An Overview of Clement Vidal’s, The Beginning and the End-Chapter 1

The Beginning and the End: The Meaning of Life in a Cosmological Perspective

Yesterday’s post briefly discussed a forthcoming book: The Beginning and the End: The Meaning of Life in a Cosmological Perspective. The author is Dr. Clement Vidal, a member of the Evolution, Complexity and Cognition Group at the Free University in Brussels, Belgium. Vidal investigates a most important question–whether modern scientific cosmology can provide insight and perhaps even answer the question of life’s meaning. It is a carefully and conscientiously crafted work of immense scope and daring imagination, one of the most important and timely books of the last few decades. Today I would like to discuss the work in more detail.

Chapter 1 – Vidal begins by arguing “that having a coherent and comprehensive worldview is the central aim of philosophy.” (Vidal, 2) This contrasts sharply with (Continental) philosophy’s investigation of subjectivity, or (British) philosophy’s logical analysis. To better understand his synthetic philosophy Vidal introduces six dimensions of philosophy. Those dimensions are the:

1) Descriptive – What exists? Where did it come from? Where is it going? Describing or modeling reality depends on our current scientific understanding.
2) Normative – What should we do? What is good and what is evil? How do we live well? What is a good society? What is the purpose and meaning of life?
3) Practical – How do we act in accord with our values to solve practical problems?What is our theory of action?
4) Critical (epistemological) – What is true and false? What is the nature and limits of knowledge?
5) Dialectical – How do we answer the previous question? By engaging in a debate or dialogue with opposing positions–a dialectic.
6) Synthetic – This final dimension of philosophy provides the comprehensive and coherent synthetic worldview–a synthesis.

Following the Belgian philosopher Leo Apostel, Vidal argues that a complete worldview will comprise these six elements. And it is crucial to have a worldview because they sustain us and give meaning to our lives. Individuals lacking worldviews suffer psychologically, and without rational worldviews irrational ones will arise to fill the need. Yet it is so difficult to express a rational worldview that many philosophers have been content to reject them all–skeptics–or accept them all–syncretists. Nonetheless Vidal will try to articulate a synthetic worldview.


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