Book Diary: The Meaning of Life (Terry Eagleton)

Me and my Mum went to see Terry Eagleton speak about this book in 2007.  We thought he was great and promptly bought a copy each, then got to meet him.  He is a very nice man.


(finished reading on 07/11/2008)

Where to start with a book with such a title?!  Well, it’s very easy to read and breaks the question down into four parts.  I enjoyed the first part, ‘Questions and Answers’ and the last, ‘Is Life What You Make It?’ the most, as they represented the linguistic and philosophical aspects of the question, respectively.

I think what I would like to record here – for myself to look back on and attempt to keep present in my mind – is a summary of what Eagleton believes to be the meaning of life.

So, to paraphrase:

HAPPINESS:  In the Aristotelian sense, as the free  flourishing of our faculties, a form of life; a certain condition of well-being which springs from living and using to the full and for the good all of our powers and capacities.

LOVE:  The state in which the flourishing of one individual comes about through the flourishing of others: “what we have called love is the way we can reconcile our search for individual fulfilment [as above] with the fact that we are social animals.  For love means creating for another the conditions in which he might flourish, at the same time as he does this for you.  The fulfilment of each becomes the ground for the fulfilment of the other.  When we realise our natures in this way, we are at our best.”

JAZZ:  “A jazz group which is improvising obviously differs from a symphony orchestra since to a large extent each member is free to express herself as she likes.  But, she does so with a receptive sensitivity to the self-expressive performances of the other musicians … as each player grows more musically eloquent, the others draw inspiration from this and are spurred to greater heights.”

MEANINGLESSNESS:  “What we need is a form of life which is completely pointless, just as the jazz performance is pointless.  Rather than serve some utilitarian purpose or earnest metaphysical end, it is a delight in itself.  It needs no justification beyond its own existence.  In this sense the meaning of life is interestingly close to meaninglessness.

As Wittgenstein remarks somewhere: ‘if there is such a thing as eternal life, it must be here and now.  It is the present moment which is an image of eternity, not an infinite succession of such moments’.”


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