Naturalism and Objective Meaning in Life

William Durant and Ariel Durant (1930)Will Durant and Ariel Durant (1930)

Most of us have known some golden days in the June of life when philosophy was in fact what Plato calls it, “that dear delight;” when the love of a modestly elusive truth seemed more glorious – incomparably – than the lust for the ways of the flesh and the dross of the world. And there is always some wistful remnant in us of that early wooing of wisdom. “Life has meaning,” we feel with Browning. “To find its meaning is my meat and drink.”… So much of our lives is meaningless, a self-canceling vacillation and futility. We strive with the chaos about and within, but we should believe all the while that there is something vital and significant in us, could we but decipher our own souls. We want to understand. “Life means for us constantly to transform into light and flame all that we are or meet with!” We are like Mitya in The Brothers Karamazov – “one of those who don’t want millions, but an answer to their questions.” ~ Will Durant

If one finds both the supernatural and subjective answers unsatisfying, then perhaps meaning is objective and found in the natural world. Objectivists believe that (at least some) meaning is independent of their desires, attitudes, interests, wants, and preferences; that there are invariant standards of meaning independent of human minds. Such meaning is not derived from a supernatural realm but from objective elements in the natural world. However, this does not mean that value or meaning is exclusively objective, as the following thinkers will note. Effort on the part of the subject is necessary to derive or discover the objective meaning in the world. In forthcoming posts, we will look at a number of thinkers who find meaning in the objectively good things of the natural world.

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