The Meaning of Life

by Luke Muehlhauser on August 4, 2009 in Reviews

I’m blogging my way through Sense and Goodness Without God, Richard Carrier’s handy worldview-in-a-box for atheists. (See the post index for all sections.) In my previous post, I wrote about the evidence for mind-body physicalism. In this post, I discuss Carrier’ section on The Meaning of Life.

Is life meaningless because it is only temporary? It’s hard to see why. A celebration or an accomplishment is not meaningless simply because it is temporary. Is life meaningless unless it is created for a specific purpose? If so, then believers must think God’s life is meaningless.

Let me paraphrase Carrier: “Just as theists think God’s desires give God himself and the universe value, so naturalists think that our desires give us and the universe value.”

But Carrier has more specific ideas:

…the meaning of life is a healthy mind in a healthy body, pursuing and manifesting what it can most deeply love: the creation of good works, the society of good people, in a well-tended world.

Carrier thinks that love is the foundation of all meaning, though I think it is clearer to say that desire is the foundation of all meaning.

“What is worth loving?” Carrier asks. He answers:

The potential of humanity, the power of reason, the comfort of another’s love, the pursuit of knowledge and truth, the beauty and joy of human experience, the nearly unlimited power of the human will to endure almost any hardship or solve almost any problem.

Now, it is very unclear to me what kind of “meaning” Carrier defends, and why his specific list is superior to other imaginable lists. Does he argue that these things have intrinsic meaning, and that other things (that might appear on other people’s lists) do not? Or does he mean that whatever is meaningful to you is meaningful to you, and that’s all the meaning there is in the world? Does he think the universe is somehow goal-directed toward a healthy society, knowledge, beauty, and so on?

I will confess I don’t know what Carrier tried to argue in this section.

Instead, let me point you to Alonzo Fyfe’s recent posts on The Meaning of Life, which are much more cogent. If you think nothing knew can be said about the age-old questions about “the meaning of life,” read Fyfe’s posts. His series on the question is ongoing: the latest post is from today, titled Can Your Life Matter?

Next time, I’ll discuss section III.8 of Carrier’s book, How Did We Get Here?

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Ben August 4, 2009 at 9:34 pm

I think pages 314 and 315 describes how he gets his list.  Not sure why you are confused since the goal of happiness is synonymous with a well orchestrated economy of desires.


vee January 11, 2011 at 7:11 am

The univesal question is how did we get here, the universal debate is how did it happened? Did we come Adam, Apes, or Aliens. Both religion and evolution believes the answer if found in the natural world. Religion believes the natural world was designed by a creator, and evolution believes the natural evolved through natural process of selection.
The alien theory is combination to between creation and evolution. We are the product of genetic engineering with aliens DNA with primates. And we should search the heavens for answers.
Perhaps we should asked ourselves., “Why are we the only creatures concerned about our existence, where does this thought come from, and why it so important to know how we got here.In addition, the meaning of life, and the mystery of the afterlife is all wraped up in the mystery of our origin.
The beginning of the journey of discovering our origin began when we asked our parents the biological question, the geneaolgical question, and where did man come from. Our parents told us about the birds and the bees, and the story of creation. But for deeper level of understanding we turn to religion and science.


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