CURRENT READING – Bryan Magee (final continuation)

In the last five posts, I reviewed Bryan Magee’s final publication, Ultimate Questions, purportedly his only attempt at original philosophy, and a book he hoped might justify his place among the greats such as Locke, Hume, or Kant. Below is a list of the main points I extracted from my reading arranged in logical order rather than in the sequence found in the book.

1.  Reality is only partially accessible and understandable to humans because our sensory apparatus is limited to that necessary for our evolution.

2.   In spite of all humans have learned and will learn in the future, we cannot know or understand everything.

3.   Direct experience of reality is more genuine than concepts related through language.

4.   To the extent we can understanding the nature of things it is found partly within and partly without, thus accessible through philosophy, and art as well as science.

5.   God and religion are unacceptable explanations of the unknown especially since they impede further truth-seeking.

6.   We can be certain of some things, but not know why (e.g we ought not torture children).

7.   For most things, certainty is impossible, so we should remain generally agnostic, and pursue progress in understanding, rather than proof. 

8.   Anything, even things we find inconceivable, may exist.

9.   Morality may be grounded on the inner connectedness of human beings.

10.  We exist involuntarily in a universe that is mysterious to us and the challenge of living is to live out our lives without understanding everything while remaining aware of our ignorance.

11.  Existence and consciousness are miraculous and inexplicable but thrilling.

12.  We can never know the thing-in-itself, thus the empirical world is subjective and while at death it may be we enter the nuomenal world, it is more likely we lapse into nothingness along with our unique empirical world.

Magee’s personal philosophy seems to me a mix of Kantian metaphysics and Kierkegaardian and Heideggerian existentialism. As with the Roman stoics, his thoughts appear not so much original as syncretic. To me, he is, with Mortimer Adler, Will Durant, and Walter Kaufmann, one of the four great 20th century scholar-philosophers who encapsulate and elucidate the thoughts of the greatest philosophers and thinkers of the Western tradition while introducing new perspectives and ideas within the schools they explore. Therein they offer a greatness and originality of a type different from their subjects, but arguably as vital to our modern understanding of the progress of philosophy and its place in our lives.

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CURRENT READING – Bryan Magee (fourth continuation)

In the last four posts I have been reviewing Ultimate Questions, the final book by the British philosopher, Bryan Magee, and today we come to the final chapter, titled Our Predicament Summarized. It begins with the enigma: “I know that I exist, but I do not know what I am. Or rather I do not know what ‘I’ is.”28 Whether we are entirely physical or may have a soul that survives bodily death is unknown as is confirmed by the many variations of religious and philosophical beliefs. This is not because of the nature of our being, he argues, but because of the nature of our knowing. The result is that most of us avoid thinking about the existence of the soul or what happens after death, while others embrace faith – positions Magee believes we should tolerate in others, but which are a detour from the pursuit of truth. Psychological defenses such as these may promote survival and thus trump truth, but he still thinks from time to time we should face these unknowns, because evasion leads to behavior in life that is shallow or perhaps false.

Science can reveal much, but not everything, about reality, especially one’s inner self which cannot be accessed by others for objective study, and yet inner experiences, for example love, are some of the most important we have. Therefore “the understanding of the nature of things lies partially within and partially without”29 hence not only through science, but also philosophy and the arts.  All are however fallible. Finally he arrives at the concept of ‘self’ which he admits we can never fully apprehend, but which he believes exists as proven by our agency, particularly our moral agency.

Despite the futility of a final answers, Magee tells us that philosophy is still worth doing as proven by the amazing insights of our predecessors, for example Locke and Kant. The quality of life is different with this searching. “We may not know where we are, but there is a world of difference between being lost in daylight and being lost in the dark.”30 We cannot simply approach life in hopeless bewilderment and passivity – we must act in the world.

His philosophical approach comes down to the recognition that we can never attain certainty., and thus wishes to be known as an agnostic – in fact ‘the agnostic.’ To him it is better to engage the world provisionally, not dogmatically, always open to revision in the light of experience and criticism. We should live ‘as if’ we can rely on our best existing knowledge, but not consider that knowledge certain. He denies this is relativism as he asserts some views are not as good as others; instead he believes in a progression of truth via criticism and re-evaluation, or more accurately he believes in the pursuit of progress, not the pursuit of proof.  Next time we will conclude our analysis with a summary post; join me then.

