Neither God nor Philosophy

by Daniel A. Kaufman


I was invited to contribute to an ongoing series over at Richard Marshall’s 3:16AM magazine.  The series is called “Finding Meaning” and is edited by Steven DeLay, who is a Fellow of Ambrose College, Woolf University.

My contribution, “Neither God Nor Philosophy,” is the latest in the series, the entirety of which is worth checking out.


33 responses to “Neither God nor Philosophy”

  1. ombhurbhuva

    Daniel Kaufman:
    Fine essay. There have been exceptions to your ‘rule’.

    You haven’t been driven by a search for meaning (vide V. Frankl ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’) but you have garnered a few opinions along the way. I would say that meanings do not cancel each other out but can be encompassed in a larger understanding. There have been many philosophers who have found this to be true, serious people, not devotees of lifestyle Buddhism etc.

    I suppose if we are going to look at the progress from Atheism to Theism it will make more sense to look at its usual form of Christian Theism as Deists are thin on the ground at the moment. The group that is most likely to have been swayed by intellectual or rational arguments are philosophers. I use the appellation philosopher in a broad sense to cover anyone who has reflected deeply on things. There are a few philosophers that have made the transition from atheism to christian theism among them being Alisdair MacIntyre, A.N. Flew, Mortimer Adler, Ed Feser, Peter van Inwagen, C.S.Lewis, Victor Reppert, Edith Stein, Michael Dummett, Peter Geach and Elizabeth Anscombe. The first four seem to have been influenced by rational, apodeictic if you will, considerations; the others passed to belief from a variety of causes as far as I can judge. The reading of St.Teresa of Avila was a factor in the conversion of Stein, mystical experience in the case of Reppert and Lewis. Anscombe claims her reading from the age of 10 to 15 was a factor. She writes:

    As a result of my teen-age conversion to the Catholic Church -itself the fruit of reading done from twelve to fifteen – I read a work called Natural Theology by a nineteenth century Jesuit. I read it with great appetite and found it all convincing except for two things. One was the doctrine of scientia media, according to which God knew what anybody would have done if, e.g., he hadn’t died when he did.

    I can discover nothing about Geach’s pilgrim’s progress. There does not seem to have been any intellectual argument at play in the case of Dummett only the gradual acceptance of the truth of the Catholic religion. Peter van Inwagen may have become an Episcopalian by osmosis.

  2. “Finally, regarding existential dread – most commonly experienced and expressed as a fear of death – I don’t see how it can be disentangled from the question of whether one has found meaning in one’s life. That one has succeeded in doing so (or not) will determine whether or not one is satisfied with the life one has led, which in turn will have a lot to do with whether one can accept its end.”

    You seem to be saying here that if you cannot face (with equanimity) the prospect of your own inevitable death/ annihilation, it is because your life has been unsatisfactory in some way. I question this. Sure, some people are more concerned with such existential issues than others. But I would explain it in terms of personality differences rather than in the way you are suggesting.

    “[T]he notion that there is a “solution” to this sort of instinctive, primitive dread from any quarter or that it is even a problem to be solved in the first place seems to me a mistake.”

    The word ‘problem’ has different senses. If all you are saying is that this is not the sort of problem that can be solved — not that kind of problem — then I agree with you.

    And I wholeheartedly agree with your conclusion:

    “In even the best, healthiest, most measured and composed of lives, there will be negative realities that cannot be banished by way of ratiocination or rationalization […] and must simply be endured. And not only do the formulas that one finds in Stoic, Epicurean, and other philosophies on this front – “It’s not rational to fear death, because you won’t be there!” and all that sort of thing – not change that fact, their manifest glibness confirms it.”

  3. I may disagree with some of the things you say in that essay, but I heartily agree with your last sentence (I include the preceding sentence for the context):

    “In even the best, healthiest, most measured and composed of lives, there will be negative realities that cannot be banished by way of ratiocination or rationalization (and certainly not by way of the supernatural) and must simply be endured. And not only do the formulas that one finds in Stoic, Epicurean, and other philosophies on this front – ‘It’s not rational to fear death, because you won’t be there!’ and all that sort of thing – not change that fact, their manifest glibness confirms it.”

  4. Peter Smith

    I began this essay with great expectations(pace Dickens). But in the very first paragraph the first person “I” was used no less than seven times. The second and third paragraphs were similar. This set the tone for the remainder of the essay. Instead of reading good arguments about the nature of meaning and how the search for it may be satisfied, we read the personal account of one person along with the obligatory dig at religion which we have by now come to expect.

