Does life have any meaning? Is life meaningful? Where this question does not mean, can you find something to do in your life that makes it meaningful to you? There are numerous answers to this second question and they run the gamut from the sublime to the seemingly ridiculous. Perhaps your work: scientific discovery, healing the sick, teaching or, probably the most common, your family and its well being. But for some it might be just stamp collecting or model trains or building string balls that gives your life meaning, makes you want to get up in the morning or to keep going. That’s not what I’m talking about by the questions at the beginning of this paragraph.
Rather, these questions are asking something more like: does it make any difference what you do? Really, ultimately, does it make any difference what you do? The reasoning which underlies this question is: if no matter how you live and act the outcome is, ultimately, the same then it doesn’t really make any diff erence what you do. And if it doesn’t make any difference what you do, then life is not meaningful–your actions, your life don’t mean anything, they don’t make any difference, at least, none that is lasting.
At this point, it seems, the world divides into two different kinds of people, those for whom any difference one can make in the here and now and into the proximate future is enough. Clearly one can make some difference here and now, at least to those with whom one comes into contact. And, if one is lucky or sufficiently talented and hard working (or sufficiently nasty, devious and evil), the difference he/she makes may well last generations into the future. (This seems especially true of actions which have at least a moderate impact on the environment for example.) And that, it is claimed, is enough to give life meaning.
There are others, however, for whom that is not enough. They reason that if, in the end,–if ultimately– it’s all just dust, then ultimately it doesn’t make any difference what you do. Whether you’re Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot , Mao or Mother Theresa, Gandhi or even Christ, ultimately it makes no difference, the end state is the same, no matter what. In that case, if ultimately it doesn’t make any difference what you do, then life has no meaning.
Which group do you fall into? If you fall into the first group, then the question about whether life has meaning collapses into that simpler question: can I find something to do with the time I have that gives me satisfaction, self-esteem, pleasure, perhaps a good reputation or even money? Your corner of the bookstore would be the self-help section. If you fall into the latter group, the question expands into other, related questions and your corner of the bookstore is the religion and spirituality section.
I fall into the second group. And I want to spend some time and thought, here, exploring what those other related questions are and whether or what we can know about their subjects.
This book is a series of essays (13) about some of the more important questions in philosophy and religion. The essays represent the author's take on the most reasonable answers to these questions as well as the justifications for those answers. They are written in an essay form and a colloquial style rather than in the style of a professional journal article in the hope of easing the reader's way through them and rewarding his/her interest and curiosity. No dogmatism here, just a reflective and
open attempt to discern what is the case with regard to some perennial and
serious issues which commonly confront us.
About the Author
Dr. Brockway brings a remarkable breadth of degrees, experience and teaching to this book. He has a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics, a masters degree in Social Work and a masters and a Ph.D. in Philosophy. The subjects he has taught range from logic and philosophy to medical ethics and business ethics; from business, finance and economics to sociology and political science; and from mathematics to the history of science. And interspersed between these various teaching sojourns he has been the administrator of a primary care clinic, a stock broker and investment consultant, and the managing partner of a financial planning firm. He has lived in Europe and in the U.S.. This breadth of experience and interests is reflected both in the subject areas he writes about in this book as well as in his style of writing. The book is written for the non-specialist and in largely non-technical terms. When asked who his intended audience was, Dr. Brockway responded: “anyone who is interested in these topics, is intelligent and is not a specialist.”