Samuel C. Rickless

Professor of Philosophy


Winter 2021

PHIL 141: The Meaning of Life [Syllabus]

The purpose of this course is to consider whether human life has meaning, and, if so, what meaning it has and under what conditions such meaning may be secured. We begin with various negative thoughts: that life is nothing but suffering unto death for no purpose, that life has no meaning, or that life is absurd. We then discuss various positive answers to the meaning-of-life question: that meaning derives from the cessation of suffering, or from authoritativeness and ritual, or from free choices, or from some passion or commitment, or from spirituality or something transcendent, or from human relationships or purposeless play or open-ended activities. We will consider whether the meaning of life derives from some connection with morality, or creativity, or fundamentality. We will spend some time thinking about one of the more influential recent theories of life’s meaning: Susan Wolf’s “fitting fulfillment” view. And we will end the course by examining whether life has meaning only when it has a coherent narrative structure, and whether the survival of humanity is necessary for individual lives to have meaning.