    Of course the essay is true in the sense that it is the description of how one person interprets the search for meaning. Whatever works for Dan is true for Dan. That is true by definition and if one is interested in Dan then this is interesting. But how does one person’s search generalize to the search of all or most people? The essay does not illuminate this bigger question and that is the question that matters.

    Perhaps the key statement Dan makes is this, which might explain this failure:
    One thing that I’ve never understood is why so many people think that these sorts of things are best understood through the belief in and worship of God.

    He also says, in similar vein
    I also have never really understood looking to philosophy to address these dimensions of life.

    If he has never understood these things it points to a deep failing of understanding in total. Great numbers find meaning in “the belief in and worship of God“(and many also through philosophy) so I would say it is worth making the effort to understand why they do so. This is a fact that can’t be wished away and it may very well say something important, if only one looked. Dan makes an important concession when he says “…why so many people think…“. Surely then it worthy of understanding?

    To be continued

  5. Peter Smith


    Of course Dan may reply that he understands their understanding perfectly well but he rejects their understanding as defective.

    Well, let’s see if that holds water. Here is Dan’s understanding:
    If we are talking about the God of the Abrahamic religions, then although he is quite familiar to us – Yahweh is little more than a hyperbolized, exaggerated, super-person – he is far too awful to be of any use in finding meaning in one’s life or assuaging one’s existential fears; sort of like looking to an abusive and murderous Superman for guidance.“.

    Dan apparently sees God as an awful, abusive person. It is seldom that I read such a crude, ill informed characterization. He speaks as if Jesus Christ had never existed, that nothing had ever been written about his life and that nothing further was known about God, other than the portrayal in the Old Testament. And it certainly hasn’t occurred to Dan that perhaps the purpose of God’s incarnation as a man was to display God’s true nature, correcting the portrayal in the Old Testament.

    From this it is abundantly clear that Dan’s understanding is severely deficient, as he admits, when he writes:

    One thing that I’ve never understood is why so many people think that these sorts of things are best understood through the belief in and worship of God.

    Which is not surprising because his rebuttal is based on severely limited knowledge.

  6. Sorry you didn’t like it. It’s one of my favorites of the things I’ve done. Really got to the bottom of some fundamental things for me.

  7. Sorry you think my knowledge is deficient. Obviously, I don’t agree. Apparently neither did the director of my honors thesis, in which I compared the respective theologies of the early Christians, Pharisees, and Qumranians, and for which I received an “A”.

    You seem to confuse disagreement in value judgments for lack of knowledge. You also seem confused about the status/standing of Jesus for non-Christians like myself.

    Oh, and there’s no “Old Testament.” There’s Tanakh and then a bunch of Jewish heresies written later, from the NT through to the Book of Mormon. (I jest of course. Just matching your internal dogmatic assertions with some contrary ones.)

    Seriously, we aren’t going to agree on this. That’s ok. But I suspect that little that is fruitful will come from going around it. I was invited to offer my personal take on this subject and that’s what I gave. It’s really only useful to discuss it in that light.

  8. Peter Smith

    We are meaning making machines. My narrative psychologist friend never tired of repeating this statement to me. We all naturally seek out and create meaning in our lives. We do so in different ways, using different schemes and different strategies, with lesser or greater effectiveness.

    Those who fail in this are often more despairing and more ineffective in life. Our scheme for finding meaning sustains us through the challenges of life and heighten our effectiveness. And any one of many strategies may achieve this.

    Which strategy is better? That answer may be context dependent. You have given your answer and it makes perfect sense to me. I would give a different answer but I respect yours because I see a fair degree of overlap between your answer and mine. But I don’t reject your scheme by characterising it in a crude, uninformed and insulting way, which is what you have done. That really was unecessary to your argument. You don’t believe in God’s existence and that is a good reason for rejecting religious forms of meaning making. That was all you had to say. The rest was gratuitous verbal violence, a throwback to the bad old days of New Atheism.

  9. No it wasn’t. It was deliberate and absolutely necessary in communicating my reasons. And there is nothing ignorant or uninformed about it.

  10. s. wallerstein

    “What may surprise some readers is that I also have never really understood looking to philosophy to address these dimensions of life.”

