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The Meaning of Life: A Very Short Introduction

(Very Short Introductions)

3.50  ·  Rating details ·  1,484 ratings  ·  254 reviews
The phrase "the meaning of life" for many seems a quaint notion fit for satirical mauling by Monty Python or Douglas Adams. But in this spirited Very Short Introduction, famed critic Terry Eagleton takes a serious if often amusing look at the question and offers his own surprising answer.

Eagleton first examines how centuries of thinkers and writers--from Marx and Schopenha
Paperback, 1st Edition, 109 pages
Published 2008 by Oxford University Press (first published February 22nd 2007)
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Average rating 3.50  · 
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 ·  1,484 ratings  ·  254 reviews

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Ahmad Sharabiani
The Meaning of Life: َA Very Short Introductions (Very Short Introductions #186), Terry Eagleton
We have all wondered about the meaning of life. But is there an answer? And do we even really know what we're asking? Terry Eagleton takes a stimulating and quirky look at this most compelling of questions: at the answers explored in philosophy and literature; at the crisis of meaning in modern times; and suggests his own solution to how we might rediscover meaning in our lives.
تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز
May 02, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy, religion
This book is quite fun – as long as you don’t take it too seriously, and, let’s face it, it is almost impossible to take seriously a book called ‘the meaning of life, a very short introduction’. There is something paradoxical about the meaning of life being an introduction – surely we are after conclusions.

This has a nice pace and enough jokes to keep you smiling between ideas. My favourite joke in the whole thing (one I’d never heard before and feel very surprised that I never thought of it my
Mar 26, 2012 rated it it was ok
This starts off reasonably well - the first dozen or so pages demonstrate a gratifying precision, setting up the prospect of a brief but rigorous analysis. And then... crash! It all falls apart.

What ruined it for me? Several things. Literary tangents that went on far too long. Grating political biases that had no place here and became all too frequent (he's not keen on liberals - and yes, his attack is always on liberals rather than liberalism; he seems to favour that approach. Eagleton's modus
Feb 03, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
How can an English professor and literary critic write a philosophical brief on the meaning of life? Well, Terry Eagleton did, and did it well. He takes us through the end of Victorian certainty and shows how Hardy and Conrad raised questions with a sense of urgency that Jane Austin never had. In the early decades of the 20th Century, T.S. Eliot and Camus and Sartre brought challenges to all our values, beliefs and institutions.

Most in the West (that is outside of the US) have now accepted the v
Ted Burke
Oct 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Terry Eagleton , a long time literary critic of Marxist training (Marxist Literary Criticsm, Literary Theory, Illusions of Post Moderism) and Catholic church moral rigor and one of the best explicators of the dually condensed and convoluted intersections of literature, philosophy and political action, has give us all a small, witty, tersely choice gift with his new book, more correctly an essay, called The Meaning of Life. Eagleton's intent, despite what one might assume, isn't to cast a dispara ...more
Ali Reda
Aug 10, 2014 rated it did not like it
For the author as a long time literary critic of Marxist training with Wittgensteinian tendencies: meaning is a matter of language, not of things. So there is no real question of what life means, as as there is no real question , then there is no real answer. And also due ‘postmodern’ way of looking as a literary critic, life is not meaningful, but neither is it meaningless. He sums up his conclusion as:

The meaning of life is less a proposition than a practice. It is not an esoteric truth, but a
Mar 29, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you don't read this book, at least read the Goodreads description of it, which is quite accurate. And which also praises the Oxford Very Short Introduction series, of which this is the second I've read. Eagleton spends a large section of the book discussing the meaning of "meaning" (he's a professor of literary theory, so that's his bread and butter); he then goes on to discuss the possible meanings of "life." He thus fulfills the warning of his opening sentence "Philosophers have an infuriat ...more
W.D. Clarke
Jan 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Excellent tour through a number of thinkers on this ultimate question (including a side-trip into an Anglo-American philosophical discussion on the meaning of words like "meaning"). Schopenhauer, Wittgenstein, Samuel Beckett and Shakespeare figure prominently, but ultimately T.E. stumps a little bit for a combination of practical Aristotelian eudaimonia virtue/"flourishing" and Christian agape (or, in less "spiritual" guise, reciprocity) as a possible way forward. Interestingly for T.E., Marx is ...more
Robin Friedman
Oct 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Meaning Of Life In A Very Short Introduction

Of the many subjects covered in the Oxford University Press "Very Short Introductions" series, few can be as diffuse and difficult to understand as "The Meaning of Life" as explored in this 2008 volume by Terry Eagleton. Many readers believe that philosophers explore and address the question of "the meaning of life" and are frustrated when the philosophers appear to back away. The question persists in study, among many people whether religious or n
♥ Ibrahim ♥
Feb 03, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
Look at the discrepancy! The book starts out simple and nice but after a couple of paragraphs we are going straight into Wittgenstein and his philosophical concepts and trying to understand a bunch of them and several pages later we are back to talking about the meaning of life. Is that a philosophical treatise incognito?! Why not change the title and say so from the beginning? Turn on our appetite and tantalize us for nothing? I am disappointed. This is a work of philosophy and it is not "a ver ...more
Hoz Kamaran
Apr 07, 2016 rated it liked it
I dont want to write a long review. Instead, i will just simply say:
If life really had a meaning, if life really had an advantage, if life really had a goal, we wouldnt have had to search for it so deeply. Period.
Alexander Velasquez
I finally found the meaning of life... okay not really but the book was pretty good.

