The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World

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Overview

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 flourishingeudaimonics. 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. Eudaimonicscan help us find out how to make a difference, how to contribute to the accumulation of good effects— how to live a meaningful life.

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Editorial Reviews

The Philosophical Review - Daniel C. Dennett
We should be grateful to Flanagan... for he conducts his inquiry with erudition, calm open-mindedness, cautious optimism, and ingenuity.
The Guardian - Steven Poole
The book sparkles with thought and a likeable humour.
From the Publisher
"We should be grateful to Flanagan...for he conducts his inquiry with erudition, calm open-mindedness, cautious optimism, and ingenuity."—Daniel C. Dennett, ThePhilosophical Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262512480
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 2/13/2009
  • Series: Bradford Books Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 1,458,892
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Owen Flanagan is James B. Duke Professor of Philosophy at Duke University. He is the author of Consciousness Reconsidered and The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in aMaterial World, both published by the MIT Press, and other books.

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