How Can I Know?: Answers to Lifes 7 Most Important Questions

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The problem: A job candidate will often answer by calling themselves a hard worker, says Doucette. What you should say: A better answer involves some prep work. What you should say: A better answer is acknowledging that everybody screws up once in a while, he says. The problem: Many job seekers throw out a number, and sometimes it can be based on how much they want the job, says Jayne Mattson, senior vice president of the career-coaching firm Keystone Associates. The problem: This is a question that trips up a lot of candidates as it can be tricky to answer, says Tracy Cashman , a senior vice president and partner of WinterWyman Executive Search.

What you should say: A better answer ties your future plans into your past experience and your selling points, says Cashman. I would hope that my next role allows for that to continue over the next five years. The problem: Bad answers to this question include anything that is negative toward your present employer, sounds too vague, or involves confidential information, such as an impending layoff or client loss, says David Lewis, president and CEO of OperationsInc , a human resources outsourcing and consulting firm.

What you should say: The better answer is anything that implies you are looking to better yourself. What you should say: Candidates who pass on this opportunity are missing an opportunity to shine, says Mavi. D Magazine. January 1, Retrieved November 10, First Baptist Church. Washington Post. Retrieved January 20, Following the example of President Obama and George W.

Bush before him, Trump attended the private service at St. Roosevelt in Charisma News. The Christian Post. Retrieved 26 Feb Fox Business. Robert Jeffress: Evil exists". Fox News. June 18, Retrieved October 5, The New York Times. Retrieved 18 June Embassy in Jerusalem today". God sends good people to Hell. Not only do religions like Mormonism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism — not only do they lead people away from God, they lead people to an eternity of separation from God in Hell. Talking Points Memo.

Right Wing Watch. Christian News Weekly. Dallas Morning News. December 7, The Washington Post. October 7, Deseret News , October 20, Jeffress endorses Mitt Romney and shared values". Deseret News. Retrieved December 13, Of course, many supernaturalists believe that certain relationships with God and a soul are jointly necessary and sufficient for a significant existence. However, the simpler view is common, and often arguments proffered for the more complex view fail to support it any more than the simpler view. The most widely held and influential God-based account of meaning in life is that one's existence is more significant, the better one fulfills a purpose God has assigned.

The familiar idea is that God has a plan for the universe and that one's life is meaningful to the degree that one helps God realize this plan, perhaps in the particular way God wants one to do so Affolter Fulfilling God's purpose by choice is the sole source of meaning, with the existence of an afterlife not necessary for it Brown ; Levine ; Cottingham If a person failed to do what God intends him to do with his life, then, on the current view, his life would be meaningless. Some argue that God's purpose could be the sole source of invariant moral rules, where a lack of such would render our lives nonsensical Craig ; Cottingham However, Euthyphro problems arguably plague this rationale; God's purpose for us must be of a particular sort for our lives to obtain meaning by fulfilling it as is often pointed out, serving as food for intergalactic travelers won't do , which suggests that there is a standard external to God's purpose that determines what the content of God's purpose ought to be but see Cottingham , ch.

In addition, some critics argue that a universally applicable and binding moral code is not necessary for meaning in life, even if the act of helping others is Ellin , Other purpose theorists contend that having been created by God for a reason would be the only way that our lives could avoid being contingent Craig ; cf. Haber But it is unclear whether God's arbitrary will would avoid contingency, or whether his non-arbitrary will would avoid contingency anymore than a deterministic physical world. Furthermore, the literature is still unclear what contingency is and why it is a deep problem.

Still other purpose theorists maintain that our lives would have meaning only insofar as they were intentionally fashioned by a creator, thereby obtaining meaning of the sort that an art-object has Gordon Here, though, freely choosing to do any particular thing would not be necessary for meaning, and everyone's life would have an equal degree of meaning, which are both counterintuitive implications see Trisel for additional criticisms. Are all these objections sound? Is there a promising reason for thinking that fulfilling God's as opposed to any human's purpose is what constitutes meaning in life?

Not only does each of these versions of the purpose theory have specific problems, but they all face this shared objection: if God assigned us a purpose, then God would degrade us and thereby undercut the possibility of us obtaining meaning from fulfilling the purpose Baier , —20; Murphy , 14—15; Singer , This objection goes back at least to Jean-Paul Sartre , 45 , and there are many replies to it in the literature that have yet to be assessed e.

Robert Nozick presents a God-centered theory that focuses less on God as purposive and more on God as infinite Nozick , ch. The basic idea is that for a finite condition to be meaningful, it must obtain its meaning from another condition that has meaning. So, if one's life is meaningful, it might be so in virtue of being married to a person, who is important.

And, being finite, the spouse must obtain his or her importance from elsewhere, perhaps from the sort of work he or she does. And this work must obtain its meaning by being related to something else that is meaningful, and so on.

