The Meaning of Life: A Very Short Introduction (Google eBook)

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Oxford University Press, Apr 24, 2008 - Philosophy - 128 pages
2 Reviews
'Philosophers have an infuriating habit of analysing questions rather than answering them', writes Terry Eagleton, who, in these pages, asks the most important question any of us ever ask, and attempts to answer it. So what is the meaning of life? In this witty, spirited, and stimulating inquiry, Eagleton shows how centuries of thinkers - from Shakespeare and Schopenhauer to Marx, Sartre and Beckett - have tackled the question. Refusing to settle for the bland and boring, Eagleton reveals with a mixture of humour and intellectual rigour how the question has become particularly problematic in modern times. Instead of addressing it head-on, we take refuge from the feelings of 'meaninglessness' in our lives by filling them with a multitude of different things: from football and sex, to New Age religions and fundamentalism. 'Many of the readers of this book are likely to be as sceptical of the phrase "the meaning of life" as they are of Santa Claus', he writes. But Eagleton contends that in a world where we need to find common meanings, it is important that we set about answering the question of all questions; and, in conclusion, he suggests his own answer. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.
  

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The "Meaning of Life" is one of those age-old questions that people of all walks of life have been pondering for at least as long as we know that people have been pondering anything. There have been many approaches to this question, and the three most prominent ones have come from philosophy, theology/religion, and literature. In this very short introduction Terry Eagelton sets out to explore all those approaches to this perennial big question. Even thought his approach is not strictly speaking philosophical, the preponderance of ideas about the meaning of life have been taken from various philosophers. Eagelton is very good at problematizing the whole "What is the meaning of life?" question. At the surface it appears like any other question to which we can give an objective answer (like "How far is Bloomington from Indianapolis?"), but at closer inspection almost every single word in that question can be very ambiguous. Eagleton's approach is to explore those ambiguities, and show how they had been addressed by other thinkers and writers. The book has a feel and style of a very long polemical essay, and an overall a very enjoyable one at that. My only big objection to it is that no attempts have been made to incorporate any of the ideas about the meaning of life, human happiness and personal integrity that have come out of the modern Psychological research. It has been known for quite a while that creating a coherent narrative of one's life is an essential part of the psychological theories of self. Other than that, the book is extremely well written and despite some grim ideas and passages an overall enjoyable and worthwhile read. 

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Contents

1 Questions and answers
1
2 The problem of meaning
33
3 The eclipse of meaning
56
4 Is life what you make it?
78

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