Tracking the Meaning of Life: A Philosophical Journey

Tracking the Meaning of Life: A Philosophical Journey

Tracking the Meaning of Life: A Philosophical Journey

Tracking the Meaning of Life: A Philosophical Journey

Synopsis

What intelligent person has never pondered the meaning of life? For Yuval Lurie, this is more than a puzzling philosophical question; it is a journey, and in this book he takes readers on a search that ranges from ancient quests for the purpose of life to the ruminations of postmodern thinkers on meaning. He shows that the question about the meaning of life expresses philosophical puzzlement regarding life in general as well as personal concern about one's own life in particular. Lurie traces the emergence of this question as a modern philosophical quandary, riddled with shifts and turns that have arisen over the years in response to it. Tracking the Meaning of Life is written as a critical philosophical investigation stretching over several traditions, such as analytic philosophy, phenomenology, and existentialism. It maps out a journey that explores pivotal responses to this question, drawing especially on the thought of Tolstoy, Wittgenstein, Sartre, and Camus and exploring in depth the insights these thinkers offer regarding their own difficulties concerning the meaning of life. In the book's four sections, Lurie discusses Tolstoy's challenge to experience the religious and transcendental meaning of life by choosing a simple, hardworking existence; Wittgenstein's focus on ethics and discovering the sense of the world, his conclusion that the question of the meaning of life makes no sense, and his turning to experience the mystical aspect of the world; Sartre's positing of freedom as the basis of human life, stipulating a personal answer to the question of the meaning of life; and Camus' view of the absurdity of life, unalleviated by any personal meaning. Guided by these views, Lurie imparts new insight to ideas that underlie our concern with life's meaning, such as the difference between attitudes toward life and beliefs and opinions about life, the meaning of words versus the meaning of events, shared meanings versus personal meanings, and the link between ethics and personal identity. Tracking the Meaning of Life is no mere dry philosophical study but a journey that dramatically illustrates the poignancy of the quest for meaning, showing that along the way it gradually becomes more obvious how personal meaning may be found in the pulsations of everyday life. The book offers stimulating reading not only for scholars in philosophy but also for general readers who wish to see how their personal concerns are echoed in modern philosophical thought. More than a description of a journey, it is a map to anxieties and puzzlements we all face, pointing to ideas that can guide readers on their own search for meaning.

Excerpt

Some of us wonder at times about the meaning of life. We may do so when pondering the cycle of life beginning with birth and ending in death, or when seeing the suffering of innocent human beings and their cruel and unjust fate, or when reflecting on the vicissitudes of history and the uncertainty at the basis of human life, or when thinking about the origin of the universe and the existence of God. We may do so at times of personal anguish, suffering, loneliness, sorrow, boredom, despair, bewilderment, or disappointment with our lives, as well as when we become concerned about what the future holds, while dreading the death that awaits us, or just the opposite, when we marvel at our very lives, wanting to find out how life should be regarded, valued, and lived. in the first instances, we wonder about the meaning of life as if we were gazing through the window of a moving train at a strange and bewildering landscape passing before our eyes. in the second instances, we wonder about the meaning of life as though we are carried on a huge wave threatening to smash and drown us at any moment. One way or the other, those of us who wonder about the meaning of life are apt to do so in solitude, as the question, "What is the meaning of life?" is not usually asked and answered in the ordinary stream of life.

The question is not an everyday question, which we might ask to extract useful information from someone who happens to possess it (such as, "When is the next bus leaving for the city?"). It is not a scientific question, which we might pose in seeking an explanation to a particular phenomenon (such as, "What causes liquids to freeze at a low temperature?"). It is not a moral question, which we might contemplate, regarding what we . . .

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