01. The Meaning of Life - an introduction

The story so far: In the beginning the Universe was created.
This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move. 
Many races believe that it was created by some sort of God, though the Jatravartid people of Viltvodle VI believe 
that the entire Universe was in fact sneezed out of the nose of a being called the Great Green Arkleseizure. 
The Jatravartids, who live in perpetual fear of the time they call The Coming of The Great White Handkerchief, 
are small blue creatures with more than fifty arms each, who are therefore unique in being the only race in history 
to have invented the aerosol deodorant before the wheel. 
However, the Great Green Arkleseizure Theory is not widely accepted outside Viltvodle VI 
and so, the Universe being the puzzling place it is, other explanations are constantly being sought. 
For instance, a race of hyperintelligent pandimensional beings once built themselves a gigantic supercomputer called Deep Thought 
to calculate once and for all the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. 
For seven and a half million years, Deep Thought computed and calculated, and in the end announced that the answer was in fact Forty-two  
and so another, even bigger, computer had to be built to find out what the actual question was. 
And this computer, which was called the Earth, was so large that it was frequently mistaken for a planet
especially by the strange ape-like beings who roamed its surface, totally unaware that they were simply part of a gigantic computer program. 
And this is very odd, because without that fairly simple and obvious piece of knowledge, nothing that ever happened on the Earth could possibly make the slightest bit of sense. 
Sadly however, just before the critical moment of readout, the Earth was unexpectedly demolished by the Vogons 
to make way - so they claimed - for a new hyperspace bypass, and so all hope of discovering a meaning for life was lost for ever.
All hope lost forever. This is what Douglas Adams wants us te believe after you have read the first paragraphs of his book "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980)"
Maybe you know which computer gave the answer FOURTY-TWO. It was the one in his famous novel "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy  (1979)"
So the answer to the question what the meaning of life is, either is forty-two or you may wonder where I have found the hope to find an other answer yet.
To begin with the idea that a computer could calculate an answer to the question was a big mistake.
Although "What is the meaning of life?" looks like a real and reasonable question, it also suggests already an answer.
Every question forces you in a certain direction. Take for instance "Who is a man?" and "What is a man?"
A second problem with questions is and that is here the case, you expect an answer, in particular the one and only right answer.
Asking a "WHAT IS……?" already suggests that there is a single something, which you can describe  
and every time you see that something you now know what it is. That is how we learnt meanings.
What is that? That is a dog. What is a dog? A dog is an animal that barks… and so on.
The question "What is the meaning of Life ? " suggests a similar way of answering. But we learnt that all hope of discovering a meaning for life was lost for ever.
And that is true. Forget any hope on that one and only right answer. There is none. Thence our next step is to figure out what to do with this question.

Let's do that next Tuesday…thank you … ^_^


MacMillan The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2nd edition
Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 1995
Julian Baggini, What's It All About? Philosophy and the Meaning of Life (2004)


02. About the Meaning of Life.....

In the discussion after our first lecture on the new theme Ronjaji suggested, that the question of the meaning of life

could be replaced by the question Who am I and that the answer to that question would imply the answer to our first question.

As I said last time, questions can send you into a particular direction. Here is happing the same.

The question What is the meaning of life ? suggests somehow, that this meaning is something outside ourselves.

This relates to a deeply rooted belief that life has or must have a purpose, a goal. This is called the teleological thinking

derived from the Greek word TELOS, which means goal. You find this already in the Ancient Greek philosophies as well as in many religions.

The question Who am I ? sends us inside ourselves. This line of thinking you mainly find in asian philosophies.

It was introduced in Western thinking, when psychology became an independent science. Nowadays you'll find plenty of books

which explain to you who you are and how this helps to make life a meaningful business.

The main problem with the question "What is the meaning of life?" is, that it is in fact a kind of container of a collection of question.

Not only does it contain the question Who am I? but also questions like "Why am I?", "Is this all there is?"

"Should I pursue a specific goal in life?", "Is being happy enough?", "Am I alone or part of something larger?"

Sometimes you get the impression that the meaning of life is some secret, which only is revealed to a special kind of people,

or what you only can discover with the use of intense meditation, special food or rituals.. I would name this the Prophet - syndrome.

It means, that we won't find answers by accepting all kinds of beliefs or revelations. We have to use our own common sense here.

The only means we have is evidence, logical argumentation, explanations which can be understood and judged by anyone.

The diagram behind me may explain somewhat the way we are going to try to find some answers.

We have the advantage that we may stand on the shoulders of many thinkers who tried to deal with this question about the meaning of life through the ages.

Nevertheless, this journey into the realm of questions can only be a personal one, where you make your own choices.

We may start by wondering what life is all about. Why are we here? The question is, however, ambiguous.

On the one hand you can look into the past and read "On the Origin of Species" of Darwin, who explains the cause of our existence.

However, you also can read in the question a question about our goal, our purpose, our destiny as humans.

Sometimes cause and purpose explanations sometimes coincide. The road that was built, was meant to give way to traffic between A and B.

But take the apples on a tree, which have been enjoyed by man as food for centuries.

How they are "caused" into existence" doesn't explain anything about the fact that they have become food for man and animal.

Thus we can look at the cause of human life and ask ourselves if it tells something about the meaning of life

and we can wonder about a purpose, a final goal of human life and wonder about the question

do this cause and whatever purpose coincide or isn't there any relation between them….?

Thank you…. ^_^



03. A First Attempt...

To get some hold on the meaning of life we can ask ourselves, where did it come from and where does it lead to.

Like a road, which originated from the wish to be able to travel from A to B, which lead to the traffic from A to B.

Origin and purpose coincide here, which makes it quite understandable, but applied to the origin and purpose of life, it is quite different.

What I wish to add too, is, that those of you who have attended a number of projects of The Philosophy Class will notice, that aspects of these projects will reappear in this project.

This is of course due to the fact that we assumed that the question we are dealing with now, is in fact a container of many questions.

If you assume, for instance, that the meaning of life is defined by our actions, then it will be related to historical, economical, social, ethical and psychological actions.

And in the previous projects we already have discussed a lot of these issues here.

So let's return to our question of today: does our origin sheds light on the question why we are here?

All together you could discern two sets of theories, which boil down to what we might call creationism and naturalism.

Creationist theories claim that the origin of man is found in some supernatural power, which has a purpose in mind with its creation.

Naturalist theories state that human life emerged as the result of some blind and random physical process.

A philosopher like Spinoza takes a kind of position in the middle here, when he refers to God and Nature as being one and the same.

Let's have a look at the naturalist theory. When you look at our diagram behind me, you see that evidence is an important ingredient of any proper discussion.

In that sense there is an overwhelming amount of evidence, which supports naturalist theories of the origin of mankind.

From the Big Bang theory up to "On the Origin of Species" by Darwin. You may believe in the Big Bang theory,

but nowhere in this theory is an explanation of what caused this Big Bang, except historically

that the theory was invented by Georges Lemaitre (1894 – 1966) , a Belgian Roman-Catholic priest, astronomer and professor of physics at the Catholic University of Leuven.

I even found a book with the title "The Universe Before the Big Bang: Cosmology and String Theory" (2008) by Maurizio Gasperini.

This inexplicable first moment lead eventually to the emergence of life, another inexplicable event.

Let me quote Richard David Precht (1964 - ) here, the popular German philosopher:

Some philosophers in the early-nineteenth-century Romantic era insisted on regarding man as nature's crowning achievement ,

as the creature created to understand the world and to make nature aware of itself.

In reality, of course, there is no reason to believe that man and his actions are the goal of evolution, and indeed even the concept of a 'goal' itself is dubious.

Goals represent a very human approach to thinking (do salamanders have goals?) and are associated with typically human notions of time, as are the terms 'progress' and 'meaning.'

But nature is physical, chemical, and biological, and 'meaning' is on an entirely different plane from, say, the the term 'protein.'

Apparently, digging into this cause of why we are here, leaves us rather empty handed for the time being……

Thank you … ^_^


MacMillan The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2nd edition
Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 1995
Julian Baggini, What's It All About? Philosophy and the Meaning of Life (2004)


04. The Joy of Nihilism...

As we noticed last week the naturalist explanation of our existence offers little material, which could help use answer the question why we are here.

This could lead to the conclusion, that life as we know it in this universe is just a meaningless coincidence.

Some people feel rather uncomfortable to know that we are just survival machines, as Richard Dawkins calls the living organisms in het book "The Selfish Gen".

The fact that organisms survive does not imply any purpose. There is no final goal or direction which we are heading for.

From this point of view human life is only an objectless insignificant accident.

My goodness…..if this is all there is ?! A lot of people don't like this observation at all. They even do not wish to have it true.

The first word, which may come to mind in this context is the word "NIHILISM". What everybody at least knows is that this word has a negative connotation.

The term nihilism appears to have been coined in Russia sometime in the second quarter of the nineteenth century around 1860.

Use of the term spread rapidly throughout Europe and the Americas. As it did, the term lost most

of its anarchistic and revolutionary flavour, ceasing to evoke the image of a political program or even an intellectual movement.

On the one hand, the term is widely used to denote the doctrine that moral norms or standards cannot be justified by rational argument.

On the other hand, it is widely used to denote a mood of despair over the emptiness or triviality of human existence.

This double meaning appears to derive from the fact that the term was often employed in the nineteenth century by the religiously oriented

as a club against atheists, atheists being regarded as ipso facto nihilists in both senses.

The atheist, it was held, would not feel bound by moral norms; consequently, he would tend to be callous or selfish, even criminal.

There are many literary prototypes of the atheist-nihilist. The most famous are Ivan in Fëdor Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov and Kirilov in Dostoevsky's The Possessed.

It was into Ivan's mouth that Dostoevsky put the words, "If God does not exist, everything is permitted."

You still hear such statements and I still do not see the logical relation between the existence of a god and the absence or presence of moral standards, especially when you look at the work of Frans de Waal with primates.

And I am not the only one. Friedrich Nietzsche was the first great philosopher and still the only one to make extensive use of the term nihilism.

He was also one of the first atheists to dispute the existence of a necessary link between atheism and nihilism.

The tendency to associate nihilism with atheism continues to the present. During the course of the twentieth century, however,

the image of the nihilist changed, with a corresponding change in the analysis of nihilism's causes and consequences.

In a more contemporary view nihilism is caused not so much by atheism as by industrialization and social pressures,

and its typical consequences are not selfishness or suicide but indifference, ironical detachment, or sheer bafflement.

