Much more than just an anthology, this survey of humanity's search for the meaning of life includes the latest contributions to the debate, a judicious selection of key canonical essays, and insightful commentary by internationally respected philosophers.
This article introduces a special issue of Philosophical Papers devoted to the topic of meaning in life. In the paper, I engage with articles by Robert Audi, David Velleman, John Martin Fischer, Laurence Thomas, Berit Brogaard, Barry Smith and Larry James, laying out their central views, criticizing them, and suggesting ways they could be developed.
The point of psychotherapy has occasionally been associated with talk of ‘life’s meaning’. However, the literature on meaning in life written by contemporary philosophers has yet to be systematically applied to literature on the point of psychotherapy. My broad aim in this chapter is to indicate some plausible ways to merge these two tracks of material that have run in parallel up to now. More specifically, my hunch is that the connection between meaning as philosophers understand it and therapy as (...) psychotherapists ought to practice it is much closer than is suggested by the field of existential psychotherapy, which expressly addresses the topic of life’s meaning and appeals to ideas from classic philosophers such Søren Kierkegaard, Martin Heidegger, and the like. I instead proffer the claim that psychodynamic and humanistic therapy, clinical psychology, and counselling psychology as such, not a particular branch of them, are best understood as enterprises in search of meaning in life, in the way many present-day philosophers understand this phrase. In this chapter, I spell out what I mean by this bold hypothesis and provide some good reason to take it seriously. (shrink)
In this article I articulate and defend an African moral theory, i.e., a basic and general principle grounding all particular duties that is informed by sub-Saharan values commonly associated with talk of "ubuntu" and cognate terms that signify personhood or humanness. The favoured interpretation of ubuntu (as of 2007) is the principle that an action is right insofar as it respects harmonious relationships, ones in which people identify with, and exhibit solidarity toward, one another. I maintain that this is the (...) most defensible moral theory with an African pedigree at the time, and that it should be developed further with an eye to rivalling dominant Western theories such as utilitarianism and Kantianism. (shrink)
The studies of the Czech phenomenologist Jan Patočka has been flourishing recently. Martin Ritter’s book Into the World: The Movement of Patočka’s Phenomenology offers an important contribution to the debate and a long-awaited critical presentation of Patočka’s asubjective phenomenology as well as creative re-reading of Patočka's central doctrine of the movements of existence.
Abstract The work of Martin Buber oscillates between talk in which transcendence is experienced and talk in which transcendence is merely postulated. In order to show and mend this incoherence in Buber's thought, this essay attends to the rhetoric of verification ( Bewährung ), primarily but not solely in I and Thou (1923), both in order to show how it is a symptom of this incoherence, and also to show a broad pragmatic strain in Buber's thought. Given this pragmatic (...) strain, the essay argues that a weak notion of Buberian verification, in which taking a dialogic stance with reference to others evinces the right to talk of the real possibility of transcendence (a You-world, or God as the “eternal You“), is all that is necessary to combat despair. Strong notions of encounter are unnecessary, and also sink Buber in a morass of theodicy, in which he interprets historical misfortune and destruction as evidence of history's meaning. (shrink)
This chapter critically explores contemporary philosophical understandings of whether meaning in life might depend on the presence or absence of an afterlife. After distinguishing various kinds of afterlife, it focuses most on the potential relevance of an eternal one, and considers at length the extreme but common views amongst philosophers that an eternal afterlife would be either necessary for a meaningful life or, conversely, sufficient for a meaningless one. It concludes by considering the plausibility of a more moderate view, that (...) an eternal afterlife could substantially enhance the meaning of our lives, even if they would not be meaningless without it. The aim of the chapter is not to defend some overall thesis about these positions, but rather to acquaint the reader with recent English-speaking philosophical discussions of them. (shrink)
The field of bioethics is replete with applications of moral theories such as utilitarianism and Kantianism. For a given dilemma, even if it is not clear how one of these western philosophical principles of right (and wrong) action would resolve it, one can identify many of the considerations that each would conclude is relevant. The field is, in contrast, largely unaware of an African account of what all right (and wrong) actions have in common and of the sorts of factors (...) that for it are germane to developing a sound response to a given bioethical problem. My aim is to help rectify this deficiency by first spelling out a moral theory grounded in the mores of many sub-Saharan peoples, and then applying it to some major bioethical issues, namely, the point of medical treatment, free and informed consent, standards of care and animal experimentation. For each of these four issues, I compare and contrast the implications of the African moral theory with utilitarianism and Kantianism, my overall purposes being to highlight respects in which the African moral theory is distinct and to demonstrate that the field should take it at least as seriously as it does the Western theories. (shrink)
