The Death of God and the Meaning of Life

By Julian Young | Go to book overview

2

Kant and Christianity

From about the fourth to the eighteenth century Western thinking was Christian thinking. This meant that throughout this period the question of the meaning of life was a non-issue; a non-issue because the answer was obvious, self-evident, the topic completely sewn up by Christianity's version of Platonism. And if, perchance, one did threaten the prevailing meaning-giving story, then one got persecuted. (Hence Schopenhauer's sardonic remark that Christianity's single greatest argument has always been the stake.)

Though he was not burnt, a case in point is Galileo (1564-1642), who was persecuted by the Catholic Inquisition for saying (after Copernicus) that the earth rotates around the sun, precisely the opposite of what the Church had always taught.

One might wonder how Galileo could possibly bother the Vatican one way or another, how a theory of astronomy could possibly bother an institution that was in the meaning-of-life business, not that of science.

The answer is as follows. We saw that Plato's account of the cosmos is as is represented on the next page by Figure 2.1.

With a little more detail added, and with the substitution of God for the Forms, this becomes the metaphysics of medieval Christianity (Figure 2.2).

The thing to notice about this second map of the cosmos is that it represents both a theory of astronomy and an account of the meaning of life. To say that the picture is wrong, to say, as Galileo did, that the earth is not the centre of the universe, to say that the earth moves, is, therefore, not just to propose a new theory of astronomy. It is to threaten an entire meaning-giving world-view.

From its point of view, therefore, the Church was quite right to persecute Galileo, to demand, and eventually obtain, his retraction of the new astronomy. For what he threatened to bring into being

-21-

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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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