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What's It All About?: Philosophy and the Meaning of Life Paperback

ISBN-13: 978-0195315790 ISBN-10: 0195315790 Edition: 0th

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (January 8, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195315790
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195315790
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.5 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #635,370 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Scientific American

Nearly everyone has at some time wondered why we are here, what the purpose of life is. Julian Baggini’s What’s 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 Philosopher’s 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? Doesn’t 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 one’s profession and in leading a morally decent existence can give life direction, too.

There is much to recommend Baggini’s 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 philosophy—the reader is likely to fi nd that his or her particular views are not given the full attention they deserve. Nor are the author’s positive views worked out in much detail. What this means, of course, is that What’s It All About? is only a starting point for reflection.

Ken Aizawa --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


More About the Author

Julian Baggini is the editor and co-founder of The Philosophers' Magazine. His books include Do You Think What You Think YouThink? (with Jeremy Stangroom), What's It All About? - Philosophy and the Meaning of Life and The Pig That Wants to be Eaten, all published by Granta Books.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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In this way, the book is also a good introduction to philosophy.
Amit Sahoo
We can recognize all the good and bad things in life and still see that there are lots of ways to live meaningful lives.
john messerly
I found almost every page seemed to be plagued by too much use of the thesaurus.
The Syndicate15

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Wyote VINE VOICE on November 10, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I once thought that perhaps Will Durant's book was the best introduction to philosophy, and then I thought "Sophie's World" was. Now both of those books are well worth your time if you intend to get a peek at the Western philosophical tradition.

However, I think this is the best introduction to philosophy, not merely as what philosophers think about, but as thought about meaningful stuff.

Baggini's arguments are concise to the point of dismissive, so anytime you disagree you'll long for a consideration of your objections, but he moves along briskly from one issue to the next. Even though I disagree with about 1/4 of his opinions, so I understand the feeling, I think he's got the picture in sharp focus; someone who believes (like, say, Cottingham) that religion is key to meaningful life will probably be too frustrated by this book to finish it. For a longer consideration and rejection of the theistic POV, I suppose you've got to go to Sartre.

Anyway, the point of my review is that, if you're a layperson (like me) who's interested in thinking about the meaning of life (and stuff) (like me) then this is a very good book for you. Even if you disagree with his conclusion, everyone recommends the process of thinking through your adversaries' positions. Baggini and I both went through Cottingham, and he through several others as well, for instance.

Another good feature of the text is that if you move on to other modern philosophy books, directed at the philosophy crowd rather than at laypeople, you'll find that this book has prepared you for the arguments you encounter.

A difficulty of reviewing this book is that, frankly, it has to be read to be appreciated. No concise summary is possible. Except, the meaning of life is, like, to live. You want to see it discussed intelligently?

Then I highly recommend this book.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful By M. Strong on December 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As it turns out, Baggini might have been better off calling this book "What's it not About?" He spends about 95% of the book examining about ten of the major philosophies surrounding the meaning of life - helping others, being happy, Carpe Diem, being successful, and advancing the species among them. Using logic, he convincingly dismisses each of these concepts as inadequate for defining the meaning of life while lifting a couple valuable points from each philosophy.

As he sets up and knocks down each philosophy, a sense of anticipation grows - you feel like you're building up to a final payoff of Baggini making the meaning of life clear to you. Of course, if it were that simple, or Baggini that brilliant, you wouldn't need to read this review to get a sense for this book. Either you wouldn't need to read it, or Baggini would be more famous than Plato.

As you might expect, Baggini gives a more complicated - and simple - description of the meaning of life that is somehow meaningful despite not being what you were expecting.

Recommended for anyone with an interest in philosophy or just a curiosity about the topic.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Erik Olson VINE VOICE on April 20, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I recently finished an eye-opening 8-week course at my church's School of Theology entitled "The Meaning of Life." Each class consisted of an animated Sunday afternoon two-hour round-table discussion about the topic. I stumbled across "What's It All About?" after the first session, and found it a helpful addition to the class.

The author focuses on six possible answers to the central question, "What is the meaning of life?" They are: 1) helping others, 2) serving humanity, 3) being happy, 4) becoming successful, 5) enjoying each day as if it were your last, and 6) freeing your mind. I was intrigued with his diagnoses of the motivations people bring to these answers. In addition, his assertion that the answers can (and usually must) be combined with each other made sense. However, Mr. Baggini suggests that the question, "what's the meaning of life?" may be invalid, since there's no way to know if life itself has meaning or not. To that quandary, he responds, "[life] means something to us (p. 166)." Therefore, a better question would be, "How can or does life mean something to us (ibid.)?" Sounds reasonable to me.

Mr. Baggini is not religious, so he doesn't believe in spiritual realities outside of the physical universe. But unlike some others who share his beliefs (or lack thereof), he's not condescending or demeaning towards people of faith. As a Christian, I've seen some serious negativity from non-believers (cough*Sam Harris*cough), and it was refreshing to read a book that didn't try to blast my faith out of the water and make me feel stupid. Indeed, after reading "What's It All About?" I felt like the author respected my spirituality.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Simon Laub on January 23, 2011
Format: Paperback
According to Jean-Paul Sartre: ''Purpose and meaning are not built in to human life, we ourselves are responsible for fashioning our own purposes. It is not that life has no meaning, but that it has no predetermined meaning.''

Which to many might ring a bit hollow: ''Ok, we can't see any meaning out there, so we are just going to make one up for ourselves....'' Really, is a made-up meaning a real meaning at all?

Yes, according to Baggini, assigned purposes are not inferior to predetermined purposes! He thinks that we should ''grow up'' and accept that there is not some hidden or secret purpose that we have not yet discovered.
Instead, our decision making should be based on what is out in the open for everyone to see: ''The whole problem of lifes meaning is not that we lack any particular piece of secret information ... It is rather to be solved by thinking about the issues on which the evidence remains silent....''

So what could life's purpose then be? Some might claim that life is all about having a good material standard of living or becoming successful someday in the future. Others claim that life is about helping others, serving humanity, being happy, enjoying each day or freeing the mind. According to Baggini there might be some truth in these answers - but not the whole truth.
The rest of the book (an entertaining and thought provoking journey) walks us through some of these ideas that people have (on lifes purpose). Trying not to be dogmatic, he doesn't reject anything completely, but does point out weak spots in a lot of the reasoning. In the end the reader should decide for himself, as long as he makes a ''Moral'' and ''Ethical'' choice....

In the end the reader should not think that he will really ever be any wiser.
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