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Posts Tagged ‘The Meaning of Life’

I read these beautiful thought-provoking passages in the book ‘The Meaning of Life : A Very Short Introduction’ by Terry Eagleton. Thought you might like them 🙂 Pardon me if some of them are heavy-reading.


 
Irreconcilable beauties
 
“As the sociologist Mark Weber bleakly remarked : “The ultimately possible attitudes to life are irreconcilable, and hence their struggle can never be brought to a final conclusion”. Isaiah Berlin writes in similar vein that ‘the world that we encounter in ordinary experience is one in which we are faced by choices equally absolute, the realisation of some of which must inevitably mean the sacrifice of others’….the truth is that there just are situations from which one can emerge only with dirty hands. Pressed far enough, every moral law starts to come apart at the seams. The novelist Thomas Hardy was well aware that you can paint yourself unwittingly into moral corners in which, whichever way you move, someone is bound to get badly damaged. There is simply no answer to the question of which of your children you should sacrifice if a Nazi soldier orders you to hand over one of them to be killed.”
 
Abstraction – the double-edged knife
 
“Because we live by signs, which bring along with them the capacity for abstraction, we can distance ourselves from our immediate contexts, free our from the imprisonment of our bodily senses, and speculate on the human situation as such. Like fire, however, the power of abstraction is an ambiguous gift, at once creative and destructive. If it allows us to think in terms of whole communities, it also allows us to lay them waste with chemical weapons.”
 
‘A Useless Passion’
 
“Other animals may be anxious about, say, escaping predators or feeding their young, but they do not give the appearance of being troubled by what has been called ‘ontological anxiety’ : namely, the feeling (sometimes accompanied by a particularly intense hangover) that one is a pointless, superfluous being – a ‘useless passion’, as Jean-Paul Sartre put it.”
 
The ‘Modernist’ take on Meaning
 
“What marks modernist thought from one end to another is the belief that human existence is contingent – that it has no ground, goal, direction, or necessity and that our species might quite easily never have emerged on the planet. This possibility then hollows out our actual presence, casting across it the perpetual shadow of loss and death. Even in our most ecstatic moments, we are dimly aware that the ground is marshy underfoot – that there is no unimpeachable foundation to what we are and what we do. This may make our finest moments even more precious, or it may serve to drastically devalue them.”

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