Best Books on the Meaning of Life

Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?, one of Post-Impressionist Paul Gauguin‘s most famous paintings.

This is a list of the books on the meaning of life that I recommend. For more information click one of the links below. (Books that particularly influenced me.** )

• Julian Baggani ~ What’s It All About?: Philosophy and the Meaning of Life
• Julian Barnes ~ Nothing to Be Frightened Of
• Raymond Belliotti ~ What Is The Meaning Of Human Life?
• Christopher Belshaw ~10 Good Questions About Life And Death
• David Benatar, ed. ~ Life, Death, and Meaning: Key Philosophical Readings on the Big …
• Simon Critchley ~ Very Little … Almost Nothing: Death, Philosophy and Literature
• Simon Critchley ~ The Book of Dead Philosophers
• The Dalai Lama ~ The Meaning of Life
• Hubert Dreyfus & Sean Kelly ~ All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find …
• Will Durant ~ Fallen Leaves: Last Words on Life, Love, War, and God
• Will Durant ~ On the Meaning of Life
• Terrence Eagleton ~ The Meaning of Life: A Very Short Introduction
• Joseph Ellin ~ 
Morality and the Meaning of Life: An Introduction to Ethical Theory
• Owen Flanagan ~ Self Expressions: Mind, Morals, and the Meaning of Life
• Victor Frankl ~ Man’s Search for Meaning **
• Martin Hägglund ~ This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom**
Aaron James ~ Surfing with Sartre: An Aquatic Inquiry into a Life of Meaning
• E. D. Klemke ~ The Meaning of Life: A Reader **
• Anthony Kronman ~ Education’s End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given …
Iddo Landau ~ Finding Meaning in an Imperfect World
John Messerly ~ The Meaning of Life: Religious, Philosophical, Transhumanist …  **
Thaddeus Metz ~ Meaning in Life
Thaddeus Metz ~ God, Soul and the Meaning of Life …
• Thomas Morris ~ Making Sense of It All: Pascal and the Meaning of Life
• Massimo Pigliucci ~ Answers for Aristotle: How Science and Philosophy Can Lead Us to
• Michael Ruse ~ A Meaning to Life (Philosophy in Action)
• Joshua Seachris, ed. ~ Exploring the Meaning of Life: An Anthology and Guide
• Paul Thagard ~ The Brain and the Meaning of Life
•  Clement Vidal ~ The Beginning and the End: The Meaning of Life in a Cosmological … 
• Julian Young ~ The Death of God and the Meaning of Life

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3 thoughts on “Best Books on the Meaning of Life

  1. The meaning of life is perhaps the most important question that bugs modern man whether consciously articulated or deeply and unconsciously underlying his thoughts and emotions, now that he has plenty of time to not worry about the basic requirements to survive and thrive.

    I am wondering; if you list the books that have influenced your thinking about the meaning of life should you not also include your own book “The Meaning of Life”, as, possibly, you were changed in the process of researching and writing it? But perhaps this would be an interesting subject to talk about in a future entry.

    Lastly, I would appreciate it if you would recommend just one or two books from your list for a reader who is not versed in philosophy and more interested in being helped to think and discover his own meaning.

  2. Once again you have given me much cause for thought. I offer my shoot-from-the-hip responses, which I’m sure you have seen more eloquently expressed many times before; I hope you’ll teach me some of the by-now standardized responses to my points.

    The very question “What is the meaning of life?” raises my hackles, because the question has no intellectual substance. One might as well ask “What is the meaning of hamburgers?” My physicist-mind demands that I boil it down to something concrete, something — well, not tangible, but certainly something that I can nail down.

    But when I attempt to translate the question into some form with a clear answer, I fail. Can we phrase it as, “What is the purpose of life?” That doesn’t help. “What is the significance of life?” No, that’s no good, either.

    So I step back even further and ask “What would motivate a person to ask such a question in the first place?” Here I get my first solid answer: a person asking that question has no sense of purpose in life; they feel that they are wasting their life on petty, useless nonsense. They have no goal to aspire to, and the lack of that goal makes them feel that their life is an exercise in futility.

    That’s something I can wrap my mind around. It immediately leads me to the realization that we have long had institutions designed to provide us with that answer: religion. A big guy named “God” has declared a purpose for us: we must seek to go to heaven, and we can accomplish this by obeying God’s dictates. My first problem with this idea is that it begs the question; once you get to heaven, what do you do next? What is the purpose of your existence once you have already attained the purpose laid down for you by God? Why continue existing without purpose? If the lack of purpose makes your life seem a waste, then why wouldn’t the lack of purpose in heaven make your afterlife seem a waste?

    One answer to this is that we shall have all of our wants satisfied in heaven. Great movies, the latest smartphones, sexual partners galore, and we can eat all we want without getting fat. Sounds pretty good. And it makes sense when you’re a starving peasant living in a filthy hovel. But it would seem that we moderns are pricing Heaven out of the market: we already have a great deal of that stuff already. Well, yes, I must admit that I still don’t have all those nubile nymphs fawning over me, nor can I eat all the chocolate ice cream I desire, but nevertheless I’m in pretty good shape.

    Still, the deal is nicely packaged, loaded with all sorts of impressive rituals, ancient (and presumably correct) books, wise people offering their support, lots of friends, and plenty of patting on the back. For somebody who is too busy worrying about paying the mortgage and getting the latest video games for the kids, it’s a quick, simple solution that doesn’t require much intellectual effort.

    If that works for somebody else, more power to them. But I’m not so desperate to grab the fast-food solution. If there really were a big shot named God, and he came to me and told me to shut up and do what he tells me to do, I might well knuckle under. But I’ve never seen this guy. All I have to go on is what some people say about what other people said about what other people said about what some people wrote about what they claim to have witnessed. If I were on a jury, I certainly wouldn’t convict anybody on hearsay evidence that far removed from the source. No, I don’t get off that easily.

    My solution comes to me from a walk in the forest. I am fundamentally no different from the living creatures there. I am of the same fabric as the smallest germ or the biggest tree. I am akin to the little spider and Mr. Bear and the ducks in their enclosure. Sure, I’m different in many ways, but from a cosmic point of view, those differences are of little significance. Like them, I am born, live, strive, and die.

    Here we collide with human vanity. “How dare you call me a spider!” the indignant human sputters. “I’m different! I have an immortal soul!” A less religious person might not claim a soul — he’ll merely claim “consciousness”. That’s really just the modern euphemism for “soul”. I’ll not be distracted by such a silly exercise in vanity. I’ll not swaddle myself in the comforting robes of self-importance.

    I see no problem identifying myself with other living creatures. That realization doesn’t diminish me; it exalts me by making me part of a gigantic system. I am one with all the other DNA-creatures. I share their deepest makeup. I pursue goals very similar to the goals they pursue. Just like them, I’ll die someday. So what? It’s part of the unity I share with them. I find it more satisfying to realize that I am one with nature, and death is just one part of that unity. To reject death is to distance myself from the majesty of earth’s biosphere. Why in the world would I want to do that?

  3. Thanks for the comments. I think I would suggest the 3 books I highlighted. Frankl’s book is one of the most important books ever written and I can’t recommend it highly enough. The Klemke book is the standard college text on the subject but I have summarized everything in it in my book. I honestly believe my book provides and overview of that book plus considerations of cosmic evolution and the future which are not found anywhere else. So if I may humbly suggest my book, then I will. JGM

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