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.
In tackling the meaning of life, Baggini (Atheism: A Very Short Introduction) demonstrates the debate's long and knotty history. Drawing on a wide array of attempts to formulate a theory about life's purpose, he builds a sturdy case for a "framework" readers can use in contemplating the question the title poses. Baggini covers a lot of ground despite the book's slimness: the arguments of thinkers from Aristotle to Nietzsche are successfully distilled, and he usually provides a nuanced discussion of all sides. The book is divided into chapters that consider the merits of six theories about life's meaning, and while Baggini pokes holes in all of them, he also takes elements from each, such as "make every day count" from the section on the carpe diem outlook, to use in his own approach. This structure, as well as his conversational prose, which is peppered with pop culture references to Ozzy Osbourne and the movie Antz, make for easy digestion. Because of the short format, Baggini has to be selective about what he addresses; he ignores or quickly dispatches many theories, beginning with anything religious, so a large number of readers will immediately reject his reasoning. However, secular-minded readers seeking an alternative to The Purpose-Driven Life have an excellent starting point here.
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Oxford University Press, Incorporated
January 07, 2007
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