Paul Edwards: The Meaning And Value of Life What is the role of theism in answering questions about the meaning of life?
Theistic answers • Clark in response to Russell’s claim all life will end: Christianity gives all actions “vital significance.” We have eternal life. • Judaism: Fackenheim: “Whatever meaning life acquires” arises out of human-divine relationship. • Unbelievers: Some think life is meaningful without God • Others claim that life is not worthwhile without God. (The pessimists) Life is futile. (1) It is not worth living and (2) It is without meaning. • Edwards: (1) and (2) are different.
Schopenhauer • “We have not to rejoice but rather to mourn at the existence of the world; that its non-existence would be preferable to its existence…” (115) • Some arguments are metaphysical and some are based on his particular system. • (1) Happiness is unattainable: People don’t achieve what they are striving for usually. If they do, they are disappointed. The present is insignificant, the past is non-existent, the future is uncertain. We are always envious of those who are happy which shows how we aren’t. • Even if we are a bit happy, it doesn’t last. All good things perish. We will eventually die.
Pointlessness • Schopenhauer wasn’t the only person to arrive at these conclusions. • Clarence Darrow: “I love my friends..but they all must come to a tragic end.” “Life…is not worthwhile…the best thing you can say of it is that it does not last long…” (117-118) • Tolstoy: “Today or tomororw…sickness and death will come to those I love or to me…” • [The analogy of the beast in the well.] (118)
Strengths of pessimism • There is truth to their claims. What we care about is transient, life is transient, happiness is fleeting, etc. • ‘Eventually everything will come to an end. Ostwald: “in the longest run the sum of all human endeavor has no recognizable significance.”
Confusion in Pessimist arguments Pessimists say that death is better than life. But if life was all that, how would death destroy its value? Doesn’t the tragedy of the termination of life show it has value? If y is bad because it is the termination of x, then x has to be good or have positive value. RESPONSE (Julius Caesar): Life is valuable until you realize your death is coming. Brutus: “So are we Caesar’s friends that have abridged/His time of fearing death.” Reply 1: That “doom and gloom” erases happiness is not “necessary nor inevitable.” (120) Reply 2: If there is no afterlife, it doesn’t make sense to say that death is better than life. We also can’t inspect death to see what it is like so we cannot assess it as better.
Irrelevance of the distant future • Why do pessimists prefer the future to the present? • Why would eternal bliss make everything worthwhile if present bliss is not enough?
The Logic of Value Judgments • Pessimists do not get this fact: It only makes sense for a person to ask ‘is it really worthwhile/worth the trouble’ if that person is weighting it against “a good with which it may be in conflict.” (122) For something intrinsically valuable it is not worth it to ask that. • E.g., if a woman gives up having a children for a spectacular career she could ask ‘was it really worth it?’ But if a person was very happy because of some event he or she would not ask “was it worthwhile”? (122)Maybe getting rid of a terrible toothache will not matter in 100 years but this does not make it not matter now. (123) • Do we need final consquences?
The Vanished Past • Schopenhauer says “what has been exists as little as what has never been.” • Schopenhauer is wrong in thinking that this is straightforward but rather different answers “will be given by different people according to their circumstances and interests.” (123) • Frankl: Says “Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past…” (123) • The assessment of the value of time can be a value judgment. • But why does Schopenhauer say the past doesn’t exist?
The meanings of the ‘Meaning of Life’ • Kurt Baier: What are people asking for? Sometimes people are asking for a role in a larger picture. Macbeth: life “is tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/Signifying nothing.” (123) • We can ask: Does a particular person’s life have meaning? We tend to say it did if they were devoted to some cause. “It is sufficient that [a person’s] life have attachments that are not too shallow.” (124) • Meaning also does not mean: Intrinsically valuable or actually valuable. It can describe a subjective sense.
Two Senses of Meaning • (1) Cosmic meaning: May depend on a God • (2) Terrestrial sense: Meaning in life “is decided by the particular circumstances of a person’s existence.”Edwards objects to the idea that ‘real’ meaning is only about the relationship between God and humans. There are other unifying goals that give people a sense of meaning. And the fact that a divine being has a plan doesn’t necessarily make *my* life meaningful in the day to day existence.
Is Human Life ever Worthwhile? • Even if we can’t answer the pessimists questions, we can consider whether the life we lead is worthwhile/worth living. • There are different sense of worthwhile. One could ask if someone’s life dedicated to the spread of communism was meaningful to the person or whether it was *really* meaningful but this wouldn’t make sense. • But we can ask if a person who thinks pursuing X is worthwhile is actually doing something worthwhile. • Edwards doubts we can show a life is objectively worthwhile. But some ends do have positive value and others don’t. (Like Eichmann’s—”no rational or sympathetic person would approve of” his goals.) (127-128)
Is morality the Answer? • Reiner: Humans are moral creatures. The good will is the existential meaning of life. • “The existence of human beings as moral agents is better than their nonexistence.” (130) • We honor good moral actions. We honor them through time. • Edwards: This won’t really respond to the pessimist. Schopenhauer and others could respond that even if morality is good, the suffering involved in human life outweights this good. It’s not worth living in the face of all this suffering. We also don’t have an argument that doing good is the only or necessarily the greatest value. (131)
The Pessimist cannot be answered • We cannot show that existence is better than non-existence—for individuals or humanity. • [See summary on p. 133]