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28Magee, Bryan, Ultimate Questions. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2016. ISBN 978-0-691-17812-7, page 105

29Ibid., page 115                    30Ibid., page 121

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CURRENT READING – Bryan Magee (third continuation)

In the last three posts I reviewed the first five chapters of Bryan Magee’s final book, Ultimate Questions. Now I will summarize the sixth chapter called Personal Reflections. It begins with a contrast between language based concepts of reality and direct experience of it. “Uniquely specific, direct, non-linguistic experience is the element in which we live, and it is radically different from conceptual thinking.” 22 Demonstrative examples are music, other arts, and perhaps sexual activity. In a sense language and conceptualization obtrude on direct experience. “Everything that matters most cannot be talked about.” 23 If consciousness transcends the material world, then “the objects of consciousness as we directly experience them, cannot be material.”24 This is corroborated by our sense that relationship with a person is not with a material thing, but seemingly with something ‘inside.’ It is also reflected in Einstein’s “assertion that the fundamental insights from which our scientific understanding of the world derives cannot be reached by logical thinking or by observation, but only be feeling into things (Einfühlung), intuition, acts of creation.”25 In other words, critical thinking alone cannot answer the fundamental questions of life.

For Magee, this explains his attitude of existence as miraculous or unbelievable, and living as thrilling, no matter the conditions. “Existence as such, the fact of there being anything at all, is terminally inexplicable.”26 His wonder extends to the orderliness of existence, the correspondence of our makeup with that of universe’s other structures. “It looks as if something ungraspably colossal is going on that has some kind of cohesion and identity, and is characterized by structures that are intelligible to the human mind.”27 After existence the most marvelous and ineffable thing is consciousness which is not the same as identity as is proven by our going to sleep every night. His individual existence, he admits, is probably not permanent (though it may be), and the thought of permanent oblivion is frightening to Magee. But that fear is lessened by the knowledge of the life already lived and the reduced thrill of living in advanced age. For him the fear of death has given over to grief over the loss of everything.

(fourth continuation next post)

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22Magee, Bryan, Ultimate Questions. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2016. ISBN 978-0-691-17812-7, page 90.

23Ibid., page 92. Reminiscent of Lao Tze’s “the way that can be spoken is not the true way.”

24Ibid., page 93 (author’s italics)       25Ibid., page 96     26Ibid., page 98

27Ibid., page 99

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CURRENT READING – Bryan Magee (further continued)

In the last two posts I reviewed the first three chapters of Bryan Magee’s final book, Ultimate Questions. In the fourth chapter called Can Experience Be Understood?, he restates Kant’s proposition that we can never know a thing-in-itself, only our experience of it.  Because “our conceptions and apprehensions of things are not constituent parts of the things apprehended,”14 it follows “reality is not and cannot be ‘like’ representations and thoughts.”15 The implication of this is that the empirical world is different for everyone and none of us can know what the world is like for another.  Seen reflexively, this means we can never understand the us others experience. By this line of thinking, the ‘empirical world’ is subjective not actual and did not exist before minds and will end when all minds disappear. This is a tricky concept since on initial hearing one is inclined to respond that  the world will be just as it was when we experienced it after there are no minds, but that is a misunderstanding  of the point. And the point is important since one implication is that at death (then mindless), we escape the empirical world and possibly enter the nuomenal world or ‘real reality’ as envisaged by, for example, Plato or religion, though he thinks this is doubtful. On the other hand when we die our unique empirical world comes to an end as well, thus both may lapse into nothingness, though that too is not certain.

In Chapter 5, Where Such Ideas Come From, he indicates his aim in writing the book is to express his thoughts as ‘directly as possible’ on the fundamental human condition, particularly as apprehended in his own existence rather than extracted from his reading of others. His two realizations of ‘bodily existence’ are (1) the contingent truth of the sensory equipment we have and (2) the dependence of  our sensibilities and categories of understanding on that apparatus. Therefore despite the devices we create to augment the senses, there will always be a limit on what we can know and understand. “We cannot get outside our apparatus. In fact, in one sense, we are our apparatus.” 16

At the end of the day, our concept of a thing, e.g. time, is not the reality of it. “In itself reality’s mode of existence must be unintelligible to us. This is so even in regard to our own existence.” 17 This means not only that there is much we can never know, but also that knowing itself is confined by the apparatus at our disposal, all of which is contingent on “the empirical circumstances that brought it about in the process of evolution.”18  It also means that “to conclude that nothing inconceivable can exist is an error,” 19 which also means “Anything else may exist.”20 He uses the example of radio waves; consider the deceptiveness of empirically empty air that contains innumerable radio waves we were unaware of until relatively recently. He concludes, “the most important single truth in philosophy…however difficult it may be for us to grasp, most of reality is unknowable by us and, – because beyond all possibility of apprehension – unconceptualisable.” 21

(third continuation next post)

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14Magee, Bryan, Ultimate Questions. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2016. ISBN 978-0-691-17812-7, page 60.

