Philospot

Apologies for my silence over the past week or so - I've been finishing up a book on extended cognition, to be published by MIT Press some time next year.

Anyway, to unfinished business: problems with Richard Taylor's argument concerning the meaning of life (see The Meaning of Life Part 1, for context).

Taylor's argument seems to go like this:

(1) The meaning of life cannot be found in purpose (the dilemma - see The Meaning of Life Part 1)
(2) Therefore, it must be found in something else.
(3) To see what, we should revisit the reworked version of the Sisyphus' myth.

In the reworked version, the gods instill in Sisyphus an irrational desire to roll rocks up hills, so that he is condemned to do just what he wants to do more than anything else.

Taylor concludes:

'A human being no sooner draws his first breath than he responds to the will that is in him to live. He no more asks whether it will be worthwhile, or whether anything of significance will come of it, than the worms and the birds. The point of his living is simply to be living, in the manner that is his nature to be living. He goes through his life building his castles, each of these beginning to fade into time as the next is begun; yet it would be no salvation to rest from all this. It would be a condemnation ... What counts is that one should be able to begin a new task, a new castle ... It counts only because it is there to be done, and he has the will to do it.' (141-2)

I have three worries with this argument:

First, is this argument a form of false dilemma? That is, Taylor sets up the discussion around two possibilities: either meaning a function of purpose, or it is a function of acting according to your will. Since it can't be the former, it must be the latter? Is this is a fair way of representing Taylor's argument? If so, then how can we rule out: (a) the meaning of life is a third, as yet unidentified possibility, or (b) the conclusion that the meaning of life is neither purposes nor acting according to your will because there is no meaning of life?

Second, does Taylor's ‘solution' simply collapse into the subjective interpretation of the meaning of life? That is, does ‘doing what you will' simply amount to ‘doing what you regard as significant'? But it we want to reduce the question of the meaning of life to this, then we already know the answer. Who would want to deny that life has meaning in this obvious sense?

Is it easy to differentiate what counts as acting according to one's nature from what does not? I strongly suspect this is going to rear its ugly head later ...

BTW, in case anyone is interested, page numbers refer to Klemke and Cahn, The Meaning of Life (Oxford University Press)

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