Achievements play a key role in many accounts of meaning in life. What characterizes projects that are the best sources of objective worth and meaning? A natural thought is that the achievements that are the most objectively worthwhile and therefore the most significant for meaning are those that accomplish some great good, but John Stuart Mill’s crisis, recounted in his autobiography, casts doubt on this thought: imagining the completion of his life’s goals robs them of their meaningfulness to him. It has been suggested that the most meaningful projects have goals we cannot imagine completing. This chapter gives an account of the structure of the projects that can be the richest source of meaning, and explains why that is so: projects with self-propagating goals involve the pursuit of continued challenge, which activates the value-theoretic principle of recursion, yielding a rich and potentially unending source of value and meaning.
One could hardly describe the philosophical writings of the earlier stages as childish, let alone infantile. But the field of study itself was discernibly immature, and since then there has been notable progress both in the topics addressed and in the manner of treating them. This article divides the history into three phases, characterized by differences in the subject matter most actively discussed. In the first phase, lasting until about 1965, the overwhelming preoccupation was with religious language, especially with the cognitive meaningfulness of such language. In the second phase, lasting through the early 1980s, much effort was focused on what may be termed the “philosophy of theism.” In the most recent period there has been a notable diversification, and the field now embraces a greater variety of topics than at any previous time.
David B. Burrell
The works of Plato and of Aristotle were made available to the Islamic people by virtue of Syriac translators from Greek into Arabic. Aristotle's Metaphysic offered the paradigm for carrying out philosophy to al-Farabi's successor, Avicenna (980–1037). His al-Shifa adapted the cosmological scheme of al-Farabi, whereby the planetary spheres transmit the primary causal influence of the One successively to the earth. Moses Maimonides (113–-1204) lived all of his life in the Islamicate, which is the linguistic and cultural world of Islam, coming eventually to serve as court physician for Saladin in Foster, the modern Cairo. He composed works of philosophy in Judaeo Arabic, the most significant of which is the Guide of the Perplexed, addressed to his student, Joseph. It was quickly translated into Hebrew, coming to Aquinas's attention in Latin translation. Avicenna had tried to reconcile Qur'anic assertions about creation with a pre-existent (and eternal) matter because he could see no other place to locate the possibility that what came to be would come to be. Aquinas was able to offer a coherent characterization of the act of creation without pretending to have described it. Existence (esse), understood as actuality, becomes the vehicle for articulating God's transcendence, as well as what links created things with their creator.
This article considers the following medieval philosophers—Philoponus, Anselm, Maimonides, Aquinas, and Scotus—all supposedly to have produced arguments that deserve the label “medieval arguments for the existence of God.” The first part of the discussion considers arguments for the existence of God in the works of these medieval philosophers, in the writings of Craig, Robert Maydole, Robert Koons, David Oderberg, and O'Connor. The next part turns to some more general reflections on the role of argument and proof in medieval thought about the existence of God.
Brandon C. Look
This chapter critically discusses Leibniz’s arguments for the existence of God. It explores Leibniz’s improvements on the traditional ontological arguments of Anselm and Descartes, as well as his version of the cosmological argument and his argument from eternal truths. It is suggested that, while Leibniz’s arguments are unlikely to move a hardened atheist, they do offer important insights about the status of the existence predicate, the nature of modality, and the nature of mathematical knowledge.
When Aristotle speaks of theologikê, he means not the study of a single God, but the study of gods and divine things in general. He never uses the phrase “the unmoved mover” to pick out just one being (or even to pick out the many movers of the heavenly spheres), and that phrase would not express the essence of the beings it applies to. To see what sort of religious interest there might be in such a being, and how the words “god” and “divine” enter into Aristotle's philosophy, it is best to start with what he says about gods and divine things in moral and political contexts. Guided by his criticisms of Plato on the soul's self-motion, Aristotle sets out, in Physics VIII, to give a revised version of Plato's cosmotheological argument in Laws X. This article focuses on Aristotle's theology and his views about gods, the soul, the cosmos, heavens and heavenly bodies, and the first principle or first cause.
Erik J. Wielenberg
This chapter takes the case of Sisyphus as a springboard for an examination of meaning in human life under the assumptions that there is no God, there are no non-physicals souls, there is no afterlife, reincarnation never occurs, and each human being’s death marks the permanent end of his or her actions and experiences. Different types of meaning that a life might have are distinguished, most importantly intrinsic meaning and extrinsic meaning, and various sources of meaning in life in a godless universe are identified. These include love, flow, identifying with or working toward something larger than oneself, responding to unavoidable suffering in a certain way, and contributing to social or individual harmony. Following that, some prominent arguments for the view that atheism implies that all human lives are meaningless are critically examined. The conclusion of that discussion is that the claim that atheism entails meaninglessness is implausible.
