Review of The Meaning of Life, edited by E.D. Klemke and Steven M. Cahn
The Meaning of Life is a collection of essays by prominent philosophers, literary figures, and religious thinkers on one of the most profound and enduring questions that humans face: what is the meaning of life? The book, now in its fourth edition, offers a variety of perspectives on this question, ranging from theistic views that affirm the existence and role of God in giving life purpose and value, to humanistic views that deny any need for theistic commitment and argue that life can have meaning and worth based on human reason, creativity, and morality, to skeptical views that question the legitimacy and significance of the question itself.
The book is divided into four parts. Part I presents essays that defend the theistic view that without faith in God, life has no meaning or purpose. These include classic arguments by Leo Tolstoy, Blaise Pascal, C.S. Lewis, and William Lane Craig, as well as contemporary contributions by John Cottingham, Philip L. Quinn, and Robert Merrihew Adams. Part II contains essays that oppose this claim and defend a nontheistic, humanistic alternative--that life can have meaning even in the absence of theistic commitment. These include influential works by Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Richard Taylor, Thomas Nagel, and Susan Wolf, as well as recent essays by Owen Flanagan, Steven M. Cahn, and Christine Vitrano. Part III features readings that address whether the question of the meaning of life is itself meaningful. These include skeptical views by David Hume, A.J. Ayer, Richard Rorty, and Walter T. Stace, as well as responses by Arthur Schopenhauer, Moritz Schlick, Kurt Baier, and E.D. Klemke. The fourth edition adds a new Part IV on the end of life, raising issues about how our perspectives on death affect our understanding of the meaning of life. These include selections by Epicurus, Lucretius, John Martin Fischer, Shelly Kagan, and Samuel Scheffler.
The Meaning of Life is an ideal core text for courses on the meaning of life and introduction to philosophy courses where the topic is emphasized. It also provides an accessible and stimulating introduction to the subject for general readers who are interested in exploring the philosophical dimensions of this perennial question.
One of the strengths of this book is that it covers a wide range of philosophical and religious traditions, including Buddhism and Confucianism, which are often neglected in Western discussions of the meaning of life. The editors have also done a commendable job of selecting texts that are accessible and engaging for readers who may not have a background in philosophy or theology. The essays are generally clear, concise, and well-argued, and they raise important questions and challenges for both theistic and nontheistic views.
However, the book also has some limitations that may affect its usefulness for some audiences. First, the book does not provide much historical or cultural context for the different views presented. For example, it would have been helpful to have some introduction or commentary on how the meaning of life question emerged and evolved in different times and places, and how it relates to other philosophical issues such as ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology. Second, the book does not offer much guidance or advice on how to apply the insights of the authors to one's own life. While some readers may prefer to draw their own conclusions and implications from the texts, others may wish for more practical suggestions or examples of how to live a meaningful life according to different perspectives.
Overall, The Meaning of Life is a valuable and stimulating resource for anyone who is interested in exploring the philosophical dimensions of this perennial question. It offers a rich and diverse selection of texts that represent some of the best thinkers and writers on the topic, and it invites readers to reflect on their own views and experiences. Whether you are a student, a teacher, or a general reader, you will find something in this book that will challenge, inspire, or enlighten you. a474f39169