15Ibid., page 65.                    16Ibid., page 73 .                   17Ibid., page 75.

18Ibid, page 76.                     19Ibid.                                     20Ibid., page 77.

21Ibid., page 85.

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CURRENT READING – Bryan Magee (continued)

Last time I reviewed some background information on the late 20th century British philosopher, Bryan Magee, and reviewed the first chapter of his final book, Ultimate Questions. In the second chapter called Finding Our Bearings, he  begins by addressing the metaphysical argument for fate – that since a statement about future events is either true or false and always was, all events are fated to occur.7 Magee argues this is a confusion of linguistic reference with casual connection.

He notes that besides the future are other aspects of reality “permanently outside the possibility of human apprehension”8 due to limitations of the sensory equipment we possess to assess the world. He offers the analogy of a congenitally blind person who can have no notion of color nor comprehend what we mean when saying we see something. Due to similar but unknowable limitations, we may never be able to explain consciousness, free will, or even ethics, but we are still certain of some truths without knowing why, for example that we should not torture children. In spite of this ignorance, we still ought not try to assemble from what we know the totality of reality nor speculate as for example using God as an explanation for the unknown. The chapter ends with the conclusion that seeking the truth means leaving religion behind.

The third chapter, titled The Human Predicament, begins with existential observations of our involuntary appearance in the world, our ‘primal’ relationship to the universe, and the contrast between our material and our inside subjective sense of self. Like Fichte and Heidegger he accepts the inescapable sense of being a “living-seeing” or a “being-in-the- world.” His original insight is that we do not apprehend other people like we do other objects, but more like we apprehend ourselves. He suggests there is an inexplicable, invisible, immediate connection of our inner beings to those of other people which he calls an ‘inner oneness’ that may be the foundation of morality. But there’s more: “…the notion of inner oneness may possibly contain the key not only to morality, but to the enigma of life itself. According to the theory of evolution, a living individual existence has been passed on unbrokenly, continuous, self-renewing, from the amoeba to everything living today.”9

On morality, he adds “we can never be sure that something is right though we can be sure that something is wrong.”10 He uses two historical examples, first Socrates who said he had an “inner voice that occasionally told him not to do things, but it never told him what to do.”11 This certainty of wrong can lead to a commitment transcending even live and death, as in the case of Socrates who died rather than deny truth or flee the consequences of his denial. The second is Martin Luther who chose to appear at the Diet of Worms at the risk of death due to his beliefs, and offered only, “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me.”12 He ends the chapter again arguing religion is the wrong response to the mystery of existence and inner connectedness, suggesting explanations have a developing history and should not be pre-empted with speculation. In the meantime, regarding the world we live in, “the challenge is to live in it (and die in it) without understanding it, and without closing our eyes to the fact that, whether we like it or not, it is our situation…”13

(further continued)

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7See post on this site titled Fate Part III– The Metaphysical Argument, published 8/12/19.

8Magee, Bryan, Ultimate Questions. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2016. ISBN 978-0-691-17812-7, page 21.

9Ibid., page 47.     10Ibid., page 52.                11,12 Ibid.                 13 Ibid., page 57

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CURRENT READING – Bryan Magee

Ultimate Questions1  by Bryan Magee

 

 “WE HAD NO SAY IN EXISTING – WE WERE NOT GIVEN any choice. We just woke up into the world and found ourselves in it…most of us are in thrall to an instinct for survival that is programmed into us biologically. We are here now, and we want to go on living; so we try to make the best of it.” – Bryan Magee.2

 

 

 

On a recent trip to Boston, I found myself in the Harvard Book Store where I found this jewel of a book by Bryan Magee. I was familiar with Professor Magee (1930-2019) from YouTube searches I did on philosophy in the last four years. He hosted programs on the BBC in the 1970s and 1980s where he discussed and interviewed famous living philosophers on their philosophies or on their understanding of the thoughts of earlier philosophers.  His guests included W. V. Quine, Noam Chomsky,  A.J. Ayer, Hilary Putnam,  and many others and his subjects included Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Marx,  Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Logical Positivism, and so forth. I found his clarifications of even complex philosophical subjects incredibly helpful. I strongly advise my readers to check out his programs – Men of Ideas, Thinking Aloud, and The Great Philosophers – on YouTube.

