On Who & Why We are
Stanford Commencement Address, text and video in Stanford Report (June 12, 2005).
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It's life's change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now, the new is you. But someday, not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it's quite true. Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.
Man's Search for Meaning (Washington Square Press: 1963), p. 172.
Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.
A. C. Grayling (Walker & Company: March 2011), 608 pages.
Few, if any, thinkers and writers today would have the imagination, the breadth of knowledge, the literary skill, and-yes-the audacity to conceive of a powerful, secular alternative to the Bible. But that is exactly what A.C. Grayling has done by creating a non-religious Bible, drawn from the wealth of secular literature and philosophy in both Western and Eastern traditions, using the same techniques of editing, redaction, and adaptation that produced the holy books of the Judaeo-Christian and Islamic religions. The Good Book consciously takes its design and presentation from the Bible, in its beauty of language and arrangement into short chapters and verses for ease of reading and quotability, offering to the non-religious seeker all the wisdom, insight, solace, inspiration, and perspective of secular humanist traditions that are older, far richer and more various than Christianity. Organized in 12 main sections — Genesis, Histories, Wisdom, The Sages, Parables, Consolations, Lamentations, Proverbs, Songs, Epistles, Acts, and the Good — The Good Book opens with meditations on the origin and progress of the world and human life in it, then devotes attention to the question of how life should be lived, how we relate to one another, and how vicissitudes are to be faced and joys appreciated. Incorporating the writing of Herodotus and Lucretius, Confucius and Mencius, Seneca and Cicero, Montaigne, Bacon, and so many others, The Good Book will fulfill its audacious purpose in every way. ~ Product Description
James Kavanaugh on the Seekers said...
There Are Men Too Gentle to Live Among Wolves (E.P. Dutton: 1970), Introduction.
I am one of the searchers. There are, I believe, millions of us. We are not unhappy, but neither are we really content. We continue to explore life, hoping to uncover its ultimate secret. We continue to explore ourselves, hoping to understand. We like to walk along the beach, we are drawn by the ocean, taken by its power, its unceasing motion, its mystery and unspeakable beauty. We like forests and mountains, deserts and hidden rivers, and the lonely cities as well. Our sadness is as much a part of our lives as is our laughter. To share our sadness with one we love is perhaps as great a joy as we can know — unless it be to share our laughter. ¶ We searchers are ambitious only for life itself, for everything beautiful it can provide. Most of all we love and want to be loved. We want to live in a relationship that will not impede our wandering, nor prevent our search, nor lock us in prison walls; that will take us for what little we have to give. We do not want to prove ourselves to another or compete for love. ¶ For wanderers, dreamers, and lovers, for lonely men and women who dare to ask of life everything good and beautiful. It is for those who are too gentle to live among wolves.
James Miller (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux: Jan 4, 2011), 432 pages.
We all want to know how to live. But before the good life was reduced to ten easy steps or a prescription from the doctor, philosophers offered arresting answers to the most fundamental questions about who we are and what makes for a life worth living. In Examined Lives, James Miller returns to this vibrant tradition with short, lively biographies of twelve famous philosophers. Socrates spent his life examining himself and the assumptions of others. His most famous student, Plato, risked his reputation to tutor a tyrant. Diogenes carried a bright lamp in broad daylight and announced he was “looking for a man.” Aristotle’s alliance with Alexander the Great presaged Seneca’s complex role in the court of the Roman Emperor Nero. Augustine discovered God within himself. Montaigne and Descartes struggled to explore their deepest convictions in eras of murderous religious warfare. Rousseau aspired to a life of perfect virtue. Kant elaborated a new ideal of autonomy. Emerson successfully preached a gospel of self-reliance for the new American nation. And Nietzsche tried “to compose into one and bring together what is fragment and riddle and dreadful chance in man,” before he lapsed into catatonic madness. With a flair for paradox and rich anecdote, Examined Lives is a book that confirms the continuing relevance of philosophy today—and explores the most urgent questions about what it means to live a good life. ~ Synopsis
Religious Literature (Faber & Faber: 1971), p.95.