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A regress on meaningful finite conditions is present, and the suggestion is that the regress can terminate only in something infinite, a being so all-encompassing that it need not indeed, cannot go beyond itself to obtain meaning from anything else. And that is God. The standard objection to this rationale is that a finite condition could be meaningful without obtaining its meaning from another meaningful condition; perhaps it could be meaningful in itself, or obtain its meaning by being related to something beautiful, autonomous or otherwise valuable for its own sake but not meaningful Thomson , 25—26, The purpose- and infinity-based rationales are the two most common instances of God-centered theory in the literature, and the naturalist can point out that they arguably face a common problem: a purely physical world seems able to do the job for which God is purportedly necessary.

Nature seems able to ground a universal morality and the sort of final value from which meaning might spring. And other God-based views seem to suffer from this same problem. For two examples, some claim that God must exist in order for there to be a just world, where a world in which the bad do well and the good fare poorly would render our lives senseless Craig ; cf. Cottingham , pt. However, the naturalist will point out that an impersonal, Karmic-like force of nature conceivably could justly distribute penalties and rewards in the way a retributive personal judge would, and that actually living together in loving relationships would seem to confer much more meaning on life than a loving fond remembrance.

A second problem facing all God-based views is the existence of apparent counterexamples. If we think of the stereotypical lives of Albert Einstein, Mother Teresa, and Pablo Picasso, they seem meaningful even if we suppose there is no all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good spiritual person who is the ground of the physical world.

What is the difference between a deep meaning and a shallow one?

And why think a spiritual realm is necessary for the former? At this point, the supernaturalist could usefully step back and reflect on what it might be about God that would make Him uniquely able to confer meaning in life, perhaps as follows from the perfect being theological tradition. For God to be solely responsible for any significance in our lives, God must have certain qualities that cannot be found in the natural world, these qualities must be qualitatively superior to any goods possible in a physical universe, and they must be what ground meaning in it.

Here, the supernaturalist could argue that meaning depends on the existence of a perfect being, where perfection requires properties such as atemporality, simplicity, and immutability that are possible only in a spiritual realm Metz , chs. Morris ; contra Brown and Hartshorne Meaning might come from loving a perfect being or orienting one's life toward it in other ways such as imitating it or even fulfilling its purpose, perhaps a purpose tailor-made for each individual as per Affolter Although this might be a promising strategy for a God-centered theory, it faces a serious dilemma.

On the one hand, in order for God to be the sole source of meaning, God must be utterly unlike us; for the more God were like us, the more reason there would be to think we could obtain meaning from ourselves, absent God.

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On the other hand, the more God is utterly unlike us, the less clear it is how we could obtain meaning by relating to Him. How can one love a being that cannot change? How can one imitate such a being? Could an immutable, atemporal, simple being even have purposes? Could it truly be a person? And why think an utterly perfect being is necessary for meaning? Why would not a very good but imperfect being confer some meaning? A soul-centered theory is the view that meaning in life comes from relating in a certain way to an immortal, spiritual substance that supervenes on one's body when it is alive and that will forever outlive its death.

If one lacks a soul, or if one has a soul but relates to it in the wrong way, then one's life is meaningless. There are two prominent arguments for a soul-based perspective. The first one is often expressed by laypeople and is suggested by the work of Leo Tolstoy ; see also Hanfling , 22—24; Morris , 26; Craig Tolstoy argues that for life to be meaningful something must be worth doing, that nothing is worth doing if nothing one does will make a permanent difference to the world, and that doing so requires having an immortal, spiritual self.

Many of course question whether having an infinite effect is necessary for meaning e. Others point out that one need not be immortal in order to have an infinite effect Levine , , for God's eternal remembrance of one's mortal existence would be sufficient for that. The other major rationale for a soul-based theory of life's meaning is that a soul is necessary for perfect justice, which, in turn, is necessary for a meaningful life. Life seems nonsensical when the wicked flourish and the righteous suffer, at least supposing there is no other world in which these injustices will be rectified, whether by God or by Karma.

Something like this argument can be found in the Biblical chapter Ecclesiastes , and it continues to be defended Davis ; Craig However, like the previous rationale, the inferential structure of this one seems weak; even if an afterlife were required for just outcomes, it is not obvious why an eternal afterlife should be thought necessary Perrett , Work has been done to try to make the inferences of these two arguments stronger, and the basic strategy has been to appeal to the value of perfection Metz , ch.

Perhaps the Tolstoian reason why one must live forever in order to make the relevant permanent difference is an agent-relative need for one to honor an infinite value, something qualitatively higher than the worth of, say, pleasure. And maybe the reason why immortality is required in order to mete out just deserts is that rewarding the virtuous requires satisfying their highest free and informed desires, one of which would be for eternal flourishing of some kind Goetz While far from obviously sound, these arguments at least provide some reason for thinking that immortality is necessary to satisfy the major premise about what is required for meaning.