All together nihilism is an interesting answer to the question of the meaning of life. It seems to be not a popular one, but yet a challenging one…

Thank you… ^_^



05. A Way out of Nihilism....?

If by nihilism one means a disbelief in the possibility of justifying moral judgments in some rational way

and if philosophers reflect the intellectual climate of the times in which they live, then our age is truly nihilistic.

At no period in Western history, with the possible exception of the Hellenistic age, have so many philosophers regarded moral statements as somehow arbitrary.

This is what you can read in the MacMillan Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, but I find the expression "somewhat arbitrary" questionable.

It interprets the human being as an organism of which its main control is its rationality and

that moral standards if not rationally and logically deduced from whatever premisses, are somewhat arbitrary.

Here we get a kind of reasoning like, when life has no meaning or purpose, you never can know what to do.

You therefore have no standards for right and wrong. We have no stepping stones in our rationality, which show us the path.

To put it in a decent way, I strongly disagree with this view of man. After all project themes we have discussed here,

it might be clear that there is another interpretation possible.

To begin with, homo sapiens is not a rational being. That is, his existence, his life is NOT guided and controlled by his rationality.

Rationality is one of the assets in his behavioural repertoire, but there are many more elements.

At least one group of philosophers had some understanding of this fact.

For many Continental philosophers, especially the atheistic existentialists, moral values are products of choices we make.

The most notable statement of this view is in "Being and Nothingness" (1943) by Jean-Paul Sartre.

We have no criteria to discern good choices from bad choices, but in our choices we establish our moral responsibility.

This moral responsibility we create ourselves and is not based on external or supernatural sources.

Sartre explains it thus: Take a letter opener. It is created with a special purpose in mind. That is the meaning of this object.

In contrast, take a sharp object like a shard of flint, just a flint even though it could be used to cut. People discovered by accident, that it could be used for that purpose.

Sartre's point is that we assume that we are like letter openers and not like stone shards.

We believed, that we have some purpose serving an essential nature because God created us with a specific goal in mind.

But if God does not exist and the naturalistic interpretation of our existence is true, then the picture is not correct.

We are like stone shards, which just are and nothing more. We may use ourselves for certain goals

to the benefit of ourselves and each other, but these goals can not be deduced from what we are in essence.

This all is reasoning in what I would call narrow minded philosophy. Narrow minded because it all focuses on our rationality as our essence only.

Next lecture I might offer you some alternative….

Thank you again for your attention… ^_^




06. Against Narrow-minded Philosophy...

In my previous lecture I mentioned narrow-minded philosophy by which I meant the believe that reasoning and rationality is the road to finding a meaning of life.

The existentialists got at least that far, that they claimed that we create our morality by the choices we make,

But here too, these choices are based on our rationality. How can there be a choice, when you behave irrational?

Nevertheless it is a start of a departure from the longing for absolute moral standards, which only can come from a source beyond our rationality.

But I still have no answer to the question why homo sapiens has this yearning for such transcendental absolute standards.

The demand that moral codes be justified by more universal standards than pure feeling or social dictate is,

on the contrary, much more consonant with widespread, intuitive notions about the nature of moral justification.

If social pressure is taken as the touchstone of morality, we court a confusion between might and right;

if feeling is taken as the touchstone, we must apparently abandon not only the notion of a universal morality,

feelings being notoriously fluctuating and individual, but also the notion that one of the functions of morality is to refine, direct, and control individual feelings.

This is what you read in the MacMillan Encyclopedia of Philosophy and typical for what I call narrow-minded philosophy.

Feeling forces us to abandon…… it says, for universal morality presupposes rationality and

it is stated that feelings being notoriously fluctuating and individual, are in other words irrational.

Again rationality is the standard, but with all evidence we have about the species homo sapiens, one of the primates on this planet,

we must come to the conclusion that philosophy is no longer possible by relying on logic and rational reasoning alone.

If we search for a meaning of life we have to look at the whole picture, not just at a single faculty of the brain.

So the assumption that feelings being notoriously fluctuating and individual is not realistic. As if my feelings are a totally private process.

I am a primate, a social being by nature. My feelings are not some processes in the blue sky. They are the result of interaction with my environment.

They are not even only individual. A lot of other beings have the same feelings in the same interactions with their environment.

So, what we need is a philosophy that comes down from its ivory tower of rationality and logic and mingles with the crowd of other sciences: psychology, sociology, neuroscience and so on.

And then you read on in the MacMillan Encyclopedia: "It may, of course, be the case that there is no universal morality

and that whatever power morality possesses must derive from individual feeling and social conditioning alone.

It would be surprising, however, if even the emotivists did not experience a certain chagrin that the truth in ethical theory should be so contrary to human hopes." -end quote-

Emotivism is a meta-ethical view that claims that ethical statements do not express statements, that can be true of false, but emotional attitudes.

Here again this peculiar twist; "contrary to human hopes". What hopes? Do we hope to find a meaning of life

by finding answers which refer to something outside us and independent of ourselves. Where does this idea come from……..?

Thank you for your attention…. ^_^


07. The Do-It-Yourself People....

After the years of serious conflicts with the rabbis of the Jewish community in Amsterdam Spinoza must have changed his way of life and attitude.

In 1654 he took over the trade company after the death of his father and ran it together with his brother with little success.

Then in 1656 came his ban and in 1661 he found himself living in Rijnsburg, living a modest and sober life, totally dedicated to philosophy.

He probably was highly motivated to proof, that life was something else than what he had learnt as a boy at the Talmud school of his youth.

This is, I assume, why all his works concern mainly the question about what a meaningful life is, enjoying well-being and happiness.

In his "Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect" (1660) Spinoza states his intentions thus"

-QUOTE- After experience had taught me that all the usual surroundings of social life are vain and futile;

seeing that none of the objects of my fears contained in themselves anything either good or bad, except in so far as the mind is affected by them,

I finally resolved to inquire whether there might be some real good having power to communicate itself, which would affect the mind singly, to the exclusion of all else:

whether, in fact, there might be anything of which the discovery and attainment would enable me to enjoy continuous, supreme, and unending happiness…….

I had recognized that the acquisition of wealth, sensual pleasure, or fame, is only a hindrance,….

But love towards a thing eternal and infinite feeds the mind wholly with joy, and is itself unmingled with any sadness, wherefore it is greatly to be desired and sought for with all our strength. -END QUOTE-

Spinoza's primary purpose in this work is to develop a theory of knowledge which will enable him to attain the knowledge which is the highest good.

He conceives that project as requiring a healing and purification of the intellect. To this end he offers a classification of the different ways we can 'perceive' things so that he can choose the best.

He enumerates four ways by which he has been lead to affirm something without doubt: (1) because someone has told him so

(2) because he has come to believe it by random experience

(3) because he has inferred the essence of a thing from something else (but not adequately); and

(4) because he has come to perceive the thing through its essence alone or through knowledge of its proximate cause.

Then the Treatise continues testing the four ways of perceiving on their reliability, concluding that only the fourth way passes the test.

Like Descartes Spinoza was looking for a method to obtain clear and distinct ideas, ideas which you could not doubt.

The typical rationalist approach of his time to define the foundation and cornerstones of science, or in Spinoza's case of knowledge,

the knowledge to achieve continuous, supreme, and unending happiness. And for that we need among other things an answer to the question

"Where is the beginning of it all?" Everything had, according to Spinoza, a cause, but this could nothing else but imply a first cause.

And guess what the first cause was in those days. Not our nice big Bang, what still today leaves us, like in the days of Spinoza with the same question

"What caused the big Bang……?"




08. What to do with 3180 gods...?

There has emerged a new way of understanding what is true. If I am not mistaken, it is a contribution to this world by Donald Trump.

From now on we have facts. When you talk about facts I assume you mean state of affairs which are true.

But from now on we also have ALTERNATIVE FACTS. So on the one hand you have true statements

and on the other hand you have alternative facts, alternative statements, which claim to be true too.

In this context we have the naturalist view on the meaning of life and on the other hand the alternative facts of creationism.

As you may recall: creationism is the theory, that the meaning of life can be deduced from the fact, that we are the product of an intelligent design.

Throughout most of the human history most people have not accepted the naturalistic conception, that the universe is the product of blind, purposeless forces.

That is still true today. People think that the universe must have some sort of creator, commonly referred to as God.

If so many people believe this, aren't you inclined to assume that there must be some grain of truth in it, isn't it?

But now we have to face the first problem. Here I have a list of 3180 gods in which people have believed

and who have been held responsible for this creation one way or the other.

The second problem is, that a believer claims that his god is the only true one there is. But how do you pick the real and true god from a list of 3180 gods?

I would be happy to learn what criteria make someone's choice of a god from the list the true and only one.

Then we have a third problem. I do not know which ones, but I reckon that a lot of the listed gods are completely forgotten.

One I know of is Zeus or Apollo, for instance. You might object by saying. He is not forgotten, you talk about him now!

True, but only because I know the name, the history and old Greek mythology, as we call it now. But as a god Zeus has lost his job.

Now take this fourth problem: suppose that among those forgotten gods in fact the true and only is,

that people have been to stupid or lazy to see this. How can we ever know?

Let's compromise: forget about a particular god. Just stick to the fact that one way or another man has been convinced about a something.

You could claim, that throughout history man has recognised that existence finds its origin in some creational act of some force or being.

And this creational act has created some order and design in the world we live in and in ourselves.

Let's assume that all religious and ritual things are only a metaphoric way of man to express his understanding of this design aspect of reality.

Thus we may conclude, that the idea that there must be some cosmic designer sometimes is justified with intricate arguments,

but perhaps more often based on a kind of
basic instinct, the strong compulsive feeling, that the universe not only can be a blunt fact.

Let's take this basic instinct serious and put it under the magnifying glass to investigate it in a next lecture.

Thank you for your attention… ^_^


09. Creationism.....?

As commander of Apollo 17 Eugene Cernan visited the moon in 1972. Cernan died in a hospital in Houston on January 16, 2017, at the age of 82.

He said: "No one in his right mind is to look at the stars and everywhere eternally black night and deny the spirituality of the experience or the existence of a Supreme Being."

This is a classic kind of statement. You can hear it in many variations, referring to the complexity of the human body or the beauty of nature.

However, such claims are nothing more than the expression of a personal conviction. What people do in such claims is,

they jump from a personal conviction, own inner, spiritual experience to the actual existence of a creator in the outside world.

Another words, a personal conviction or inner experience should be the proof for the existence of something in the outside world.

But what reason or argument is there for me to accept the same thing, for I don't share these convictions or experiences at all.

Often people include a typical argument to make me share their claim. In this case it is the expression "in his right mind".

