Philospot

Before inflicting Tolstoy's ‘Confession' on you, I just wanted to say I've been blown away by the quality of the responses to the meaning of life blogs. A big ‘Thanks!' to all concerned. Reading through them, and the themes that are starting to emerge, there are two, connected, things that occur to me.

First, if you think there is a real issue about life's meaning, then you are committed to the idea that values are objective. (David Wiggins made this point a long time ago, in a paper called ‘Truth, invention and the meaning of life'). In the first meaning of life post I distinguished between subjective and objective interpretations of the question ‘Does life have meaning?' According to the subjective interpretation, the question means: ‘Does my life seem meaningful to me?' (Or ‘Does your life seem meaningful to you?' etc). But, if that's all the question means, then it can be answered by a simple empirical fact: ‘Yes it does' (or ‘No it doesn't' - delete as appropriate). That's not a philosophical question. It's not even a particularly hard question.

So, if we think there is a genuine question here, one that can't be answered by empirical investigation of my (or your) state of mind, that is because we must be assuming that the subjective interpretation does not do justice to the question. What's the alternative? The objective interpretation: ‘Does my life have meaning independently of how I happen to feel about it?' If it does, then its meaning does not reduce to my feelings, opinions, etc. But then, the question is: what could this meaning possibly be?

This brings me to my second point - and here the connection between the meaning of life and the objectivity of value becomes clear. Here, I think, is the best way of interpreting the question: ‘What is the meaning of life? It means: ‘What sorts of things should I value?' or, alternatively: ‘How should I live?'

Note: the question is not: ‘What do I value?' or ‘How do I live?' These are straightforward empirical questions. The question of the meaning of life is not one of these. It is, ‘What should I value? How should I live?' If you allow there is a distinction between what you do value and what you should value, between how you in fact live and how you should live, then you are committed to the idea that values are objective in the sense, roughly, that they do not reduce to our feelings, opinions, preferences, etc.

So, if you think there is a real issue about the meaning of life, you cannot be a subjectivist about value. Conversely ...

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