The Death of God and the Meaning of Life

By Julian Young | Go to book overview

Introduction

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 1 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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The Death of God and the Meaning of Life
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Before the Death of God 7
  • 1 - Plato 9
  • 2 - Kant and Christianity 21
  • 3 - Schopenhauer 29
  • 4 - Early Nietzsche 44
  • 5 - Hegel 57
  • 6 - Hegel (Continued), with a Postscript on Marx 71
  • Part II - After the Death of God 81
  • 7 - Later Nietzsche 83
  • 8 - Posthumous Nietzsche 97
  • 9 - Early Heidegger 107
  • 10 - Sartre 125
  • 11 - Sartre (Continued) 142
  • 12 - Camus 160
  • 13 - Foucault 173
  • 14 - Derrida 188
  • 15 - Later Heidegger 197
  • Further Reading 213
  • Notes 216
  • Index 233
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