The Death of God and the Meaning of Life
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What is the meaning of life? In today's secular, post-religious scientific world, this question has become a serious preoccupation. But it also has a long history: many major philosophers have thought deeply about it, as Julian Young so vividly illustrates in this thought-provoking second edition of The Death of God and the Meaning of Life.
Three new chapters explore Søren Kierkegaard’s attempts to preserve a Christian answer to the question of the meaning of life, Karl Marx's attempt to translate this answer into naturalistic and atheistic terms, and Sigmund Freud’s deep pessimism about the possibility of any version of such an answer. Part 1 presents an historical overview of philosophers from Plato to Marx who have believed in a meaning of life, either in some supposed ‘other’ world or in the future of this world. Part 2 assesses what happened when the traditional structures that give life meaning began to erode. With nothing to take their place, these structures gave way to the threat of nihilism, to the appearance that life is meaningless. Young looks at the responses to this threat in chapters on Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre, Camus, Foucault and Derrida.
Fully revised and updated throughout, this highly engaging exploration of fundamental issues will captivate anyone who’s ever asked themselves where life’s meaning (if there is one) really lies. It also makes a perfect historical introduction to philosophy, particularly to the continental tradition.
our ‘existence’, an essence that we possess completely independently of any choices we might or might not make? Later Heidegger, as we have seen, claims that we all, simply by virtue of being human beings, have, in Sartre’s language, a fundamental project: to be guardians of our world. This – Heidegger even uses Sartrian language to make the point – is our ‘essence’ (QCT p. 28). To a Sartrian, of course, this claim is as a red rag to a bull. Guard- ianship, she will respond, like any
the universe. But laws have to be laws of something, have to describe the behaviour of some set of entities. Everyday entities, however – pen-knives or snuff-boxes (PS 244) – are unsuitable since they do not behave in properly lawful ways. One snuff-box dropped into water may float, another sink. Hence science deals, not in ordinary, everyday, mid- dle-sized objects but rather in ‘matters’. (An earlier discussion of science at sections 132–65 identifies these ‘matters’ as, at bottom,
‘affirm life’, to be a ‘Yes-sayer’ (GS 276). Someone like Schopen- hauer or the Christian ascetic (or the youthful Nietzsche), for whom this life is nothing but a veil of tears from which he yearns for the quickest possible release, is completely sick. Such people are, in Nietzsche’s judgement sick because they are full of ‘resent- ment’ against life. Someone (like Zarathustra) who has overcome the disposition to believe in a true world but finds the eternal 89 LATER NIETZSCHE recurrence
the famous assertion that ‘hell is other people’. In terms of Being and Nothingness’s analysis of human existence, one can see why. For, according to that analysis, while on the one hand I have an absolute need for other people to provide me with the identity that I seek, I also have an absolute need to be without them, since their existence takes away the self-determination, the autonomy which I also seek. Attempting to achieve both goals, I 149 SARTRE (CONTINUED) seek to dominate
here, in the first instance, to Christianity – though, as we will see, Platonism (which I use as a synonym for ‘true- worldism’) continued, in disguised forms, to dominate Western thinking even in the materialist atmosphere of the post-Christian era. But let us attend, for now, to Christianity. One does not, I think, need much convincing that Christianity (according to Nietzsche, the product of St Paul’s grafting of Jesus’ ethics on to Greek metaphysics) is basically a version of