The mystical conception, fundamental in the great religions of the East, of the soul as imprisoned in matter, and of redemption as salvation and escape from the world of time and the flesh, is incompatible with the sense that all our experience in this world has value and meaning which would seem to inspire the tragic poet... Religions which preach withdrawal from the world of human action, and train the human spirit in detachment from its fellows, teaching it to aspire towards 'the flight of the Alone to the Alone', or to the bliss of Nirvana, put aside the tragic question, and will not inspire artists to find meaning in human life in its short course in this world of illusions.
Faith and Criticism: The Sarum Lectures 1992 (Oxford University Press: 1994), p.49.
I looked at the Gita and was deeply moved, as who could fail to be, but I was not convinced. When it came to the point I found myself quite unable to believe that what happened in the world as the result of my actions was not of ultimate importance. To be sure it mattered little what I, as a single individual, did as the German tanks rolled into France, but what thousands like me did might make a crucial difference to the course of human history. At that moment I discovered myself to be profoundly occidental. ¶ I do not suppose that even now I can render fully explicit what lay behind that conviction, but it had, I believe, something to do with the Christian pattern of Creation and Redemption and a consequent vision of the world as the theatre of irrevocable choices.
Secular Philosophy and the Religious Temperament (Oxford University Press: 2009), pp. 3-4.
Analytic philosophy as a historical movement has not done much to provide an alternative to the consolations of religion. This is sometimes made a cause for reproach, and for unfavorable comparisons with the continental tradition of the twentieth century, which did not shirk that task. That is one of the reasons that continental philosophy has been better received by the general public: It at least tries to provide nourishment for the soul, the job by which philosophy is supposed to earn its keep. ¶ Analytic philosophers usually rebuff the complaint by pointing out that their concerns are continuous with the central occupations of Western philosophy from Parmenides onward: metaphysics, epistemology, logic, and ethical theory. Those topics have been pursued in a great tradition of works that are often technical and difficult, and that are not intended for a broad audience. The aim of that tradition is understanding, not edification.
Susan Wolf (Princeton University Press: March 2010), 160 pages.
Most people, including philosophers, tend to classify human motives as falling into one of two categories: the egoistic or the altruistic, the self-interested or the moral. According to Susan Wolf, however, much of what motivates us does not comfortably fit into this scheme. Often we act neither for our own sake nor out of duty or an impersonal concern for the world. Rather, we act out of love for objects that we rightly perceive as worthy of love--and it is these actions that give meaning to our lives. Wolf makes a compelling case that, along with happiness and morality, this kind of meaningfulness constitutes a distinctive dimension of a good life. Written in a lively and engaging style, and full of provocative examples, Meaning in Life and Why It Matters is a profound and original reflection on a subject of permanent human concern. ~ Product Description
The Myth of Sisyphus, trans. Justin O'Brien (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.: Mar 1991), pp. 6-7.
In a sense, and as in melodrama, killing yourself amounts to confessing. It is confessing that life is too much for you or that you do not understand it. Let's not go too far in such analogies, however, but rather return to everyday words. It is merely confessing that that "is not worth the trouble." Living, naturally, is never easy. You continue making the gestures commanded by existence for many reasons, the first of which is habit. Dying voluntarily implies that you have recognized, even instinctively, the ridiculous character of that habit, the absence of any profound reason for living, the insane character of that daily agitation, and the uselessness of suffering. ¶ What, then, is that incalculable feeling that deprives the mind of the sleep necessary to life? A world that can be explained even with bad reasons is a familiar world. But, on the other hand, in a universe suddenly divested of illusions and lights, man feels an alien, a stranger. His exile is without remedy since he is deprived of the memory of a lost home or the hope of a promised land. This divorce between man and his life, the actor and his setting, is properly the feeling of absurdity.
