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Smeden, G.E. van

Department of Ethics, Social and Political Philosophy

Is There More to the Concept of Meaning?

Exploring what supernaturalism might add to the debate about meaning in life

During our lives many of us long for a sense of meaning. The idea that our lives might be accidental and without purpose is unattractive and we therefore aim to acquire meaning in some sort of way. Despite our supposed yearning for meaning, it has only been for about 50 years that a distinct field of meaning in life has been established. Within the debate, theorists try to formulate in what way meaning can be bestowed upon a life. Theories about meaning in life are ordinarily divided on a metaphysical basis, according to the kind of property that is taken to constitute the meaning. On the one hand there is supernaturalism, on the other hand there are secular accounts. In exploring the debate about meaning in life, I realized that most of it is secular. Few theorists address supernaturalism as if they take it to be a serious alternative to secular accounts. Nevertheless, it seems natural to relate meaning to religion. There are several prima facie reasons to suspect that the exploration of religious views is important in the clarification of the concept of meaning.

In this thesis I explore whether religious views are able to offer something more to the concept of meaning than secular theories can. First of all, I investigate to what extent secular views are able to answer the question about meaning in life and conclude that secular views are able to account for some aspects of meaning, but that they are unable to supply a universal picture in which to understand our individual lives. Secondly, I evaluate supernaturalism about meaning in life. I conclude that there do not seem to be conclusive arguments either in favour of nor against the view. However, I argue that absolute morality, which is ordinarily understood to be necessary for meaning in life, might not be essential. Meaning in life seems to be more concerned with mattering to someone and with finding connectedness with a larger enterprise.

Last modified:01 September 2016 4.34 p.m.