The Meaning of Life: A Very Short Introduction, Paperback

The Meaning of Life: A Very Short Introduction Paperback

Part of the Very Short Introductions series

4 out of 5 (1 rating)


'Philosophers have an infuriating habit of analysing questions rather than answering them', writes Terry Eagleton, who, in these pages, asks the most important question any of us ever ask, and attempts to answer it.

So what is the meaning of life? In this witty, spirited, and stimulating inquiry, Eagleton shows how centuries of thinkers - from Shakespeare and Schopenhauer to Marx, Sartre and Beckett - have tackled the question.

Refusing to settle for the bland and boring, Eagleton reveals with a mixture of humour and intellectual rigour how the question has become particularly problematic in modern times.

Instead of addressing it head-on, we take refuge from the feelings of 'meaninglessness' in our lives by filling them with a multitude of different things: from football and sex, to New Age religions and fundamentalism. 'Many of the readers of this book are likely to be as sceptical of the phrase "the meaning of life" as they are of Santa Claus', he writes.

But Eagleton contends that in a world where we need to find common meanings, it is important that we set about answering the question of all questions; and, in conclusion, he suggests his own answer. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area.

These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly.

Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 128 pages, 12 black and white halftones
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Literary theory
  • ISBN: 9780199532179



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This book has a funny title, but it is actually quite good. It was written by respected literary critic Terry Eagleton, whose lucid writing style is always entertaining and informative. At only 100 pages, it's a rather slim volume, but it manages to cover a lot of ground, discussing heavyweights like Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Beckett, and the king of doom, Schopenhauer.I underlined this passage, which seems to summarize Eagleton's conclusion. I agree with what he says: "The meaning of life is less a proposition than a practice. It is not an esoteric truth, but a certain form of life. As such, it can only really be known in the living...The meaning of life is not a solution to the problem, but a matter of living in a certain way. It is not metaphysical, but ethical. It is not something separate for life, but makes it worth living..."And this is my favorite part of the book: "Eternity lies not in a grain of sand but in a glass of water. The cosmos revolves on comforting the sick. When you act in this way, you are sharing in the love which built the stars. To live in this way is not just to have life, but to have it in abundance."When I was a really naive student in college, I was often frustrated with philosophy, particularly metaphysics, not only because it was so hard, but because it always seemed to find itself at an impasse--desolate, subject-centered, cold. Kant was right to call it strewn with "wreckage" even as he tried to salvage it in his own form of reason. But when Eagleton says that the meaning of life is more ethical than metaphysical, he addresses the "problem of existence" with a kind of warmth and humility. In ethics, we can talk of love, of practice and not just theory, of the 'other', of the imperative to live and not only to think.

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