However, both arguments are still plagued by a problem facing the original versions; even if they show that meaning depends on immortality, they do not yet show that it depends on having a soul. By definition, if one has a soul, then one is immortal, but it is not clearly true that if one is immortal, then one has a soul. Perhaps being able to upload one's consciousness into an infinite succession of different bodies in an everlasting universe would count as an instance of immortality without a soul.

Such a possibility would not require an individual to have an immortal spiritual substance imagine that when in between bodies, the information constitutive of one's consciousness were temporarily stored in a computer. What reason is there to think that one must have a soul in particular for life to be significant? The most promising reason seems to be one that takes us beyond the simple version of soul-centered theory to the more complex view that both God and a soul constitute meaning.

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The best justification for thinking that one must have a soul in order for one's life to be significant seems to be that significance comes from uniting with God in a spiritual realm such as Heaven, a view espoused by Thomas Aquinas, Leo Tolstoy , and contemporary religious thinkers e. Another possibility is that meaning comes from honoring what is divine within oneself, i. As with God-based views, naturalist critics offer counterexamples to the claim that a soul or immortality of any kind is necessary for meaning. Great works, whether they be moral, aesthetic, or intellectual, would seem to confer meaning on one's life regardless of whether one will live forever.

Critics maintain that soul-centered theorists are seeking too high a standard for appraising the meaning of people's lives Baier , —29; Baier , chs. Appeals to a soul require perfection, whether it be, as above, a perfect object to honor, a perfectly just reward to enjoy, or a perfect being with which to commune. However, if indeed soul-centered theory ultimately relies on claims about meaning turning on perfection, such a view is attractive at least for being simple, and rival views have yet to specify in a principled and thoroughly defended way where to draw the line at less than perfection perhaps a start is Metz , ch.

What less than ideal amount of value is sufficient for a life to count as meaningful? Critics of soul-based views maintain not merely that immortality is not necessary for meaning in life, but also that it is sufficient for a meaningless life. One influential argument is that an immortal life, whether spiritual or physical, could not avoid becoming boring, rendering life pointless Williams ; Ellin , —12; Belshaw , 82—91; Smuts The most common reply is that immortality need not get boring Fischer ; Wisnewski ; Bortolotti and Nagasawa ; Chappell ; Quigley and Harris , 75— However, it might also be worth questioning whether boredom is truly sufficient for meaninglessness.

Suppose, for instance, that one volunteers to be bored so that many others will not be bored; perhaps this would be a meaningful sacrifice to make. Another argument that being immortal would be sufficient to make our lives insignificant is that persons who cannot die could not exhibit certain virtues Nussbaum ; Kass For instance, they could not promote justice of any important sort, be benevolent to any significant degree, or exhibit courage of any kind that matters, since life and death issues would not be at stake.

Critics reply that even if these virtues would not be possible, there are other virtues that could be. And of course it is not obvious that meaning-conferring justice, benevolence and courage would not be possible if we were immortal, perhaps if we were not always aware that we could not die or if our indestructible souls could still be harmed by virtue of intense pain, frustrated ends, and repetitive lives. There are other, related arguments maintaining that awareness of immortality would have the effect of removing meaning from life, say, because our lives would lack a sense of preciousness and urgency Lenman ; Kass ; James or because external rather than internal factors would then dictate their course Wollheim , Note that the target here is belief in an eternal afterlife, and not immortality itself, and so I merely mention these rationales for additional, revealing criticism, see Bortolotti I now address views that even if there is no spiritual realm, meaning in life is possible, at least for many people.

Among those who believe that a significant existence can be had in a purely physical world as known by science, there is debate about two things: the extent to which the human mind constitutes meaning and whether there are conditions of meaning that are invariant among human beings.

Subjectivists believe that there are no invariant standards of meaning because meaning is relative to the subject, i. Roughly, something is meaningful for a person if she believes it to be or seeks it out. Objectivists maintain, in contrast, that there are some invariant standards for meaning because meaning is at least partly mind-independent, i. Here, something is meaningful to some degree in virtue of its intrinsic nature, independent of whether it is believed to be meaningful or sought.