We only can conclude here, that whoever denies the existence of a Supreme Being, is not in his right mind. Quite a claim, if this is based on just a personal experience of Eugene Cernan.

In fact this is a classic fallacy, which is called "argument ad hominem". The trick is to disqualify the PERSON, who disagrees with you, because you lack good ARGUMENTS.

A modern example is Donald Trump who calls a judge a "so-called judge", disqualifying the person, because he has no juridical arguments to contradict the judgement of the judge.

The other approach to justify the creationist view is by referring to creation stories. The Hindus have their Poerana, Christianity its Genesis story.

But here we already run into a problem. Some claim that you have to take the texts literally, others claim that the texts are metaphors

and thus are a representation of the truth, that the universe was created on purpose with a certain intrinsic goal.

What would it mean for our search for the meaning of life, if we would accept these creationist stories?

The fact that we exist from a naturalistic point of view did not intrinsically hold a meaning of this existence. Does the belief that we are created?

We get in a difficult position here, for such a creator, isn't it justified to ask at least WHY it/he/she created man?

The answer would tell us, what the meaning of life is. We may assume that this creator is some intelligence, which acts are based on a purpose he/she /it has in mind.

However from Genesis 1:28 we only learn: "And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it:

and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth." -end quote

Many interpret this as an indication that we are appointed as stewards of the earth. But we have no idea why we actually should care or how this command can give a meaning to our lives .

Are we created to take care of an earth of which we even not know why this god created it?

I would say from the perspective of human dignity that it would be better for man

that he could determine his own goals rather that he simply must meet the needs of its creator.

Sometimes it is said, that we are here to do the will of god. Now we know that muslims are even more fanatic in doing so than christians.

Does that give meaning to our life? Our life would only have a purpose for our creator, but not for ourselves.

Are we created to serve our creator? Isn't it eventually highly improbable that the Supreme Being would feel compelled to create human beings,

in all their complexity and with all the suffering and toil human life entails, solely with the intention that these creatures him serve? And for what reason?

This is the image of God as a selfish tyrant, determined to use his power to surround himself with supporters and to be praised.

My conclusion is, that we do not find an answer to why we are created, or just here. If it is to serve god,

then what, when I refuse that job and choose my own goals? Does that mean that I am not in my right mind?

Thank you for your attention…. ^_^




10. Is Science a Religion too...?

In our search of the meaning of life there has shown up an idea in our discussions which I'd like to address.

The meaning of life seems to be closely related to the beliefs someone hold. A serious question about beliefs is how they are justified.

Beliefs are important, because they shape our social life. My beliefs have consequences for the people around me. Therefor the importance of justification.

A few times it is suggested here that science is eventually a belief system just like religions. And thence

you might get the impression that science is equivalent with for instance islam, buddhism or christianity.

This however is not the case. Science is not a religion in that sense. In a way it is a belief system indeed.

Centuries of philosophy still have not come forward with the ultimate epistemological answers, but we could say this:

Science is a formal system. Any Formal System has 3 constituents : a language, a set of axioms or postulates ( certain expressions in that language ) , and rules of inference.

Axioms or postulates could be, that every object has extension, that we have duration and time, that events are sequential - and here we can start a complex debate about causality - and so on.

The rules of inference are the basic rules of logic. Thus we can come to a scientific method and formulating and testing hypotheses .

Of course the postulates are assumed to be true, although we have no way to prove them by means of a logical deduction.

But by postulating them we can explain and predict and test our assumptions about reality. And even more important everyone can repeat the tests, question the results and so on.

And in this sense science is totally different from religious beliefs, also in its social consequences. However, this early means, that science is THE road to follow to find a meaning of life.

Science describes and explains our reality, but it does not tell us why we are here. It only tells us how we are here as organisms and part of nature.

So our search for the meaning of life can go on, because as we saw in the previous lecture, religions too do not offer a real answer.

Nowhere we find an answer of the question WHY we were created and if the answer would be, that it is to serve our creator and his creation,

that would be a poor meaning of life. It would mean that we only exist for our creator. But what when I do not want to be a religious gardener?
What is in it for me as a person?

Religion has found an answer to that question: the better gardener we are the higher will be our reward in the afterlife.

The leap of faith which is required to have this view should also to be understood clearly.

This is the belief that a God, of whom we can not know whether he exists, has a purpose with a life after death for us, of which we have no indication that there really will be one.

Furthermore, we would like to have confidence, that this goal is one where we would be happy with.

So just believing that this afterlife is really the big thing is not a satisfactory way to me to answer the question of the meaning of life.

Thank you for your attention… ^_^

11. We Love Stories......

Recently I read an article in my newspaper of which I thought, that it could be interesting for us in our quest for the meaning of life.

We'll digress a little from our original path, but I think it is worth it. I want your opinion about the following text:

-START- We exist as bio-electricity. Today, science tells us that the essence of nature is stardust. We dream, we self-actualize, we are reborn.

We must heal ourselves and empower others. Who are we? Where on the great path will we be awakened?

We are in the midst of a mythic ennobling of non-locality that will clear a path toward the galaxy itself.

Reality has always been beaming with dream weavers whose essences are engulfed in intuition. We are at a crossroads of fulfillment and dogma.

Humankind has nothing to lose. Throughout history, humans have been interacting with the world via frequencies.

Our conversations with other adventurers have led to an invocation of supra-mystical consciousness.

The current of aspiration is now happening worldwide. Soon there will be an evolving of serenity the likes of which the planet has never seen. -END-

Well, what do you think? What's your opinion about this disquisition? Tell me…

[13:11] CB Axel: I don't think we'll see serenity in my lifetime.
[13:11] herman Bergson: ok
[13:12] herman Bergson: anyone else?
[13:12] herman Bergson: It didnt ring any bell?
[13:12] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): hmm not sure
[13:13] herman Bergson: Well...let me help you :-)

This text was created with The New-Age Bullshit Generator at http://sebpearce.com/bullshit/

However, when you read some meaning in this text, it is not surprising. My point is this:

Even when you give people a meaningless mishmash of words, a number of them will yet try to make something profound of it.

There is something special in our minds. You could call it the primacy of the narrative.

Our preference for the narrative explains why we can appreciate art and literature. I catch myself in the act here,

because I often say that the pictures I post on my Flickr page are not pictures but small stories actually.

The narrative plays an important role these days. When the story is good, the truth value of facts seems less important.

Just look how Trump can lie about anything as long as he has a good story. Think of the new phenomenon of fake news.

And then al these conspiracy stories about e.g. 9/11 or the murder on Kennedy. We love stories. Fact checking seems secondary.

In that sense it also relates to our quest for the meaning of life. All religions come with stories of which we sometimes even don't question the factuality at all.

Even when not factual at all, we love stories. They sound coherent, They put things in place.

Maybe this can be a warning for us to stay alert and not the fall for the very first good story about the meaning of life….

Thank you… ^_^





12. Is the Meaning of Life found in our Future...?

When we think about the historical origins and purpose of life, we can become the victim of a form of , what is called, the genetic fallacy.

The mistake is to think that an understanding of the historical origins of life automatically says something about the ultimate goal of the current meaning of life.

But one does not necessarily follow from the other.

A sharp piece of stone appeared on the scene without there being any goal for it. But later it was given a purpose as a tool in the hands of homo sapiens.

A cottage built for a specific purpose, such as a toll booth, can be futile if the way at which it is located has become a free-access road.

An initial purpose or its absence does not determine the purpose of the object for all eternity.

That's why by dwelling on the origin of life we did not come up with a clear answer to the question of what the purpose of life is

and why the naturalistic belief that life is not created for a goal does not mean that life can have no purpose.

Also religions didn't seem the answer to the question Why we are here, unless you accept that we are just servants of some deity,

which is not my choice of a purpose in life. The fact that I can say this, is of course most significant in relation to the meaning of life too.

Where then can we continue our search? As I said at the beginning, the question "Why are we here?" has two interpretations.

One the one hand one can look back to our origins, the other approach could be looking for a goal in our future.

It was 1977. I had graduated and was a professional educator of both philosophy and educational theory and looking for a job.

It took me 13 months and 120 letters of application before I finally got an appointment and got a job.

During these thirteen months there were moments I was thinking; "What difference does it make to this world

whether I exist or not?" A feeling of complete superfluity after so many years of study.

Don't worry, it was just a rational wondering about my position. It didn't depress me. I kept on writing letters of applications.

It shows how a sense of purpose and meaning can give shape to a human life. It reflects the desire that we often feel

for a clear purpose in the future by which our struggle is meaningful and by which our lives gets a clear direction.

Bejiita has in fact given us already some nice examples of how to define the meaning of life by stating

that he looks forward to an up coming Breakdance festival and getting together with a lot of friends and fellow dancers.

For other people life goes entirely to earning money, food, drink and sleep, interrupted by periods of rest and relaxation,

all activities serve no other purpose than to keep us alive and healthy. It is tempting to think that our lives would make more sense if our actions could serve a higher purpose of destination.

What we are looking for here is what Aristotle already identified as a teleological explanation of life. TELOS means goal in ancient Greek.

According to Aristotle the most characteristic of this goal is, that it is an end in itself.

When I play a game of chess and you ask: Why did you move your rook? , I might answer…because then I can checkmate my opponent in two moves.

Then asking why I"d like to checkmate my opponent would be a silly question within the context of the chess game. The checkmate is a goal in itself.

However, when asked why I want to live on, we really need some time to think about a possible end in itself within the context of our life….can we find one?

To be continued….thank you … ^_^




13. What is the meaning of life when you are 92…..?

When I play a game of chess and you ask: Why did you move your rook? , I might answer…because then I can checkmate my opponent in two moves.

Then asking why I"d like to checkmate my opponent would be a silly question within the context of the chess game. The checkmate is a goal in itself.

It means that the series of questions of "Why…Because" can come to an end, because we have reached a final "Because",

a final justification or explanation why something is the case. We did this by looking into the past to find a meaning of life.

We asked why we were born, then why our parents were born, and so on back to the question of why there are people at all

and ended up at the Big Bang and the creation myths of Genesis. That series ended, however, without revealing the MEANING of life.

As an answer we got explanations of the facticity of our existence, not of the purpose of it all. But we love purposes, for they give meaning.

The Why / Because questioning can be connected with the timeline. In the previous lectures we looked into the past and didn't find our answer.

So maybe we should follow the timeline into the future with our Why / Because questions. The moment we run into a question

which is in fact to silly or dumb to ask, we may have found the final goal we are searching for.

