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Lecture

Nozick (Lecture Schemata 8)

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Department
Philosophy
Course
PHIL 1200
Professor
David Matheson
Semester
Winter

Description
8   Nozick:  Divine  doubt     Transcendent  meaning  of  life  &  divine  role  assignment     Deriving  a  meaning  of  life  from  God's  life     Nozick’s  philosophical  fable:  Whence  the  meaning  of  God's  life?     In  his  essay,  Nozick  notes  that  transcendentalist  approaches  to  the  meaning  of  life  typically   see  our  lives  as  having  a  meaning  by  virtue  of  fulfilling  some  role  that  God  has  assigned  to   us  in  accordance  with  his  plan  or  purpose  for  our  lives.  As  he  puts  it:     One  prevalent  view,  less  so  today  than  previously,  is  that  the  meaning  of  life  or  people’s   existence  is  connected  with  God’s  will,  with  his  design  or  plan  for  them.  Put  roughly,   people’s  meaning  is  to  be  found  and  realized  in  fulfilling  the  role  allotted  to  them  by  God.   If  a  superior  being  designed  and  created  people  for  a  purpose,  in  accordance  with  a  plan   for  them,  the  particular  purpose  he  had  for  them  would  be  what  people  are  for.  (226)     Thus,  compare  Fackenheim’s  view  that  life  is  given  a  meaning  by  virtue  of  obeying  the   commands  that  God  gives  us—being  a  commandment  keeper,  in  effect—or  Quinn’s  view   that  a  (full,  complete)  meaning  of  life  comes  from  imitating  Jesus—being  a  "little  Christ,"  as   it  were,  in  this  world.     Of  course,  Nozick  notes,  it  couldn't  be  just  any  divinely  assigned  role  that  would  do  the   trick.  In  order  for  the  fulfillment  of  a  divinely  assigned  role  to  give  our  lives  a  meaning,  that   role  would  have  to  have  at  least  two  features:     1.  The  role  must  ___________________________________________________________________________________     ________________________________________________________________________________________________________.   Thus,  Nozick  says:  "If  our  role  is  to  supply  CO  to 2the  plants,  or  to  be  the  equivalent  within   God’s  plan  of  fixing  a  mildly  annoying  leaky  faucet,  would  this  suffice?"  (226)  And:     If  we  describe  God’s  central  purpose  in  analogy  with  making  a  painting,  we  do  not  want  to   play  the  role  of  the  rag  used  to  wipe  off  brushes,  or  the  tin  in  which  these  rags  are  kept.  If   we  are  not  the  central  focus  of  the  painting,  at  least  we  want  to  be  like  the  canvas  or  the   brush  or  the  paint.  (226)     2.  The  role  must  ___________________________________________________________________________________     ________________________________________________________________________________________________________.   So,  Nozick  writes:     If  the  cosmic  role  of  human  beings  was  to  provide  a  negative  lesson  to  some  others  (“don’t   act  like  them”)  or  to  provide  needed  food  for  intergalactic  travelers  who  were  important,   this  would  not  suit  our  aspirations—not  even  if  afterwards  the  intergalactic  travelers   smacked    their  lips  and  said  that  we  tasted  good.  (227)     2   Again,  Fackenheim’s  and  Quinn’s  transcendentalist  views  seem  to  fit  the  bill  here.  On   Fackenheim’s  view,  our  role  as  commandment  keepers  is  so  important  that  God  binds   himself  to  our  fulfillment  of  it,  and  it  makes  use  of  such  unique,  positive  human  talents  as   the  ability  to  be  responsible  beings  capable  of  agency,  etc.  On  Quinn’s  view,  our  role  as   imitators  of  Jesus  is  important  because  it  brings  hope,  light,  and  the  possibility  of   redemption  into  the  world,  and  it  makes  use  of  such  unique,  positive  human  talents  as   understanding  goals  and  planning  to  achieve  them,  being  courageous  in  the  face  of   suffering  and  exclusion,  etc.     But  even  so,  Nozick  continues,  notice  than  on  such  transcendentalist  pictures,  the  meaning   of  life  for  us  humans  is  derived  from  (our  lives'  connection  to)  a  transcendent  being  like   God,  whose  life  or  existence  presumably  has  a  meaning  to  begin  with.  (Another  way  of   putting  the  point:  on  such  transcendentalist  pictures,  our  lives  are  worth  living  in  an   instrumental  sense:  they  are  worth  living  because  by  living  them  we  secure  something  else   of  worth,  viz.  the  fulfillment  of  God's  wishes  or  plans,  which  presumably  has  some  kind  of   worth  itself.  Our  lives  are  not  supposed  to  be  worth  living  in  an  intrinsic  sense:  they  are  not,   on  the  transcendentalist  pictures,  worth  living  in  and  of  themselves.)     But  this  raises  an  important  question  that  any  transcendentalist  must  consider:  How  does   the  life  or  existence  of  this  transcendental  being—God—come  to  have  a  meaning?     Nozick  considers  the  possible  answers  that  a  transcendentalist  might  try  to  give  to  this   question,  by  providing  as  with  a  “philosophical  fable”  wherein  he  imagines  God,  as  role-­‐ assigner  for  us,  asking  himself  where  his  own  meaning  comes  from.  Here  are  the  three   possible  answers  to  this  question  that  Nozick  presents:     Answer  1:  ___________________________________________________________________________________________     ________________________________________________________________________________________________________     secures something else of intrinsic worth). ________________________________________________________________________________________________________     ____________________________________________________________________
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