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on 7 November 2005
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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on 23 January 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. Indeed, we might end up wanting more knowledge and more input.
But Baggini doesn't think it will change much. Instead we should ''confront and accept the limits of human understanding'' - Thats the mature approach according to Baggini. And with that Baggini closes the book.

At least this reader isn't completely satisfied with this....
Well, well - maybe we don't know anything, and maybe we are really reptiles from Tau Ceti inside some virtual reality gear that makes us think that we are earthlings - Then surely the Buddhist are wise to state that reality is a fuzzy thing, and that we should keep working to improve our minds - maybe there might even be some purpose in that. And surely Baggini will agree that it will be ok for us to decide our own purpose, as long as we don't hurt anyone else in the process.

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on 12 November 2004
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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on 5 May 2005
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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on 4 April 2011
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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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 25 December 2013
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 difficult for the general reader. It is an egalitarian, humanist book, by which I mean it does not dictate, it merely questions, and offers possible answers, to some of the thorny issues that one must confront in order to engage with the problem of life's meaning. Why are we here? Who are we? Where are we going and why? It answered many questions by asking more questions, but it gave, to my mind, a thorough and satisfactory conclusion. Among other things, I learned that it is not that life has no meaning, but that it has no predetermined meaning.

This book offers an accessible guide, unprescriptive, scrupulously clear whilst encompassing the subtlety of the ideas it discusses. It is both serious and personal in it's scope and is probably the best introduction for anyone who has questioned human existence on this planet. It won't answer every question, of course, but there is nothing here to put off someone who has never yet read a book of philosophy. This book not only talks about philosophy, it shows how it is done. It's a marvel.
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on 25 June 2015
Tina... My soulmate of 48 years recently passed away. She fought for 36 days in Intensive Care. The loss is devastating...

I was suddenly forced to confront a reality I did not expect - my search for understanding has begun.

Whilst I do not share all of Julian's views, his analysis is sound - if you believe that contemporary science and our understanding of the human condition is complete.

But it is not... There are eons to unfold which will influence future understanding and beliefs.

Nevertheless, I am glad I have read what he has to say - it has forced me to evaluate and reflect. My journey continues...

The final sentence he offers demonstrates his integrity.

Please!... Leave the reading of it to the end. That way, it may resonate.
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on 5 September 2013
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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on 18 March 2016
Brilliant If you have a curious but objective analytical mind about life's purpose this book will be a staple in your library for ever.
Baggini does't try and lead you into a way of thinking about life and its purpose. He simply (but thoroughly) offers the reader all of the possible reasons we can live a meaningful life.
I have read this book many many times. In fact I originally ordered the paperback but then later ordered it in hardback.

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on 20 April 2015
I have given the book 5 stars as I believe it is very well written and presents some great thoughts. I have been engaged in thoughts about the subject matter for years and so there wasn't really anything written that I had not already considered - but it was good as a kind of reality check to have someone who has dedicated their life to philosophy to draw some very similar conclusions.

Having said that I do not believe any person can write on this subject matter without certain biases such as confirmation bias. And there were a number of areas that this was evident:

1. I think the book should have been split into "The meaning of life" and "The pursuit of human meaning". The distinction is made but I think they are two completely different subjects and to avoid confusion should be treated as such.
2. I believe the writer is perhaps a glass half full person as there are some inconvenient truths in "the meaning of life" aspect - and his stance is "A certain degree of angst or despair at the purposelessness of the universe is considered a sign that person has truly grasped the full reality of the human condition. If you are not worried by it, you have not understood it. But this seems to be no more than a kind of existential snobbery for which ultimately we should blame the romantics....". I think people have angst over trivial matters, and people have angst over God's Dice issues (eg Germanwings - wrong place; wrong time!) which is understandable - but to have angst at the idea our parents will demise; we will; our children and children's children AND the fact that it seems meanings are contrived in accordance with our nature and behaviour and really is ultimately fleeting and purposefulness is bound to cause angst for many! It is something where burying ones head in the sand may actually be the best approach for ones emotional well being. But there are some inconvenient realities for sure.