Why do you study? Because I want a good job. Why a good job? Because it pays well. Why do you want to be paid well? Because then I can support a family, and so on, and so on…..

But here we run into a problem. When does this series of questions end? It has to, for otherwise the goal of life would be out of our reach forever….

A lot of movies have as a plot the thesis of the main character: My only purpose in life is to find the murderer of my wife and kill him.

The end of the movie is rather satisfactory, when the main character dies in the process of killing the murderer.

Mission accomplished. Time to die in peace. But what when the main character stays alive at the end of the movie?

If life eventually is about reaching the final end, what is left to do if that goal is reached and we live on?

If life's goal has been achieved, it can no longer guide our actions and apparently leaves us with nothing to live for.

If the meaning of life is connected with achieving a certain goal, then after reaching it, there is emptiness.

You'd say, come on, just set your next target, but when it is reached we are again confronted with this ultimate emptiness.

This made me think of a political debate that is going on in the Netherlands at the moment. It is about the concept of "a completed life".

It means, that people of high age are done with life. People who long for that morning on which they do not wake up anymore.

So, in fact these people have lost sight on any meaning of life and wish to end it. This concerns healthy people who only experience the consequences of high age, e.g. isolation and lack of mobility.

Suicide is not an option socially. Now one political party has proposed a legalisation of helping people in such a situation to end their life.

Some parties agree with the legalisation, other, especially christian parties, are strongly against the proposition.

Here we are confronted with serious philosophical questions. Is experiencing no purpose in life at high age a justification for legally helping people to end such a life?

Is it a basic right of the individual, to decide about his own (time of) death and asking society to assist him in it?

Or are we facing here the outcome of culture, which adores being young and dynamic and regards the elder people as a (financial) burden?

What is the meaning of life when you are 92…..?

Thank you for your attention…^_^



14. Would it help to believe...?

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy", Hamlet said.

We still haven't come closer to an answer of the question about the meaning of life. Why are we here?

That we are here, is a matter of fact, but neither past or future nor a creator offer us a satisfactory justification.

But maybe we are looking in the wrong places? We overlook things in heaven and earth.

Besides a lot of members of whatever religion there also is a large group of people who at least are "Somethingists".

Believers in Somethingism. Beyond this empirical world we live in, they believe, there has to be something transcendental, something more "above" or "outside" our reality.

Do this "Something" and a majority of religions, which offer such a transcendental something, bring us closer to a meaning of life?

The philosopher Bertrand Russell once said:"There is just the universe and that's all there is."

Yet we have to accept, that a lot of people find this idea unbearable and unacceptable. So we can not ignore this.

This leads to two questions we have to take into account. One question is, does there live some god in this transcendental world, which might solve the WHY / BECAUSE question?

The second question is the possibility of an afterlife. Do we exist and prepare ourselves for this afterlife?

In the previous lectures we already have seen how in itself faith in God does not give us an answer to the question of the meaning of life.

But what faith in God can do, is give us the ability not to worry any longer about the meaning of life,

because we can be certain, that God would not have created us without some purpose, which is worth it. We just need to trust, that God will care for us.

If we believe something like that, we actually say: "I don't know what the Lord has in mind, but I trust him and put my fate in his hands."

Does this bring us closer to an answer of the question of why we are here? I do not think so. We just dump the question in the lap of this god and we'll follow him.

But how reliable is this god? How do we know that he knows why we exist and will help us? In fact such a belief is not rational.

I do NOT say "irrational". It disregards the usual requirements of rationality of proof and evidence . Faith is thus

rather a way to evade the need for a rational justification than a deliberate attempt to disqualify reason.

This is a risky strategy. Take the apostle Thomas for instance. He wanted hard evidence, that Jesus really was alive.

What happens? Jesus shows up to prove he is alive. But he takes it a step further by humiliating Thomas

by even asking him to put his fingers in his wounds. The very idea already gives me cold shivers.

And what is the conclusion?

John 20:29 - Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

So, those who believe and expect that god knows what is best for them, will base their actions on what this belief demands of them

and it seems that they are blessed, when they put aside the only means we have to understand our lives and the world we live in, our rationality and its requirements.

And we all have seen to what atrocities this way of searching for the meaning of life has brought us in the past and still does today.

Thank you for your attention…. ^_^



15. The Meaning of Life according to the Dutch...

IYesterday [March 15, 2017] there were general elections in the Netherlands. Never before had there been such a presence of foreign media.

Why were ABC, CNN, BBC and many others so interested in these elections?

The reason is Donald Trump (USA), Marine le Penn (France) Alternative für Deutschland (Germany), FPÖ (Austria), Geert Wilders (Netherlands).

It looks like the Western World is suffering of a tsunami of ultra-nationalism, protectionism, xenophobia, anti-islamism, racism and discrimination.

This looks like to be the ultimate expression of the longing for a meaning of life. We seem to have lost all direction and grip on our culture and traditions, according to Wilders.

This is of course due to our weak attitude and muslims, flooding the Netherlands, so he yells: "We want the Netherlands back!"

Sounds closely related to another slogan: "America first - America first". This comes close to a nice meaning of life.

But because of the undemocratic and even unconstitutional ideas of the people I mentioned above,

many people get scared and fear for the collapse of true freedom and democracy, when such politicians come to power.

And that is what the whole World Press expected to witness last night.

The polls suggested, that the party of the populist Wilders would become the biggest party.

The leader of the leading liberal party and present prime minister had said, that we HAD to defeat this growing undemocratic populism.

If you are looking for a meaning of life, in fact a political ideology offers you one. It offers you an answer of the question "Why am I here?"

Are we here to build walls around our country, leave the Europe Union, forbid the Quran, deport all foreigners, especially muslims,

abolish international development aid for poor countries and keep all money for ourselves, bridle the free press with its "fake-news"?

Behind me you see the answer. What was feared, if not even hoped by some, did not happen:

The PVV, the ultra-right party of Wilders, did not become the biggest party. On the contrary. The liberal part of the Prime Minister, the VVD, lost seats, but stayed the number one.

This means, that the 20 seats of the PVV have become politically irrelevant, because this party will not be invited to participate in any possible coalition.

You could say, that an election like this forces the voters to ask themselves the question: what is the meaning of life (in my country)?

The result of this general elections is the proof, that playing the US - THEM card does not work for the majority of the (Dutch) people.

The attempt to create increasing social and nationalistic polarization has not worked in the Netherlands.

Of course there is much more to say about these election results, but what puts me in an optimistic mood is,

that the Dutch people answered the question "What is the meaning of my (political) life?" with their heart and common sense.

Most of the international journalist have traveled home again. There was nothing spectacular to report……. or actually there was.

Thank you for your attention ^_^

16. The Afterlife as a Solution.......?

Today we'll discuss a theme, of which some of you will know that it probably is not my most favorite subject.

However, in our search for the meaning of life we have looked in all places except one. We looked in past, future and heaven.

Where we have not yet looked is after this life. We can not ignore this, because a lot of people even believe,

that after our death we eventually will understand the meaning of life, because of what we'll encounter in our afterlife.

Others assume that our earthly life is in fact a preparatory stage of the real life, which we have to earn during this stage.

Apart from a belief we hardly have any evidence, that there exists something like an afterlife. It is at least peculiar,

that though billions of people have died no one ever came back to tell us how life is in the afterlife. Yet, some people claim to have (had) contacted people at "the other side".

But when we look at the numbers, we get very odd statistics and the evidence we find is very thin. So why this belief in an afterlife?

A general characteristic of this afterlife seems to be, that it is much better and desirable than this earthly life.

This might suggest, that the more dissatisfied people are with this life, the more that might be inclined to believe in an afterlife.

This could be related to the observation Peter Watson mentions in his book "The Age of Nothing". There is a significant relation

between existential uncertainty and poverty on the one hand and the inclination to be religious and a believer on the other hand.

Another characteristic of this afterlife is, that it eventually will show us the meaning of life, of which the view was obscured in this earthly life.

But what will it be? Take for instance these 72 virgins which a muslim martyr will find in his afterlife.

We'll not question the situation that there also have been female suicide bomb terrorists. I have no idea what these women is offered in their afterlife.

But if the ultimate meaning of life is to reach this state, I assume that the martyr will finally deflower all 72 virgins. What then…? What is the meaning of the afterlife then for him?

One more problem with this idea of an afterlife is the question "What kind of life do you mean?" Based on contemporary insights

we must assume that the mind ceases to exist, when the brain stops functioning. Then it is concluded that we are dead.

The solution of this problem was to assume, that we'll live on in a disembodied state. Any idea, what the meaning of such life could be?

Would be pretty frustrating, when you are facing 72 eager virgins, I'd say.

So far we mainly have been looking for a source, which would generate the meaning of life: the past, evolution, future goals, the transcendental.

It left us empty handed. Never was there this moment of: YES! That is what we are living for. That gives meaning to my life.

The only place we have not yet looked for a meaning of life is the here and now, the life we actually live. Will that answer our question?

To be continued….thank you… ^_^



17. Is Altruism an Option...?

Many years ago there was a popular musical like TV-show on Dutch TV and one of the songs which became a classic had the chorus:

"We benne op de wereld om mekaar, om mekaar te helpen niet waar?" which means "We are on earth to help each other, aren't we?"

When it is hard to find a meaning or purpose of live beyond or outside our life, maybe we should look at the life itself we life.

And then a lot of people will say, that what life gives meaning to them is, that they can mean something for someone else by being altruistic.

So, we can ask ourselves the question if altruism can be the source of a meaning of life.

Let's check the Ayn Rand Lexicon: "What is the moral code of altruism? The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake,

that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value.

Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others. These are not primaries, but consequences, which, in fact, altruism makes impossible.

The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute, is self-sacrifice—which means; self-immolation, self-abnegation,

self-denial, self-destruction—which means: the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of the good.

(…)The issue is whether the need of others is the first mortgage on your life and the moral purpose of your existence.

The issue is whether man is to be regarded as a sacrificial animal. Any man of self-esteem will answer: "No." Altruism says: "Yes."

So far the the Rand Lexicon. Looks like we can forget altruism as a meaningful feature of life.

But Rand creates her own rightness, by equating "altruism" with "self-sacrifice", but it is good philosophical practice

to ask the question "What do you mean by…?" and then you can question a definition of a term someone proposes.

Helping your neighbour would be a case of self-denial, self-destruction even? When I do not feel it that way,

there are two options: either I lack the proper insight in life according to Ayn Rand, or she is just beyond (my) reality, common sense and how we experience life.