Thomas Aquinas integrated the newly translated philosophical source that is Greek, Arabic, and Jewish authors into a unique synthesis with his own Christian tradition efficiently. The most prominent and certainly one of the most influential, among Aquinas's Latin-Christian authors of reference was Augustine of Hippo (354–430). The North African bishop had a significant influence on intellectual discussion at the end of the twelfth and during the thirteenth centuries. Aquinas follows Augustine in theological matters such as Trinitarian theology, and the questions of divine providence and grace. Aquinas accepted Augustine's doctrines on causality and exemplarism but he clearly rejected some of his metaphysical teachings, and a series of claims concerning theory of knowledge and psychology, namely the role of the ‘seminal reasons’ and of divine illumination. Aquinas placed the issue in the larger setting of different philosophical options, such as Augustine vs. Aristotle, Arabic philosophy vs. the ‘genuine’ peripatetic tradition, and Platonism vs. Aristotelianism. Aquinas's second commentary (Paris 1259) is dedicated to the short tract De hebdomadibus, in which Boethius set out to analyze the goodness of substances. Boethius coined some very influential ontological key notions, in particular the distinction between id quod est and esse. Aquinas paid a good deal of attention to this distinction, interpreting Boethius's id quod est as ens, which is one who participates in the act of being (actus essendi), whereas being itself (ipsum esse) is defined as that which does not participate in anything else.
Al P. Martinich
In Leviathan, Hobbes holds that prospective subjects authorize a sovereign to represent them. Alienation of some rights to the sovereign typically follows upon authorization of him, and representatives are persons. Although this view sounds straightforward, the exact nature of authorization, representation, and personhood has been greatly debated. I will argue first that Hobbes’s best account of the origin of sovereignty (by institution) is the one given in chapter 21 of Leviathan, according to which authorization of the sovereign does not itself involve any alienation of rights, and, second, that the primary political relation of representation is between the sovereign, who is an artificial person, and each individual subject.
This chapter suggests that there are three kinds of meaning: Everyday, Cosmic, and Ultimate. Everyday meaning refers to the value and significance in our everyday lives, including values such as beauty, morality, and truth, and the significance of engagement with them. Cosmic meaning refers to our meaningful role in the cosmos: to the significance and value of our cosmic niche, to the purposes of the cosmos and our place in it. Ultimate meaning is the end-regarding justifying reason, the valued end, or the point of leading a life at all. It is here argued that procreating can be a deep source of Everyday meaning, and perhaps Cosmic meaning. But nothing can provide us with Ultimate meaning. The implications this may have for procreative ethics is considered.
Nancey Murphy and Jeffrey P. Schloss
This article tries to deal with the issues of biology versus religion. This relates to a conflict between evolutionary and biblical accounts of Earth's history. The most important area involves the question of a transcendent. The second involves the almost universally affirmed but differently joined religious responses to the human suffering. The third area of intersection between evolutionary and religious understandings of human nature involves the biblical notion of human uniqueness. All religions entail some notion of transcendent purpose or sacred meaning. There are developments in biology with important implications for religion because of the vast increase in knowledge of the workings of the brain. This does not prove the nonexistence of the soul, but suggests that the concept of soul as an explanatory construct has outlived its usefulness. This also plays a valuable role in ethics. Biology will prove to be a help in this case.
P. M. S. Hacker
To investigate whether cognitive neuroscience can actually illuminate the meaning of life, the notions of finding meaning in life and living a meaningful life are first explained. The limits of the explanatory potentialities of cognitive neuroscience are then explored. It is then argued that, contrary to the view of Paul Thagard, explaining what constitutes a meaningful life and why it does so lie beyond the purview of cognitive neuroscience. To suppose that there could be a natural science of meaning in life is a form of scientism, that is, an extension of scientific methods beyond their proper domain of application.
Hobbes was an unusual Christian, and one that recognized the potential power of the Christian story to strengthen (as well as to undermine) commonwealths. This chapter discusses the account of Christianity found in Leviathan, which was designed to replace contemporary versions with one that would promote stability and obedience within the state. Hobbes’s religious ideas, like his political philosophy, began from his understanding of human beings; he insisted that religious belief was natural to humans, stemmed from anxiety, and needed to be coordinated by a sovereign to prevent strife. For Hobbes, Christianity was a particularly effective remedy for such anxiety, at least when interpreted along correct (i.e., Hobbesian) lines. The theology developed by Hobbes was original, but it probably drew on ideas circulating among his Anglican acquaintances; indeed in Leviathan we see these ideas being used for a very different purpose. As Hobbes’s acquaintances realized, at the center of Hobbes’s project in Leviathan lay an extremely heterodox theology which could enhance the state while destroying the independent authority of the Church.
