The question "What is the meaning of life?" is one of the most fascinating, oldest and most difficult questions human beings have ever posed themselves. Often linked to the religious issue of whether we are part of a larger, divine scheme, even in an increasingly secularized culture it remains a question to which we are ineluctably and powerfully drawn.
In this acute and thoughtful book, John Cottingham asks why the question vexes us so much and assesses some of the most influential attempts to explain it.
John Cottingham examines the view, widely held within science, especially since Darwin, that the cosmos is devoid of value and meaning. He asks what is involved in the "disenchantment" of the natural world by science, and argues that, properly understood, modern cosmology and evolutionary theory need not foreclose the possibility of ultimate meaning. He reflects on the paradox that the very impermanence and fragility of the human condition may lend support to the quest for a "spiritual" dimension of meaning.
Drawing on the history of philosophy, he also ponders the costs of insisting that any path to meaning must be a narrowly rational one, and he argues that our human need for meaning may properly be approached by drawing on shared traditions of practice, such as social ceremonies and rites of passage, whose value cannot be analyzed in purely intellectual terms.