His obituary available at theguardian.com says he was a visiting professor at Harvard, Yale, Oxford, King’s College among others, published over 20 books, was an authority on Richard Wagner, an erstwhile television and media critic, and twice a member of the British Parliament in addition to his broadcast career. According to Wikipedia, Ultimate Questions was his last book (2016), but in the author’s opinion his only original contribution to philosophy. He was quoted in 2018, then living in a nursing home, that with this book he hoped to approach the originality of Karl Popper, Bertrand Russell, or Einstein “not because I want to be a clever chap but because I want to do things that are at a much better level than I have done them”3 – hard to believe!

The 127 pages that make up the text are divided into seven chapters of 10 to 26 pages each. The first chapter called Space and Time begins  with the simple observation that if we use 100 years as the extreme of age occurring in every era, human civilization is only 60 lives and Jesus is only 20 persons ago. Nonetheless, “each of us has no choice but to live the whole of his life in his own little bit of time.”4 Also “while we are enjoying our moment, our spatial movements are confined to a small space, so our limitations in that dimension too are draconian.”5  He then takes on reality in its totality reminding us that Einstein proved there is no objective now or flow of time, only time sequences, and that even at the speed of light, humans having short lifespans will always be limited to a small area of the cosmos. He reminds us that our apprehension of things is affected by relative sizes, that all beings are temporary rearrangements of subatomic matter that is continuously reshuffled, and that there is far too much in the universe for any of us to know or understand. He states his thesis succinctly: “it is surely clear that reality will never be intellectually mastered by humans.”6

(continued next post)

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1Magee, Bryan, Ultimate Questions. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2016. ISBN 978-0-691-17812-7.

2Ibid., page 33.

3Wikipedia, Bryan Magee.

4Magee, Bryan, Ultimate Questions. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2016. ISBN 978-0-691-17812-7, page 7.

5Ibid., page 8.

6Ibid., page 15.

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CURRENT READING – 1984 (continued)

Last time I introduced the novel 1984 by George Orwell (pen name of Eric Blair) and mused about his innovative words and concepts and made a few allusions to some contemporary analogies. Today I would like to dive deeper into some personal philosophical themes that arose.

The first is privacy and its linkage to freedom. Perhaps being a child of the twentieth century, I see privacy as a personal good (under Security).1 The ancient Greek philosophers saw the quest for fame as futile and ultimately meaningless; the corollary then is that a degree of anonymity is valuable, particularly in larger societies where public recognition may impede freedom in action. The Orwellian vision of zero privacy and the control it entails is a patent evil. It seems to me that similarly social media such as Facebook impose some loss of freedom in exchange for dubious meaning of fabricated celebrity.

The second is truth – seemingly as subjective as beauty when controlled by the Party in 1984, but Orwell in fact poses the question for all of us. Is truth found in documents, newsprint, and on-line media, or in personal experience and memory? We have discussed how cultural reality is the most elusive of all levels of reality2, and I believe Orwell is warning us to verify societal truths with multiple sources of information, one’s memory, and careful reflection. In Winston’s words, “Perhaps a lunatic was simply a minority of one,”3 “Sanity is not statistical,”4 and “The heresy of heresies was common sense.”5 The lesson is clear: independent thinking may be frowned upon, but we have a duty to ourselves to persist in it.

The third theme is suffering. Power for Orwell is the ability to make another person suffer. In the police state, even the higher-ups suffer for the collective power of the Party. Symbolically we must accept that suffering is the price of human existence, one of the fundamental principles of the universe. How we handle our particular suffering is the crux of the issue as so many great thinkers (e.g. Buddha, Jesus, Nietzsche, and Viktor Frankl) have taught us. Transcendence of suffering deprives circumstances of their power over us.

The last theme concerns the correct conduct of life. Within the framework of the police state, Winton’s girlfriend, Julia, creates a space for the life she wants. “Life as she saw it was quite simple. You wanted a good time; ‘they,’ meaning the Party, wanted to stop you having it; you broke the rules as best your could.”6 There can be not doubt – we must each choose our own life, whatever the obstacles; and happiness is ever a goal worth seeking. I would add meaning is also worth seeking whatever the hurdles.