    I believe that I’ve said this before in this blog, but while you may have grown up in a space where you learned values and/or life strategies that enabled you to navigate this world reasonably well, not all of us did. For those of us who did not learn values and/or life strategies which enabled us to navigate this world reasonably well as we grew up, philosophy, although not necessarily academic philosophy, provided us with guide-points, with forms of seeing the world and those around us, which helped us navigate the world with fewer fuck-ups and with a clearer sense of who we are and where we are headed, if we are headed anywhere or at least where we are not headed.

    In my case, I also learned a lot from others whom I met along the way, but I was a pretty fucked-up 17 year old and at least part of the credit for the fact that I’m less fucked up now it due to reading philosophy.

  11. Again, I was asked to contribute to a series of personal reflection style essays on the topic. Is it surprising then that the essay contains my personal reflections?

  12. s. wallerstein

    No, it’s not surprising at all.

    You say above that you don’t understand why people look to philosophy to address certain dimensions of life. It may be that when you say that you don’t understand it’s merely rhetoric and that you do understand, but I assumed that you genuinely do not understand and so I explained my motives which are probably roughly similar to those of many others who turn to philosophy. I’m not claiming that you are wrong and I am right in the least.

  13. As this is being brought up repeatedly, I’ll fill in some additional detail which I left out of the essay for purposes of remaining within a certain length.

    The point remaining looking to God for meaning/consolation is as follows:

    1. Taken at face value, the god of both the Tanakh and the New Testament not only fails to live up to the most rudimentary ethical norms, he flagrantly violates them and in spectacular fashion. Genocide by universal drowning. The ordering of others to commit genocide. In the NT, condemning people to eternal damnation, even for minor offenses or none at all [a lack of faith/belief is sufficient]. Of course, these are just the tip of the iceberg. The idea that *this* person could serve either as a source of meaning or consolation just isn’t credible.

    2. If we take all of these unpleasant characteristics as little more than inadequate, metaphorical efforts to characterize a being that is in fact inscrutable — i.e. if we assume that God did *not* engage in genocide by drowning, etc. — then the problem becomes different. God is supposed to provide us with what is deemed essential support in *our* lives, but the being now being described is simply too alien to do so.

    3. It’s because of this obvious — and demonstrable — dilemma that the overwhelming majority of those who continue to seek meaning and consolation in God either (a) pick the first option and cherry pick the text, until it becomes almost unrecognizable; (b) double down and insist that whatever God orders/does is good, even if it contradicts the most rudimentary ethical norms that we would expect a first grader to adhere to.

    4. The trouble with looking to philosophy is that by its very nature, it must trade in generalizations and abstractions for it is only with regard to these that logic applies. As Allan Bloom put it in “The Closing of the American Mind”: “the particular as particular escapes the grasp of reason, the form of which is the general or universal.” Lives, by contrast, are entirely particular in nature and thus are only minimally informed by generalizations, abstractions, and deductive reasoning.

    5. This substance of this essay is intimately related to my recent essay “Lives and Principles.” Indeed, the two should be read as companion pieces.

  14. When I say I don’t understand, I mean “I don’t understand, in light of what seem to me to be the very strong reasons for thinking otherwise.” Which is why I tried at least to *illustrate* some of those reasons as space permitted. I didn’t just make a bald-faced claim with no reasons offered.

  15. I also don’t really see force in the criticism. And I agree, Dan, that the piece is really good.

    I think the reason I don’t see the force in Peter’s critqiue is twofold. First, just because Dan is talking in the first-person and from experience doesn’t mean we can’t see what he’s writing as a moral general argument trying to persuade or engage others. If one reads first person reflections with a “well, I guess there’s no point in arguing with this because it’s personal,” that is what the reader brings to the table, and not necessarily what the writer writes.

    But secondly, I think Dan DOES go into a more third-person general argument later in the piece, where he trenchantly distinguishes between meaning of life and meaning in one’s life, or where he argues that philosophy can’t really get those who want to “find the meaning of life” where they want to go. Yes, I guess those things are rooted in Dan’s personal experience – what can he write that isn’t?! – but they’re also more general arguments that we can absolutely engage with as “third person” arguments.

  16. I share Dan’s mystification (pardon the pun) that God can give us answers to the big questions. At the risk of oversimplifying, this lifelong atheist (first by default, then by reflection) has generally seen arguments for god as almost always special pleading. Where did it all come from, because something can’t come from nothing or be eternal. Aha, God is the answer, because it either came from nothing or is eternal. Where does morality come from, because if it is all contingent on individual choice, it is meaningless? Ah, God is the answer, because when It chose the moral code we should live by, that choice wasn’t meaningless. As a recent book by William Irwin puts it, God is best seen as the question, not an answer.