The author of this chapter critically discusses views about what at least analytic philosophers have in mind when reflecting on what makes life meaningful. He first demonstrates that there has been a standard view of that, according to which meaningfulness involves the actions of persons, ones that exhibit a high desirability characteristically present in ‘the good, the true, and the beautiful’ and absent from the cases of Sisyphus or the Experience Machine. Then, he addresses five recent challenges to the standard view. He concludes that the standard view should be revised to accommodate judgements that animal lives can exhibit a limited meaning, groups of human persons can exhibit substantial meaning, and there is a difference between mundane and great meaning possible in the life of a person. However, he resists radical suggestions that meaningfulness never inheres in people’s actions, but only in information, or that it need not be positive, but can be negative.
This article examines the three ways in which God was conceptualized by leading philosophers in early modern Europe. Gottfried Leibniz and Nicholas Malebranche's rationalist God was conceived as an analogy with a rational human being whose actions are explained by their purposes. René Descartes and Antoine Arnauld's voluntarist God was conceived Antoine Arnauld. Baruch Spinoza equated God with an eternally existing, infinite nature.
The term continental philosophy is not much used on the European continent. In the English-speaking world it is used to signify thinkers, texts, and traditions from the European continent, especially France and Germany, from German idealism to the present; and the work of Anglophone thinkers primarily engaged in the critical analysis and creative development of those thinkers, texts, and traditions. The term regularly implies a contrast with “analytic philosophy,” a widely used if not very precise name for the dominant form(s) of Anglo-American philosophy, whose provenance is, for the most part and not surprisingly, Anglo-American. There is no continental equivalent to the analytic philosophy of religion industry, with a large number of practitioners and a standard list of topics to be discussed. One will look in vain for much discussion of the proofs for the existence of God, the problem of evil as a counterproof, the divine attributes, the evidential value of religious experience, and so forth.
Alexander R. Pruss and Richard M. Gale
Unlike the ontological argument, which appeals only to highly sophisticated philosophers who delight in highly abstract deductive reasoning, cosmological and design arguments figure prominently in the argumentative support that everyday working theists give for their faith. The reason for this broad pastoral appeal is that these arguments begin with commonplace facts about the world and then, by appeal to principles that look plausible, establish the existence of a being who, while not shown to have all of God's essential properties, properties that God must have to exist, is at least a close cousin of the God of traditional Western theism. This article begins with a preliminary botanization of these arguments, indicating their similarities and differences, and then discusses each of them separately, giving prominence to the many different forms they take. Each of the two arguments begins with a contingent existential fact.
Lynne Rudder Baker
Death comes to all creatures, but human beings are unique in realizing that they will die. Hence, they are unique in being able to consider the possibility of life after death. Ideas of an afterlife of one sort or another have been promulgated by all manner of cultures and religions. For ancient peoples, the afterlife was a realm of vastly diminished existence populated by shades, ghostly counterparts of bodies. Ancient Indians and Egyptians before 2000
Stuart J. Youngner
Two factors, medical science's growing control over the timing of death and the increasingly desperate need for organs, have led to a reopening of the debate about the definition of death and have forced a consideration of aspects of the determination of death that had never been addressed before. Without the pressing need for organs, the definition of death would have remained on the back shelf, the conversation of a few interested philosophers or theologians. This article examines some new questions raised by medical technology and the frantic search for new, morally acceptable sources of human organs over the past thirty years. This examination concludes that death itself is a social construct and that, in a pluralistic society such as ours, a conclusive definition of death or determination of the moment of death is out of the reach of both medical science and philosophy.
This chapter sketches a desire-based theory of meaning in life. The main thesis in question is that things that give meaning to a person’s life are things which the person desires intrinsically, even at the price of giving up considerable pleasure or taking on considerable displeasure. Such a view would encounter opposition from those who, like Susan Wolf, take meaning in life to involve not just being ‘attracted’ to something, but rather being ‘attracted’ to something which is objectively valuable. Replies are provided to this objection, taking on such examples as Wolf’s goldfish lover and Rawls’s grass counter. Finally, ways are discussed in which, given the view in question, it can be hard to find meaning in life—not only because one can’t always get what one wants, but also because one often does not know what one wants.