PHIL 1100 Lecture Notes - Lecture 4: Cannibalism, Teleology, Calibration

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25 Aug 2016
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David Schmidtz (2002), “The Meanings of Life”
“Analytic philosophers are trained to spot weaknesses in arguments. Unfortunately, that
sort of training does not prepare us for questions about life’s meaning”
oIt’s not a purely theoretical question, it’s a practical one
“When we think about life’s meaning we are not trying to win a debate. Success in
grappling with the question is less like articulating and defending a position and more
like growing up.”
oRequires a sense of maturity
The article, it turns out, is a reply to Nozick, written for a volume of essays on his
philosophy
WHAT THE SAGE KNEW ABOUT THE LIMITS OF MEANING
Two kinds of attitudes:
1) The existentialist attitude
Popular from 40’s – 60s, European, mostly atheist
Find out the meaning of life, hugely important, stoicism if you don’t find a meaning for
life (stiff upper lip), angst, perhaps even suicide (should I kill myself right now?)
To be a ‘real’ existentialist you have to be in this constant state of angst
oCheck out Sartre, Walter Kaufmaan
2) The zen attitude (zen is the Japanese form of Buddhism)
Don’t worry, let it flow; you don’t seek the meaning of life but instead meditate a lot and
either it comes to you or it doesn’t – either way you accept it
“The zen insight,” e.g. “worrying about meaning may itself make life less meaningful
than it might have been. … Let the moment mean what it will”
oIs this really an insight? Calling something an insight doesn’t mean it’s an insight.
It is a question-begging epithet? Using a label that is assuming what you’re trying
to prove is true (e.g. calling someone a murderer instead of the defendant) Is it
delusionary?
What “an analytically trained sage” might say:
oThe word “life is ambiguous” and if by “life” you mean all life then there is no
meaning to all life just as there is no meaning to all words, only particular words
have meaning, and only particular lives have meaning
Might there be a meaning shared by all life just as there might be a meaning shared by all
languages?
oThe former seems to be agreed upon by modern evolutionary and molecular
biologists, whereas the meaning of all languages is pretty much agreed upon by
modern linguists (Chomsky’s universal grammar), although the cause of the
“language organ” is debated]
Schmidtz’s analytic sage then goes on to “invite you to reflect on what it has been like to
live your life, and on what it will be like to carry on from here,” pointing out that it is
relevant what people say on their deathbeds (e.g., someone who says “I should have
spent more time with my family”)
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This of course is interesting (there is a book entitled Famous Last Words), but it isn’t
necessarily relevant, as what it is like to be so-and-so isn’t necessarily equal to the
meaning of one’s own life
Schmidtz’s analytic sage then goes on to analyze the word “meaning” and points out that
it too is ambiguous (having different meanings) = in what ways?
oNot going to get a revolutionary answer because there will be too many if, buts,
etc.
Schmidtz then turns to himself, at 44
oSee also the movie Shirley Valentine; she’s lost her identity and now only cleans
and cooks, wins two tickets to Greece
oWhat do I want to do with my life?
His purpose now is “no longer to prove myself and make my place in the world but to
understand the place I’ve made, respect meanings it can have, and just live”
Can “the meaning of life” in some sense of those words be age dependent?
LIMITS
Examines the various ways in which the meaning of a life is limited
1. Limited in terms of time, not lasting forever
We all know we won’t live forever (think back to Nozick lecture)
2. Meanings change, they evolve
Over our lifetime the meaning for our life might change as we change
3. Meanings need not be deep
For Schmidtz, “meaning emerges from how we spend it, not how much we spend”
oA lot of underlying and debatable assumptions here, not obvious truths
4. Life is short, would it mean more if it lasted longer?
Sisyphus vs. e.g.?
From this, Schmidtz suggests that what the meaning of life is really about is for people
“to be fully engaged in activities that make up their lives”
oProblems here, e.g. it means that people like Hitler had a very meaningful life
oAn excellent DVD documentary on Hitler and the upper Nazi leaders on how they
viewed their mission as largely an artistic one – The Architecture of Doom
“The point of human life likewise is to do what it is in our veins to do, knowing we have
choices that migratory birds do not. The special glory of being human is precisely that we
have choices. The special sadness lies in knowing there is a limit to how right our choices
can be, and a limit to how much the rightness of our choices can matter”
oWhat can be scary, however, is precisely what people think is in their veins to do
oAnd what is it that makes a choice right or wrong?
MEDITATIONS ON MEANING
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