    I also share – a conclusion I came to but didn’t start with – the idea that philosophy can answer questions about the meaning of life. I think this is because even if we come to a philosophy that is absolutely persuasive to us, at root, we still have to in some sense choose that philosophy, choose to be satisfied with that answer. An when we look for THE meaning of life, we are generally doing it precisely because we want to find THE meaning that is NOT up to our choice. And no matter how convinced we are that x philosopher has put her finger on the meaning of it all, we still must reckon with a world where not everyone finds her argument convincing, others find other meanings convincing, and, in other word, the very same contingency and disagreement about the meaning of it all that likely led us to find THE meaning in the first place. You’ve found a philosophy that helps give you a meaning in life, not the meaning of life.

  17. Also, speaking from my own experience – sorry Peter; you can’t argue with anything I say now! – I find the idea that we can use our intellects to find the meaning of life more and more preposterous because anthropocentric.

    As far as we know, humans are the only creatures who crave or make meaning. Meaning is something human brains use to think with. To think that when we do this, we are detecting meaning out there in the world is nothing short of suggesting that the world was made, fortunately for us, in a way where humans would be sure to make it understandable. (“Hey phenotye? What are you doing there? I’m growing. Well, don’t do it THAT way! Why? Because humans will NEVER be able to understand the meaning!”) It is much more likely that the world and universe got here however it got here, didn’t give a fig about being meaningful in human terms, and WE are the ones who insist on ‘making meaning’ of it. Insisting that it is the world that HAS meaning is anthropocentric.

  18. Yes, “meaning” belongs to the Manifest Image. Without persons or representations, there is none.

  19. The meaning of my life is finding areas where I get Dan to agree with me on stuff. My life? It has just a tad more meaning in it now.Thanks, Dan.

  20. s. wallerstein

    That’s a good point that if we find a philosophy that is persuasive to us, we have to chose that philosophy, generally because it corresponds to our pre-philosophical ideas, ideas which at least in my case I had, but since no one else around me had or no one else around me expressed them, I didn’t dare to affirm them, even to myself, as ideas.

    I was always so weird and eccentric that I never expected my ideas on the meaning of my life to be those which would define the meaning of life for others in general, although I always hope to find here and there kindred souls. I don’t find many, but I never expect that what matters to me is going to matter to the guy next door. By the way, I’m claiming to be superior, just weirder or queerer (in the old sense of the word).

  21. Charles Justice

    I was touched by your autobiographical comment Dan, and I think I now can understand better why we disagree in so many instances. You see Philosophy as a job that you like doing and that you happen to be good at. I see philosophy as a calling, as a form of Tikun Olam – a way to repair the tear in the world. I see contemporary religions as manifestly failing in this job, as, in fact, actually responsible for widening the tear. Religious nationalists are behind all of the contemporary outgrowths of fascism. Against this, philosophy is a way to bring back the light, a better way to combat illusion and misinformation. The greatest philosophers are always those like Socrates, who wake us from our dogmatic slumbers. Philosophy needs always to be a revolutionary discipline, a force of renewal, rather than a settled doctrine. After thirty years away from philosophy I only came back to it and fully embraced it after my mother died. She was uncompromising in her vision of a better, more equitable world. She was someone who lived what she believed, as everyone who knew her can attest. She, along with Rachel Carson, have been my greatest inspirations.

    I quit graduate school in philosophy in 1980 in sudden disillusionment. And I remember a lecture given to the graduate students at the beginning of the year which had similar sentiments to your autobiographical piece. That is to say: If your looking to find the meaning of life in philosophy you are looking in the wrong place. Of course, hearing that wasn’t the reason for my disillusionment at all. In fact I wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment. Philosophy is very broad of scope but life is always lived in the particular. There is nothing specific about philosophy that makes it any better than any other form of knowledge in helping one live their life. My disillusionment came about because I lost touch with what inspired me. Philosophy was drained of all meaning for me when I lost that sense of a calling.

  22. ombhurbhuva

    Having an experience and finding a meaning in it that is personal and persuasive is forever just beyond our reach:

    We had the experience but missed the meaning,
    And approach to the meaning restores the experience
    In a different form, beyond any meaning
    We can assign to happiness. I have said before
    That the past experience revived in the meaning
    Is not the experience of one life only
    But of many generations—not forgetting
    Something that is probably quite ineffable:
    The backward look behind the assurance
    Of recorded history, the backward half-look
    Over the shoulder, towards the primitive terror.

