CURRENT READING – HAPPINESS AND MEANING

“Self-interest is but the survival of the animal in us. Humanity only begins for man with self-surrender.” – Henri Frederick Amiel, 19th century Swiss philosopher.

In the continuing search for the definitive philosophical library, I have come across some remarkable books, but one of the most unusual was an unopened cellophane–wrapped textbook, with the intriguing title, Philosophical Problems. It is rare for me to purchase a book without at least looking through the table of contents, but I could not pass this one up because of its pristine condition and because on the front it says “instructor’s use only” and on the back it says “NOT FOR SALE.” That made me wonder what secrets it might contain, and I won’t deny I hesitated to open its packaging for several years. When I finally opened it, I found it really was simply an anthology, albeit of some truly great philosophical essays, with frequent teacher annotations. I suppose “NOT FOR SALE” meant not for sale to students, though this seems silly – what harm is done by giving students help in understanding complicated philosophical theses; and why should college professors require such help – seems oxymoronic to me.

Be that as it may, the 86 essays are superbly chosen. Examples include some of our old friends – Aquinas’ The Five Ways from Summa Theologica, William James’ The Will to Believe, selections from Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, and portions of John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice. But there are also many less familiar works such as Thomas Reid’s Direct Realism, Thomas Nagel’s What It Is Like to Be a Bat, and Robert Nozich’s The Experience Machine.

However, the most compelling one for me was Happiness and Meaning: Two Aspects of the Good Life1 by Susan Wolf examining the relationship of happiness and meaning, what I identify as the summum bonum, to the good life.2 Wolf’s essay is complex, so I can only incompletely address her main insights. Her launching point for the discussion is the concept of self-interest, i.e. motivation by what is good for or minimizes bad for oneself. Her general thesis is that meaningfulness is an important element of a good life, hence ‘enlightened self-interest’ entails securing meaning in one’s life.

She starts with Derek Parfit’s theories of motivations of self-interest; (1) Hedonistic – felt quality of one’s experience, (2) Preference – good as our wants (e.g. posthumous fame), and (3) Objective List – items valued for neither positive experience nor mere preference, but as good in themselves. Her argument is that meaningfulness is of the last type. She then defines  a meaningful life as one with active engagement in worthwhile projects, where active means excited or gripped involvement (as opposed to boredom or alienation) and worthwhile implies at least partial independence of subjective preferences.

(continued next post)

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THE MEANING OF LIFE – POST-SCRIPT TO INTRODUCTION

“The point of looking at the history of philosophy lies in the recognition that most questions have been asked before, and that some intelligent answers to them have been given in the past.” – Bertrand Russell, Wisdom of the West.

 

 

 

 

We have at last come to the focal point of this site’s mission – using the wisdom of the great thinkers to guide one’s life; specifically a life that meets the dual goals of happiness and meaning. I thought I would offer the history of how I came to the approach that follows. Starting over in middle age forced me to rethink the path I had taken – career, family, accumulation of wealth and friends, and what amounted to the hope for fortuitous fulfillment and meaning.

I could not risk that my second and likely last opportunity to find fulfillment and meaning would occur by chance. However, my search for practical guidance proved fruitless, so I resorted to the slow, but rewarding, process of reading the great thinkers of human history to uncover a basic framework of Eudaimonia or a flourishing life. After a few years of reading, I began to see a pattern; the incredibly complex teaching of the great philosophers and spiritual teachers could be distilled into four basic principles that lead  to human happiness. Here is a brief review of what I found.

Socrates, the Greek stoics, Confucius, Kant, and others place the greatest emphasis on virtue. Consider Democritus who once said, “Even if you are alone, neither say nor do anything bad; learn to feel shame before yourself rather than before others.”  Epicurus, the Hindus, the Buddha, and others seek mainly contentment, not pleasure or  elation,  but freedom from pain, tranquility and satisfaction – a state called Ataraxia by the ancient Greeks. Others such as Aristotle, the Roman stoics, and the philosophes find the greatest value in purpose. For example, Lucian tells us, “Pursue one end alone – how you may do what your hands find to do, go your way with never a passion and always a smile.” Last, and perhaps most frequently, thinkers such as Plato, Lao Tze, Aquinas, Spinoza, and Tillich focus on ultimate reality – the Forms of Ideas for Plato, the Tao for Lao Tzu, God for Aquinas and Spinoza, and Being for Tillich.