In this article we provide a theoretical reconstruction of sub-Saharan ethics that we argue is a strong competitor to typical Western approaches to morality. According to our African moral theory, actions are right roughly insofar as they are a matter of living harmoniously with others or honouring communal relationships. After spelling out this ethic, we apply it to several issues in both normative and empirical research into morality. With regard to normative research, we compare and contrast this African moral theory (...) with utilitarianism and Kantianism in the context of several practical issues. With regard to empirical research, we compare and contrast our sub-Saharan ethic with several of Lawrence Kohlberg’s views on the nature of morality. Our aim is to highlight respects in which the African approach provides a unitary foundation for a variety of normative and empirical conclusions that are serious alternatives to dominant Western views. (shrink)
This article draws on the indigenous African tradition of philosophy to ground a moral-philosophical theory of leadership that is intended to rival accounts in the East Asian and Western traditions. After providing an interpretation of the characteristically sub-Saharan value of communion, the article advances a philosophical account of a good leader as one who creates, sustains, and enriches communal relationships and enables others to do so. The article then applies this account to a variety of topics, including what the proper (...) final end of an organization is, how decisions ought to be made within it, who counts as a stakeholder, and how to deal with non-performing or misbehaving employees. For each topic, the article notes respects in which the African theory of good leadership entails approaches that differ from other, more internationally familiar ones, and suggests that its implications are prima facie attractive relative to them. (shrink)
In this article, I consider whether there are values intrinsic to development theory and practice that are dubious in light of a characteristically African ethic. In particular, I focus on what a certain philosophical interpretation of the sub-Saharan value of communion entails for appraising development, drawing two major conclusions. One is that a majority of the criticisms that have been made of development by those sympathetic to African values are weak; I argue that, given the value of communion, development should (...) not be rejected because it is essentially, say, overly materialistic and scientistic, or insufficiently spiritual and local. The second conclusion, however, is that three criticisms of development are strong from the perspective of Afro-communalism and are particularly powerful when set in that context. I argue that development theory and practice are characteristically anthropocentric, individualist and technocratic, and that a reading of the sub-Saharan value of communion provides a unitary foundation for rejecting these features and for grounding an alternative, more relational approach to social progress and to what justice demands from the West in relation to Africa. (shrink)
In this article I spell out a conception of dignity grounded in African moral thinking that provides a plausible philosophical foundation for human rights, focusing on the particular human right not to be executed by the state. I first demonstrate that the South African Constitutional Court’s sub-Saharan explanations of why the death penalty is degrading all counterintuitively entail that using deadly force against aggressors is degrading as well. Then, I draw on one major strand of Afro-communitarian thought to develop a (...) novel conception of dignity as the view that what is special and inviolable about human nature is our capacity for harmonious relationships. I argue that a principle of respect for the dignity of such a capacity entails that the death penalty is an indignity but that deadly force in self- or other-defense need not be, and I contend that this African- inspired principle promises to do no worse than the more Western, Kantian principle of respect for autonomy at accounting for a broad range of human rights. (shrink)
There is no adequate understanding of contemporary Jewish and Christian theology without reference to Martin Buber. Buber wrote numerous books during his lifetime (1878-1965) and is best known for I and Thouand Good and Evil. Buber has influenced important Protestant theologians like Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, Paul Tillich, and Reinhold Niebuhr. His appeal is vast--not only is he renowned for his translations of the Hebrew Bible but also for his interpretation of Hasidism, his role in Zionism, and his writings (...) in psychotherapy and political philosophy. In addition to a general introduction, each chapter is individually introduced, illuminating the historical and philosophical context of the readings. Footnotes explain difficult concepts, providing the reader with necessary references, plus a selective bibliography and subject index. (shrink)
In this article I survey philosophical literature on the topic of what, if anything, makes a person’s life meaningful, focusing on systematic texts that are written in English and that have appeared in the last five years (2002-2007). My aims are to present overviews of the most important, fresh, Anglo-American positions on meaning in life and to raise critical questions about them worth answering in future work.
