Up@dawn 2.0

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Farrell and Loss

Farrell's easy addresses directly questions of meaning and moral value in a godless universe. His essay primarily puts forward a position that for some individuals there appears to be a psychological need to feel there is some larger significance to one's life, and that one is ordering their values in a scheme that is not only reasonable, but correct in some kind of definable way. For these people, it seems that the typical atheistic/agnostic arguments about finding value in the things themselves and doing things for their own sake don't offer any comfort.

That's because, at least for Farrell, the problem is not that of seeing the value in something. That the thing has value for it's own sake is given by reason, but how to choose between competing things that both are valuable and good but may be mutually exclusive...how can we ever be sure we're chosing correctly?

There is other stuff of course, I particularly liked his observation that few atheists of any stripe ever actually just give up and say that there's no way to form a moral system /at all/. But I think the above is the most interesting thing to talk about that we haven't touched on in class. Everyone seems agreed that you can reason out the value in something. But then how does one choose between competing values, and how do we ever know we have chosen correctly for ourselves?

What do you guys think, is this just a psychological need in some people to be overcome, or is it somehow an indicator of something in our nature?


  1. "Our nature" is risky to generalize, but plenty of us do seem to feel the need for external validation of our values. Do you go with Descartes and demand certainty, or hang loose with Montaigne and James and Hume... and admit our fallibility, but still resolve to muddle through? I'm a muddler myself.

  2. Honestly, inside of philosophy class or with other philosophers I think the conversation and distinctions can be very fascinating, at least they pass the time in an enjoyable fashion. In day to day life 'out in the real world' I try my best to adhere to something like pragmatism. There are some questions that I just don't see how it could make any difference one way or the other to the 'virtuous life'.

    I suppose mark me with the muddlers.

  3. I found this essay difficult to read, due to the author's meandering and odd compound sentence structure. Maybe it was just because I was reading it out loud to my fiance, but she said the same thing I was thinking.

    Anyway, he did a good job of highlighting how difficult it can be to transcend the religious mold that so many of us are cast in from early childhood. Once the language of purpose, meaning, right, wrong, and correct have all been linked with godspeak, it can be exceedingly difficult to extricate these concepts from their religious overtones.

    I spent most of the essay feeling like I was watching a car accident: wanting to look away but oddly compelled to watch. Farrell's portrayal of the rudderless feeling he was left with after abandoning belief was not flattering, and I found I had no frame of reference to identify with someone who was so utterly dependent on an external source of justification. Maybe he represents that percentage of people who are uniquely susceptible to religious thinking, and who had it forced upon them with a little extra zeal. Given that, I suppose he is also uniquely lucky to have escaped.