So as I adjust to a very diminished work load, and actually have some time to tend to various obligations that have been put off for some months, I have recently begun my study of “life’s meaning” in earnest. Of course I am a fan of Kierkegaard, but I decided to go with some modern analytic works on the subject before the heavy weight continental philosophy found in Kierkegaard’s Postscripts. I have been reading a volume by E.D. Klemke and Steven M. Cahn titled “The Meaning of Life: A Reader.” Loaned to me by my professor, I expected to draw great insight from his prior familiarity with the book.
Below is the conversation that ensued as I attempted to gain some clarity on a few things. I find his remarks rather humorous for their very prominent lack of revelation. Thank the Grand Architect that his lectures are more substantive than this. (Admittedly, he did say that he was listening to Skrillex at the time, so clearly his mind was not tuned in to the deeper frequencies of the universe.)
My comments are in normal type, the Professor’s are in bold.
Ok so here are my thoughts about the Taylor piece… (Richard Taylor, The Meaning of Life)
– I wonder how and why Taylor is able to say that Sisyphus’ suffering – as he aimlessly and eternally labors – is not appalling. It seems that the suffering is very literally insult to injury, and seems pointless if the punishment is merely to remove any and all meaning from his life. In essence, it is merely the gods being petty and spiteful. However, I agree that out of the two options, I suppose I might rather suffer intensely for a shorter period than not suffer, but endure a life void of any meaning at all for all eternity. So I guess if it’s his aim to demonstrate that, then I suppose I get it.
It depends both on his attitude to his task, as well as what exactly the task is. You could think of the endless work as completing a series of tasks, and then the life could have meaning.
– The perverse mercy: I have drawn a great many parallels to this very analogy, namely in the use of our reason. If our reason is not to be trusted, or if our sciences bring us no closer to truth, or if all philosophy is ignorant because God has hidden the nature of the universe from our abilities, then we are, as Taylor says, living a profoundly meaningless life. Every riddle we solve, and essay we read are the sad repetitions of a vapid existence. And this point of view also seems to eliminate our will; we toil not under our own impetus; we were set in motion to do this, but it just so happens that our nature was designed to unceasingly labor for reasons that we could never properly elucidate. It seems, then, that the only way to regain control of your life is through denying the plan assigned to it; to cast off the shackles of some dominating force that wishes only to witness your futile and self-destructive endeavors, as a bee slamming into the wall of a glass until it dies. Abide not that evil being’s desire, and deprive him of the privilege of watching you suffer. I know, just words of bravado unless one has the bravery to commit to such an act.
– Meaningful activity comes from direction and purpose: If there is no culmination, then what is the point? There is no purpose or direction if there is no goal to attain.
Taylor agrees with this, right?
Like studying philosophy of science, it is said that we are not moving any closer to the truth, but only moving further away from ignorance. I’m not sure how much comfort we (those more thoughtfully inclined) are supposed to take away from this line of reasoning. Additionally, philosophy of religion seems equally indeterminate because God has gone to great lengths to hide himself from us. I suppose that, like the quest for truth, we succeed only at some more trivial goal, in this case, discoveries about ourselves as opposed to God.
– Religion and other ideas are artifices meant to give life meaning: Well, yeah. Didn’t Jung say “If God did not exist, it would have been necessary to invite him…?”
Religion may be thought of as another project from which people find meaning.
– His ending thoughts = What’s important is the act of building, not what is built. Here’s what I say, “Meh.” It’s that old cliche about life not being about the destination, but about the ride. I’m not sure how I feel about that. It seems as though one could and should be allowed to build his temple, complete it, enjoy it, and when he is good and ready, pick up his trowel and begin again on a new, more grand temple. Why that’s not introduced as a possibility seems a little strange, and I rather like that idea. More so than rolling rocks with no aim, or building a temple and being bored once it’s done.
Well, presumably building just anything won’t result in meaning. But lots of projects will result in meaning. This is especially so if you have the right attitude towards them.
So there it is. I hope you found it as amusing as I did. Oh! And if any of you have read the Taylor piece, please, please, PLEASE post something below that can help me take away anything meaningful out of it.
A more exhaustive treatment on the Klemke volume is forthcoming, but my travel plans for the summer are, thus far, proving rather prohibitive in spending much time on writing.
Yours in Contemplation,