The Good Life
Those who have been following the previous two discussions about what our response to suffering ought to be, what resources we draw from, and what kinds of ethical paradigms inform how/where we locate suffering might want to check out Gil’s latest post. He’s been reflecting on Charles Taylor’s Sources of the Self where Taylor contrasts something like “traditional” ethics, where our vision of goodness and human dignity is grounded in a transcendent God (or Good), and a modern naturalist approach which sees the “good life in terms of a heroic determination to face a meaningless existence with courage.”
The point Gil makes—and it is one worth repeating—is that in both cases something like a narrative of moral meaning is operating. As human beings we simply are meaning-seeking creatures:
Taylor sets these two visions of the good life side by side and points out how they both function as narratives within which the modern self seeks an orientation toward what is good. The definition of what counts as a ‘good life’ clearly changes. But what is unchanged is the insatiable appetite for meaning. And this appetite is even evident within a perspective that normally denies it.
We moderns may find God or Good or Truth hard to believe in but we find it even harder, it seems, to believe in a world where categories like suffering, beauty, and virtue have no objective reality external to ourselves and where they cannot be located within a story that means something—to us, to God, to the cosmos, or anything in between.
I don’t know which belief we find harder to sustain. I think the evolution narrative, the one in which nothing is objective and eternal, has more power over me. I wish it did not. In the best of times a willing suspension of disbelief provides relief. I don’t think we have an insatiable appetite for meaning. I think instead that we are simply terrified, rightfully terrified, by a world that has none. Or, perhaps, appetite and terror are the same. I left other thoughts and questions at Gil’s blog.
I think that if the appetite for meaning were not there, we would not be terrified by a world in which it was absent.
Amen. If it is natural for us to seek meaning then it is built into our being. What that meaning is – is where all the debate seems to occur. Even when reading texts on the endless, cold, and meaningless cosmos we inhabit there always seems to be some telos that is concluded from it.