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Atheism & Meaning: The Really Hard Problem
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Atheism & Meaning : The Really Hard Problem

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Dr Owen Flanagan's presentation for the November 3, 2009, Southeastern Socratic meeting entitled God, Death and the Meaning of Life. For more information visit SoutheasternSocratic.com.

Dr Owen Flanagan's presentation for the November 3, 2009, Southeastern Socratic meeting entitled God, Death and the Meaning of Life. For more information visit SoutheasternSocratic.com.

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  • 1. Atheism & Meaning The Really Hard Problem November 3, 2009 Owen Flanagan James B. Duke Professor of Philosophy Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience Duke University
  • 2. The Philosopher’s Vocation
    • “ The aim of philosophy, abstractly formulated, is to understand how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term.” (Wilfrid Sellars, 1960)
  • 3. SPACE OF MEANING 21st century
    • Six Self-Locating Zones/Spaces of Meaning that constitute the SPACE OF MEANING 21st century
    • * Science
    • * Technology
    • * Art(s)
    • *Ethics
    • *Politics
    • *Spirituality/Religion
  • 4. Multiple Areas of Conflict
    • Science v. Religion (Galileo 1549, Darwin 1859)
    • Science v. Literature (C.P. Snow Two Cultures , 1959)
    • Science v. Art ( NSF & NIH vs. NEH & NEA )
    • Science v. Ethics (psychology & responsibility)
    • Science/Technology v. Politics/Ethics (oil drilling, global warming)
    • Politics v. Religion (euthanasia, gay marriage, NGOs)
    • Technology v. Art (windmill farms)
    • Ethics v. Art (free speech & community standards)
  • 5. My Topic
    • Does/can an atheist have any reason/any motive to be moral? ( Foundation Question -- can atheists be trusted? Atheism = immoralism?)
    • Can an atheist find meaning in life? Meaning of Life Question - Atheism = Nihilism?)
  • 6. Where I Come From
    • Epistemology
    • Knowledge = JTB (Justified True Belief) &
    • Justification involves public & intersubjectively available evidence
    • Science
    • Power to Predict & Explain Phenomena
  • 7. Third/Fourth Wave Existentialism
    • Enlightenment: Age of Reason (18th c. Voltaire)
    • Foundational Ethical Anxiety (19th c. Dostoevsky)
    • Political Existentialism - 20th c. Camus & Sartre
    • Neuroexistentialism 21st c. Darwin + Neuroscience
  • 8. Naturalism
    • Thesis = As far as we humans can know (or do know so far) what there is and all there is, is the natural world.
  • 9. The Really Hard Problem How -- given that (assuming that) we are natural beings living in a material world and given that consciousness is a natural phenomenon -- does human life mean anything? What significance, if any, does living our kind of conscious life have?
  • 10. So, The Really Hard Problem is
    • Is there anything upbeat & truthful we can say in this post Darwinian age about the meaning of life or about the meaning(s) of lives given that sense to believe
    • *We are short-lived animals.
    • *When we are gone we are gone for good, i.e., forever.
    • * Even our species is likely to be short-lived, certainly not eternal.
  • 11.
    • *Free Will
      • *Not Animals
      • *Soul
      • *Afterlife
      • *God’s Image
      • *Morality is Transcendental
      • *Meaning is Transcendental
    Humanistic Image
  • 12. Scientific Image
      • No Metaphysical Free Will
      • Animal= Smart Mammal
      • No Soul
      • No Afterlife
      • Not God’s Image
      • Morality is Not Transcendental
      • Meaning is Not Transcendental
  • 13. Metaphysical Free Will
    • “ But the will is so free , that it can never be constrained…And the whole action of the soul consists in this, that solely because it desires something, it causes a little gland to which it is closely unted to move in a way requisite to produce the effect which relates to this desire” (Rene Descartes)
  • 14. 20th century version
    • “ If we are responsible …then we have a prerogative which some would attribute only to God: each of us when we act , is a prime mover unmoved. In doing what we do, we cause certain things to happen, and nothing -- or no one -- causes us to cause those events to happen.” (Roderick Chisholm)
  • 15. EUDAIMONICS
    • Eudaimonia = Happiness = Flourishing
    • Eudaimonia is Subjective?
    • Eudaimonia is Objective & Subjective?
    • Eudaimonia is Objective?
  • 16. What are Eudaimonics’s Data?
    • Comparative Philosophy
    • PLUS
    • Human Sciences: Anthropology, Psychology, etc.
  • 17. The Comparative Philosophy Consensus
    • Justice
    • Humaneness
    • Temperance
    • Wisdom
    • Courage
  • 18. POSITIVE ILLUSIONS
    • Epistemology 101 : “One ought not have false beliefs”
    • Psychology 101 :
      • “ If you want to be happy for the rest of your life -- have false beliefs!”
  • 19.
    • Three claims:
    • First, people characteristically hold beliefs that are exaggerated and unrealistic;
    • Second, these exaggerated and unrealistic beliefs are normal;
    • Third, these exaggerated and unrealistic beliefs produce good personal and moral effects
  • 20.
      • Given a list of trait names, subjects judge positive traits to be overwhelmingly more characteristic of self (and intimates) than negative traits.
      • Subjects rate self and self’s performance on a task more positively than observers do.
      • Persons score themselves (and close friends and loved ones) better than others on all measures.
      • Persons judge the group or group(s) to which they belong as better than other groups.
      • Persons have more trouble recalling failures than successes.
      • Recollection of task performance is often exaggerated and remembered more positively than it was.
      • Favored abilities are seen as rare. Disabilities are seen as common.
      • Things persons do poorly are judged less important than things at which they are accomplished .
      • People think they have improved in abilities that are important to them even when their performance has remained unchanged.
      • Initially modest attributions of success or failure become more self-serving over time; for example, on a joint performance, credit given to partner gradually shifts to self.
  • 21.
    • Unrealistic optimism
    • When asked their chances of experiencing a wide variety of negative events – for example, auto accidents, divorce, job trouble, illness, depression, or being the victim of a crime – most people believe they are less likely than their peers to experience such negative events.
    • … Much Less Likely
  • 22. Religion ( Theos )
    • Not Knowledge? (Flanagan)
    • Illusion ? (Freud)
    • Delusion ? (Dawkins)
  • 23. Public Reasons Rule
    • No Theological reasons are permitted to function as reasons when trying to justify any public moral or political policy
    • But psychological and/or sociological reasons are allowed.
  • 24. C’est Fini Thank You