Read the following short essay, and then write a 5 page response (12-point font, double-spaced, normal margins, no cover page, no binders). Your response should do the following three things: (1) state what the main conclusion of the essay is; (2) state what the most important premises (including sub-conclusions) are—i.e., state which premises are most important if the argument is to rationally convince its audience; (3) evaluate the quality of the argument, giving detailed reasons to justify your evaluation. For purposes of evaluation, assume that the speaker is a contemporary Canadian philosopher and the audience is a group of students in Introduction to Philosophy. The Meaning of Life Zoltan Zut What is the meaning of life? To answer this question, it is necessary to understand what it is asking. Words have meanings, but obviously “What is the meaning of life?” is not asking the meaning of the word „life‟. If you want to know the meaning of life, you will not get an answer to your question if you learn that life is, say, a self-organising process in which a system of production modules makes things that perpetuate the modules‟ own existence. How are we to understand the expression “the meaning of life” if not in this over-literal way? One possibility is that the phrase means something equivalent to “the purpose of life.” The words „meaning‟ and „purpose‟ are often substitutable in this way. For instance, if I find your behaviour puzzling, I can equally ask what the meaning of your behaviour is and what the purpose of your behaviour is. For life to have a purpose in this sense would be for some individual(s) to have created all human life, or the universe as a whole, and to have had a purpose in doing so. The meaning of life would then be the purpose this individual (these individuals) had in creating things as they were created. One common conception of the meaning of life is that there is a person, God, whose purpose in making people was that people would then be able to appreciate the greatness of God, for example. But, as philosopher Tom Nagel has argued, this is not the sense of “the meaning of life” people are usually interested in. Suppose an alien species created human life in order to provide them with a future food supply. Then the purpose of human life is to be food for aliens. That would be the meaning of life, if we take „meaning‟ to mean „purpose‟. But learning that this was the meaning of human life would not really answer the question you were asking, if you wanted to know the meaning of life. This is because learning the meaning of life is supposed to be comforting, and to guide your decisions about how to act so as to help you attain a meaningful-feeling life. Learning that aliens had a certain purpose for human life would not help with these things. In the same way, suppose a person like God exists, and that the purpose of human life is to glorify God. That is what God made people to do (if you don‟t believe this yourself, go along with the idea for a moment for the sake of the argument). Still, if you ask “What is the meaning of life?” and you learn that you were created in order to glorify God, this may leave you fairly unimpressed. You might find this a better purpose than being food for aliens, but not one that, somehow, gives your life meaning. Some people might find this purpose one which was comforting and motivating, but others might not. Yet the meaning of life is supposed to be something which, by definition, comforts those who learn it and which would help them to make their lives feel meaningful. Thus, the sense of the question “What is the meaning of life?” is still unclear. There is at least one more way in which to understand “the meaning of life.” Sometimes we ask things like “what does it mean when the sky above is blue but there is a dark line all the way around the horizon?” or say “I wonder what the meaning of my ex‟s new message on the answering machine might be.” The word „meaning‟ in this context means something much more like “information” or “upshot.” You can wonder what information the sky provides without thinking there is a purpose behind it, and you can wonder what the upshot of a message might be without failing to understand the sentence making it up. In this sense, asking what the meaning of life is would come to something like asking what information life gives us, what it teaches. Presumably, since the meaning of life is supposed to be universal, comforting, and useful to make your life feel more meaningful, the question “What is the meaning of life?” should be understood, on the present way of thinking, as asking “What information does life give everyone which is (if understood and accepted) universally comforting and good for making life feel more meaningful?” If this question were answered, it would, I think, be a good answer to the question “What is the meaning of life?”

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