The Death of God and the Meaning of Life

The Death of God and the Meaning of Life

The Death of God and the Meaning of Life

The Death of God and the Meaning of Life


What is the meaning of life? In the post-modern, post-religious scientific world, this question is becoming a preoccupation. But it also has a long history: many major figures in philosophy had something to say on the subject, as Julian Young so vividly illustrates in this thought-provoking book.Part One of the book presents an historical overview of philosophers from Plato to Hegel and Marx who have believed in some sort of meaning of life, either in some supposed 'other' world or in the future of this world. Part Two looks at what happened when the traditional structures that provided life with meaning ceased to be believed. With nothing to take their place, these structures gave way to the threat of nihilism, to the appearance that life is meaningless. Julian Young looks at the responses to this threat in the work of Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre, Camus, Foucault and Derrida.This compelling and highly engaging exploration of fundamental values will captivate anyone who's ever asked themselves where life's meaning (if there is one) really lies. It also makes a perfect historical introduction to philosophy.


Nietzsche once remarked that when people talk a lot about 'values' one knows that values are in trouble. The same is true of the meaning of life. That we talk, make nervous, Woody Allenish jokes, write and read books such as this one about it suggests that we are troubled by the topic. Such talk, however, is a relatively recent phenomenon. For most of our Western history we have not talked about the meaning of life. This is because we used to be quite certain that we knew what it was. We were certain about it because we thought we knew that over and above this world of doubtful virtue and happiness is another world: a world Nietzsche calls (somewhat ironically) the 'true world' or, alternatively expressed, 'God'.

A true world is a destination; a destination such that to reach it is to enter (or perhaps re-enter) a state of 'eternal bliss', a heaven, paradise or utopia. Hence true-world philosophies (in a broad sense which includes religions) give meaning to life by representing it as a journey; a journey towards 'redemption', towards an arrival which will more than make up for the stress and discomfort of the travelling. Since journeys have a beginning, a middle and an end, a true-world account of the proper course of our lives is a kind of story, a narrative. And since true-world narratives (that, for example, of Christianity) are global rather than individual, since they narrate not just your life or mine, but rather all lives at all times and places, they are, as I shall call them, 'grand' narratives.

Part I of this study is concerned with true-world, grand-narrative philosophies. In Chapter 1, I trace the idea of the true world from its entry into philosophy in the dialogues of Plato to its heyday, its assumption of world-historical dominion, in the shape of medieval Christianity.

At the beginning of the modern period, however, the birth and success of experimental science presented the severest of challenges

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