    (from The Dry Salvages (Four Quartets) by T.S. Eliot)

    God as a final definitive meaning is inexpressible. If you only accept the rational/irrational dyad then you cannot accept the apophatic nature of the divine. Otto proposed a triad – Rational/Irrational/Non-Rational (The Idea of the Holy). God talk is in the sphere of the non-rational.

    In this book which continually refreshes itself like every great work of genius Otto begins with the primal naturally occurring sense of awe. How does this arise? Sages speak of the metaphysical intuition of existence. Being presents itself not as a question or a puzzle in search of a solution. It is the raw given. Moses searching after a lost goat comes across a bush that is on fire but is never consumed. Energy is pouring into this event and is never exhausted. I am that I am. Nisargadatta the Vedantic sage is told by his guru to focus his mind continuously on I am. Ramana Maharshi after living through his fear of death comes to ask Who Am I. The Upanishads have the great saying I Am That – Tat Tvam Asi

    There is no sense in any of this of a hold on ultimate meaning. If a purveyor of meaning had knocked on the door of the philosophers that I mentioned in my last comment they would likely have said – Sorry, we have all we need, thank you.

  23. alandtapper1950

    Philosophy, in my experience, raises more questions than it provides answers to those questions. So, for me, the personal question is whether to allow myself to shut off those question or to follow the very varied threads of argument to wherever they may lead. Personally, I judge in favour of the second path and I feel rather sorry for people who take the first path. But it means that my life, as shaped by philosophy, has a lot of loose ends. A lot of loose ends. But it also has a lot of partial pathways that it would not otherwise have. I prefer it that way. This makes me a “liberal” in a classical sense. I would hate to live in a culture that had only one worldview. The value of philosophy, as I see it, is not that it gives specific answers to a personal quest for meaning, but that it allows multiple ways of dealing with complex issues, whether they be personal or political or metaphysical.


  24. davidlduffy

    This essay describes a particular world view beautifully. but
    a) “the particular as particular” etc – kind of implies no commonalities shared over the lives of the 100 billion or so humans throughout history. I’m pretty sure there are lots of really important things I share with the guys arguing with Socrates, even though my life course has been so entirely different.
    b) universal abstractions – even as a 2 year old, you have a very precise idea of how much of everything your siblings are getting compared to you. I think it was Peter Slezak who put forth a nice argument that one basis of morality is a mathematician-like awareness of symmetry (and exchangeability).
    b) “what I liked about philosophy” – I get this in spades, but for an awful lot of people, the second order questions of “should I like and should I do X” or “what are the roots of my liking of X” are really relevant.

  25. Peter Smith:
    First, I think you may have touched on something that didn’t quite feel right to me in Dan’s essay. There seems to be a pas de deux somewhere (I’d have to read the piece again to pinpoint it, but I’m also lazy) in which Dan seems to move from, “this is how I felt/feel” to an unspoken “therefore I’ve proven that God doesn’t exist and his (non)existence has nothing to do with meaning anyway.”

    Second, though, I don’t have a problem with the first-person-ness of the essay. In fact, I wish more people would write like that. I say so because it’s a bit too easy for people like me to make broad assertions about what is true without contextualizing the way in which I’ve found it to be true but can’t make the same assertions for others. And whatever problem I have with the alleged pas de deux I’ve just mentioned seems remedied by Dan’s first person account, and by his willingness to admit that others might see it differently.

    Third, I think I agree with Dan that philosophy is a poor mechanism for understanding the meaning of life. (As someone who was trained in history and who therefore traveled the road Dan didn’t travel, I’m willing to make the same statement about history, but then I don’t usually encounter people who claim otherwise.)

    I guess I’m answering your objection by stating “what works for me,” which seems to be using the same argument that you find objectionable in Dan’s essay. I guess I just write this to offer why I (qualifiedly) like the essay.

  26. “The rest was gratuitous verbal violence, a throwback to the bad old days of New Atheism.” That is simply untrue (for those unfamiliar with New Atheism). But apparently any expression of non-theism is to be equated with “New Atheism.” That’s baloney.

    But have it your own way. And liberalism is an acceptable political position; it doesn’t necessarily equate with “Woke” politics, it has a long established political history (Locke, Mill, et al)

    I don’t believe in god. I am a liberal, proudly, though I disown identitarianism. Women should have control over their own bodies. The current Pope seems to be a decent fellow, but nothing he says guides my life – nor, in my opinion, should it.

