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A SCIENTIFIC ACCOUNT OF MEANING: DEFLATIONARY BUT NOT DISENCHANTING

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Abstract:

Abstract.

In The Really Hard Problem, Owen Flanagan maintains that accounting for meaning requires going beyond the resources of the physical, biological, social, and mind sciences. He notes that the religious myths and fantastical stories that once “funded” flourishing lives and made life meaningful have been epistemically discredited by science but nevertheless insists that meaning does exist and can be fully accounted for only in a form of systematic philosophical theorizing that is continuous with science and does not need to invoke myth. He sees such a mode of thought as a new, empirical-normative science, which he labels eudaimonistic scientia, that evades the disenchantment produced by natural scientific accounts of meaning. I argue that such an empirical-normative science does not provide us with a scientific account of meaning but is itself simply another way of making sense of one's life that is open to scientific explanation. Such an explanation will be deflationary in the sense that it presumes no greater scheme of things for meaning beyond the span of human existence (collective and possibly individual) but not disenchanting in that it does not explain away the flourishing lives human persons and communities create for themselves.

Keywords: disenchantment; eudaimonia; flourishing lives; meaning; myth/religion; naturalism; science

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9744.2009.00983.x

Affiliations: Professor of Philosophy of Religion, Trinity College in the University of Toronto, 6 Hoskin Avenue, Toronto, Canada;, Email: donald.wiebe@utoronto.ca.

Publication date: March 1, 2009

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