For I have to wonder…is something wrong with me for being altruistic. In RL I am a "language coach". I spend an hour a week teaching a foreigner

who has come to the Netherlands, to master the Dutch language. I do not get paid. It costs me more than an hour every time and I feel good about it.

Nowhere is a feeling of self-sacrifice, let alone of self-denial or even self-destruction. On the contrary, I really feel good about it.

This could mean that by helping others I bring some entertainment and fun in my private existence,

and I participate in the higher purpose of helping those who are outside the private sphere.

But if helping others is the source of meaning for my life, is the help not just a means to help myself to a meaningful life?

Thank you for your attention... ^_^




18. The Meaning of Altruism...

When you drop the axiom "homo sapiens is primarily driven by selfishness" in the philosophical discourse

then it is logical, as Spock would say, that altruism is out of the question on this planet. It is contradictory to the goal of life, which is to be selfish and thence shape your life.

However, as Spock would continue, who says that this is unquestionably true. Ayn Rand of course, but there is so much scientific evidence,

which refutes this axiom, that you can dismiss it as a caricature of human existence, even when "Atlas shrugged" is even more popular than the Bible in the US.

Even primates and other animals, not gifted with the consciousness we have, show clear signs of altruism,

showing behaviour where care for the other prevails over individual gain or profit. So, is this the meaning , the purpose of our life, to help eachother?

Sounds good, but it has a smell, for how altruistic is altruism, when it feels so good to help someone else.

We love to experience that gratitude of the helped person and can even feel offended when he doesn't show his gratitude.

The philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724 - 1804) was quite clear about this. When you're altruistic because it makes you feel good.

then helping the other is not the goal, but just a personal means to feel good. And that is not good. Your fellow man may never be a means to an end.

So, the urge to help the other must be felt as a moral obligation, an obligation you can not deny, independent of your personal feelings.

I think, however, that this is an equally sterile and cerebral way of looking at the organism "homo sapiens" as we saw with Ayn Rand.

Why does anyone need help? There are two reasons we have to help people. One is that they suffer from a shortage of something

that we think their situation is thus reduced to a level below that of subsistence. This is the case when we help those who are sick, hungry or living in poverty.

The second reason is that we want to help people who may have just enough recourses to make more of their lives.

This may be because we have more than we need and can understand that a little of our wealth, companionship or expertise can be much more to others than it is worth for us.

Whether we feel good about helping is not really relevant in these situations. When I feel that living in hunger is bad for me,

then I can only conclude that this has to be bad for everyone else too. When living in comfortable circumstances feels good to me,

I only can conclude that it will feel good for everybody. Our morality isn't based on feeling good by helping others,

but it is based on a kind of recognition of the equality between me and my fellow men. We share the same needs, the same joy, the same sorrow.

This leads to an interesting observation. Helping others can not be the purpose of life clearly, because helping others is only a means to an end.

We help others not primarily because the activity of helping others in itself is good,

but because it is good for people to liberate them from their misery or improving their quality of life.

And if life needs a meaning, then it is not in helping others as such, but in the consequences of our actions.

Thank you for your attention… ^_^




19. What to do next with Altruism...?

It is a pity, that altruism can not be the meaning of life, if it were only to annoy Ayn Rand. Yet helping people as a meaning of life sounds good.

But imagine, when helping people is the purpose of our life, what do we do when all people are helped?

In helping others it is about to meet the needs of people, but as provided herein, there are no further altruistic deeds necessary.

This is no problem for those who think that it eventually is about delivering relief of the needs of people.

But if the actual process of helping others is our primary goal, we are in the strange situation,

that if we could help others too well, we risk to make life further pointless. If altruism would be successful, we would have lost our meaning of life that very moment.

When Simon and Garfunkel sang in 1966 "I am a rock. I am an island" we all understood, that it was the expression of an emotion,

which had everything to do with the fact, that we are social beings, living together. But as an island we prefer to feel no pain and wish never to cry.

But although Ayn Rand tried to make us believe we are rocks and islands, we are social beings. We have to deal with each other and actual needs.

This is a factual inevitability and in that sense though altruism may not be the sole meaning of our life, at least it is a part of this meaning.

Certainly, many people find that life is indeed more meaningful by helping others

and that is the only undisputed goal for altruism: to improve the lives of others.

When we free someone from poverty, make his children go to school and improve their situation, we say that it is good.

We think that living such a life is good. Maybe the meaning of life is living our life here and now to the full.

The fact that being altruistic creates in us good feelings instead of feelings of self-negation or self-destruction according to Ayn Rand,

must be related to the fact that we are no rocks or islands or selfish individuals, but social beings.

I dare say, that for most of us life becomes more complete, when we are not solely occupied with ourselves and our self-interest.

For most people, social activity is essential to feel good. One of the reasons why some people think that helping others is the source of the meaning of life,

is also almost certainly the truth, that concern for and involvement in relation to other people are other important components of a meaningful life.

This concern for the other sometimes even means that we are willing to sacrifice our life for it.

Giving up his own life so that others have a chance at a full life is a sacrifice, but a sacrifice that may be based on the simple premise

that a good and full life, free from suffering itself is well regarded as worthwhile whether it's for their own life or that of someone else.

Altruism is not the source of the meaning of life, but at least a requirement for living a meaningful life.

Thank you for your attention… ^_^



MacMillan The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2nd edition
Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 1995
Julian Baggini, What's It All About? Philosophy and the Meaning of Life (2004)  
Richard David Precht, Wer bin ich, und wenn ja, wie viele? (2007)



20. An interesting conceptual issue...

As I pointed out in the previous lecture altruism is really about helping others,

the well-being of individuals should be the ultimate objective, which means that the altruist interests are as valuable as the interests of those he helps.

This equivalence is created between the helper and those who are helped, making it essentially being something that is composed of individual good things and not something different from it.

It is all about the relation between individuals. But how relates altruism to for instance family or state.

We can do good to individuals, but we also can do good to a family as a whole and it may even be the case

that one of the members of the family isn't pleased at all with our altruism. Yet the family as a whole seems to benefit from it.

For instance, a family is offered a new place to live, although one of the members actually hates to live in this new home.

How can we make sense of this peculiar situation?

When Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of Great Britain she once said: "There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. "

Given that she is not exactly known as a philosopher, this was a confident foray into the field

strewn with thorny problems of ontology: the philosophical study of what it means when something exists.

Maybe she tried to say that only concrete observable, individual objects exist and that society is just some abstract term, that has no tangible existence.

Something like that, perhaps, but unfortunately she took a wrong turn by mentioning families too, for aren't families just a group of individual persons?

This is a classic philosophical problem also old as philosophy itself. And we still run into this problem every day.

Suppose I meet someone here in SL and tell him (I guess you expected me to say "her" :-)), but I tell him, that I got a home here in SL.

Please can I see it, he asks me. Sure and I teleport him to Wainscot. I show him my house, the lighthouse, the lecture hall, everything….

Then my guest says… wow cool…. but where is your HOME? I saw your house, lighthouse and so on, but your home, where is it?

Maybe my guest gets angry about it and begins taking apart everything here. Yet when he is finished,

I say: "You can do whatever you like, but this just is and will always be MY HOME."

When a family has a lot of children and one of the children dies, the family still exists, we would say.

As I said in the beginning, what is good for the family, might be bad for one of its members. Yet we primarily (want to) do good to the family .

Like altruism, the helping of individuals in need, is a value in life, can make it meaningful, helping a family has to be too.

But to understand the difference of altruism towards individuals and something abstract like a family or society,

we have to entangle this ontological conceptual riddle and solve it first……..

Thank you for your attention… ^_^




21. Abstract Concepts explained...

Last time I introduced you to a nice ontological problem. An important one, in fact, because it deals with the question in what sense abstract objects exist.

We take care of existing things: our fellowman is a real person. We know how he can be in need and how we can help him.

But as I said last time, we can take care of a family although one member of the family isn't pleased at all with our help.

Is the family more than just a collection of individuals. Can we have moral obligations to a family, or even mankind?

Derek Parfit (11 December 1942 – 1 January 2017) a British philosopher, left us an interesting answer to this question.

Parfit makes a distinction between three ways in which one can interpret the existence of an abstract thing like states.

1. The existence of a state only means that its citizens exist, living together in a certain way on the territory of the state.

2. A state is nothing more than the citizens and territory.

3 · A state is something that should be viewed independently of its citizens and its territory.

Parfit argues that both 1 and 3 simultaneously can be true. In other words, to have a state it only requires citizens who live in a certain way on a territory (1).

But nevertheless such states must be considered separately from these citizens and territory (3).

The main argument to posit that thesis is that what is true for states does not have to be true for their citizens and their territory.

An example is, that a state can be threatened in its existence by a foreign power trying to annex it.

But such power thus does not threaten the survival of the citizens or the territory. For example, it may be intending a completely peaceful annexation of the state.

So there may be something true of a state and not be true for its people and its territory.

The same applies to such abstract things like family or mankind.

It is possible that things go well with mankind. There is a steady growth in education, healthcare, science and communication possibilities.

This statement can be regarded as true, but at the same time we all know that this definitely is not true for a lot of individual people.

This does not solve all ontological issues here, far from that and we'll leave those to the philosophers to play with.

Yet the approach of Parfit offers us a useful insight: in a way a family or a state or mankind exists

and in that sense they are independent of the total of its individual members.

Thus we can think about issues like mankind having responsibilities regarding this earth,

where you can not make all individual members responsible, if you think, for instance, of babies and children.

It means, that a meaning of life not only can be related to our individual fellowman,

but that we also can relate our search for a meaning of life to concepts like family or mankind in a logical manner.

Thank you for your attention…. ^_^




22. Offers Mankind a Meaning of Life...?

After the previous lecture I heard some remarks of spinning minds and the like. Probably I was too tough on you.

However, the issue at stake is important especially in a search of the meaning of life. Why are we here? What are we doing here?

The only real answer to this question so far is, that we are all in it together. Thence part of the meaning of life could be

that we wish nobody to live a lesser life than we do. When I see it as meaningful that the other does not live in famine and diseases

and I assume that he would think the same about me, then helping each other is a meaningful thing to do.

This reciprocity is a meaningful aspect of our live. But we are not only concerned about our neighbour, our brother or child.

What we do has further reaching consequences. Our actions can affect our family, our country, or even whole mankind.

And while helping each other looks so clear and simple, here we run into a serious philosophical problem.

Actually it is not a philosophical problem, it is just a plain and solid problem of people living together on this earth. You are confronted with it every day.

It is the other way around…it is a problem and by philosophical analysis we can shed some light on it to understand it and find ways to deal with it.