In her essay ‘The Curious Coincidence of Feminine and African Moralities’ (1987), Sandra Harding was perhaps the first to note parallels between a typical Western feminist ethic and a characteristically African, i.e., indigenous sub-Saharan, approach to morality. Beyond Harding’s analysis, one now frequently encounters the suggestion, in a variety of discourses in both the Anglo-American and sub-Saharan traditions, that an ethic of care and an African ethic are more or less the same or share many commonalities. While the two ethical (...) perspectives are indeed sisters, in this article I argue, first, that they are not identical twins, and, more strongly, that the family resemblance between the two is significantly less than has been recognized. I highlight key differences between representative forms of an ethic of care and a sub-Saharan communitarian morality, after which I argue, second, that the latter better captures some central feminist concerns and moral considerations generally. That is, I maintain that an African ideal of community, when understood in a philosophically refined way, provides an important, relational corrective to the ethic of care. (shrink)
Our aims are to articulate some core philosophical positions characteristic of Traditional African Religion and to argue that they merit consideration as monotheist rivals to standard interpretations of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition. In particular, we address the topics of how God’s nature is conceived, how God’s will is meant to bear on human decision making, where one continues to exist upon the death of one’s body, and how long one is able to exist without a body. For each of these topics, (...) we note how Traditional African Religion posits claims that clash with mainstream Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and that, being prima facie plausible, indicate the need for systematic cross-cultural philosophical debate. (shrink)
In this article I critically discuss English-speaking philosophical literature addressing the question of what it essentially means to speak of 'life’s meaning'. Instead of considering what might in fact confer meaning on life, I make two claims about the more abstract, meta-ethical question of how to understand what by definition is involved in making that sort enquiry. One of my claims is that over the past five years there has been a noticeable trend among philosophers to try to change our (...) understanding of what talk of 'life’s meaning' connotes. For example, whereas most philosophers for a long while had held that such talk is about a kind of value possible in the life of human beings, recently some have argued that certain non-human parts of nature can exhibit meaningfulness, which, furthermore, is not necessarily something valuable. The second claim I advance is that there is strong reason to reject this trend, and instead for philosophers to retain the long-standing approach. (shrink)
The question I seek to answer is what the relationship is between judgments of people’s lives as meaningful, on the one hand, and as worth living, on the other. Several in the analytic and Continental literature, including the likes of Albert Camus and Ludwig Wittgenstein, and more recently, Robert Solomon and Julian Baggini, have maintained that the two words mean the same thing, in that they have the same referents or even the same sense. My primary aim is to refute (...) such a position, and instead to provide conclusive reason to believe that, while a meaningful life shares many properties with a worthwhile one, they are not one and the same thing. Differentiating the meaningful from the worthwhile is essential for making accurate and complete appraisals of the value of people’s lives; they are distinct aspects of a good life, with both being necessary for the best one. (shrink)
From the perspective of an African ethic, analytically interpreted as a philosophical principle of right action, what are the proper final ends of a publicly funded university and how should they be ranked? To answer this question, I first provide a brief but inclusive review of the literature on Africanising higher education from the past 50 years, and contend that the prominent final ends suggested in it can be reduced to five major categories. Then, I spell out an intuitively attractive (...) African moral theory and apply it to these five final ends, arguing that three of them are appropriate but that two of them are not. After that, I maintain that the African moral theory prescribes two additional final ends for a public university that are not salient in the literature. Next, I argue that employing the African moral theory as I do enables one to rebut several criticisms of Africanising higher education that have recently been made from a liberal perspective. I conclude by posing questions suitable for future research. (shrink)
