From Publishers Weekly
In tackling the meaning of life, Baggini (Atheism: A Very Short Introduction) demonstrates the debate's long and knotty history. Drawing on a wide array of attempts to formulate a theory about life's purpose, he builds a sturdy case for a "framework" readers can use in contemplating the question the title poses. Baggini covers a lot of ground despite the book's slimness: the arguments of thinkers from Aristotle to Nietzsche are successfully distilled, and he usually provides a nuanced discussion of all sides. The book is divided into chapters that consider the merits of six theories about life's meaning, and while Baggini pokes holes in all of them, he also takes elements from each, such as "make every day count" from the section on the carpe diem outlook, to use in his own approach. This structure, as well as his conversational prose, which is peppered with pop culture references to Ozzy Osbourne and the movie Antz, make for easy digestion. Because of the short format, Baggini has to be selective about what he addresses; he ignores or quickly dispatches many theories, beginning with anything religious, so a large number of readers will immediately reject his reasoning. However, secular-minded readers seeking an alternative to The Purpose-Driven Life have an excellent starting point here.
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From Scientific American
Nearly everyone has at some time wondered why we are here, what the purpose of life is. Julian Bagginis Whats It All About? begins with these ruminations but shifts to the intimately related question of what makes life valuable and meaningful.
Baggini, founding editor of the Philosophers Magazine, makes the rationalist-humanist assumption that reason and evidence are to be employed in the attempt to understand why we are here. He then proceeds to argue that inquiry into human origins and future human prospects does not reveal a purpose for human existence. Most confrontational to readers may be his skepticism about a God giving purpose to life. Is it plausible, he asks, to suppose that we are here to "be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground" (Genesis 1:28)? Why do we need to do this? And why would an all-powerful God create us to have us serve or worship him? Doesnt that suggest that God is an egotistical tyrant?
The conclusion that life lacks a "higher" purpose is often accompanied by great angst. Without such an overarching direction, life seems worthless. Baggini, however, challenges this view and provides some rough guidelines about what in fact makes life valuable to people. Helping others can give life meaning, insofar as it makes for an uplifted quality of life. Happiness, construed as something other than mere immediate sensual pleasure, is also a good thing. Success in parenting, in ones profession and in leading a morally decent existence can give life direction, too.
There is much to recommend Bagginis book. It is clearly written and reasoned, setting out the sober view that life can be meaningful even if purposeless. The principal shortcomings are those imposed by the genre of popular philosophythe reader is likely to fi nd that his or her particular views are not given the full attention they deserve. Nor are the authors positive views worked out in much detail. What this means, of course, is that Whats It All About? is only a starting point for reflection.