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GED2103 Philosophy and the Meaning of Life: Home

Course Description

What makes a human life meaningful? Does it make sense to talk about ‘the meaning of life’? This course will investigate various philosophical approaches to answering these questions. We will discuss topics including the following: the difference between happiness and meaning, subjective and objective theories of meaning, the relationship between meaning and morality, the shape of a life, human mortality, and love.

Recommended Books

The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories

This is a collection of 6 stories written by Leo Tolstoy, including The Two Old Men, How Much Land Does a Man Need? The Forged Coupon, Master and Workman, Alyosha Pot, and The Death of Ivan Ilyich. Among these stories, The Death of Ivan Ilyich is undoubtedly the most influential masterpiece renowned around the world. This story narrates Ivan Ilyich’s experience from his being caught by illness to his death, especially depicting his struggle and reflection upon the attack by both physical illness and spiritual shocks. This story represents human beings’ performance when facing life and death, revealing Tolstoy's artistry and deepest concern towards this moral theme.

Meaning in Life and Why It Matters

Wolf proposes that meaningfulness in life comes from loving something worthy of love, and being able to engage with it in some positive way. Wolf defines a meaningful life as a life that the subject finds fulfilling and contributes to or connects positively with something the value of which has its source outside the subject. Wolf’s essays on meaning in life are followed by four critical commentaries. Koethe and Adams seek to clarify the subjective and objective elements of meaning in life, while Aapaly and Haidt question the need for criteria of objective value. At the very end of the books is Wolf’s response to these critics.

The Reasons of Love

This book is a brief and provocative thesis on love and its role in guiding conduct. Frankfurt first states that how one should live is not subject to morality, and that caring shapes how one should live. Frankfurt then differentiates between love and caring. Frankfurt summarizes four features of love: a disinterested concern for the well-being or flourishing of the beloved, an intense partiality aroused by the distinct identity of its object, the identification of the lovers with the beloved, and constraints upon the will or even estrangement from volitional control. In the end, Frankfurt argues that self-love is the purest form of love and should not be frowned upon.

Midlife: A Philosophical Guide

This book is a philosophical reflection on the midlife. As for Setiya, the midlife crisis is a special kind of crisis of value. Setiya mainly distinguishes between telic value and the atelic value. The former is the kind of value obtained from advancing toward a goal or accomplishment, and the latter is the kind of value obtained from simply being immersed in an activity. Seitiya argues that one should pursue the atelic value in midlife as a philosophical treatment for the midlife crisis. Setiya also pitches mindfulness meditation as a way of learning to appreciate atelic value.

The Myth of Sisyphus

This work is a crucial exposition of existentialist thought. Influenced by works such as Don Juan and the novels of Franz Kafka, with such fundamental subject that “it is legitimate and necessary to wonder whether life has a meaning and that therefore it is legitimate to meet the problem of suicide face to face,” the essay presents a meditation of suicide- the question of living or not living in a universe devoid of order or meaning. Camus posits a way out of despair, reaffirming the value of personal existence and the possibility of life lived with dignity and authenticity.

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