On the Meaning of Life: 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

On the Meaning of Life

1st Edition

By John Cottingham


136 pages

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pub: 2002-11-14
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The question 'What is the meaning of life?' is one of the most fascinating, oldest and most difficult questions human beings have ever posed themselves. In an increasingly secularized culture, it remains a question to which we are ineluctably and powerfully drawn.

Drawing skillfully on a wealth of thinkers, writers and scientists from Augustine, Descartes, Freud and Camus, to Spinoza, Pascal, Darwin, and Wittgenstein, On the Meaning of Life breathes new vitality into one of the very biggest questions.


'Cottingham summarises arguments about morality, evolution … with clarity.' - Steven Poole, The Guardian

'Students are often disappointed with contemporary philosophy for not engaging with the "big questions". They would not be disappointed with this book…The strength of this book lies in the way it handles a mass of philosophical, scientific, literary and religious thought.' - Church Times

'Elegantly written and accessible…Readers will appreciate Cottingham's clarity and his willingness to enter some difficult and complex areas of debate.' - The Philosophers' Magazine

'Lucid and provocative, rich with references and ideas . . . Cottingham takes things remarkably far for our day and age.' - International Philosophical Quarterly

'I strongly recommend this book to philosophers, theologians and educated readers. It is a distillation of much experience, scholarship and reflection and it is rare to find so much contained in so few pages. Whatever else I read in the coming months this will be one of my books of the year.' - John Haldane, The Tablet

'[An] admirable, concise and lucid book.' - Reviews in Religion and Theology

'If Cottingham is brusque he can also be invigorating, and he focuses very effectively on the most fertile question in the so-called philosophy of life: that the "precariousness of human life and happiness" is exactly what makes our life interesting.' - Jonathan Ree, Times Literary Supplement

Table of Contents

Preface Chapter 1 The Question

The question that won't go away

Science and Meaning

Something rather than nothing

A Religious question?

Meaning after God

Man the Measure of All things?

Variety, MEaning and Evaluation

What Meaningfulness implies

Meaning and Morality

Humanity and Openess

Chapter 2 The Barrier to Meaning

The Void

The Challenge of Modernity

The Shadow of Darwin

Science, Religion and Meaning

Evolution and 'Blind' Forces

The 'Nastiness' of the Evolutionary Mechanism

Matter and Surplus Suffering

The Character of the Cosmos

Chapter 3 Meaning, Vulnerability and Hope

Morality and Achievement

Futility and Fragility

Religion and the Buoyancy of the Good

Vulnerability and Finitude

Spirituality and Inner Change

Doctrine and Praxis

From Praxis to FAith

Coda: Intimations of Meaning

About the Series

Thinking in Action

'Three of the first batch deserve high praise: On Immigration and Refugees, by the great logician (and campaigner for racial equality) Michael Dummett; On Belief, by that master of postmodern paradox, Slavoj Zizek; and On the Internet by Hubert L Dreyfus.' - Boyd Tonkin, The Independent

This is clearly an important series. I look forward to reading future volumes.' - Frank Kermode, author of Shakespeare's Language

Both rigorous and accessible.' - Humanist News

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Thinking in Action
is a major series that takes philosophy to its public. Each book in the series is written by a major international philosopher or thinker, engages with an important contemporary topic, and is clearly and accessibly written. The series informs and sharpens debate on topics as wide ranging as the internet, religion, the problem of immigration and refugees and the way we think about science. Punchy, short, and stimulating, Thinking in Action is an indispensable series of books for anyone who wants to think seriously about major issues confronting us today.

Edited by Simon Critchley, New School University, USA and Richard Kearney, Boston College, USA

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SCIENCE / General