Interestingly each thinker, despite honing in on one of the four components, usually ties in the other three in seeking the ideal life. In summary the interlocking puzzle pieces of the summum bonum – happiness and meaning – are Virtue, Contentment, Purpose, and Ultimate Reality. In the next four sections I will expand on this basic framework  while forging them into a unified whole. We will begin with virtue next time.

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THE MEANING OF LIFE – SYNOPSIS OF INTRODUCTORY ESSAYS

“I have one life and one chance to make it count for something…My faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can, for as long as I can with whatever I have to try to make a difference.” – Jimmy Carter.

 

In 21 of the last 23 blogs, we looked at the question of whether it is reasonable for us to expect life to be meaningful. Our analysis has looked at whether the question makes linguistic sense or should be reformulated, what defines meaning and what criteria apply to make life meaningful, the relevance of a deity to the question, the challenge of nihilism, and a systematic argument in favor of our lives as having the potential to be meaningful. We even considered whether we should want life to be meaningful.

Our conclusions were that most of us will decide that grammatically the question is meaningful or can be rephrased as a cogent inquiry, that human life meets all requirements of definition and possibly all the criteria of valid significance, that the existence of God is not essential or perhaps relevant, and that nihilism can be discredited. As for appeal, a meaningful life seems to be highly desirable even if having a grand purpose may be unattractive because it constrains other features of happiness.

The most difficult facet of the question comes down to whether any person can have objective cosmic or eternal significance. I have offered transcendental possibilities such as (1) life as infinite present moments and continuance within the phenomenal experience of being, (2) human perpetuity within the universe via persistence of mental energies, the chain of causation we initiate, and participation in space-time, (3) our unique participation in the two eternal aspects of the universe – the indestructibility of the subatomic particles that compose us and our knowledge of the sempiternity of the universe as a whole, and (4) our unique participation in the two poles of being – nothingness and ultimate being – the existential summit within the universe.1

At the end of the day, the desire for a more tangible cosmic meaning derives from our egocentric nature, itself biologically derived from the instinct for survival in a self-conscious creature. This expectation is a mere illusion; logic informs us that no one entity in the universe has that kind of cosmic significance. Wisdom includes distinguishing the value of oneself as an individual from immature self-importance and the desire for egomaniacal impact on the world. The meaning of one life is exactly that and nothing more; it cannot and should not rival the meaning of the cosmos.

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1See post on this website, Human Mortality – Conclusions, date 7/5/2019.

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THE MEANING OF LIFE – A SYSTEMATIC ARGUMENT – PART II (continued)

Having addressed human life as meaningful from the defining characteristics of the word ‘meaning,’ we now collate human life with the criteria for significance.

Magnitude – the requirement of sufficient importance or depth – likely is the criteria most skeptics would argue is not met by  human life. But magnitude is relative, even subjective. One’s belief in the impact one has on others and on humanity seems sufficient for the attribution of ‘meaningful’; while if appears entirely arbitrary for someone else to discount that meaning. In any case, it seems preposterous  to say no human life  had sufficient effects to be meaningful – consider Jesus, Buddha, Confucius, Aristotle, Martin Luther, Da Vinci, Galileo, Darwin, Lincoln, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, and many more.  While a bit more subtle, human contemplation of the universe, being, nothingness, infinity, and ultimate reality expand the magnitude of our existence in ways unavailable to other entities in the world.

Duration – the hope of enduring achievement or life – is another criteria skeptics question relative to humankind. Perhaps the existence of 7 billion humans on the planet makes our particular role in continuation of the species appear trivial. However on careful consideration, we see the possibility of the number of our descendants, for example two children who each have two children sequentially leads to 1000 individuals with some of our genes after 10 generations (about 300 years), about 1,000,000 individuals after 20 generations (about the year 2600), and 1,000,000,000 individuals after 30 generations. Meanwhile our actions and impacts on others directly and indirectly are magnified immeasurably over the infinite future. Each interaction with another person influences them, however slightly, in ways that influence others living and as yet unborn. More sublime is the infinite duration time imposes on existent beings, including us, in the countless moments that compose a lifetime, and the permanence of the space-time continuum.

Possibility – reasonable opportunity to achieve meaning – is perhaps the most easily defensible. Since magnitude is subjective and we can itemize historical persons who achieved meaning in their lives, it stands that this applies to most able-bodied, mentally sound people. Only the severely impaired can rationally doubt the possibility of a meaningful life, for the rest of us it is merely a question of whether we succeed or not.