In short, the four most important personal philosophical themes that arose in my mind on contemplating 1984 were privacy’s vital role in personal freedom, the nature of truth (especially societal reality), the meaning of suffering, and the conduct proper to an authentic life. I welcome readers to offer others or a critique of mine.

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2See on this site Cultural Reality on November 21 and 23, 2018 and Current Reading: Fake News on December 14, 2018.

3Orwell, George, 1984. New American Library, New York, 1977. Page 80.

4Ibid., page 217.

5Ibid., page 80.

6Ibid., page 131.

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CURRENT READING – 1984

“Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.” – George Orwell, 1984, Book One, Chapter III.

 

 

 

 

 

Before returning to virtue and the meaningful life, I thought I would write about my latest book finished, George Orwell’s 1984. I missed this book in high school when I was assigned Neville Shute’s excellent On The Beach while other students read 1984, Alas Babylon, or Brave New World. I finally picked up the Signet Classics version with an afterword by Erich Fromm at a local book fair last September. The final impetus to read the book was seeing the last program of Simon Schama’s A History of Britain called The Two Winstons. In that program he weaves the fabric of postmodern Britain by comparing and contrasting Winston Churchill with Eric Blair (pen name George Orwell) whose main character in 1984 is named Winston Smith.

Blair was born in British India in 1903, but schooled at Eton in England. He had mostly unpleasant experience as a policeman in British Burma and as a Loyalist in the Spanish Civil War. He was a socialist, but detested communism and especially Totalitarianism. He also detested dishonesty and cruelty, particularly by government, even when done for presumably good ends. He wrote eight novels although only one other, Animal Farm, is well known, He also wrote his autobiography and several political essays before dying of tuberculosis at the age of forty-six.

The novel can be summarized as one man’s journey and failure to remain free and sane in a future dystopian police state. The book is full of wonderful  made-up terms with poignant meanings, such as Newspeak, doublethink, thoughtcrime, unperson, and blackwhite. Blair invents the speakwrite (voice-recognition dictation), the memory hole (where accurate historical documents are incinerated) and the ubiquitous, dreaded, two way telescreens. Winston lives in a world of Victory Mansions (dilapidated old buildings) and Victory Gin (a horrible-tasting alcoholic beverage). Society is partitioned into 2% Inner Party, about 13% Outer Party (those most to be thought controlled), and 85% Proles (poor, uneducated, and insignificant workers). Party members participate in daily Two Minutes Hate and annual Hate Week. 

Everywhere are oversized pictures of the Stalin-like Big Brother who “is watching you.”  The government consists of four paradoxically-named branches: the Ministry of Truth (which disperses misinformation), the Ministry of Love (which brutally maintains order), the Ministry of Peace (which maintains perpetual war to keep the citizenry poor and distracted), and the Ministry of Plenty (which assures unending poverty and scarcity). Three oxymoronic slogans describe the Party’s philosophy; (1) War is Peace, (2) Freedom is Slavery, and (3) Ignorance is Strength.

Frequent readers of this site will know that in general I avoid social commentary and political philosophy, but one would be hard pressed to read 1984 and not notice some haunting analogies between Orwell’s dystopian world and our own. Instead of the Party we have the tyrannical majority (or is it the loud minority?). Instead of the ‘rectification’ of history, we have the press’s control of its chosen and changing narrative, public ostracism for contrary viewpoints, and disinformation in the form of internet ‘fake news’ and major party propaganda. Instead of telescreens we have pervasive social media, cell phone tracking, and cameras on every corner. I leave the reader to further critique our reality as seen through the lens of 1984.

(continued next post)

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CURRENT READING – ON THE MEANING OF LIFE –  PART II

“How the devil do I know? Has the question itself any meaning?” – George Bernard Shaw (response to Will Durant on the meaning of life).1

 

 

In the last two blogs I introduced a book based on a letter Will Durant sent to prominent individuals seeking solace from the melancholy of the 1930’s and their thoughts on what makes life meaningful. We saw how answers fell into categories of activity in life, domestic affectations, human accomplishments, spirituality, ethics, and Nature. Today we look at the thoughts of Durant himself and a surprising letter he received from a life-term convict.

LETTER TO A SUICIDE

Using this title,  Durant begins, “I suspect there is some ultimate significance to everything, though I know our little minds will never fathom it.”2 The meaning of anything lies in its relation as a part to a whole making it impossible for us, as parts, to understand ultimate meaning. However humanity’s limits in knowing apply equally to optimistic and pessimistic views of meaning. In the face of uncertainty, equanimity comes from healthy skepticism and even a humorous view of scientific, historical, and philosophical pronouncements. We must recognize that men are mortal but are not machines, vices are vestiges of historic virtues, and progress involves setbacks.