It is related to a general inclination in man to believe that this here and now can't be all. There HAS to exist more.

Technically it is called something transcendental, something that is more than this physical world. Religions are bulk consumers of transcendental somethings, of course.

Let me explain. You want that your brother can live the same comfortable life as you do. You also want that his whole family can enjoy such a life.

Here comes the situation.Your brother lives in a bad neighbourhood and you have managed to get a better home for his family.

Yet one of the members of the family is totally unhappy with the move. This means that what is good for the family is not necessarily good for all individual members.

And here come the problem: the statement "Moving to the new neighbourhood is good for the family" is definitely and observably true.

Say the family consists of person A, B, C an D, then logically the statement "The moving is good for A, for B, for C, for D" should be true too.

But that isn't the case. D is totally unhappy with it. What we see here is that what is true for "the family", some abstract concept, is not true for an individual member of the family.

This can only mean that "the family", even though there isn't a clear object to point at, is something more than the collection of 4 individuals.

This leads to an interesting situation. The unhappiness is very disruptive for the family, so this person should adapt to the new situation.

At least that is what the other members of the family wish, if not demand. This means that the existence

and continuity of the family is a higher value than the personal welfare of this individual member.

This reasoning applies to all kinds of such abstract concepts: my country, mankind, the religious group, and so on.

In short, what makes a family a higher value than its individual members?

Thank you for your attention…. ^_^




23. The Meaning of Life in my Newspaper...

Helping my friend or brother in need, knowing that he would do the same for me, makes living life worth living, meaningful.

My friend or brother are tangible. I can see them, touch them, feel them. They are real to me. I can say, that they exist.

But what when what we value entities, that are NOT tangible, can not be felt, can not be seen and of which we yet say that they exist?

Line up your family. What do you see? Four individual persons. You can call them by their name, touch them, but what you do not see is your FAMILY.

Well, of course, in a way you do, but in another way you don't, but yet you accept statements regarding your family as normal and meaningful.

Let's make a philosophical turn. If you say "I know that….", it means this is either true or false. That is knowledge. All science is based on this concept…true or false.

So any statement that can be tested on being true or false, we can regard as knowledge statements.

In the previous lecture we learnt that we can do knowledge statements about members of a family and about the family itself.

And we discovered that what is true of the family is not necessarily true of individual members of the family.

Thence we must conclude that there exist the four members of the family, who we can feel and touch

and that there exists independently of these four members also THE FAMILY, of which we can say real meaningful things, but which we can not touch and feel.

What counts for family , counts even more for mankind, the biggest family on earth there is. But we have here the same problem…

What may be good for mankind doesn't necessarily have to be good for a number of individuals, members of mankind. So how should we understand this situation?

The meaning of life may be the well being of you and your brother, but maybe it might even be the well being of the species homo sapiens,

So the meaning of life could be advancing the species homo sapiens. We are here to become better and better each day…

However, there is nothing in our evolution that tells us which direction to take to become better….and…better in what sense?

But yet you see time and again someone stand up as a leader with the promise to lead all (at least his country fellowmen) to a better future.

So did Stalin at the cost of millions of humanity lives. So did Hitler, Napoleon. They all promised a better life.Same happens in Turkey again with Erdogan.

It is the promise that when we have reached this or that state of affairs, we are free from all problems, have reached the better world and life.

But here we run into that same wall. Suppose we all accept these ideas and promises as our meaning of life.

Then, what is the meaning of life when all promises have been fulfilled?

And furthermore what is this end stage of our evolution?

And have all these millions of years of evolution been only a means to reach this end?

Maybe we should look for the meaning of life at the here and now, at the life we live now.

Thank you for your attention…to be continued next Tuesday … ^_^



24. The Danger of Populism...

In the lecture of last Tuesday I showed you how current our theme is: the meaning of life.

I told you, that on one day two columnist in my newspaper brought it more or less to the attention of the reader.

Stevo Akkerman focused on the fact that many people, voters, are floating. They seem to lack a strong hold, which tells them how to vote.

The second columnist, Rob de Wijk, also made me think of the present subject of our project. It is about populisme.

He offered the following argumentation:

Recently, research revealed, that a significant proportion of the Dutch population lives on a day by day basis

and that part of the impotence to save money for unexpected expenses is to some extend even genetically determined.

Many can only poorly resist short-term determination, lack of self-control and the temptation of quick rewards.

This acknowledges again that the idea that all people are rational beings who can make their own decisions is a fiction.

And here I had to think of the meaning of life. Apparently is the short-term and quick rewards the guiding principle in their life.

De Wijk relates this to political developments in the world regarding populism.

In the first place we observed that a lot of people are floating voters. De Wijk continues in fact on this phenomenon.

Populist politicians have known this mental state of floating or angry voters for a long time. They enchant voters with beautiful talks

and promise that everything is better when they come to power. A large group of voters thus is inconspicuously deceived.

Erdogan leads his country away from democracy towards an autocracy. People vote yes expecting that their country will be safer and more prosperous the very next day.

The British people was told that paradise would return on earth with a Brexit. Free from immigrants, refugees and the oppressing rules and regulations of Bruxelles.

The real effect of the Brexit is, however, that the problems have increased. The financial situation is deteriorating and so on.

And then we have Trump. America first, a wall along the border, a stop on immigrants, abolition of Obamacare, coalmines open again.

Many Americans voted for this and might realise after a 100 days, that they are deceived. Not a single one of these promises is feasible.

What the Turkish referendum, Brexit and Trump have in common is, that these are examples of the same phenomenon.

Part of the population stands behind leaders who promise quick solutions to their problems. They believe

that if the sovereignty of their country is restored, they automatically become more secure and prosperous.

In all three cases it was a 51 - 49% like victory of the populists, which means that the interests of almost half of the population are ignored.

The final result is not this more secure and prosperous sovereign country, which was promised,

but an increase of polarization and a weakening power of the state, which opens the door to more insecurity and lesser prosperity.

These populists offer people a fake meaning of life and a lot of people are looking for a meaning of life and even the indelible dream of the magic "there has to be more"

These political leaders are a danger to this world. Either they don't see the consequences of their actions themselves

or they are political opportunists only looking after their own gain by abusing the good faith of voters.

Thank you for your attention again… ^_^



25. There has to be more to Life than....

While we were discussing the idea if progress of mankind could be our purpose in life,

I showed you in two following lectures that you can find our present theme even in your newspaper.

We were working on the observation that a family is more than just its individual members, that mankind is not just the collection of individuals.

This was based on the observation that what can be true of for instance mankind, is not necessarily true for individual members of mankind.

It would be good for mankind, if the number of new born children should be reduced, because we can not feed that many people,

but this does not necessarily mean that every individual woman should give birth to less children.

So, mankind is a real concept and it fulfils sometimes our desire for or need of the existence of this "There has to be more to life than…"

Religions offer, what we call this transcendental world, a heaven, an afterlife. Others may offer us a utopia like the perfect proletarian society, where we all are equal.

Populists abuse our desire for the transcendental by declaring that they KNOW what THE PEOPLE wants and that e.g. individual journalists should shut up to contradict them, otherwise……….

All those refer to what you may call transcendental worlds: to something above, beyond or outside our physical world and even a source of higher values.

But that is not what I am looking for. I am looking for something that transcends. That seems to be that basic "more" we long for.

In relation to this, transcendence is simply the escape of the limitations of our own individual, subjective existence

and our experience of being part of and participating in something that is bigger than us.

The counterpart is that we live a life that isn't compensated by anything. A life that just is, based on nothing more than just existing.

Knowledge and values are only the products of our brain and our actions. Man is the standard of all things.

This is for a lot of people a difficult to accept point of view, when we are trying to find a meaning of life. We already saw that altruism

may not be the meaning of life, but yet adds something to life which makes it worth living.

A growing number of people do no longer believe in heaven or a utopia or an afterlife as the ultimate meaning of life,

but makes this our apparent desire for transcendence meaningless?

We do some things not just for our neighbour or relative, but for mankind. We climb the barricades protesting against climate change.

We defend our freedom, democracy, our country. Things that transcend our individuality.

We could conclude here, that linking our personal goals with these transcending concepts can be regarded as a way to transcend our nature of finite beings.

Do you uphold some belief in any transcendent concept?

Thank you for your attention again… ^_^





26. Again my Newspaper...

We were discussing the phenomenon of contributing values to abstract concepts like mankind, family, the nation and the like.

But I want to bring something else to your attention first. That is the interesting observation, that the subject of our present project

doesn't seem to be just some random choice of mine, but something that keeps a lot of people busy at this moment.

In my newspaper of April 27, for instance, there were two columnists, who discussed exactly what we are discussing here at the moment. Two on one day!

Let me share with you the thoughts of Stevo Akkerman. His headline goes like this:

"We are confronted with the emptiness in our own soul, which is declared uninhabitable."-end quote-

These are the days of the big floating. Voters, whole countries float like balloons in the air and nobody knows where they will land.

We had elections in the Netherlands. Al least 30% of the voters did not yet know what to vote. The traditional social democratic party eventually vaporised.

In France we have seen the same last weekend: 30% floating voters. Eventually the traditional political parties' candidates had no chance at all.

And then the polls….Brexit would not happen. Trump didn't have a chance to win and it all happened. Will Theresa May win here coming election? The polls float too.

Of course this unstable situation is analysed from top to bottom by many and "the angry voter" was discovered as if it were a new species

and globalisation. On the one hand economical: low cost countries steal our jobs, on the other hand cultural: all these immigrants threaten our culture.

"I think", says Stevo Akkerman, "that both play a role, but there's something else behind it: a spiritual deficit.

Encouraged by uncertainty and challenged by newcomers with a strong and sometimes frightening religious identity,

the West is confronted with emptiness in its own soul, which has become uninhabitable because of its secular materialist thinking.

It may seem a sign of strength and fighting ability, all hammering on "our" values and habits, but it is a sign of weakness. It roars down itself." -end quote-

His next step is to refer to an interview with two absolutely unreligious writers in his newspaper of some days before.

And he quotes one of them saying "The power of religion is that for them there exists something bigger"

And he asks the question regarding our something "bigger": where do the European values come from, what do they mean?

And his conclusion is that for the time being we are still floating with respect to this question.

This is completely in line with our present discourse. And we recognise some typical aspects here.

The most characteristic is the implicit assumption that secular materialist thinking causes an emptiness in our soul.

I would prefer to say that exactly this secular materialist thinking frees us from a lot of irrational rubbish

and opens a route to formulate our idea about the meaning of life.