Desirability of one’s actions – for oneself and for others or the greater whole – is not assured, but clearly rests on choices made out of wisdom and deliberation. In general ethical behavior, the pursuit of the good, and resistance to evil are the means to meet this criteria of a meaningful life.

Understanding  – the recognition of one’s own meaning – is dependent only on one’s effort to decipher reality, display virtue, and analyze the results. At the end of the day, a thoughtful person with a meaningful life should recognize that fact. The examination of one’s life and environment is the means to achieve the highest level of certainty of one’s meaning.

In summary, in some way, even if not immediately known to us, most able-bodied humans can meet all of the defining characteristics of a meaningful being and can with effort meet the criteria of a highly significant life. In fact,to our knowledge, human life best meets these defining features and offers the greatest opportunity for meaning compared to any entity known to us other than perhaps the universe itself of God should He exist.

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THE MEANING OF LIFE – A SYSTEMATIC ARGUMENT – PART II

” ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, ‘it means just what I chose it to mean – neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many things.’

‘The question is said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master – that’s all.’ ”

– Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass.

 

In the first part, we reviewed defining characteristics of meaning and criteria for a life to be meaningful. Today we will see how well human life fits both.

Function or role for us permeates every aspect of our lives. A child’s role is to continue the genetic line of the parent, enhance the happiness of family and friends, and mature into an adult. The adult has many roles as a member of a family and community, and perhaps as a spouse and a parent. An adult with an occupation or cause clearly fills a function, however small, in the structure of a society.

Value – independent worth, merit, or instrumentality – applies to humans as well. In addition to roles described above, we serve instrumentally as continuation of our species which required nearly 14 billion years of development of (by?) the universe. Here the issue is less about meeting the requirement of valuable than choosing actions of sufficient value to the universe and humanity that exceed those detrimental to them – i.e. ethical conduct and being a proponent of good.

Viability is unfortunately not automatic; some humans are impaired, diseased, have too short a life span or are otherwise unable to attain consequence. While some solace may be possible in these unfortunate cases, it is noteworthy that this is a tiny minority of people and almost certainly will not apply any readers.

Justification –the balance of value against cost – is possible for all of us, but requires thoughtful action. None of us should choose a life where our external value is outweighed by our negatives. As Muhammad Ali once said. “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”

Intention – an explicit or implicit aim by the originator of a thing – may be difficult to demonstrate in the case of homo sapiens. If there is a traditional God, most will agree we were created intentionally. The question is whether God is required. I would argue that our very existence is evidence of an implicit ‘intention’ of the universe. In earlier blogs I concluded that all things in the universe develop via emergence through complexity and this serves as cosmic ‘intention’. I have also argued that the universe, whether appearing spontaneously or eternal, could not have been otherwise, i.e. all discussion of an ‘alternative’ to this universe is pure speculation.

Individual human relevance to some external entity or absolute standard appears, in the cosmic sense, to be assured by either the interest of a deity of by virtue of the course of the universe. There is also our ability to contemplate ultimate reality that ties our finitude to the infinite. Alternatively, tangible external relevance is confirmed by the significance each of us has in the lives of our family, friends, and community, and through the interest of the whole of humanity.

(continued next post)

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THE MEANING OF LIFE – A SYSTEMATIC ARGUMENT – PART I 

“What man seeks to the point of anguish, in his gods, in his art, in his science, is meaning. He cannot bear the void. He pours meaning on events like salt on his food.” – Francois Jacob, Nobel Prize winner in Medicine, 1965.

 

Having responded to the arguments against the meaning of life – linguistic objections, reliance on deity, and the threat of nihilism – I will now attempt to outline a systematic argument (admittedly not meeting the requirements of a logical proof) that human life can be meaningful without resorting to self-deception. I would like to interlace the defining features of the word ‘meaning’ listed in an earlier post, Teleology – Criteria of Meaning (1/17/2020)  with the criteria for a significant life listed in the more recent post The Meaning of Life – Criteria  (9/16/2020 and 9/18/2020).

In the former, I proposed six characteristics which define something as having meaning: function, value, viability, justification, intention (by an agent), and external or absolute relevance. By function I mean a role or purpose, such as the kidney functioning to clean the blood of toxic substances. Value is independent worth or merit or instrumentality such as a college education with its tangible and intangible benefits. Viability refers to the implicit assumption that its referent has the ability to fulfill its role. Justification imposes a balance of value against cost; a contrary example being a bridge across a river without connecting roads or paths. Intention is an explicit or implicit aim by the originator of a thing. Relevance to some external entity or absolute standard requires significance outside the thing itself. Ideally human life will have all of these characteristics.

