Honors Seminar on:
The Meaning of Life
Barry Smith
Spring Semester 2003
Wednesday 4pm

What makes your life meaningful is -- in first approximation -- the plans which it contains. Not just any old plans will do. They must be your plans, they must be directed towards what you will do in the future, and they must impose some pattern on your life of a sort which will make it, precisely, meaningful.
The seminar will discuss the arguments for and against this view of meaning, drawing on a book manuscript which is nearing completion. It will feature a special Saturday workshop on March 1 devoted to the topic of "Religion and the Meaning of Life" and featuring Daniel von Wachter of the University of Munich, Germany.

Examples of topics to be dealt with include:

    Why happiness, love, money, knowledge, friendship, talent and religion do not make a life worth living.
    Why performing the right sorts of actions in accordance with the right sorts of plans is what makes a life worth living.
    What sorts of plans are the right sorts of plans?
    The role of achievements, sacrifice, risk, honesty and failure in a meaningful life.
    Why the meaning of life is not something merely subjective.
    What sort of society is most conducive to leading a meaningful life? (includes discussions of politics and economics)

A draft version of the book manuscript will be made available on the web, together with a list of supplementary readings. Students will be required to prepare two essays and to make two class presentations. Length, format, topics and deadlines will be specified at a later stage.

Jan. 29     Introduction: The Dream Machine
Feb. 5      Achievements
Feb. 12    Creativity, Honesty and Morality
Feb. 19    The Right Sorts of Plans
Feb. 26    Life Plans

Mar. 1     Special Saturday Workshop on: Religion and the Meaning of Life (see below)

Mar. 5      Beethoven
Mar. 19    Ethics and Objectivity
Mar. 26    The Social Web of Meaning
Apr. 2       Scepticism about the Meaning of Life
Apr. 9       Special Lecture: Jim Lawler: Is Ignorance Bliss? The Matrix from a Philosophical Perspective 
                 3pm-4:45pm (Student Union Theater, Room 106/201)
Apr. 16     The Meaning of Life and Human Civilization
        Special Saturday Workshop on: Religion and the Meaning of Life

        Held in Park 280, March 1st. Lunch will be supplied.
10am Daniel von Wachter: The Rationality of Theistic Belief
11am Coffee
11.15 am Barry Smith: Why the Meaning of Life is Independent of Religion
12:30 pm Lunch
1:30 pm Daniel von Wachter: God and the Meaning of Life
2:30 pm Coffee
2:45 pm Barry Smith: Eternity, the Cosmos and the Meaning of Life
4 pm General Discussion

Daniel von Wachter received his doctorate in philosophy from the University of
Hamburg on the ontology of things and properties, after which he pursued
research in philosophical theology at the University of Oxford, in
particular on God's causal role in the world. At present he is a researcher
at http://ifomis.de and a research fellow at the philosophy department of
the University of Munich. E-mail dvw@epost.de; homepage: http://daniel.von-wachter.de.