Indeed we have to question the European values, which we cherish. Explain what they are.

Answer the question how we put value is for instance in such an abstract concept as our national identity.

Our question after the meaning of life made the newspaper. Not bad for a Second Lifer, I'd say :-)

Thank you for your attention again…..



27. About Happiness...

In our quest for the meaning of life we have made some progress. How do we make life worth living? Why are we here?

We have at least found two elements which can serve as partial answers. One is altruism: to care about the needs of others.

If we don't like to live in hunger and pain, it is easy to imagine that others don't like this too and that we can help them and believe in reciprocity.

A second element is related to those abstract concepts like country, family, society, democracy, freedom, which somehow transcend individual needs.

We can link our personal goals with those, like I can link my desire to be free to my country and participate in defending the freedom of my country.

But maybe you get the feeling that we are missing something in this picture. Apart from all those nice goals and so on,

isn't the ultimate goal of life to be happy, to live a happy life? Aren't we all longing for happiness in our lives?

Happiness, feeling happy is very valuable to us, so somehow it has something to do with the goal of life, you might expect.

But we all know that it is pretty hard or even impossible to be 24 / 7/ 365 happy. We also know that life does not necessarily feel meaningless, when you feel unhappy.

Happiness is a confusing concept. We all are pursuing it, but can we tell exactly what we are after?

Schopenhauer said: : Happiness is the multiple repetition of pleasure". Most other philosophers however

made a distinction between a temporary state of excitement and pleasure and happiness as a more lasting state.

To say "Here sleeps a happy child" sounds normal and meaningful, but to say "Here sleeps a child enjoying pleasure" is somewhat odd.

So, maybe happiness is some background state we are in, while pleasure is a transient experience in the foreground.

Aristotle (384–322 BC) thought that happiness was the ultimate goal of all human actions. Every act has a goal,

and this goals is something good in itself or it is leading to the next goal. Every series of acts must end in something that is desirable because of itself, as Aristotle said.

And he concluded, that happiness satisfies this description. Happiness is always chosen because of itself. Never for other reasons.

Take honor for instance , he says. It is reasonable to ask, why someone pursues honour.

He can do is because of his pride or because of the respect others will give him or because it opens doors for him.

Such a question makes little sense if it concerns happiness. We do not want to be happy in order that we can do anything else. Happiness is valuable in itself.

That we would want happiness because of itself, I can understand, but I am still far from understanding what happiness actually is,

although I dare say, that I feel happy……. :-)

Thank you for your attention…




28. Still looking for Happiness.....

In the previous lecture we saw an example of an objective conception of happiness as formulated by Aristotle's.

According to Aristotle (384–322 BC), eudaimonia (happiness) consists in the excellent functioning of the soul, thus the exercise of virtue.

While Aristotle allowed, as does common sense, that a person's happiness could also be affected by external goods and circumstances,

the stronger view that virtue is not only necessary for happiness but also sufficient was affirmed by the Stoics.

Both views, however, have seemed counterintuitive to many. If virtue is necessary for happiness,

how is it possible, as it seems to be, for vicious people to be happy? And if virtue is sufficient,

then would we not be compelled to call the virtuous happy even if they are consumed by torment and suffering?

Epicurus (341–270 BC), the most famous advocate of happiness as a goal of life, was not the great pleasure seeker people usually thinks he was.

For the Epicurists was looking for happiness a serious matter, and they thought that the best way

to achieve it was a sober and rather ascetic way of life according to our standard of a good life.

The epicurean happiness is the calm satisfaction and freedom of disturbing influences and not primarily enjoyment.

Like Aristotle the Epicureans regard happiness as a kind of objective state. However, this objective approach, ends up in a paradox,

because there exist vicious people who don't care about any virtue at all and say that they are happy.

This objective concept of happiness was adopted and adapted by Christianity and happiness wasn't a philosophical topic for centuries.

Happiness as the goal in life simply meant arriving in Heaven after a ious life on earth.

When the dominance of Christianity dwindled, beginning during the Enlightenment, the search for happiness found its master in John Stuart Mill (1806 - 1873).

Mill believed that happiness or pleasure, which he equated with happiness, was the only thing humans do and should desire for its own sake.

Since happiness is the only intrinsic good, and since more happiness is preferable to less, the goal of the ethical life is to maximize happiness.

This is what Mill call "the principle of utility" or "the greatest-happiness principle."

Mill offers his famous quasi-proof of the greatest-happiness principle. The core of his argument is this:

1 - Everyone desires happiness.

2 - The only proof that something is desirable is that people do actually desire it.

3 - So, each person's happiness is a good to that person.

4 - Therefore, the general happiness is a good to the aggregate of all persons.

There is one difficulty here. This argument relies on a dubious assumption about how individual happiness is related to the general happiness.

Maybe you remember the problem we had with these abstract terms like family, country and so on.

We'll save that for another lecture. Now we are left with the question: Was Mill right - Can you equalise happiness with pleasure?

Thank you for your attention again :-)




29. Wouldn't we be happy in the Matrix...?

What we are investigating now is the question "Is happiness the same as pleasure:. This is what John Stuart Mill assumed.

The answer is simply NO. You can feel happy but yet do not really experience pleasure in this happiness.

Just take two Formule I drivers. They are close friends, but competitors too, because they belong to different teams.

The final round. They occupy position one and two. No chance number two will ever overtake number one.

If he could HE would become the world champion. Number one crashed and is killed in the accident.

Number two thus wins and becomes the world champion. He feels happy about it,

but yet there is no feeling of pleasure in his victory. Only sadness about the loss of a friend.

There is another interesting feature of happiness. I guess you all know the movie THE MATRIX.

In the Matrix world people live a happy life…super happy even, but WE know that they are stored in cocoons and only live this live in their brains.

The choice you have is there between living outside the machine and seeing if there is a chance of happiness

and a life in the machine and being sure of happiness.

And from your point of view, both forms of life feel the same. Would you choose to live the rest of your life in such a machine?

If your answer is yes, I think you belong to a minority. Most people would not only reject this opportunity,

they would find it horrendous. The problem is that they feel that they would not lead a real life in the machine.

It's not enough to have the experience of a good life, they want a good life that's real.

This tells us something interesting about happiness. If we decline this offer of the machine,

it means that there seems to be something more valuable than happiness. So, happiness is definitely no the ultimate meaning of life.

And what about happiness when we thank for the opportunity to live in the MATRIX?

The most obvious and plausible answer is, in my opinion, that we attach great importance to a set of values that can be called AUTHENTICITY

This concept is very difficult to grasp, but it has to do with the fact that we want to lead life in its full truth

and want to see the world as it is and we do not want to fool ourselves in one way or another

It is about the fact that we want to be the creators of our lives, the fact that we want our experience to be the result of actual efforts and power for our part,

the fact that we are dealing with people who are just like us and not just VIRTUAL.

Just a thought: can your avatar here feel happy while you feel miserable? ; -))))

Thank you for your attention….





30. Authenticity...

Last time I introduced the concept of authenticity and the fact that people when they must choose

rather choose for their authenticity than for happiness, when they know that this happiness is in fact artificially induced.

We now shouldn't make the mistake to believe that authenticity is the ultimate value in life. And we definitely should not generalize this idea.

It is well possible that in other cultures people would be puzzled by a desire of authenticity. Yet millions of people find it an important value.

From that point of view it is worth to have a closer look at this concept of authenticity. Where did it come from? Has it always been a human desire?

Authenticity as a characteristic attributed to human beings arises the question: What is it to be oneself, at one with oneself, or truly representing one's self?

The multiplicity of puzzles that arise in conjunction with the concept of authenticity connects with metaphysical, epistemological, and moral issues.

On the one hand, being oneself is inescapable, since whenever one makes a choice or acts, it is oneself who is doing these things.

But on the other hand, we are sometimes inclined to say that some of the thoughts, decisions and actions

that we undertake are not really one's own and are therefore not genuinely expressive of who one is.

Here, the issue is no longer of metaphysical nature, but rather about moral-psychology, identity and responsibility.

We can recognize a lot of things, discussing this subject, which we discussed in previous projects. To begin with its history…

A number of significant cultural changes in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries led to the emergence of a new ideal in the Western world.

During this period, human beings came to be thought of more as individuals than as placeholders in systems of social relations.

This emphasis on the importance of the individual is seen in the prevalence of autobiographies and self-portraits,

where the individual becomes the centre of attention not because of extraordinary feats or access to special knowledge, but because he or she is an individual.

This philosophical, anthropological development in those centuries is rather unknown in other cultures of those times..

What fascinates me in all this is, that is looks like Europe has been the inventor of individualism

and in relation to that the inventor of desire of individual happiness.

In this development we may also see the roots of the present day's liberalism.

The most fascinating in all this is of course the question: how did this desire of authenticity, this individualism emerge?

From 1400 on there is the rise of a middle class in Europe. The world no longer is a rich upper class and a poor lower class.

There develops a wealthy middle class, which gathers wealth by their individual efforts.

Society is no longer a God given structure but becomes a "social contract " between individuals. We hear the echo of Thomas Hobbes and John Lock here, for instance.

Thus authenticity and happiness have become part of our life and part of the meaning of life.

Thank you for your attention… ^_^




31. A Personal Statement...

So far we found a lot, that pleads for happiness, but we also questioned the idea that happiness is the supreme good, that as such gives us the ultimate meaning of life.

Earlier on I already mentioned the fact that "happiness" better can be regarded as a container concept.

Semantically it means, that the word "happiness" does not refer to one something you can find in reality. Like the word "water" refers to a specific something.

Happiness occurs in different qualities and quantities and we need to think carefully about what kind of happiness we will and how much.

Also, as we have seen, that there can be reasons for finding other things more important and valuable than happiness, even if happiness is something good.

Still, happiness plays an important role. As long as we manage to achieve it without sacrificing other things in the life, that we consider important,

such as independence and truth, and as long as we find the happiness we are looking for, it seems worthwhile to strive.

The more I think about it, the more I begin to wonder. There are things we value much, things like truth, independence, sincerity, authenticity.

Happiness doesn't fit in here. We value happiness, sure, but to me it is more a short term than long term state of being, a consequence of how we live our life.

I get the feeling, that happiness in relation to the meaning of life is a kind of non-issue. Isn't living a meaningful life kind of synonymous with feeling happy?

The quintessential question is: What is life worth living for? Why all those efforts, when being dead looks in fact like the most ideal state of "being"?

When I was in highschool - I was 18 then - I remember an essay I wrote. The assignment was:

write an essay with the title "by the book - not by the book". I was deeply involved in reading about existentialism, Kierkegaard, Sartre in those days.