The Meaning of Life: According to the Great and the Good, Richard Kinnier, Jerry Kernes, and Nancy Tribbensee, eds. (Palazzo Editions: 2007), p. 108.
We are here because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin anatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial creatures; because comets struck the earth and wiped out dinosaurs, thereby giving mammals a chance not otherwise available (so thank your lucky stars in a literal sense); because the earth never froze entirely during an ice age; because a small and tenuous species, arising in Africa a quarter of a million years ago, has managed, so far, to survive by hook and by crook. We may yearn for a "higher" answer — but none exists. This explanation, though superficially troubling, if not terrifying, is ultimately liberating and exhilarating. We cannot read the meaning of life passively in the facts of nature. We must construct these answers for ourselves...
Aldous Huxley on the Darkness said...
Cited in, Os Guiness, Time for Truth (Baker Books: 2002), p. 77.
Man inhabits, for his own convenience, a homemade universe within the greater alien world of external matter and his own irrationality. Out of the illimitable blackness of the world the light of his customary thinking scoops, as it were, a little illuminated cave — a tunnel of brightness, in which, from the brink of consciousness to its death, he lives, moves, and has his being. .... We ignore the outer darkness; or if we cannot ignore it, if it presses too insistently upon us, we disapprove of being afraid.
"Battlestar Galactica Episodes 421-423 Commentary" (March 23, 2009: 1:27:00)
And this is the key moment of the finale, [Baltar] realizing the connections. Baltar is the man who has been thinking about and talking about God from the very beginning. Since the moment that Caprica Six said "God is Love" and Baltar dismissed her belief and mocked her belief. There is a direct connection between that moment and here where Baltar in the finale realizes, truly realizes, there is a different, there is another hand at work here, that there is something else going on, that there is a greater truth, that there is really something to this idea of destiny, that there is really something to this notion that he is a player in a grander play, and that he has to fill that role. I was really intrigued by that and I really wanted that to be a part of what happened at the end...
J.P. Moreland (Harvest House: Jan 1, 2009), 272 pages.
A leading evangelical thinker offers this brand–new way of addressing life’s most important questions: Does God exist, and can we know Him? J.P. Moreland, distinguished professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, abandons traditional didactic apologetics and entices skeptics and dissatisfied believers into a conversation about the emptiness and anxiety so many feel today. He invites them to the abundant life Jesus offers but that so few seem to be experiencing. Moreland shows that people are created by a benevolent God and given a life–enhancing purpose. He empowers readers to... overcome obstacles to faith, including questions about science and religion; embrace an enticing view of Jesus and the kingdom of God; and, replace unhelpful images of God with the truth. Readers will find practical and effective ways to experience intimacy with God, an effective life of prayer, and a confident hope in life after death. ~ Product Description
Terry Eagleton (Oxford University Press: June 2008), 144 pages.
The phrase "the meaning of life" for many seems a quaint notion fit for satirical mauling by Monty Python or Douglas Adams. But in this spirited Very Short Introduction, famed critic Terry Eagleton takes a serious if often amusing look at the question and offers his own surprising answer. Eagleton first examines how centuries of thinkers and writers — from Marx and Schopenhauer to Shakespeare, Sartre, and Beckett — have responded to the ultimate question of meaning. He suggests, however, that it is only in modern times that the question has become problematic. But instead of tackling it head-on, many of us cope with the feelings of meaninglessness in our lives by filling them with everything from football to sex, Kabbala, Scientology, "New Age softheadedness," or fundamentalism. On the other hand, Eagleton notes, many educated people believe that life is an evolutionary accident that has no intrinsic meaning. If our lives have meaning, it is something with which we manage to invest them, not something with which they come ready made. Eagleton probes this view of meaning as a kind of private enterprise, and concludes that it fails to holds up. He argues instead that the meaning of life is not a solution to a problem, but a matter of living in a certain way. It is not metaphysical but ethical. It is not something separate from life, but what makes it worth living — that is, a certain quality, depth, abundance and intensity of life. Here then is a brilliant discussion of the problem of meaning by a leading thinker, who writes with a light and often irreverent touch, but with a very serious end in mind. ~ Product Description
Julian Baggini (Oxford University Press: December 2006), 224 pages.
