that the brevity or finiteness of human life lends it shape or meaning, and rather suspect that this is just another ego defense against death. However, that is quite another debate and I shall put it to one side. The real point here is that whether or not God exists, whether or not God has a purpose for us, and whether or not there is an afterlife, we should strive to give meaning to our lives.

For unless we can be free to determine our own purpose or purposes, our life may, at worse, have no purpose at all, and, at best, only some unfathomable pre-determined purpose that is not of our choosing. Congratulations, Neel, on a great article. This is the best presentation yet of how much better off we are without thrashing around after THE meaning of life, as if each person's uniqueness didn't matter.

People who do believe in God can tell you what our purpose is First of all great information and presentation by matching the "meaning" and the "interperatation" of life. It got me thinking about even if we had a purpose in life what is the point in having eternal life after death.

Very interesting thank you. Neel Burton, M. Back Psychology Today. Back Find a Therapist. Back Get Help. Back Magazine.

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The Meaning of Moses' Life: An Analytic and Comparative-Philosophical Perspective

But, as an experiment, I tried tripping more than is expected — 20 per cent. That was something I tried based on her book and I actually quite enjoyed the experience.

I think happiness is certainly important to people, but I see it as an effect, rather than as a prime goal. There are people whose lives are extremely meaningful, even though they may be short on happiness. Consider, for example, people who are really struggling with a difficult situation — an example I use is a single parent with a disabled child. This is someone whose life is clearly very difficult, and there may be limitations on happiness. On the other hand there are ways of getting happiness that are really quite trivial. Someone could be perfectly happy just watching bad television while taking drugs.

On the other hand, when people are satisfying what are really human needs, then happiness usually comes along with it. So then the question becomes: what are human needs? Here, like Flanagan, I take a naturalistic approach. Obviously, you have biological needs like food and water and shelter and healthcare. I like this book because it raises the question of why universities no longer spend much time addressing questions like the meaning of life. The author is a professor of law at Yale University and has been involved in educational planning there.

He talks about the shift of the way that universities or colleges have viewed their educational function in the last years. In both the United States and England, if you go far back enough, colleges were essentially religious institutions. They assumed that a big part of what they did was the ethical and religious training of the students who went there. These used to be taken as central questions. Important works of literature can address issues about meaning and not just the most philosophical ones such as Dostoevsky.

Lots of different works, from Shakespeare to contemporary novelists, are at least indirectly addressing questions about how people can and do and should lead their lives. But the people who are teaching at universities dodge these questions in favour of questions that are not only more secular, but also more narrow and more technical. Literature departments are more interested in French philosophers than in talking about what novelists, or playwrights or poets were getting at, which was often addressing key issues about life.

The book ends with an appendix where he describes the kind of curriculum they put together for a directed studies programme at Yale. I think the humanities and the social sciences can do a much better job of addressing the sorts of questions that most young people naturally have in a very formative part of their lives.

The meaning of life: Albert Camus on faith, suicide, and absurdity

But an awful lot of the theory, if you can call it that, that operates in those areas is really abysmal. A lot of the theory as far as evidence goes is no better than self-help books: people just make things up.


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  • Does he have a good summary for us? A lot of what he emphasises — like everybody else who is sensible — has to do with social relationships, as an integral part of meaning for all well-adjusted people. But he certainly allows for variation. Five Books aims to keep its book recommendations and interviews up to date. If you are the interviewee and would like to update your choice of books or even just what you say about them please email us at editor fivebooks.

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    Five Books interviews are expensive to produce. If you've enjoyed this interview, please support us by donating a small amount. In , he was the recipient of the Killam Prize. Paul runs the blog Hot Thought at Psychology Today. If we look at the history of humanity as a whole, existentialism was brought to the forefront very recently. For centuries, it was generally accepted that everyone alive on earth had some sort of inherent purpose granted to them by god, or the universe, or whatever.

    This theory was known as essentialism. The idea that we all had an essence that we had to abide by in order to live a good life, and that this was granted to us before we were even born. Then it came to the 19th and 20th centuries, when the fundamental ideals by which mankind had lived for thousands of years were chewed up and spat out by a plethora of new thinkers and philosophers.

    Among them were some big names like Friedrich Nietzsche, Albert Camus, and Martin Heidegger , who brought forward the philosophies of nihilism, absurdism, and called into question the very essence of being itself. Nihilism proposes that life has no meaning whatsoever, no matter what we do, and there is no way we can change that fact. So we may as well just do nothing, or engage in a purely hedonistic lifestyle.

    These ideas were later finalised by Jean Paul Sartre in the 20th century, and thus the ultimate philosophy for life was created, existentialism. Existentialism states that our lives have no inherent meaning or purpose, but rather it is the purpose we create for our lives that gives them a sense of meaning. This essentially gives us ultimate freedom to live our lives in any way we desire, as there is no moral code present in the universe by which to abide, we have complete control over what we decide to do. I believe people should take this as a positive point rather than a negative one.

    Yes, life is meaningless , but why should that be a bad thing. Once we accept this as a fact, we can live our lives freely, doing what we enjoy, so far as our society allows us.