Unfortunately I have forgotten my reasoning in the essay, but my conclusion was, that "to be, to exist" looked to be "by the book", but in fact "not to be or exist" was.

But here I am, almost 68 :-) I probably didn't follow my own logic and conclusion. Life is worth living probably.

Actually I appear to be an expert in telling you why I regarded life as not worth living in my essay

and apparently yet have found meaning in living my life up to now.

Think about it yourself. You are here and that means you kept on living too. Fortunately most people do.

Otherwise earth would be such lonely place. But think about it… Bejiita already told us some of his reasons to go on:

his friends, his programming efforts and the next breakdance party :-) What keeps you going….???????

Thank you for your attention again…^_^



32. I think, but do "I" exist...?

Reading my newspaper yesterday I found an article on the 48th Poetry International Festival in Rotterdam, which started May 29.

What attracted my attention was the theme of the festival. Poets from all over the world were invited to write an "I" poem

"I"/"me" should be the theme of the poem. So, this "I", like recently was "the brain" is the leading theme of the day, it seems.

In that I am floating along with the main stream myself, for the theme of my next project will the this "I" too.

An other more philosophical word is "the Self", which belongs to the chapter of the subject of "Personal Identity".

In our search for the meaning of life last Thursday we considered the option of letting go of the Self, of a uniting with the universe as a kind of meaning of life

Then Descartes showed up and proved, that such an idea is nonsense. The quintessence of reality is "I", or to be more specific "I think, therefor I am".

And did Descartes thus win the debate? Although his philosophy has had a great influence in our culture, his "Cogito" is questionable.

The problem with Descartes thesis is, that we can understand this thinking, but where does this "I" come from. For Descartes it was a clear and distinct idea.

But David Hume (1711 -1776) commented on this in 1739 in "A Treatise of Human Nature" . Book 1, Ch.4, sect. 6. —> QUOTE

It must be some one impression, that gives rise to every real idea. But self or person is not any one impression,

but that to which our several impressions and ideas are supposed to have a reference.

If any impression gives rise to the idea of self, that impression must continue invariably the same,

through the whole course of our lives; since self is supposed to exist after that manner. But there is no impression constant and invariable.

Pain and pleasure, grief and joy, passions and sensations succeed each other, and never all exist at the same time.

It cannot, therefore, be from any of these impressions, or from any other, that the idea of self is derived; and consequently there is no such idea.

(…) For my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure.

I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe any thing but the perception.

When my perceptions are removed for any time, as by sound sleep; so long am I insensible of myself, and may truly be said not to exist.

This quote may have been a bit tough on you, but it boils down to this. To say "I know for certain…" what should we primarily trust: our ratio or our senses?

It is the eternal controversy. And Hume shows us, that Descartes pulls this "I" like a rabbit out of a high head.

This puts us up with the question, what to do with the idea of losing the ego, losing the grip we have on our own self

to make way for a kind of surrender to a more comprehensive reality, when we have to conclude that there does not exist such a thing like the "I" ?

Thank you for your attention again… ^_^




33. Should we free ourselves of our EGO...?

Now and then you run into the popular and vague idea that you should spiritually free yourself on the way to enlightenment in one way or another.

This idea can be traced back to oriental philosophies such as Buddhism, but the grip on the imagination of Western people

probably has more to do with the sixties and psychedelic means.

The meaning of life can not be found by thinking seriously about it, but by getting high, opening your mind and losing your ego.

This is all related to a bunch of ideas from Buddhism, mysticism, the counter-culture of the sixties, New Age texts and self-help stories.

However, a recurring theme is that the key to losing the ego, losing the grip we have on our own self

is to make way for a kind of surrender to a more comprehensive reality. The idea is not to see the meaning of life in terms of what can "I" achieve, or how can "I" be happy.

We have to drop this egocentric attitude, free our mind and experience how unimportant the EGO is.

This is an assumption not everybody will agree with, but you could discern two possible starting points.

The first possibility is that it is an expression of a fundamental truth, the truth that the EGO or Self does not really exist.

Thus, by learning to detach ourselves from our self-esteem, we come to a better relationship with real reality.

The other possibility is that the EGO or Self actually exists, but remarkably enough the path the EGO has to follow

to find the meaning of life leads to finding itself less and less important.

Thus, is each of us a drop in the ocean and is the meaning of life oneness with the ocean, with the whole universe?

Or is the meaning of life to discover, that our Ego in fact is rather a stumbling block than a help to reach deeper insight?

These may sound like interesting views, but to get them true, they first have to get past Descartes (1596 - 1650).

"I realized that this truth," I THINK SO I EXIST" was so sure and so clear that no doubt, no matter how extreme, could be put forward by skeptics to wreck her."

Those were the words of Descartes in his "Discourse de la Methode"

If Descartes is right , then not only the existence of the Ego or Self is certain, but it is even more certain than anything else.

So, detaching us from our Ego, because it would be just some kind of illusion, is evidently wrong.

The Self is not an illusion, but the most certain feature of reality, according to Descartes.

But was Descartes right and is all this before mentioned EGO ideas nonsense?

Thank you for your attention again…. ^_^




34. The Self is an Illusion....

Make an attempt at introspection and become conscious of your Self. According to Hume you will not succeed.

You will be aware of certain thoughts and feelings, but not of any Self, having those thoughts or feelings.

Is this a weird idea…no Self? Was Hume just a philosophical weirdo? Fortunately the answer is NO.

We find a similar view in a totally different culture and it developed there independent of ours. There is no influence here.

Buddhists assume that the individual person is composed of five Khandas (aggregate, group).

It refers to the five aggregates concept that asserts five elements constitute and completely explain a sentient being's mental and physical existence.

The five aggregates or heaps are: form (or matter or body) (rupa), sensations (or feelings, received from form) (vedana),

perceptions (samjna), mental activity or formations (sankhara), and consciousness (vijnana)

What we observe here is that in different places and times people come to the same conclusion. But does this mean that the Self is an illusion?

It is an issue we already have encountered before. When you take your watch apart, you can name all individual parts, but none is named "watch". So, where is it?

The fact that the watch is no more than the whole of the parts does not mean that it is an illusion.

It means that as long as the watch is the whole of the parts, and as long as this whole of the parts exists, the watch must exist.

The only "illusion" would be if we would have a rather strange idea that a watch is something different than an appropriately assembled amount of parts.

In the same way, the only meaning in which Self is an illusion, is when we see it as a distinctive thing

that can be determined independently of a particular body, thoughts, and certain feelings.

This seems to be the only sensible conclusion we can make when accepting the Buddhist doctrine or the arguments of David Hume.

Thence you could come to the conclusion, that all those theories and philosophies, which claim that dissolving the Ego or Self,

will offer you insight in the meaning of life are claiming something like "Take your watch apart and experience thus the real watch"

I'd rather say that the opposite may be true. Part of the meaning of life is exactly that, a focus on your inner self,

which mean a focus on getting all composing parts work together in balance and harmony.

In other words, all these theories, philosophies and beliefs, that preach us to free us from our Ego or Self

are in fact not helpful at all to find a meaning of life.

Thank you for your attention again… ^_^




35. OK...does Life has a Meaning or not...?

"My life has no purpose, no direction, no destination, no sense and yet I'm happy. I do not understand. What am I doing right?"

These are the words of the cartoonist, Charles Schulz, creator of Snoopy.

Albert Camus (1913 -1960) chooses another approach. Confronted with the meaninglessness of life he asks himself:

why don't we commit suicide? He points out, however, that there is no more meaning in death than there is in life,

and that it simply evades the problem yet again. Camus concludes that we must instead "entertain" both death and the absurd, while never agreeing to their terms.

Meaning is used in these contexts as referring to something outside or beyond our actual life.

In previous lectures we have seen, that neither in the past, not in our future we can find the meaning of our existence.

Almost all those who deny that life seems to be meaningful, actually seem to reject the idea that it has a specific kind of meaning:

a meaning that is determined by forces, goals and principles that are in some way outside of this World.

What is lacking is the recognition that life can be meaningful, if we find it worthwhile to live as such, without the need of other goals or destinations.

Whatever you think of Descartes, he made perfectly clear where human life begins: in the awareness that we EXIST.

And we exist in time and history. It means that the question "Has life a meaning?" is totally different from the same question in, say 1890.

Social and historical factors play a role. For example, when thinkers such as Nietzsche expressed the idea of the death of God for the first time,

it was against the background of an all-embraced assumption, that the existence of God was needed as the basis for the meaning of life and morality.

After the confrontation with the so-called realization that the universe has no purpose and just is there, feelings of displacement and existential panic did not come unexpectedly.

If you assume that the universe has a purpose, then a completely undermining of that assumption must create a feeling of fear.

I, myself, am repeatedly surprised, however, by such remarks as that realizing that life has no meaning HAS TO BE frightening,

can drive people to despair, make you feel lost and unhappy. On the one hand philosophically I have no clue why,

on the other hand from a neurobiological perspective I would suggest it is caused by fear, created by what some people (want to) believe in.

My point is, that language can fool us. Every grammatical correct sentence is not by definition a meaningful sentence.

This is expressed in the characteristic response of A.J. Ayer on a critical note made during a television debate by Hugh Montefiore, the then bishop of Birmingham.

Ayer had said that only people could give meaning to life. When the bishop objected,

saying that if this were true, life could not have an ultimate meaning, Ayer replied, "I do not know what ultimate meaning means!"

What has meaning are our actions. This means, that we do things with a purpose which lays beyond the action.

So the question "Why do you do this?" could be translated into the question "What is the meaning of the existence of your action?"

From that point of view you can see that the question "What is the meaning of the existence of earth, or life?" looks meaningful but is not.

If you are looking for a meaning of life, then look at your actions and ask yourself why you do what you do.

And in addition, if you also are willing to accept the observation that homo sapiens is a social animal, which only can survive by cooperation,

then the meaning of life is obvious. The fact, that we put children in this world, implies that we think, life is worth living

and we need generations to continue our actions to make this world a better place for everyone to live.

Not the slogan "America first" should be on our banners but "Earth first". I guess that is enough for finding some meaning of life.

This concludes my project and this semester. Time for a good vacation. I wish you all the best for this summertime

and love to see you again September 6. Thank you all again for this wonderful time together ….




MacMillan The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2nd edition
Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 1995
Julian Baggini, What's It All About? Philosophy and the Meaning of Life (2004)  
Richard David Precht, Wer bin ich, und wenn ja, wie viele? (2007)