Can Lives Be Seen as Meaningful Within the Cosmic Context?

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Many philosophers have suggested that lives emerge as meaningless when considered within the context of the vastness of the cosmos and of time. Landau (Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 89(4), 727–734, 2011, Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 17(3), 457–468, 2014, 2017) has argued that considering a life within the context of the vastness of the cosmos and of time need not lead to this pessimistic conclusion. Three recent discussions, by Benatar (2017), Hanson (Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 23, 561–573, 2020), and Kügler (The Journal of Value Inquiry, 2021), offer criticisms of some of Landau’s arguments. The present paper continues to develop the topic by discussing these criticisms. Among other points, the paper rejects Nagel’s claim that standards are unavailable within the cosmic context. In reply to another criticism, it elaborates on reasons for preferring some standards over others. The paper also argues that Blackburn’s, Rescher’s, and Camus’s arguments differ from Nagel’s; that a disproof of the pessimistic argument does not require that we explain the argument’s popularity; and that Hanson’s account of the relation between the cosmic perspective and evaluations of meaningfulness is, at the end of the day, in fact quite similar to Landau’s, so that the difference between them is more terminological than material. Finally, the paper claims that the debate suffers from terminological untidiness and suggests the use of clearer, more precise terminology in future philosophical work on the topic.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2085-2102
Number of pages18
JournalPhilosophia (United States)
Issue number4
StatePublished - Sep 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature B.V.


  • Absurd
  • Meaning in life
  • Meaning of life
  • Nagel, Thomas
  • pessimism
  • standards

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy


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