He tells us while “life has no meaning outside of its own terrestrial self…within these limits is still much room to find significance for one’s life and a moderate content.”3 The meaning of life must be “sought in life’s own instinctive cravings and natural fulfillments.”4 The simplest of these are joy in the very experience of living itself, the appreciation of beauty, the love of friends and family, and parenthood. In order to give life greater meaning, one must be part of a something larger than oneself, some cause which becomes “a task which consumes all one’s energies and makes human life a little richer than before.”5 He advises us, “a man should have many irons in the fire”6 – don’t tie happiness entirely to a single outlet. And as a last resort there is always the contemplation of Nature herself.

THE PRISONER

The book ends on a response received from Owen C. Middleton, a prisoner serving a life sentence. Despite this grim future, Middleton believes his life can be meaningful – as he says “life is worth just what I am willing to strive to make it worth.”7 Truth is neither ugly nor beautiful, but simply truth; and most ‘truths’ are simply beliefs. “Truth tells us that happiness is a state of mental contentment”8 which can be found anywhere, thus “its logical abode must be within the mind.”9  Beyond this he thinks progress like evolution comes from inventiveness, the world is orderly, and life and the universe are like a river moving invariably forward despite the eddies and currents. No man who chooses to continue living can deny life has meaning even if it is only in the hope of the future.

Middleton closes: “How I play my part is all that concerns me. In the knowledge that I am an inalienable part of this great, wonderful, upward movement called life, and that nothing, neither pestilence, nor physical afflictions, nor depression, nor prison, can take away from me my part, lies my consolation, my inspiration, and my treasure.”10

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1Durant, Will and Middleton, Owen C., On the Meaning of Life. Ray Long & Richard R. Smith, Inc., New York, 1932. Page 107.

2Ibid., page 112.

3Ibid., page 123.

4Ibid., page 124.

5Ibid., page 129.

6Ibid., page 130.

7Ibid., page 138.

8Ibid., page 140.

9Ibid., page 141.

10Ibid., page 144.

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CURRENT READING – ON THE MEANING OF LIFE –  PART I (continued)

Last time I introduced Will Durant’s 1931 book, On The Meaning of Life, by outlining the letter he sent to over 100 prominent individuals seeking a their thoughts on the melancholic view of the meaning of life in the midst of a world-wide depression.

RESPONSES

He does not specify how many responses he received to his letter, but he publishes at least parts of twenty-seven. The categories of perceived meaning in life in order of declining frequency of mention are:

  1. Active function in life – particularly being occupied in something you love, commitment to action or to a cause. As H. L. Mencken tells us, “Life demands to be lived.”2
  2. Domestic affections – family and friends. Gina Lombroso writes, “I think the primordial reason of living is love. Love for the family is the best known and the easiest.”3
  3. Man’s accomplishments – especially knowledge, science, music, and art.
  4. Spirituality with or without religion – or as Gandhi replied, “Religion not in the conventional but in the broadest sense helps me to have a glimpse of the Divine essence.”4
  5. Ethics and morality- or as John Erskine says it, “I believe the divine element in man is whatever it is which makes us wish to lead a life worth remembering, harmless to others, helpful to them, and increasing our own store of wisdom an peace.”5
  6. Nature – expressed beautifully by John Cowper Powys, “The most magical powers, values, sensations of these secrets of life are still to be found in Nature…”6

It is worth noting that several respondents specifically state they see life as meaningful even in the absence of belief in God and immortality. Some also scoff at the question particularly the writers Theodore Dreiser and  George Bernard Shaw and the philosopher Bertrand Russell.

So we see that modern people come to similar answers as the ancient sages: Aristotle (the active life), Christ (the love of others), Epicurus (man’s accomplishments), Hindu wise men ( human spirituality), the Stoics (ethics), the Cynics (Nature), the Skeptics (the absence of an answer). We continue next time with Durant’s thoughts and the thoughts of a life-term convict.

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2Durant, Will and Middleton, Owen C., On the Meaning of Life. Ray Long & Richard R. Smith, Inc., New York, 1932. Page30.

3Ibid., page 96.

4Ibid., page 84.

5Ibid., page 41.

6Ibid., page 44.

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