We finish Philosophy Bites today in CoPhi with John Cottingham on the meaning of life, Stephen Law on the problem of suffering, Keith Ward on eastern idealism, and A.C. Grayling on atheism.
There’s a sequel, Philosophy Bites Back. I’ve already put in the order for next year. (And for Carlin Romano’s America the Philosophical, to complement the Little History.)
“What is the meaning of life? Does it, perhaps, have no meaning at all?” It may have no fixed, final, universal, or intrinsic meaning, but for an emergent and pluralistic species that’s no barrier to emergent meanings, in the plural. Why settle for just one, or even forty-two? [MoL @dawn] But that’s not to say we can entirely “create our own values,” a la Friedrich Nietzsche. “We have to find value within a given cosmos, a world that is not of our making.” Humility is called for, not arrogant “will to power.”
Cottingham on “Happiness, God, and the Meaning of Life”:
I do continue to think the Pythons pretty well nailed the answer to the meaning of life, if we take the question as asking how practically we should live:
Try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.
I can confirm Cottingham’s statement about “meaning” in the largest sense being an embarrassing or illicit question amongst many professional academic philosophers. When I found the MoL course in Vandy’s catalog a few years ago it was dusty and moldering. I dusted it off and had a great semester with it.
Last thing we read, as I recall, was Viktor Frankl on Man’s Search for Meaning. He rediscovered the wisdom of the Stoics, in the death camps. “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” Is there a more profoundly human philosophical problem than how to live well, when life itself is tough and tenuous? And when is it not?
Evil or suffering is an existential problem for us all, but it’s a philosophical problem (or a logical one) for those who wish to assert the reconciliation of an omni-propertied God with the facts on the ground. [PoE/suffering@dawn]
But let’s not get carried away in the opposite direction. “There’s just too much good stuff in the world”– like rainbows, laughter, sunshine, ice cream, Groucho Marx, Willie Mays, the Jupiter Symphony, Louis Armstrong– “for this to be plausibly the creation of a supremely powerful, supremely evil being.” Flipped too far either way, towards good OR evil, the idea of a Supreme Being becomes a joke. So “we should probably do without any gods at all.”
Speaking of “flip,” Bertrand Russell often was. But his rhetorical question about intelligent design is still devastating nonetheless, for the problem of evil and suffering: “Do you think that, if you were granted omnipotence and omniscience and millions of years in which to perfect your world, you could produce nothing better than the Ku Klux Klan or the Fascists?” An unanswerable question.
And Simon Blackburn’s dorm analogy still hits close to home, even though they’ve leveled this one to make room for our new Science Building.
Law’s “evil god challenge,” and on Believing Bullshit: How Not to Get Sucked Into an Intellectual Black Hole:
“Is the ultimate nature of reality non-physical?” If kicking a stone won’t settle that question, it’s not clear why it should matter (pun partially intended) to most of us any more than it did to Dr. Johnson. But we might be more interested, today, in Keith Ward’s comments on atheists and why he’s not one anymore:
“Is belief in the existence of a God or gods the equivalent of believing that there are fairies at the bottom of the garden? Or can it be defended on the basis of reason or evidence?” Anthony Grayling says “the best and deepest thinking about ethics has come from non-religious traditions” that value reason and evidence over faith and fairies.
[atheism/Grayling @dawn… Meditations for the Humanist: Ethics for a Secular Age… The Good Book: A Humanist Bible… Grayling’s Latest God Argument… Grayling & Hitch at the Goethe Institute in ’06 on the morality of Allied air attacks on civilians during WWII]
Can’t resist adding a plug for the course I teach every other Spring, coming again next year: Atheism & Philosophy, or (stenographically) just A&P.
PHIL 3310 – Atheism and Philosophy. This course examines various perspectives on atheism, understood as the belief that no transcendent creator deity exists, and that there are no supernatural causes of natural events. The course compares this belief with familiar alternatives (including theism, agnosticism, and humanism), considers the spiritual significance of atheism, and explores implications for ethics and religion.
There’s always a nice mix of belief of various kinds, running the spectrum from atheism to Atheism Plus to pluralism, naturalism, humanism, agnosticism, skepticism, non-theistic ‘isms, alt-religious ‘isms & non-‘isms, paganism, Islamism, Sufism, Buddhism, and (yes, of course) Judeo-Christian theism. The conversations are always civil, often enlightening, and we almost always demonstrate the pedagogical value (not to mention sheer pleasure) of actually listening to one another and having our horizons expanded. Nobody proselytizes, nobody gets mad, nobody impugns anybody’s character or integrity. No name-calling or soul-damning, just lots of good mind-bending discussion. I’m getting excited just thinking about it. You should register as soon as you can, January 2014 will be here sooner than you think.
First, though, Happiness in the Fall. And before that, starting almost immediately (maybe even today?): final report presentations in CoPhi. It’s the most wonderful time of the year… (Sorry, Spring makes me hyperthymic.)