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

What's It All About?: Philosophy and the Meaning of Life [Kindle Edition]

Julian Baggini
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

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‘A practical but charming exploration… It’s witty, it’s engaging and it’s easy to pack: perfect beach reading for the disaffected’ -- The Observer

‘Baggini makes philosophy not only mind- stretching but also entertaining’ -- Publishing News

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What is the meaning of life? It is a question that has intrigued the great philosophers--and has been hilariously lampooned by Monty Python. Indeed, the whole idea strikes many of us as vaguely pompous, a little absurd. Is there one profound and mysterious meaning to life, a single ultimate purpose behind human existence?

In What's It All About?, Julian Baggini says no, there is no single meaning. Instead, Baggini argues meaning can be found in a variety of ways, in this life. He succinctly breaks down six answers people commonly suggest when considering what life is all about--helping others, serving humanity, being happy, becoming successful, enjoying each day as if it were your last, and "freeing your mind." By reducing the vague, mysterious question of meaning to a series of more specific (if thoroughly unmysterious) questions about what gives life purpose and value, he shows that the quest for meaning can be personal, empowering, and uplifting. If the meaning of life is not a mystery, if leading meaningful lives is within the power of us all, then we can look around us and see the many ways in which life can have purpose. We can see the value of happiness while accepting it is not everything. We can see the value of success, without interpreting that too narrowly. We can see the value of seizing the day as well as helping others lead meaningful lives. We can recognize the value of love, as perhaps the most powerful motivator of all.

Illustrating his argument with the thoughts of many of the great philosophers and examples drawn from everyday life, Baggini convincingly shows that the search for meaning is personal and within the power of each of us to find.

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More About the Author

Julian Baggini's books include The Ego Trick, Welcome to Everytown, What's It All About? - Philosophy and the Meaning of Life and The Pig That Wants to be Eaten, all published by Granta Books. He writes for several newspapers and magazines and is co-founder of The Philosophers' Magazine.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful, persuasive, and highly readable. 5 May 2005
By Bill
What a powerful book. Baggini dissects all the thoughts and ideas we might hold about what life means to us: "Seize the Day!", religious belief, transcendence through meditation. Each idea is thoroughly examined with great clarity and dispensed with as being the meaning of life.
I won't ruin the conclusion of the book for you but it is both human and convincing, placing greater responsibility on you.
If you like the style of Alain de Botton's popular philosophy books (e.g. Status Anxiety) this is similarly clear and readable but far more persuasive and tightly argued.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
With this book Julian Baggini continues to qualify himself as a contemporary successor of Bertrand Russell. In a clear and entertaining prose he shows us the contribution philosophy and philosophers can make, if we look for the meaning of (our personal) life. Baggini blows metaphysical fog away but doesn't oversimplify. Let me mention especially chapter 4 "Here to help", where he discusses the proper place altruism may have in a meaningful life. "If the meaning of life is to help others, then only those doing the helping can lead meaningful lifes. The people being helped are thus mere instruments to the end of giving purpose to the altruists." (p. 65) Baggini doesn't deny the importance of altruism but emphasizes that altruism makes sense in defending values which go beyond itself. "Becoming a contender" (chapter 7) is an extraordinary good read too. Here Baggini follows more or less the old bumper sticker saying "Life's a mountain not a beach" but pleads for not choosing a mountain of exaggerated height in relation to your personal capacities. "To raise a happy family, or live your life pursuing your passion, no matter which recognition you get, should be seen as a success." (p. 123) That's a good example for the overall line of differentiated common sense the book follows. In criticizing the promises of ideological and religious beliefs (see especially chapter 9 "Lose your self") there is also a strong democratic and egalitarian commitment in the book: you don't need (or even more: beware of) any guru or esoteric knowledge to find the meaning of your life - just look and struggle yourself.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and thought provoking philosophy 23 Jan 2011
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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Works for me 4 April 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I think the negative reviewers are being harsh. Of course the author doesn't come to a neat conclusion - hardly likely given the subject. And of course it isn't a technical treatise on philosophy - hardly relevant given the audience. Instead this book offers a highly readable, highly informative account of what might, possibly, constitute a good life, drawn from across the whole subject of philosophy. I thought it was all very illuminating.
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41 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars simply brilliant 12 Nov 2004
By A Customer
Baggini has written a small book on a huge subject.I dread to think how much money I have spent over the years on books about "the meaning of life" that have turned out to be new agey/semi-religious wiffle waffle - leaving me confused and anxious.This book is easily understood, precise and comforting, offering ideas about life that are balanced and practical. Baggini recognises our differences and imperfections and without judgement uses philosophy to help us out. I recommend that everyone buys a copy. Immediately. Thankyou Mr Baggini.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking 5 Sep 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
An excellent well argued book that allows you to just get on with your life .philosophy can be baffling however this strips the academic embroidery away from the topic and leads the reader into an evaluation of their own role.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars yet to read
Afraid i have yet to read this Book,however a brief glimpse through it suggests that it seems ok.
Cant put down much else for now.
Published 3 months ago by BERNIE
5.0 out of 5 stars Hugely accessible
I thought this book was great in that it provides a gentle platform to some of the larger questions of philosophy. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Alex
5.0 out of 5 stars "... our desire to live authentically and with knowledge of the...
I really loved reading this book. It takes the reader gently through most of the important ideas connected to the practice of philosophy, using language that is never opaque or too... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Eileen Shaw
5.0 out of 5 stars This book should be read by all people who aspire to have a Rational...
Very well written in a way that is easily understood by the " ordinary person ( man ) in the street.
I would say it is, potentially, a life changing book. Read more
Published 6 months ago by DANIEL OROURKE
5.0 out of 5 stars The Meaning of Life ........explained??
Very happy with this purchase....went through the process of explaining subjects where people find meaning....and then giving the pros and cons. Read more
Published 23 months ago by S. Sherwood
5.0 out of 5 stars Accessible introduction to philosophy
Intelligent writing with a light-hearted, entertaining approach. Each chapter discusses a so-called answer to the meaning of life e.g. Read more
Published on 20 April 2010 by Kats
4.0 out of 5 stars Well then
The book is okay. I like the candid style and language style - not to bogged down in jargon- but felt there was something lacking in the book as it didn't hold my interest.
Published on 13 Feb 2010 by Lee K. Freeman
2.0 out of 5 stars Apparantly, its all about dead ends
The author writes very well and dumbs down some complex ideas, but at the end of the day you are none the wiser. Read more
Published on 4 Feb 2010 by sanyata
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good
So what's it all about? Think you know the answer? Well if you do or if you fancy a philosophical approach to this intriguing question this is the book for you. Read more
Published on 16 Sep 2008 by Alex Ireland
3.0 out of 5 stars An invitation
Talking about big questions, searching for the meaning of life is no picnic. Of course, Baggini has not written this cute little book to actually provide THE answer - he is merely... Read more
Published on 19 Dec 2006 by Renée Janssen
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Popular Highlights

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For Sartre, the crucial truth we have to recognize is that because 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. &quote;
Highlighted by 12 Kindle users
If we can give life purpose and meaning, there is no obvious reason why this should be considered an inferior kind of meaning to that which could have been given by a creator. &quote;
Highlighted by 9 Kindle users
The person who sacrifices too much enjoyment of life to serve the purpose of future wealth and security is thus making the mistake of overestimating the extent to which his future life will be better than the one he could have now. &quote;
Highlighted by 8 Kindle users

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