The criteria of significance when applied to human life are magnitude, duration, possibility, desirability, and understanding. Magnitude refers to the idea that for anything to contribute to the meaning of life, it must be of sufficient importance or depth: trivial purpose undermines meaning and suggests absurdity. Human meaning increases in light of an adequate scale of the effects of one’s living. Duration refers to the hope of more enduring achievement. Possibility means that whatever significance human life could have must be consistent with human abilities and limitations. Desirability means the existence and actions of a being are desirable not only for that being, but for others or the greater whole. Understanding means that a being’s actions and their effects are recognized as such by that being. Again, ideally human life will meet all of these criteria.

It is worth noting that there is some overlap here, but in the next post I hope to demonstrate that human life meets the definition and criteria for the qualification of ‘meaningful.’

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TAKING STOCK – TWO YEARS OF PHILOSOPHICALGUIDANCE.COM

“I am writing for myself and strangers. This is the only way that I can do it.” – Gertrude Stein, The Making of Americans.

 

 

This week marks the second anniversary of the first post on this site. I thought it would be a good time to take stock of my progress. The attentive reader knows that for the most part the 309 blogs are not random essays, but an unfolding philosophy book intended to methodically examine the relevant elements of the field of philosophy for designing a meaningful life. Today I would like to outline the path I have been following to offer context for new and erstwhile readers.

After a few introductory posts on defining philosophy and the site’s mission, I jumped into the Big Picture – the reduction of practical philosophy into its two major divisions:

[1] The nature of reality (9 posts from 11/9/18-12/3/18), and

[2] Ethics (13 posts from 12/5/18-1/4/19).

In that analysis we found that reality and ethics are manifest at five levels or tiers, each of which requires reflection in fashioning a flourishing life. These are the foundation this project.

We next took on eight special topics essential to expanding our understanding of reality and ethics that form the brick and mortar of our construction:

[1] Good and evil (10 posts from 1/6/19 -2/6/19),

[2] The question of God (19 posts from 2/8/19- 3/27/19),

[3] Body and soul (15 posts from 4/3/19 – 5/6/19),

[4] Death and immortality (24 posts from 5/13/9- 7/5/19),

[5] Free will, fate, and human destiny (42 posts from 7/17/19 – 10/23/19),

[6] Teleology (40 posts from 11/11/19 – 1/31/20),

[7] Suffering (40 posts from 2/10/20 – 5/11/20; including 7 on the COVID-19 pandemic).

[8] Certainty (38 posts from 5/18/20 – 8/14/20), and

[9] Introduction to the Meaning of Life (18 posts from 9/2/20 -10/12/20 and ongoing).

Conclusions on the big picture and the eight special topics were included in 5 review posts (8/17/20 – 8/28/20) prior to the section in progress.

Along the way, I stopped to blog on some of my current reading:

[1] Fake News (12/12 and 12/14/19),

[2] The Philosopher’s Magazine (1/11/19),

[3] Before the Big Bang (2/27 and 3/1/19),

[4] We Are Not Alone (3/29 and 4/1/19),

[5] Is Life Worth Living? (5/8 and 5/10/19),

[6] God and Physics (7/8 and 7/10/19),

[7] Revolutionary Deism (7/12 and 7/14/19),

[8] Does God Exist? (10/28 and 10/30/19),

[9] African Philosophy (2/3, 2/5, and 2/7/20),

[10] Finding Wisdom (5/12 and 5/15/20), and

[11] Who is a meaning of life for? (8/31/20).

It was a pleasure in the last post to welcome my first guest blogger, Barry Zern, who presented an alternative view on God (10/14/20). I thank him for his contribution and would be happy to receive others from readers.

Over the last two years, the site had 2,454 visits by 1,990 different users from 102 different countries on six continents. The majority (64.9%) of users came from a search engine (94.3% Google; 3.3% Bing; 1.6% Yahoo, and 0.5% Ecosia ) while 31.1 % came directly to the site and 4% from a social media referral (91.3% Facebook). The most visited page was The Summum Bonum (post on 1/23/19 and Appendix Table 2 and Diagram 1). The most visited current reading was We Are Not Alone.

