The Meaning of Life (Gen Ed 1163)




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Matthias Risse

Many of us have good reasons for doing this or that, choosing this path over another, etc. But is there a point, is there significance to your life as a whole? That is the question about the “meaning of life.” Though the question is notoriously hard to make precise, it has animated much literature and art, and also much philosophy. Some philosophers have provided disheartening answers: life is suffering, and then it ends; life is absurd, and never gains any meaning; life is all about creating hell for each other, and we cannot escape. But others have provided more uplifting answers to support the quest for personal significance. Both kinds of answers deserve scrutiny, and doing such scrutiny should help you think about your life as a whole in rigorous ways as part of your education. After reviewing several pessimistic and more optimistic approaches to the meaning of life we turn to the subject of death. We all die eventually. We normally encounter death among family and friends before we must deal with our own. These themes too are the subject of philosophical reflection. We finish up with a recent discussion of the importance of the survival of humanity in the future for the meaning of individual lives now. This class is wide-ranging, and integrates historical figures, references to art and literature as well as science as appropriate. But these themes are integrated only because they speak to how you may want to think about your life. 

See also: Ethics & Civics