PHIL1105: The Meaning of Life

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Introduction to PHIL1105:

For an introduction to some of the questions we’ll be discussing throughout the course, please view this slideshow.

Jump to:

Jan 9 & Jan 11
Jan 16 & Jan 18
Jan 23 & Jan 25
Jan 30 & Feb 1
Feb 6 & Feb 8
Feb 13 (storm cancellation) & Feb 15
N0 Classes – Reading Week
Feb 27 & March 1
March 6 & March 8
March 13 & March 15
March 20 (storm cancellation) & March 22

Monday, January 9, 2017

Preview PowerPoint Presentation – Jan9

The Meaning of Life? Does it Make Sense to Ask About it?
Meaning in Life, Susan Wolf & Meaningless Lives? Steven Cahn

Weekly Question:
Do you agree with Susan Wolf that we need to objectively assess the worth of an activity that gives meaning to somebody’s life? Or do you agree with Steven Cahn that it makes no sense to try to make that kind of judgment?

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Preview PowerPoint Presentation – Jan11

Is Human Life A Comedy?
Reading:  The Vanity of Existence, Arthur Schopenhauer

Weekly Questions:

  1. What do you think is the strongest element of Schopenhauer’s argument for the idea that life is a kind of comedy?
  2. What do you think is the best argument against this idea?

Monday, January 16, 2017

What does Happiness Consist In?

On the Sufferings of the World, Arthur Schopenhauer

  • For a life to be meaningful, according to Schopenhauer, it must be a happy one. But happiness he says, consists in the absence of pain. So, it seems as if a meaningful life is one in which there is a minimum of pain. Does that make sense?
  • Schopenhauer argues that the proudest possessions of human beings – self-consciousness, the ability to think, exceptional memory, foresight, etc. – are the greatest source of suffering in the world. Do you think he is right? Why or why not?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

What Does It Mean To Live For The Moment?
Epicurus and the Art of Happiness, Jules Evans

Epicurus PostScript

  • Do you think that Epicurus is a potential therapeutic tool for the living a “good life” in the contemporary world?
  • Let’s assume that “living for the moment” is essential to living a meaningful life. But this can mean different things. What do you think is the best way of understanding this idea?

Monday, January 23, 2017

Preview class PowerPoint Presentation

Do We Need to “Disconnect” to Find Meaning in Life?
Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection, Michael Harris

Robert Nozick’s “Experience Machine,” Brian Jortner

  • Reconsider what we’ve already discussed about boredom and ask yourself: are we on the verge of eliminating boredom in a “connected” world? And is that a bad thing?
  • What does Harris mean by “absence” and why does he think it’s essential to a meaningful life?
  • Would you reject the choice offered by Nozick’s thought experiment?

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

What Does a Wasted Life Feel Like?
The Death of Ivan Ilych, Leo Tolstoi

Walden, Henry Thoreau

  • Do you think that The Death of Ivan Ilych justifies Schopenhauer’s view of the meaninglessness of life (or not)?
  • Ivan Illych was probably one of those people who, as Thoreau put it, “lived a life of quiet desperation.” What advice might you have given Ivan Illych in order to avoid that fate

Monday, January 30, 2017

What is the Stoic Attitude to Life

The Enchiridion (The Handbook), Epictetus
Vulnerability & Resilience, Trudy Govier

  • Is there a way of defending Epictetus (and Stoicism) against the charge of encouraging fatalism or a passive attitude to life?
  • Do you think it is possible to productively adapt the concept of “playing a role in life” to the 21st century?

Wednesday, Feb 1st, 2017

No broadcast today – essay prep class for credit students only (online credit students should participate as usual).
Broadcast will resume on Monday, Feb 6th!

Monday, Feb 6, 2017

Why is it Important to Manage Expectations in Our Lives?

Seneca and the Art of Managing Expectations, Jules Evans

  • Are you prone to anger? If so, how do you explain your emotional outbursts? If not, how do you explain your emotional calmness?
  • Do Seneca’s “anger management” techniques seem sensible?
  • The ancient concept of Luck or Fortune might make sense if you’re a member of the armed forces, but is it relevant to the lives of most ordinary people?

