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Lecture 16

PHIL 180 Lecture 16: Schmidt on Meaning of Life

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California State University-Northridge
PHIL 180

Schmidt on Meaning of Life. David Schmidt (1955 ) is Kendrick Professor of Philosophy and joint Professor of Economics at the University of Arizona. In The Meanings of Life (2002) he admits that philosophy may not be able to deal with the question of the meaning of life, but hell try to understand lifes meaning by reflecting on what it has been like to live one.[i] Schmidt begins by contrasting the existential attitudethat lifes meaning is of extreme importance and that we must give meaning to our liveswith the Zen attitude that meaning is not something to worry about and that meaning is found simply by being mindful in the present. Schmidt doesnt take sides on this matter, admitting that he is no sage and that it is hard to talk profoundly about such matters. He next notes that while some lives mean more than others, meaning has limits. Why? Because: 1) meaning in life does not last; 2) meaning changes; 3) meaning may not be deep enough to fulfill our longings; 4) life may be the kind of thing that cannot have deep meaning; and 5) life is short. Ultimately our most lasting achievements are ephemeral. Although there are limits to meaning, that does not mean life is meaningless. Schmidt agrees with Taylor that being fully engaged in our lives, however trivial they might seem from a universal perspective, is what gives them limited meaning. Still, sadness accompanies knowing that the meaning of our lives is limited. Schmidt now lists some of the components of meaningful lives, although he admits there are many ways to live them. First they have impact, maybe not on the cosmos, but on something important to you like your family. So you should not look for an impact where you dont have any, but where you do. Schmidt wonders about Nozicks claim that you need to leave permanent traces in the worlda higher standard for meaningbut suggests that we should probably be content with less. Features of meaningful lives are: Meanings are symbolic For example, we can give meaning to simple worms if we want. Meanings need not be intrinsic, only meaningful to us. Of course two persons could have the same experience with one finding it meaningful, the other finding it meaningless. Meanings are choices We choose whether our lives have sufficient meaning for us. If we choose to view them as meaningless, then we should not worry about it since that is meaningless too. And if we cant enjoy meaninglessness, then we should choose to treat life as meaningful. Meanings track relationships Our lives derive meaning when they mean something to the people around us. Our lives communicate things to othersthat they are important or we care about them and maybe their meaning is in what they communicate. Meanings track activity Most of us dont want to plug into the matrixlike happiness machine which suggests we want more than experiences; we want the meaning that comes from activities. This raises questions as to whether you would think life in the machine was objectively or only subjectively meaningful. Meaning also seems related to the activity of making contact with external reality, something we cannot do in the machine. In order to experience deep meaning, we need to bring a personal touch to life or decorate our house in Schmidts metaphor. Life is the picture we put on the bare walls. As we age we may lament the path we chose, or regret that we could only choose one path. Maybe meaning is being attentive to the path we
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