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The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a…

The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World (2007)

by Owen J. Flanagan

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It's now available as an ebook on the MIT press portal http://mitpress-ebooks.mit.edu/product/really-hard-problem
  ipublishcentral | Aug 24, 2009 |
An academic philosopher discusses finding meaning in a material world. The assumption at the beginning is that humans are a transient collection of neurochemicals, and that all consciousness is correlated with changes in brain states. There is no eternal soul; how does one live with meaning without reference to rewards and punishments in the hereafter, and without a god to guide the way and create meaning out of randomness. The author favors insights drawn from Buddhist meditation practice, and from neuroscience. He talks about the "Aristolean principle": that human beings enjoy the exercise of their capacities. He points out that justice ought to promote "human flourishing" the exercise of these capacities. He talks about locating meaning in a space, with reference to religion, art, science and politics, what he calls a "Goodman set" of spaces of meaning, localized to the early 21st century. If ones thoughts are in "reflective equilibrium" with your local community, that is a good start, but it is better if it is in "wide reflective equilibrium" with the world's understanding of human flourishing. His conclusion is that meaning, in the sense of connection to a transcendent ideal, can be found in the embodiment of the human good.
This is a typical book written by the liberal arts academic. There is a vast amount of jargon, and far too many annoying "superscripts" to give the prose a sheen of science, and not enough hard thought about the science itself. Uncritical acceptance of fMRI studies each with a few tenths of percent changes in regional brain function in complex tasks is not a good basis for meaning. Assumptions of significance for meditation and other introspective thoughts as valid are suspect. His politics are not treated extensively, but he is clearly sentimental, eco-conscious, worried about rights, and of liberal politics, meaning that empathy is more important than efficiency and justice. I did not enjoy the prose, which is between breezy familiarity and jargon. I do not recommend this book. ( )
1 vote neurodrew | May 2, 2009 |
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To Güven Güzeldere and David Wong, dear friends and spiritually advanced natural philosophers
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 026206264X, Hardcover)

If consciousness is "the hard problem" in mind science--explaining how the amazing private world of consciousness emerges from neuronal activity--then "the really hard problem," writes Owen Flanagan in this provocative book, is explaining how meaning is possible in the material world. How can we make sense of the magic and mystery of life naturalistically, without an appeal to the supernatural? How do we say truthful and enchanting things about being human if we accept the fact that we are finite material beings living in a material world, or, in Flanagan's description, short-lived pieces of organized cells and tissue? Flanagan's answer is both naturalistic and enchanting. We all wish to live in a meaningful way, to live a life that really matters, to flourish, to achieve eudaimonia--to be a "happy spirit." Flanagan calls his "empirical-normative" inquiry into the nature, causes, and conditions of human flourishing eudaimonics. Eudaimonics, systematic philosophical investigation that is continuous with science, is the naturalist's response to those who say that science has robbed the world of the meaning that fantastical, wishful stories once provided. Flanagan draws on philosophy, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and psychology, as well as on transformative mindfulness and self-cultivation practices that come from such nontheistic spiritual traditions as Buddhism, Confucianism, Aristotelianism, and Stoicism, in his quest. He gathers from these disciplines knowledge that will help us understand the nature, causes, and constituents of well-being and advance human flourishing. Eudaimonics can help us find out how to make a difference, how to contribute to the accumulation of good effects--how to live a meaningful life.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:30 -0400)

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