Barry F. Vaughan Header

A Short Note on The Meaning of Life

I have recieved some comments on my claim that Philosophy is not a quest for the meaning of life, which leads me to offer this brief explanation of my position.

First, few questions are settled among all philosophers, least of all, what Philosophy actually is. What's on this page reflects MY view, but I think also a majority of professional philosophers today.

Second, why do I think the meaning of life is a wrongheaded question? I take 'meaning' to be a concept applied to artifacts of intellegence. When we discover a pyramid in the Yucatan rainforests we might legitimatly ask, What does it mean? More preciesly we should ask, What did it mean for those who built it? Similar questions can be 'meaningfully' asked of other similar artifacts: a tool, a painting, a sculpture. When we ponder the Universe and the life within it, however, we beg the question to ask its meaning. We must first ask if it's the sort of thing to which we can ascribe meaning. That is, is the Universe an artifact of rational design? Only after we have established that it is just such an object can we inquire after its meaning. Since it is still very much an open question whether life and the Universe are artifacts of a divine craftsman it is at best a fallacy of presumption to ask the second question first. Now, if one were a theist (i.e., someone who claims to know that an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent creator exists), then it is not unreasonable to ask after the meaning of life. However, since most philosophers are not theists, I think it fair to say that this question does not capture the spirit of Philosophy today.

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