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Finding Meaning in an Imperfect World summary

Iddo Landau

An exploration of the many ways life can be meaningful

4.5 (112 ratings)
22 mins
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    Finding Meaning in an Imperfect World
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    When we ask about the meaning of life, we’re asking about value.

    “Life is completely meaningless.” If a friend said that to you, how would you respond?

    Well, if you were a philosopher, the first thing you’d try to do is clarify what exactly she means by “meaning.” That’s the best way to make sure you’re both talking about the same thing.

    So what do we mean by “the meaning of life?” It comes down to one word: value.

    The key message here is: When we ask about the meaning of life, we’re asking about value.

    Look at it this way. When people say that their life has no meaning – or not enough meaning – what they’re usually saying is that their life doesn’t have enough value. That there just aren’t enough worthwhile things in their life.

    Take Leo Tolstoy for example. You’d think that if anyone saw their life as full of meaning, it would be the world-famous novelist who wrote War and Peace. During Tolstoy’s lifetime people were already calling him one of the greatest Russian writers in history. On top of that, he had a beautiful estate in the country, where he lived with his loving wife and children. What more could anyone want?

    Yet at one point in his life, Tolstoy found himself in a real crisis, writing about how meaningless it all was. Why? All his achievements had lost their value to him. As long as he thought writing great books that inspired countless people was worthwhile, he could be happy. But when that lost value to him, any meaning was lost too. Tolstoy’s worldview was reduced to the question, “So what?”

    Whenever you find yourself thinking about the purpose of your existence, or ask what it is you’re living for, you’re also asking about value. You’re unlikely to be satisfied with just any purpose, after all – you need one that you truly find worthwhile.

    Let’s say your neighbor spends his life collecting tea towels. Most of us wouldn’t say that’s enough to make life meaningful; we just don’t see collecting tea towels as a worthwhile purpose. If your neighbor agrees – if he sees collecting as an unfortunate obsession that he’d rather be rid of – then it won’t add value to his life.

    If he sees it as worthwhile, however, there’s no reason that tea towels can’t give his life meaning. His collecting is his aim in life, his clear purpose. When looking for the meaning of life, any old goal won’t do – you need one that you believe has value.

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    What is Finding Meaning in an Imperfect World about?

    Finding Meaning in an Imperfect World (2017) shows us that while questions about the meaning of life are difficult, they don’t need to be mysterious. Iddo Landau provides the tools to help us think about the meaning of life in a clear and logical way. He explains the theories that enable us to see the meaning in life, and offers practical advice on how to enhance that meaning.

    Who should read Finding Meaning in an Imperfect World?

    • Restless thinkers who’d like to lead a more meaningful life
    • Cynics convinced that life is meaningless
    • Curious minds interested in how philosophers think about life’s deepest questions

    About the Author

    Iddo Landau is Professor of Philosophy at Haifa University, Israel. He has published widely about the meaning of life.

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