The book is currently about three quarters complete (although the posts are probably more accurately viewed as a second draft rather than final, and provide detail and length exceeding that permitted for a modern publication).

From here that I will finish the introductory section on The Meaning of Life and then discuss the four components and their integration. I hope to end on how various traditions and individuals encapsulate this format and try to synthesize the ideal approach, at least for myself: an ongoing, public, individual search for enlightenment.

I hope this quick review helps summarize the composition of the site and helps those who wish to return to past sections in their own journey. It remains my passionate goal to present a system of practical philosophical guidance that, to my knowledge, is unavailable in modern form.

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Guest Blog: GOD, ORGANISM, AND PURPOSE – by Barry Zern*

Plato in his cosmology sees the universe as being organismic, that is as a living being, rather than as matter.  Alfred North Whitehead adopted a similar position in the twentieth century, describing the world, including matter, in terms of the relationships organisms have.  By adopting an organismic view of reality the nature of God may change from something more theistic towards something closer to pantheistic, but much of the impact on our lives remains.

Traditional western religion and thought has seen God as all powerful and often transcendent to the world.  There is certainly no reason why many of the attributes of a God would not be consistent with an organismic universe.  The concept of God when seen in organismic terms, that is as the unification of the cosmic will and consciousness with the cosmos may be seen more clearly as limited in its considerable power.

The cosmic force, that is God, is not omniscient.  From its perspective the future holds potentialities, and therefore probabilities for future events.  This is in agreement with quantum theory.  The cosmic force evolves with the world.  It is the recipient of these probabilities rather than their initiator.  The cosmic force is never fully realized.  That would be a lesser state of being for it than with a future of options.  In the present the cosmic consciousness is all knowing of everything past and present.

There is a relationship between the cosmic unity and mortal organisms, a nexus between the two.  There is more reason to believe that the nature of the eternal universal organism, the cosmic unity, is consistent with and similar to mortal microscale organisms than not.  From this perspective we can examine certain aspects of the cosmic force and mortal organisms and how they relate to each other.

Existence is the primary statement of what an infinite reality implies, and survival follows from existence as the purpose of life.   In fact existence is the only purpose that can follow from an infinite reality and therefore survival must become the driver of life, ultimately determining what is internalized as good.  Spinoza follows a similar line of reasoning that the innate purpose of everything in the universe is to “persist,” including both organisms and matter in each of their separate ways.

All organisms have the ability to survive to varying degrees based on their development.  Their survival is based on the nature of the threats they face.  Their survival as individual organisms becomes a part of the enduring nature of the cosmic unity.

Survival is the guiding principle for activity of all organisms.  More highly developed organisms will adopt better behaviors to promote survival.  These behaviors become codified and, internalized.  Organisms increase their survival by developing more and better ways to respond to different situations.  This increased complexity is a byproduct of the organism’s increased ability to survive because it can respond to a greater variety of situations.  We refer to the process of increasing complexity as evolution.  God, as part of the cosmic unity evolves with this evolution.

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*Author Bio: Barry’s background includes studying philosophy at the University of Maine.  Metaphysics has been his avocation his entire life, especially the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead. He tells us he has spent most of his life trying to make sense of this reality we find ourselves in.  Professionally he was a financial analyst and economist as well as a business executive, and is currently retired.  He is married and has two children.

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THE MEANING OF LIFE – NIHILISM – PART III

We ended last time with Nietzsche’s negative critique of Western philosophy and Christianity and his concerns with late 19th century European nihilism. Nietzsche foresaw that any solution required delineation of a new system of metaphysics and ethics founded on modern truth, not ancient myth and error. Unfortunately he failed to complete work on his system prior to his mental incapacitation from tertiary syphilis, so we must assemble one from the major ideas he developed in his existent works.

Nietzsche’s Metaphysics

Reality consists of an undirected universe, materially finite, but eternal. It has no final goal, but is a ‘monster of energy,’7 ever-changing, creative and destructive. There is no God and no soul, and therefore no divine law, absolute morality, heaven, or afterlife. However, since the universe works with a finite number of particles for an infinite amount of time, the current reality will recur exactly as it is now an infinite number of times meaning each of us must endure our life over and over – a principle he calls Eternal Recurrence.

Science offers objective truth; but subjective truth, particularly of the philosopher is greater. “The value of an idea has greater significance than the truth of the idea.”8 Truth is in effect what promotes health defined as the strength and preservation of the individual. Objective truth functions only as a means to that end.