    So, re.: the OP – either ‘meaning’ is out there, or it is within us. The differences between these two is profound. I prefer the latter – we don’t ‘find’ meaning – we make it. Defending that would take a longer argument, but I think Dan has made a good start of it here.

    Side note: “As Allan Bloom put it in “The Closing of the American Mind”: “the particular as particular escapes the grasp of reason, the form of which is the general or universal.”” That’s actually a paraphrase of Hegel. Unsure whether Bloom learned this from Kojeve, whose lecture on Hegel he translated, or from his teacher Strauss, who would have learned it from Heidegger (but interpreting it differently).

    Hegel, Hegel, Hegel… I sometimes wonder if it would have been better to put a bullet in my brain than translate the Preface (Phenomenology) for my German credit for graduate school and then write half a dissertation on it. It’s like having a drunken uncle coming to visit, and he just won’t go away….)

  27. One cannot be a Moral Realist and a Virtue Ethicist at the same time. Virtue Ethics is necessarily contingent (whatever its faults) Moral Realism can never be (regardless of possible benefits.) i think on this matter, you’re just confused. You want the saint and the sage in the same person – ain’t happening. The one has a faith, the other has experience. They almost never coalesce.

  28. So was the Buddha (whom I avowedly follow) saint or sage? From your Christian Perspective, he ought to be both. And certain Buddhist sects follow him as such. But that’s not in the Theravadan tradition, I follow. The Buddha was at best a sage – a human being, capable of mistakes in judgment, Indeed, his legacy really begins in a mistake in judgment ( his perverse effort to starve himself to death), and his correction of that and acceptance of the profound incongruity between reason and desire. The common speech is that Jesus and the Buddha have so much in common – nothing could be further from the truth. You want ‘salvation;’ we want an end to pain. You want a happier afterlife – we want an end to any possible afterlife (Nirvana).

    Marcus Aurelius was undeniably a sage of Stoicism, his text is profound and instructive. But he was also the Emperor of Rome, and as such sentenced many (including many Christians) to death – which was not a good thing. But his Stoic faith commended that he fulfill the duties of his office, which included these murders. Even without this being mentioned, is it surprising that Dan treats Stoicism with some suspicion?

    Look, there just isn’t a perfected religion, or moral realism, or virtue ethic, or saint/sage wisdom, or political ideology, or whatever is wanted.

    It’s all about human beings. And they will do what they must to survive. Some of that will be ugly; some of that will be beautiful. Some denudes us. Some makes us richer and larger. Most of it is crap; some of it is poetry.

    Sometimes we utter what we hope is poetry; but oft it is merely regurgitation. But that’s ok; that’s what humans do.

  29. s. wallerstein

    How about Plato?

    Isn’t Plato a virtue ethicist and isn’t he a moral realistic? The form of justice is as real as anything can be for Plato and a virtuous person lives according to that form of justice.

  30. 1970scholar

    I welcome this essay from Daniel Kaufman. It might be the favorite piece of his I have read, which, given that he appears to do a lot of writing on this platform, is saying something.
    I am most unusual in my ability to like and even love things with which I don’t agree. There are any number of ideas in his piece with which I am at odds, chief among them what I take to be an unusually narrow definition of philosophy itself. I think it is a very honest piece and has integrity.. Would that it were the case that people in the public square were this forthcoming.

  31. An important part of becoming skilled in the use of any tool revolves around a more and more refined understanding of the tools limitations. If we think of philosophy as a tool, I can see where it can have use on a personal level, helping us organize our thoughts and feelings as they form values and infer meanings. We might come to a realization that this process is personal and contextual and that philosophy is not a tool that is effective at obtaining some type of universal knowledge or understanding of the meaning of life (whatever that means).

    Becoming more philosophically informed may help us understand it’s limitation at providing general understandings of ‘people’ should find meaning, but it may help each of us in that process. It may also inform how we have used others tools (science, myth, religion, cultural practice) to find meaning in the past or going forward. So I think it has value in refining the way we find/interpret meaning (on a personal level), but not in way that lays out general meaning guides.

  32. Why can’t someone be a moral realist and a virtue ethicist at the same time?

  33. I realize now that you put your answer in your other comments. I just want to point out that Martha Nussbaum endorses both virtue ethics and moral realism. I’m not saying that Nussbaum knows *more* about these areas than you do (though I imagine she knows as much as you do), but if the inconsistency between virtue ethics and moral realism is obvious and elementary, I think it’s at least surprising that Nussbaum misses that inconsistency.