Martin Buber appartient à plusieurs mondes : celui de la Vienne fin de siècle dans laquelle il naît en 1878, du sionisme culturel, de la République de Weimar et de la renaissance juive, celui de la lutte contre le nazisme, de l'exil dans la Palestine du Mandat où il débarque en 1938, enfin celui de la naissance du jeune État d'Israël. Philosophe, historien des religions, interprète de la mystique juive, il a correspondu avec tous les grands esprits de son (...) temps. À sa mort à Jérusalem en 1965, c'est une conscience de l'humanisme hébreu qui disparaît. Pour la première fois en français, un choix de lettres traduites de plusieurs langues permet de restituer un itinéraire intellectuel à nul autre pareil, quelques époques à jamais disparues, et la réalisation d'une utopie, le retour des juifs en Terre sainte. Professeur à Francfort et à l'Université hébraïque, traducteur de la Bible, penseur du dialogue, militant de l'entente avec les Arabes et exégète inspiré des Hassidim, ses lettres sont une pièce capitale de la pensée allemande et européenne. Y apparaissent les figures de Kafka, de Benjamin, d'Einstein, de Scholem, de Rosenzweig, mais aussi de Gandhi, de Jung, de Barth ou de Georg, de Rang, de Dibelius, de Lou Andreas-Salomé et de tant d'autres, juives ou non, qui trouvèrent en Buber un interlocuteur privilégié. (shrink)
In his book Better Never to Have Been, David Benatar argues that it is generally all things considered wrong to procreate, such that if everyone acted in a morally ideal way, humanity would elect to extinguish the species. I aim to carefully question the premises and inferences that lead Benatar to draw this anti-natalist conclusion, indicating several places where one could sensibly elect to disembark from the train of argument heading toward such a radical view.
Many religious thinkers hold the immortality requirement, the view that immortality of some kind is necessary for life to have meaning. After clarifying the nature of the immortality requirement, this essay examines three central arguments for it. The article establishes that existing versions of these arguments fail to entail the immortality requirement. The essay then reconstructs the arguments, and it shows that once they do plausibly support the immortality requirement, they equally support the God-centred requirement, the view that God's existence (...) is a necessary condition for life to be meaningful. The paper concludes by explaining why we should expect any argument for the immortality requirement also to constitute an argument for the God-centred requirement. (shrink)
Discussion of whether values and norms are neutral or not has mainly appeared in works on the nature of prudential rationality and morality. Little systematic has yet appeared in the up and coming field of the meaning of life. What are the respects in which the value of meaningfulness is neutral or, in contrast, partial, relational, or ‘biased’? In this article, I focus strictly on answering this question. First, I aim to identify the salient, and perhaps exhaustive, respects in which (...) issues of neutrality arise in the contexts of life’s meaning. In addition to providing a taxonomy of the key points of contention, a second aim is to advance reflection about them by considering the most important arguments that have been marshalled in favour of one side or the other, particularly as they appear in recent neutral positions. I conclude that meaning in life is neutral with respect to time but not any other conditions such as agents and patients, with a third aim being to point out that this makes the value of meaning different from the kinds of non/neutrality encountered in some salient conceptions of prudence and morality. (shrink)
I critically discuss views about what at least analytic philosophers have in mind when reflecting on what makes life meaningful. I first demonstrate that there has been a standard view of that, according to which meaningfulness centrally involves the actions of human persons, ones that exhibit a high desirability characteristically present in ‘the good, the true, and the beautiful’ and absent from the cases of Sisyphus or the Experience Machine. Then, I address five challenges to the standard view that have (...) recently been made. I conclude that the standard view should be revised to accommodate judgements that animal lives can exhibit meaning, groups of human persons can also do so, and there is a difference between mundane and great meaning possible in the life of a person. However, I resist the more radical suggestions that meaningfulness never inheres in people’s actions or that it need not be positive. (shrink)