Tuesday, November 01, 2011

A.C. Grayling on the Meaning of Life

A.C. Grayling has amazing hair.

Atheist and philosopher A.C. Grayling talks on the meaning of life here in the nytimes.

Life, intrinsically, has no meaning and is therefore absurd. This is true, on atheism. But it's "certainly not a viable life position." "The meaning of life," says Grayling, "is to make life meaningful." It's up to you to make meaning.

Grayling makes much of human autonomy and "freedom," which is our ability to make choices. Here is is at odds with those materialistic atheists who say that human free will is an illusion. Were I an atheist I think I would agree with the latter, but reluctantly, since it would be a position I could not freely evaluate and adopt.

I think we could have a good time evaluating Grayling's idea that "the meaning of life is to make life meaningful." Intrinsically, as Grayling seems to admit in this brief clip, life has no meaning. So the term "the meaning of life" is nonsensical. Life has no meaning, but its meaning is to make life meaningful. Or something like that, in a circular sense. If atheism is true I think one is relegated to talking like this.

Grayling says that Camus's "Sisyphus" can live a meaningful life. If you've read this it might strike you as odd that a Sisyphean life is meaningful at all, even if you have, as Grayling suggests, the "right attitude towards the [essentially meaningless] endeavor."

I think Grayling would do better to say something like this:

  • Life has no meaning.
  • So, logically (by definition), there is no "meaning of life."
  • Thus, the sentence "The meaning of life is to make life meaningful" is misleading. It makes it sound as if there is some meaning to life. Which there is not, on atheism. And I think Grayling is correct about this. There's no need to put a happy face on atheism.