A there any compelling engagements one can deploy to counter existential nihilism -- i.e. the view that life (both in terms of individuals or in terms of the totality of humankind) has no intrinsic meaning or value, and that any value/meaning we attribute to our lives and those of others is wholly subjective and will evaporate with our passing? A few pointers on how to counter this -- I think fairly commonly held -- view, as well as where I could find out more, would be really helpful!

The view you'd like to counter seems to have two parts:

(1) Life, both in terms of individuals and in terms of the totality of humankind, has no intrinsic meaning or value.

(2) Any value or meaning we attribute to our lives and those of others is wholly subjective and will evaporate with our deaths.

Regarding (1). First, the notion of intrinsic meaning seems to me highly doubtful to begin with: it would be meaning that doesn't derive from or depend on anything else, including any intentional agents. I can't see how that could possibly work. If waves scatter pebbles along the beach so as to form the inscription "Love," that inscription has no meaning: it wasn't produced intentionally. It might perhaps acquire meaning when some intentional agent interprets it as a message. But in either case it has no meaning in and of itself.

Second, one might doubt that anything could have intrinsic value, i.e., value that doesn't derive from or depend on anything else (such as being valued or leading to good consequences). Not even value conferred on my life by a perfect God would be intrinsic, because it would derive from a source other than me, namely God. Now, the classical utilitarians say that pleasure has intrinsic value. (a) If they're right, then a life is valuable insofar as it achieves pleasure: maybe the life itself wouldn't be intrinsically valuable, but it would be valuable insofar as it achieved the intrinsic value of pleasure. (b) If they're wrong, then maybe nothing could be intrinsically valuable, since it seems plausible that pleasure has intrinsic value if anything has intrinsic value. If nothing could have intrinsic value -- if the very notion of intrinsic value is incoherent -- then it would be foolish to complain that our lives lack intrinsic value. It would be like bemoaning the lack of colorless red objects.

Regarding (2). I take it that "subjective" is being used to mean "extrinsic," i.e., not intrinsic. If so, then I'd reply as I did above. As for "evaporate," it sounds as if the view assumes that only what lasts forever has any value, a highly questionable assumption that I discuss in this short article. For much more detailed discussions, I recommend The Meaning of Life: A Reader, edited by Klemke and Cahn.

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