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Could You Live Your Life With No Regrets?

Je Ne Regrette Rien, Mark Kingwell
Amor Fati, Friedrich Nietzsche

  • What would be the greatest obstacle you yourself would have to overcome, in order to live life with no regrets?
  • How would you respond to the question regarding “the eternal hourglass of existence” posed by Nietzsche’s demon?

Monday, February 13, 2017

Class cancelled due to weather

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Do Our Dreams Possess Meaning?  

Dreams, Friedrich Nietzsche
The Logic of Dreams, Friedrich Nietzsche
Imaginary Causes, Friedrich Nietzsche

  • What is the fundamental difference between “meaning” in our dreams and the meaning of our waking reality?


February 20 & 22 – NO CLASS – READING WEEK

Monday, February 27, 2017

What makes a life story meaningful? 

Memory, Stories and the Origins of Human Life, John Dewey
Freud’s Moral Psychology, Richard Rorty

  • John Dewey argues that the “emotional congeniality” of suggestions that pop into our minds is much more powerful that accuracy or truthfulness. Do you think he approves of this state of affairs? Do you?
  • Does the (Freudian) view of “moral psychology” favored by Richard Rorty allow for just about any kind of life to be considered meaningful? Does this fit your view? (Remember, early in the course most of the class rejected the idea of judging a life as not being meaningful if a person found it meaningful).

Wednesday, February 29, 2017

What is the secret of optimism?

On A Certain Blindness in Human Beings, William James
What Makes Life Significant? William James
The Energies of Men, William James

  • After considering the first two readings by William James, how would you describe the relationship between “blindness” and “insight” regarding the meaningfulness of life?
  • Do you agree with William James that it is possible to achieve an optimistic outlook by “methodical self-suggestion”?

March 6 & March 8

Does Radical Evil Necessarily Destroy Meaning in One’s Life?

Evil, Trudy Govier
Night, Elie Wiesel
The Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl

  • Take the position of a religious believer – whether you are one or not – and in the most plausible way possible, try to explain the relationship between God and an innocent person enduring suffering and anguish.
  • In the reading by Wiesel, inhabitants of a concentration camp cry out “Where is God?” Do you find anything particularly puzzling about the response to that exclamation?
  • What do you think is the best example Frankl uses to support his argument that it’s possible to find meaning in a seemingly meaningless – and perhaps evil – situation?

Monday, March 13, 2017

What Is An Existentialist?

Existentialism and Humanism, Jean-Paul Sartre

  • Discuss Sartre’s idea that we are “abandoned” in the world?
  • When it comes to difficult decisions Sartre doesn’t think it is very helpful to say that we should “trust our instincts” or feelings. Do you agree?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

How Do Others Define Us?
Shame, Jean-Paul Sartre

*Anti-Semite and Jew, Jean Paul Sartre
*Becoming a Woman: Simone de Beauvoir on Female Embodiment, Felicity Joseph

  • Why is shame such a complicated emotion?
  • “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman” – interpret de Beauvoir’s famous statement from an existentialist point of view.
  • Substitute “Jew” and “anti-Semite” with any other racial (or minority) group and those that hate them and discuss whether, in your opinion, Sartre’s understanding of racism is sound.

* Consider one of these two readings depending upon whether you want to think about the existentialist view of sexism or racism.

Monday, March 20, 2017

(Class cancelled due to storm)

What Does It Mean To Live In Hell?
Hell, Pope Jean Paul
No Exit, Jean-Paul Sartre

  • In your opinion who has the better understanding of hell? The former Pope or Sartre?
  • In No Exit, Inez says “one can judge a life by a single action.” Do you agree?
  • Think back to Sartre’s account of the dynamics of shame. Does it explain the famous line from this play – “hell is other people?”

Wednesday, March 2, 2017

When Does Suicide Pose a Philosophical Problem
Absurd Reasoning, Albert Camus
The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus

    • Do you think Camus’ view of the “absurdity of life” is any different from Schopenhauer’s view of human life as a futile and worthless endeavour.
    • What do you think is the point of Camus’ Sisyphus myth? Do you buy it?