Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Death & the meaning of life

Among other things, Keith Augustine has posted these inspirational thoughts for our moral edification and uplift:

***QUOTE***

These considerations show that we must create our own meaning for our lives regardless of whether or not our lives serve some higher purpose. Whether our lives are meaningful to us depends on how we judge them. The absence or presence of greater purpose is as irrelevant as the finality of death. The claim that our lives are 'ultimately' meaningless does not make sense because there is no sense in which they could be meaningful or meaningless outside of how we regard them. Questions about the meaning of life are questions about values. We attribute values to things in life rather than discovering them. There can be no meaning of life outside of the meaning we create for ourselves because the universe is not a sentient being that can attribute values to things. Even if a sentient God existed, the value that he would attribute to our lives would not be the same as the value that we find in living and thus would be irrelevant.

What makes our lives meaningful is that we find the activities we engage in to be worthwhile. Our determination to carry out projects we have created for ourselves gives our lives meaning. We feel that life is meaningless when most of our desires which we regard as important are frustrated. Whether we regard life as meaningful or meaningless depends on the degree to which our important desires are frustrated. The judgments that we make about our lives on these points are the same regardless of whether one's life is eternal or not or whether it is part of a greater purpose or not. Perhaps the secret to a meaningful life is to focus on those desires which we can fulfill and diminish those which we cannot--provided that we know the difference between the two.

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/features/2000/augustine1.html

***END-QUOTE***

Put in such winsome terms, I can definitely see how many men and women would find secular ethics appealing. Take, for example, an Existentialist philosopher by the name of Jeffrey Dahmer.

“In a prison cell interview before he died, Jeffrey Dahmer, the homicidal cannibal, when asked why he did his terrible deeds, said that when he came to believe that there was no God and that we had evolved from slime, and that he felt there was [sic.] no moral restraints that should hold him back.”

http://www.cincinnatiskeptics.org/blurbs/dahmer.html

These considerations show that Dahmer had to create his own meaning for his life regardless of whether or not it served some higher purpose. Whether eating people is meaningful to him depends on how he judges it. The absence or presence of greater purpose is as irrelevant as the finality of death. The claim that his life is 'ultimately' meaningless does not make sense because there is no sense in which it could be meaningful or meaningless outside of how he regarded it. Questions about the meaning of life are questions about values. We attribute values to things in life rather than discovering them. There can be no meaning of life outside of the meaning we create for ourselves because the universe is not a sentient being that can attribute values to things. Even if a sentient God existed, the value that he would attribute to our lives would not be the same as the value that we find in living and thus would be irrelevant.

What made Dahmner’s life meaningful is that he was able to find the activities he engaged in to be worthwhile—even nutritious. His dietary determination to carry out culinary projects he created for himself gave his cannibalistic lifestyle deep-fried meaning. He felt that life was meaningless when most of his dietary desires which he regarded as important were frustrated. Whether he regarded life as meaningful or meaningless depended on the degree to which his important desire to dismember and devour his victims was frustrated.

The judgments that we make about our lives on these points are the same regardless of whether one's life is eternal or not or whether it is part of a greater purpose or not. It’s all a matter of taste, like white meat or dark meat.

Perhaps the secret to a meaningful diet is to focus on those desires which we can fulfill and diminish those which we cannot--provided that we know the difference between the two.

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