The Meaning of Lives
In her article The Meaning of Lives, Susan Wolf, a moral philosopher and philosopher of action, investigates whether meaning can exist in lives without postulating the existance of God. Wolf establishes her position on this philosophical question from an agnostic perspective and rationally argues that such a question can in fact “fit within a negative or agnostic view about the meaning of life” (Wolf 63). With this paper, I will first summarize the prominent points of Wolf’s article then highlight and expound upon areas of her argument that contradict her line of reason. Lastly, I will introduce the theistic perspective on meaningful lives along with presenting Wolf’s reason and argument as supporting evidence for the theistic view.
In the Meaning of Lives, Susan Wolf opens briefly with an evaluation of the philosophically ambiguous question, “What is the meaning of life?” She argues this particular question is impossible to rationalize because it dependents upon a postulation for the existence of God. Wolf claims it is necessary to postulate the existence of God in order to argue this original question because if God does exist, then He “may have created us for a reason, with a plan in mind”(Wolf 63). Thus, if God exists then there would be purpose and meaning to human existence dependent upon the creator God. Wolf does not deny the existence of God; she simply suggests that a divine existence is improvable. Therefore the question of a grand purpose and meaning in life is an unnecessary and an improvable argument to find an answer to, due to the improvable nature of God. However, she does believe that meaning in lives is not contingent upon the existence of God stating, “Meaningfulness is an intelligible feature to be sought in life” and that “a positive view about the possibility of meaning in lives can fit with a negative or agnostic view about the meaning of life”(Wolf 63). She expounds on this argument in three distinct sections. The first part of Wolf’s argument observes three different examples of meaningless lifestyle. Wolf articulates that learning from three paradigms of meaningless lives, one can construct an understanding for meaningfulness. She begins with a lifestyle she labeled the Blob. The Blob is defined by a lifestyle that “is lived in hazy passivity… unconnected to anyone or anything, going nowhere, achieving nothing” (Wolf 64). Wolf deduces from the Blobs meaningless lifestyle, that in order to attain a meaningful life one must be engaged in a project, which can include relationships. The second meaningless lifestyle, in contrast to the Blob’s lifestyle of passivity, is regarded as the Useless life; “a life whose dominant activities seem pointless, useless or empty” (Wolf 65). After reviewing the lifestyle of the Useless life, a life void of worth, to achieve meaning “one must be engaged in a project or projects that have some positive value” (Wolf 65). The final category of a meaningless life would be the lifestyle of the Bankrupt, “someone who is engaged or even dedicated, to a project that is ultimately revealed as bankrupt, not because the person’s values are shallow or misguided, but because the project fails”(Wolf 65). Ultimately, Wolf concludes that in order to achieve meaningfulness one must not only be engaged in a project of positive value but that project must be in some way successful. After providing a working definition for a meaningful life, Wolf raises the question as to what constitutes “positive value” and who has the right to objectively determine value. Similarly to Wolf’s construction of meaningfulness, she argues reasons for why an individual is incapable of objectively determining positive value. This incapability for determining objective value is due to the individual’s subjectivity and “interest in living a life that feels or seems meaningful”(Wolf 66). Therefore, because an individual is incapable of distinguishing objective positive...
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