What is the meaning of life? It is a question that has intrigued the great philosophers — and has been hilariously lampooned by Monty Python. Indeed, the whole idea strikes many of us as vaguely pompous and perhaps more than a little absurd. Is there one profound answer, an ultimate purpose behind human existence? Julian Baggini thinks not. Rather, as Baggini argues in What's It All About, meaning can be found in a variety of ways. He succinctly breaks down six answers people commonly suggest when considering what life is all about—helping others, serving humanity, being happy, becoming successful, enjoying each day as if it were your last, and "freeing your mind." By reducing the vague, mysterious question of "meaning" to a series of more specific (if unmysterious) questions about what gives life purpose and value, he shows that the quest for meaning can be personal, empowering, and uplifting. Illustrating his argument with the thoughts of many of the great philosophers and examples drawn from everyday life, Baggini convincingly shows that the search for meaning is personal and within the power of each of us to find. ~ Product Description
Harry G. Frankfurt (Stanford University Press: September 2006), 136 pages.
Harry G. Frankfurt begins these lectures by asking, "What is it about human beings that makes it possible for us to take ourselves seriously?" Based on the Tanner Lectures in Moral Philosophy, Taking Ourselves Seriously and Getting It Right delves into this provocative and original question. The author maintains that taking ourselves seriously presupposes an inward-directed, reflexive oversight that enables us to focus our attention directly upon ourselves, and "it means that we are not prepared to accept ourselves just as we come. We want our thoughts, our feelings, our choices, and our behavior to make sense. We are not satisfied to think that our ideas are formed haphazardly, or that our actions are driven by transient and opaque impulses or by mindless decisions. We need to direct ourselves — or at any rate to believe that we are directing ourselves — in thoughtful conformity to stable and appropriate norms. We want to get things right." The essays delineate two features that have a critical role to play in this: our rationality, and our ability to love. Frankfurt incisively explores the roles of reason and of love in our active lives, and considers the relation between these two motivating forces of our actions. The argument is that the authority of practical reason is less fundamental than the authority of love. Love, as the author defines it, is a volitional matter, that is, it consists in what we are actually committed to caring about. Frankfurt adds that "The object of love can be almost anything — a life, a quality of experience, a person, a group, a moral ideal, a tradition, whatever." However, these objects and ideals are difficult to comprehend and often in conflict with each other. Moral principles play an important supporting role in this process as they help us develop and elucidate a vision that inspires our love. ~ Product Description
Harold Bloom (Riverhead Books: Oct 2005), 320 pages.
Emulating one of his favorite critics, Dr. Samuel Johnson, Bloom returns once more to sift through the Western canon, this time to discern and describe those writers whose brand of wisdom he holds in highest esteem. Beginning with Job and Ecclesiastes, and ranging from Plato, Homer, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Montaigne, Francis Bacon, Johnson and Goethe to Emerson, Nietzsche, Freud and Proust, Bloom writes gracefully about each as he evaluates by comparison and teases out indicators of their subtle interrelationships. Into this highbrow brew he interjects a personal note, describing how he is writing in the aftermath of life-threatening illness and with a renewed sense of the preciousness of literature's great lessons. At the heart of Bloom's project is the ancient quarrel between "poetry" and "philosophy." In Bloom's opinion, we ought not have to choose between Homer and Plato; we can have both, as long as we recognize that poetry is superior. Bloom considers Cervantes and Shakespeare the masters of wisdom in modern literature, "equals of Ecclesiastes, and the Book of Job, of Homer and Plato." He justifies his tastes with close readings of King Lear and Macbeth that find a Shakespearean variety of nihilism, a form of wisdom Bloom identifies as central to the poetic tradition. ~ Publishers Weekly