What's It All About?: Philosophy and the Meaning of Life

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9780195315790: What's It All About?: Philosophy and the Meaning of Life

What is the meaning of life? It is a question that has intrigued the great philosophers--and has been hilariously lampooned by Monty Python. Indeed, the whole idea strikes many of us as vaguely pompous and perhaps more than a little absurd. Is there one profound answer, an ultimate purpose behind human existence?

Julian Baggini thinks not. Rather, as Baggini argues in What's It All About, meaning can be found in a variety of ways. He succinctly breaks down six answers people commonly suggest when considering what life is all about--helping others, serving humanity, being happy, becoming successful, enjoying each day as if it were your last, and "freeing your mind." By reducing the vague, mysterious question of "meaning" to a series of more specific (if unmysterious) questions about what gives life purpose and value, he shows that the quest for meaning can be personal, empowering, and uplifting.

Illustrating his argument with the thoughts of many of the great philosophers and examples drawn from everyday life, Baggini convincingly shows that the search for meaning is personal and within the power of each of us to find.

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About the Author:


Julian Baggini is the founding editor of The Philosopher's Magazine. He writes regularly for publications such as the Guardian, Sunday Herald, and The Times Educational Supplement, and is a regular guest on BBC radio. He is the author of several books on philosophy, including Making Sense: Philosophy Behind the Headlines (OUP) and Atheism: A Very Short Introduction (OUP). For more information, please visit the author's website at www.julianbaggini.com.

From Scientific American:

Nearly everyone has at some time wondered why we are here, what the purpose of life is. Julian Baggini’s What’s It All About? begins with these ruminations but shifts to the intimately related question of what makes life valuable and meaningful.

Baggini, founding editor of the Philosopher’s Magazine, makes the rationalist-humanist assumption that reason and evidence are to be employed in the attempt to understand why we are here. He then proceeds to argue that inquiry into human origins and future human prospects does not reveal a purpose for human existence. Most confrontational to readers may be his skepticism about a God giving purpose to life. Is it plausible, he asks, to suppose that we are here to "be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground" (Genesis 1:28)? Why do we need to do this? And why would an all-powerful God create us to have us serve or worship him? Doesn’t that suggest that God is an egotistical tyrant?

The conclusion that life lacks a "higher" purpose is often accompanied by great angst. Without such an overarching direction, life seems worthless. Baggini, however, challenges this view and provides some rough guidelines about what in fact makes life valuable to people. Helping others can give life meaning, insofar as it makes for an uplifted quality of life. Happiness, construed as something other than mere immediate sensual pleasure, is also a good thing. Success in parenting, in one’s profession and in leading a morally decent existence can give life direction, too.

There is much to recommend Baggini’s book. It is clearly written and reasoned, setting out the sober view that life can be meaningful even if purposeless. The principal shortcomings are those imposed by the genre of popular philosophy—the reader is likely to fi nd that his or her particular views are not given the full attention they deserve. Nor are the author’s positive views worked out in much detail. What this means, of course, is that What’s It All About? is only a starting point for reflection.

Ken Aizawa

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