Just finished Susan Wolf's Meaning in Life and Why It Matters, which was okay. It was recommended off of the Very Bad Wizards podcast, which I generally love, but what I was really looking for - a specific response to the reductionist arguments made via evolutionary psychology & incompatibilists, was basically entirely missing. Maybe that was too much to expect from a positive account of meaning - a specific response to modern scientist nihilism espoused by the likes of Alex Rosenberg, etc.
Wolf sketches out an obvious and straightforward account of meaning that I have trouble disagreeing with:
Meaning in life arises when subjective attraction meets objective attractiveness, and one is able to do something about it or with it.
What I find interesting is the following:
Meaning has an objective (that is, a nonsubjective) component...
Having been raised as a devout evangelical Christian, this especially rung true for me. I experienced great moments of transcendence and ecstasy as a religious believer that I haven't been able to reproduce since that time. It was a great shock to realize that an experience so profound could prove to be so, so wrong.
This ties into the issues I wish that she had addressed: what to make of objective attractiveness? How can this be discerned? If the incompatibilists are right, then doesn't that degrade the objective value of our decisions? Don't our choices collapse into the movement of atomic particles? Can that be said to be objectively attractive? I don't know.
This point ties directly into the altered states of consciousness made possible by subsuming oneself into a large group.
We want, need, and love groups. We have special emotions that we feel only in groups. And we have special practices that bind groups together into a kind of hive. Barbara Ehrenreich recently made this case in her book Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy. She describes how collective, ecstatic dance used to be nearly a cultural universal, which functioned to soften hierarchy and bind groups together with love.
The power of this shouldn't be understated. One can only imagine how meaningful the Nuremberg Rallies (or a public execution by ISIS) has felt for those attending it.
In conclusion: 2 out of 5 stars.
people I admire
Bret Easton Ellis