The will is neither free nor unfree, but weak or strong. Human strength of will he calls the will to power; not power over others, but rather power over oneself as self-control and artistic and philosophical ability.

Nietzsche’s Ethics

For Nietzsche, the good is natural life and strength of will. He rejects the four traditional forms of ethics – (1) Christian morality, which diminishes earthly life and traditional strength, (2) secular values – mere abstractions presuming equality of human will, (3) herd values, the errors of common men absent of individuality, and (4) philosophical ethics based on the deception of absolutes. In their place he encourages positive values developed through individual strength of will and directed at transformation and heroic greatness – the synthesis or evolution of the uberman of superman.

For Nietzsche this translates into simple and surprisingly tame principles, for example: (1) Be yourself, (2) Live life fully, (3) Free yourself from belief in God, (4) Have a generous spirit, (5) Take joy in suffering; life is worth it. He urges us to embrace existence for its own sake. One’s fate is in one’s own hands; expect no help from another, particularly a deity. Life is tragic; this is the lesson of the pre-Socratic Greeks in their culture of Dionysus – the impulse to life of joys and pains. “Life at bottom is indestructibly powerful and pleasurable.”9

Nietzche and the Meaning of Life

In conclusion, we see that Nietzsche considers and rejects nihilism. He suggests we maximize our strength of will and live a life we want to live in every detail “again and again in all eternity.”10 He promotes the “greatest elevation of man’s consciousness of strength as that which creates superman.”11 Ultimately he offers a metaphysical rationale and ethical framework to find meaning, but leaves its final form to us.

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1Mann, Heinrich, The Living Thoughts of Nietzsche. David McKay Company, Philadelphia, 1939. Page 21.

2Ibid., page 54.

3Ibid.

4Ibid., page 68.

5Ibid., page 111.

6]’Ibid.

7Ibid. page 150.

8 Magill, Frank. Masterpieces of World Philosophy. HarperCollins Publishers.  1990. ISBN 0-06-270051-0. Page 697.

9 Mann, Heinrich, The Living Thoughts of Nietzsche. David McKay Company, Philadelphia, 1939. Page 134.

10Ibid., page 148.

11Ibid., page 149.

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THE MEANING OF LIFE – NIHILISM – PART III

‘What do I matter?’ is written over the door of the thinker of the future.” – Friedrich Nietzsche.

 

 

The last three posts looked at the threat nihilism poses to the meaning of life and a response to its key arguments. Today we rehearse the evolution of a nihilistic viewpoint and subsequent reversion to meaning in the example of Friedrich Nietzsche.

Nietzsche was the son of a Lutheran pastor and reports that he had “seen God in His glory when he was twelve.”1 As an adult he abandoned Christianity in keeping with his era as science became absolute and expected to produce a new system of metaphysics. But his turn on Christianity may have also resulted from his observation that persons of his day including scientists still embraced Christianity though only in a lukewarm fashion.*

Nietzsche began by embracing Schopenhauer’s pessimistic concept of human suffering as the result of the ever-striving will which drives humans and all entities in the universe. In addition, his classical studies brought him to two startling discoveries. First, the heroic age of Greece and metaphysics of continual change in the universe advanced by Heraclitus were undone by Greek philosophers starting with Socrates who sought morality and absolute truth in “the weirdest equation ever”, that is, “Reason = Virtue = Happiness.”3 Second, Christianity’s truths – “the lie of the belief in God”4 and the inversion of morality from strength and dominance of the aristocrats (Classical Greece and Rome) to the slave morality of goodness as meekness and humility – had emasculated European civilization.

Nietzsche came to see that the European nihilism of his time as the direct result of atheism and the eradication of previous Christian morals. “The recoil –stroke of ‘God is Truth’ in the fanatical Belief is: ‘All is false.’ ”5 Doubt in morality is the decisive factor in nihilism, because the downfall of the moral interpretation of the universe leads to the thought: “Nothing has any purpose.”6 He sees the consequence of this nihilism in Nationalism, Anarchy, the general good as exacting the surrender of the individual, and the psychological pain of futility, personal feelings of worthlessness, and eventually self-annihilation. Perhaps no other philosopher has seen more clearly or expressed more eloquently the causes and threat of nihilism.

(continued next post)

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*This is reminiscent of the observations of Kierkegaard in Denmark a few decades earlier.

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