- Audible Audio Edition
- Listening Length: 18 hours and 41 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Original recording
- Publisher: The Great Courses
- Audible.com Release Date: July 8, 2013
- Language: English
- ASIN: B00DTO5AR2
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
The Meaning of Life: Perspectives from the World's Great Intellectual Traditions Audiobook – Original recording
|New from||Used from|
|Audible, Original recording, July 8, 2013||
|Free with your Audible trial|
Customers who bought this item also bought
Top Customer Reviews
It is a fascinating travel through space and time to meet some great thinkers trying the answer the question every rational being will ask: "What is the meaning of life"?
Not all great spiritual and cultural streams are visited (e.g. Christianity or Islam), but I guess this course is not supposed to be a complete exegesis but just a subjective guide for the first steps in a longer journey. To be credible in such an ambitious endeavor, Professor Garfield probably had to stay close to those thought lineages closer to his own nature and preferences.
If you naively expect a clear and unambiguous enunciation of the meaning of life, you will be disappointed. Instead, a kaleidoscope of ideas is presented in a rainbow of possibilities. But main threads (saving lines) are present across the whole 36 courses journey: what it means to live in a larger context, the finitude of the human life and therefore its beauty, the strife for human perfection, the meaning of freedom, living in spontaneity, how to face reality, etc.
The course is built on a rigorous scholastic discipline but it is not at all boring or pedantic. It provides a lot of soul and mind nourishment. I think it was thought as a baby walking helper for those stuck in the day to day materialistic existence but dreaming about a longer expedition in the realm of spiritual and philosophical enlightenment.
- What, if anything, gives our lives (or portions of our lives) objective significance?
- What should we do to make our lives subjectively better?
Unfortunately, Garfield conflates these two questions, which somewhat muddles the course and results in his not clearly addressing either question. Nevertheless, I did my best to glean potential answers from the material presented in the course, which is presented very well and often with fresh insights. The results were as expected, but still disappointing: various answers are proposed for both questions, but none of them are convincing for the first question, and they're often contradictory for the second question. Here are some key examples of this divergence:
(1) Our individual lives gain significance through our connection with our society, nature, or the divine, the latter being presumed to be objectively significant. Or accept that everything in reality is fundamentally transient and finite, including each of us, so we shouldn't really even aspire to objective significance, and we should avoid attachments and aversions. Or humbly accept that we have no clue regarding what, if any, objective significance our lives have.
(2) Rationality and intellect are vital for us. Or rationality and intellect are limited and even misleading, so we should instead rely on ways of knowing such as direct perception of reality (background as much as foreground), discerning the symbolism in all elements of reality, instinct, intuition, emotions, imagination, and meditation.
(3) The goal of our lives is to avoid suffering. Or it is to flourish and be happy. (Seems like the former suits people in bad circumstances, whereas the latter suits people in decent or better circumstances.)
(4) The quality of our lives should be judged by considering our lives as a whole. Or our focus should be on living in the present moment.
(5) We should take an engaged approach to life, savoring our experiences and/or trying to be all we can be. Or we should take a somewhat detached approach to life in order to avoid being excessively buffeted by it.
(6) It's vital that we secure our freedom to think and behave as we wish, even if that entails resisting or distancing ourselves from society and particular ideologies, and thus also accepting pluralism. Or we should learn to masterfully play our particular role in society, nature, the world, and/or the (divine) cosmos, thus harmoniously "going with the flow" and focusing on process rather than outcomes. Or we should dutifully do our part to foster progress towards a utopian society/world and/or perfected cosmos, implementing whatever change is needed to achieve that.
(7) Material things can enhance our lives. Or they represent trivial distractions which should be avoided, along with capitalism and industrialism.
What to make of all this?
As far as what might give our lives objective significance (if anything), I don't know, and I don't think anyone else does either. Various hypotheses are offered, but that's all they are. I don't see how, in principle, we could show that anything has objective significance (including God, as conceived in monotheistic religions), and the question of how we gain significance by connecting with something else is just as problematic (are the electrons in our bodies significant if we as individuals are significant?).
As far as the question of what might make our lives subjectively better, I don't think there can be any simple universal answer, applicable to all people in all times and places, at all stages of their lives. Instead, I suggest that we have to just make the best choices we can for our particular and changing circumstances, pluralistically drawing on the answers proposed by various thinkers as sources of ideas, probably tempered with moderation to avoid going to detrimental extremes. An implication is that some people may not have subjectively good lives, and of course that's the case.
Getting back to this course, I did get something out of going through it and wrestling with it (including writing this review) and I don't really want to steer people away from it but, again, beware that Garfield doesn't quite take the bull by the horns in the way that this most fundamental of all questions requires.
This is really a sampler platter from all around the world culturally and through time to get a solid taste of different great minds. I have been looking to become more well versed in philosophy but haven't really gravitated toward one author or thought. This clarified what I am really looking for and is a great jumping off point for further reading/audio books.
From Gita to Gandhi, Daodejing to Tolstoy, Aurelius to Deer via Kant, Hume and others, the series covers vast landscape. By refusing to simply tickmark various subjects but spending multiple sessions on each strand, it allows the listeners to familiarize themselves without feeling rushed.
Yet, the work suffers from objectivity. This is a fault as we are listening from a professor and not a preacher. Almost all through the book (and despite the selective work of Aristotle and Kant), the subjects are chosen for their stand against the rationalistic and analytical realms while almost favoring the exotic, mystic, preternatural and paranormal. While favoring the life spent for the uplifting of the downtrodden, the series is indirectly damning the homo economicus (and not just the free market variety). There is little space for the advances in the sciences of all kind, while other life pleasures are also defined or approved of narrowly.
There is definitely a lot new even though the Professor does try to keep things easy and smooth while avoiding the more complex theories. All said and done, the meaning of life is almost concluded here on a particular type of marality (with all its shades). Not the book if you hold any other types of views as well or are not looking for any (informed, I must say) reconfirmations if you do hold similar outlooks.