This reminds me of "Things are neither good nor bad, only thinking makes them so". True if you are a rock. If you are a sentient being with a pain pleasure axis I would suggest though that an ice cream with a loved one under the Eiffel tower is more favourable than a leg amputation!?

3. I really think meaning and morality are mutually exclusive. The writer does not. Did Hitler have a more meaningful time than a suicidal chicken factory worker? Humans have had a bumpy road when it comes to morality and even now there is not a great correlation between intellect and morality. Most of course are glad humans have, on the whole, evolved as altruistic / moral beings - but I don't believe morality should be bolted on to the meaning of life as people can have great meaning from some horrendous activities (even though it is of course not condoned).
4. The writer dismisses meditation as something that can make peoples lives more meaningful. Science has shown it can significantly alter the anatomy and physiology of the brain (and affect areas associated with mood etc). This means mood and consequently feelings of meaning can alter.
5. Temperament is touched on but mood is not. If you take a person with bipolar they will have periods of zero meaning (and probably suicidal given the absolute zero meaning) and periods of high creativity/productivity/vitality/meaning - and although this is a disorder (or is certainly off the normal distribution curve) - I believe it gives insights into meaning. It shows that the brain's status itself (and happiness set point) is a massive factor in meaning
6. When it comes to "The meaning of life" aspect - I think evolutionary psychology has a lot more to say than philosophy. The Hilman Imp has evolved (due to the human evolved trait of 'invention' and its survival benefits)... and we now have cars that are different in shape and controlled by complex computers etc. But the modern car is still a car. It has ignition/accelerator/clutch (if manual) etc etc. Likewise - humans are animals. They are very complex of course and have areas of the brain that are unique to us (as well as shared elements with lower species). This may permit meaning in terms of "The pursuit of human meaning" but it does not alter the fact we are bound by nature/nurture and although there is arguably some free will - we only have meaning because of our thinking.

It is arrogant to believe that we are anything other than genetic transfer mechanisms (just like all animals)... And life, for some, is a bitter sweet game. On the one hand our evolved pleasure centres have enabled us to gain meaning from a million things; and yet our evolved intellect also allows us to know our own mortality.
7. On the bright side reductionism can destroy some magic but what does it matter if you still harness what works for a fulfilled life eg the orgasm clearly is a pleasurable affair or it would have the opposite effect than is necessary for the perpetuation of the species; it also seems that a female orgasm may intensify in accordance with male genetic fitness (and impact the likelihood of mating success) - yet to some all this doesn't matter. The experience is pleasurable and reproduction is pretty hard wired (although we can harness the pleasure without its purpose now of course) - and so it doesn't necessarily need to be understood to add to meaning.
8. There are a lot of things that are not known in life eg what is time; how did it arise; why is it as it is; why is reality in existence; what caused the Big Bang etc etc... Hawkins idea that there is such a thing as a free lunch ie the matter is countered with anti matter (his analogy being a hole and the mound of soil which cancels the hole) MISSES THE POINT... why is there reality? Why is there such things as matter and anti matter for that free lunch etc etc... And just because "the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is the fact that it is comprehensible" is so - doesn't negate the fact that these key questions lie in the realm of the supernatural! Bertrand Russell made his point re the teapot orbiting the earth... ie the onus is on the believer to prove what is real - yet existence is far more surreal than one ghosts are purported to be (although I am a sceptic on that phenomena). As such, there would appear to be a possibility for metaphysical aspects re "the meaning of life".

Dawkins having an amazing grasp of the simplistic process of evolution does not explain what the proximate cause is ie why mathematics and chemistry and biology exist and conspire to make complex life forms!...

What the book does is allow you to raise such objections and challenge some of the writers thoughts. He plays devils advocate on occasion anyway and so you cannot be certain about all his personal beliefs although some of his biases give more than hints...
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