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There is logical space for an intersubjective theory according to which there are invariant standards of meaning for human beings that are constituted by what they would all agree upon from a certain communal standpoint Darwall , chs. However, this orthogonal approach is not much of a player in the field and so I set it aside in what follows. According to this view, meaning in life varies from person to person, depending on each one's variable mental states. Common instances are views that one's life is more meaningful, the more one gets what one happens to want strongly, the more one achieves one's highly ranked goals, or the more one does what one believes to be really important Trisel ; Hooker ; Alexis Lately, one influential subjectivist has maintained that the relevant mental state is caring or loving, so that life is meaningful just to the extent that one cares about or loves something Frankfurt , , Subjectivism was dominant for much of the 20 th century when pragmatism, positivism, existentialism, noncognitivism, and Humeanism were quite influential James ; Ayer ; Sartre ; Barnes ; Taylor ; Hare ; Williams ; Klemke Such a method has been used to defend the existence of objective value, and, as a result, subjectivism about meaning has lost its dominance.

The Meaning of Life (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Those who continue to hold subjectivism often are suspicious of attempts to justify beliefs about objective value e. Theorists are primarily moved to accept subjectivism because the alternatives are unpalatable; they are sure that value in general and meaning in particular exists, but do not see how it could be grounded in something independent of the mind, whether it be the natural, the non-natural, or the supernatural.

In contrast to these possibilities, it appears straightforward to account for what is meaningful in terms of what people find meaningful or what people want out of life. Wide-ranging meta-ethical debates in epistemology, metaphysics, and the philosophy of language are necessary to address this rationale for subjectivism. There are two other, more circumscribed arguments for subjectivism. One is that subjectivism is plausible since it is reasonable to think that a meaningful life is an authentic one Frankfurt If a person's life is significant insofar as she is true to herself or her deepest nature, then we have some reason to believe that meaning simply is a function of satisfying certain desires held by the individual or realizing certain ends of hers.

Another argument is that meaning intuitively comes from losing oneself, i. Work that concentrates the mind and relationships that are engrossing seem central to meaning and to be so because of the subjective element involved, that is, because of the concentration and engrossment.

How Can I Know?: Answers to Life's 7 Most Important Questions

However, critics maintain that both of these arguments are vulnerable to a common objection: they neglect the role of objective value both in realizing oneself and in losing oneself Taylor , esp. One is not really being true to oneself if one intentionally harms others Dahl , 12 , successfully maintains 3, hairs on one's head Taylor , 36 , or, well, eats one's own excrement Wielenberg , 22 , and one is also not losing oneself in a meaning-conferring way if one is consumed by these activities. There seem to be certain actions, relationships, states, and experiences that one ought to concentrate on or be engrossed in, if meaning is to accrue.

So says the objectivist, but many subjectivists also feel the pull of the point. Paralleling replies in the literature on well-being, subjectivists often respond by contending that no or very few individuals would desire to do such intuitively trivial things, at least after a certain idealized process of reflection e. More promising, perhaps, is the attempt to ground value not in the responses of an individual valuer, but in those of a particular group Brogaard and Smith ; Wong Would such an intersubjective move avoid the counterexamples? If so, would it do so more plausibly than an objective theory?

Objective naturalists believe that meaning is constituted at least in part by something physical independent of the mind about which we can have correct or incorrect beliefs. Obtaining the object of some variable pro-attitude is not sufficient for meaning, on this view. Instead, there are certain inherently worthwhile or finally valuable conditions that confer meaning for anyone, neither merely because they are wanted, chosen, or believed to be meaningful, nor because they somehow are grounded in God.

Morality and creativity are widely held instances of actions that confer meaning on life, while trimming toenails and eating snow and the other counterexamples to subjectivism above are not. Objectivism is thought to be the best explanation for these respective kinds of judgments: the former are actions that are meaningful regardless of whether any arbitrary agent whether it be an individual,her society, or even God judges them to be meaningful or seeks to engage in them, while the latter actions simply lack significance and cannot obtain it if someone believes them to have it or engages in them.

To obtain meaning in one's life, one ought to pursue the former actions and avoid the latter ones. Of course, meta-ethical debates about the nature of value are again relevant here. Relatively few objectivists are pure, so construed.

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That is, a large majority of them believe that a life is more meaningful not merely because of objective factors, but also in part because of subjective ones such as cognition, affection, and emotion. This theory implies that no meaning accrues to one's life if one believes in, is satisfied by, or cares about a project that is not worthwhile, or if one takes up a worthwhile project but fails to judge it important, be satisfied by it, care about it or otherwise identify with it.

Different versions of this theory will have different accounts of the appropriate mental states and of worthwhileness. Pure objectivists deny that subjective attraction plays any constitutive role in conferring meaning on life. For instance, utilitarians with respect to meaning as opposed to morality are pure objectivists, for they claim that certain actions confer meaning on life regardless of the agent's reactions to them.

On this view, the more one benefits others, the more meaningful one's life, regardless of whether one enjoys benefiting them, believes they should be aided, etc. Singer , ch. Midway between pure objectivism and the hybrid theory is the view that having certain propositional attitudes toward finally good activities would enhance the meaning of life without being necessary for it Audi ,

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