PHIL 1100 Lecture Notes - Existentialism
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-linguistic philosophy and the meaning of life
-he agrees with Ayer, when we ask what is the meaning of life….we are not asking for the causes of life or
a description about how people lead their lives. Rather people are looking for a justification for their lives.
-he agrees with Ayers next point, how should I live my life? This raises the question, what makes one life
more worthwhile than another life. Not all lives are equally worthwhile. This says Neilson is what people
are essentially trying to get at.
-he agrees with Ayer on the basis of the is ought fallacy
-Neilson then turns to the issue of God. Lets say there is a God in the traditional sense, many theists and
atheists would agree if there is no God, that human life has no purpose. All that would be left is the
meaning that we give to our lives. He also says that whether God exists or not, is irrelevant to the meaning
of life. Meaning would be up to us.
-lets suppose there is a God, a God who created us for a purpose. Suppose we were to know God’s purpose
for creating us. Neilson says even if we were to have all this information, we still would not understand the
meaning of life. Why? This is where linguistic philosophy comes in. this is because what is the purpose of
life is not the same as what is the meaning of life. He now has to prove that these are two different
-for example, you could know the purpose of brain surgery but you could disapprove of the surgery all
together. You could think that it is not meaningful. Simply knowing the purpose does not mean what is the
-he turns to us. Suppose we could know beyond a reasonable doubt that purpose why God made each one
of us. Neilson argues that this does not automatically give us the justification or meaning of our lives. The
purpose does not mean justification. Even if we know the purpose God created us for, it may not be
justified. We may be disappointed or we may disagree with God.
-many when looking at the definition of God traditionally, Gods purpose should and must be meaningful
people would argue. That this purpose must be good. This is a perspective from religion but we have to
look at it from a philosophical perspective.
-just because we agree that there is a God, we may not agree with that purpose.
-he agrees with Ayer that no amount of facts will give us the information we want about a meaningful life.
Neilson also agrees with Ayer with the existentialist argument, the idea that when it comes down to our
lives, no one should make the choices for us rather we should make them for ourselves.
-for Ayer, philosophy cannot help us decide about values objectively. It cannot help us make choices about
values. It all depends on the individual. A form of individual relativism. Neilson agrees with the is ought
fallacy but he believes that we can find value. Why? He argues if we can rationally argue about morality,
there are arguments and proofs in morality. What does he mean by saying arguments and proofs? He looks
at two points: utilitarianism (pleasure is good, pain is bad) and utilitarian calculus (morally we ought to do
actions and make laws that increase pleasure or to decrease pain).
-debating about moral issues is not the same with debating things such as how do we cure cancer. He does
not want to say arguing about morality is like arguing things in science.
-in the end he argues with Ayer that what should I choose to be the meaning of life is an individual matter.
He disagrees with Ayer in the sense that it is something we can argue about rationally. We can say this is a
better answer, here’s why. And this is an answer not as good and here’s way.
-the next section he deals with the possibility that when we ask what is the meaning of life, we are actually
asking is anything worth doing.
-individually there are a lot of differences between people.
-the question comes up, is anything really worthwhile or is everything not really worthwhile? One
possibility says Ayer is that this is not a genuine question. Neilson goes in a different but related direction.
-we have the issue of criteria of what makes up a worthwhile life. What makes a life worthwhile? A
possible answer is reducing the suffering of others. Many philosophers have argued that this is a huge
aspect of the meaning of life. Neilson thinks that regardless of how bad our lives are, there is always
something we can do to help alleviate the suffering of others. Neilson points out that if we find our goals
constantly frustrated, we then start to ask whether life really has any meaning. We do not have have to
conclude that life really ha sno meaning, all we have to do is find another goal. One that is not frustrating.
For example, students often have the goal of getting into law school which is considered to be a goal that is
worthwhile. In reality, not everyone is capable of getting in which can often lead to frustration. It does not
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