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Saturday, March 12, 2022


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Dear Bill,

A small comment on the axiological question, and whether the likes of Hitler, Pol Pot etc had meaningful lives. The argument against (yours) is an argument for a universal, possibly normative, morality by which existential meaning in the lives of others can be reliably judged. By implication this says that one should not think one can invent one's own meaning, but should instead undertake a search for that universal framework.

So I would say that your claim (versus Benatar's) is an argument that achieving transcendent meaning requires knowledge of and faith in something that is outside the self, greater than the self, and is a source of truth. Perhaps this is a definition of divinity? Collectively we must all be looking for the same divinity - sources of truth can't admit the existence of competitive alternates. One step further might suggest that it is an argument for the existence of God - understood as a divine source of truth - if we agree that meaning can in principal be found in life. For those who recognise the mission but never achieve it, the existence of such a God is not in question, only the path is obscure. At least such people understand the gravity of the challenge.

A couple of further implications would seem to follow:
1. Can Benatar's argument be distinguished from that of post-modernists and Leftists who think meaning is self-created?
2. Is a quest for the meaning of life really just the same thing as looking for God?

Thanks for the comments, Thomas. In answer to your two questions.

1) For Benatar no human life has what he calls "cosmic" meaning, but a life can have a high degree of what he calls "terrestrial" meaning. This is presumably subjective and self-created. For Benatar, our predicament is an existential vise: we are squeezed between life which is objectively bad for all, no matter how fortunate they are, and death which is also objectively bad for all. Since for B. life is objectively bad, it can have no ultimate meaning in my sense.

2) I don't think these two quests are the same from the POV of the quester. An atheist might seek the meaning of life.

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