Terry Eagleton wrote a great book on a topic that lies at the heart of philosophy. The book consists of four chapters:

Chapter 1 goes over various theories throughout time as to what many different philosophers and thinkers believed the answer to the question was. Chapter 2, which is by far the best chapter in the book, examines the question further: what do we mean by 'meaning'? By answering this question we come
Jackson Cyril
Mr Eagleton has written a book which not only examines how thinkers throughout the ages have addressed this question, but also the problems which are introduced by this question.
SJ Loria
Jul 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“Is this a good question?” –Famous Oxford University exam question
“Not how the world is, is the mystical, but that it is” –Ludwig Wittgenstein (I paired that quote with a photo
Brilliant book. Intellectual without being obnoxious, academic while remaining relatable. Utterly fascinating and totally relevant to life, the kind of book you put down and think, hmm, my life is now that much better. Perhaps it’s a good thing the author isn’t a trained philosoph
Dec 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
well the answer to the meaning of life is not a simple one and the book doesn't claim to have the answer at all. it's the perfect guide line for anyone to analyze meaning and life and the meaning of life .the author got through different points of opinion with absolute subjectivity and since he is originally a literary critic he explained some stuff using literature which i found delightful. Terry Eagleton is so fun to read and his writing is very clear. i enjoyed how to read literature and i en ...more
Mar 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
I've met Terry multiple times (because he's virtually inescapable if you're a socialist living in Ireland) and he tops my list of intellectuals-who-actually-turn-out-to-be-sound-people. But then in this little book he tries so hard to be funny and it really just distracts from the very solid and well-researched content. Great book, lame jokes.
Alex Etheridge
Mar 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2019
Try reading this in a coffee shop and not feeling pretentious. It was more like inconclusive musings about the meaning of life. It was okay. I appreciated Eagleton's pithy, English humor.
Krishaan Khubchand
Oct 26, 2017 rated it liked it
Meh, a typical IYI treatise. Didn't like it much, but came away with a few useful insights.
Jun 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wouldn't recommend reading this while still alive, as it contains spoilers.
May 31, 2017 rated it it was ok
I found this boring and hard to read. Eagleton is not a philosopher or scientist, but a literature professor and it shows. This has lots of flowery prose and pointless theorising; it’s flaky and lacks rigour. See Shelly Kagan's Death for an example of how to approach a topic like this the right way.
John Wiswell
Dec 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
It had been years since I had the guts to read serious philosophy, which meant it was incumbent to read some as soon as possible. Eagleton is not Kant or Hagel here, either, but blitzes through the basic underpinnings of theories on the Meaning of Life with skill and intimidating pace. His big trick is to either leave a query dismissed (post-modernism’s opposition to greater context) or unanswered (such as whether God actually exists). His job isn’t to give you the meaning of life, but rather to ...more
Bojan Tunguz
Jun 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
The "Meaning of Life" is one of those age-old questions that people of all walks of life have been pondering for at least as long as we know that people have been pondering anything. There have been many approaches to this question, and the three most prominent ones have come from philosophy, theology/religion, and literature. In this very short introduction Terry Eagelton sets out to explore all those approaches to this perennial big question. Even thought his approach is not strictly speaking ...more
Nov 29, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am not sure what it would mean to like or not a book about meaning. Is it a coherent account of meaning? Sure. He is right? How would I know? Eagleton's little work reminds me of the work of a friend of his Herbert McCabe, and in particular The Good Life by McCabe. The big exception is that McCabe reads Aquinas with Wittgenstein and finds his rest in God, whereas Eagleton reads Aquinas with Wittgenstein and (apparently) ends up at a Jazz bar.

Well I didn't discover the meaning of life. But that's okay. Eagleton compiled a few philosophers' insights and offered some of his own. Good enough.
Fares D. Alahmar
Philosophy never fails to bore me..
Frankie Della Torre
The meaning of life is a quandary handled by both the crazed and comic. Indeed, one has to be nuts or a comedian to take it up. Eagleton says, “To meditate on our being in the world is part of our way of being in the world” (13). Unlike other animals, we are, in other words, creatures who ask this exact sort of question. Interestingly, though, the question tends to surface under certain conditions. Modern thinkers tend to ask the question more than 12th century thinkers did. This is because the ...more
Joseph Gascho
Oct 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very short book (it is in the "a very short introduction series"), written by a philosopher, much of it very dense but the ending was profound, deeply moving to me. This came from an agnostic Marxist, as I understand him to be!

The meaning of life is not a solution to a problem, but a matter of living in a certain way. It is not metaphysical, but ethical. It is not something separate from life, but what makes it worth living – which is to say, a certain quality, depth, abundance, and intensity
Mar 07, 2019 rated it liked it
Now, I’m not quite finished with this book yet, but I feel like I’ve read enough to get this started. The book is incredibly short, but the text is quite dense (at least for me). I’m asking Google to look up the definition of words every other paragraph (embarrassingly, so). The guy is a good writer, and a good philosopher. I can’t really just quickly read over sentences because I start to zone out since I don’t end up getting the full meaning of what he’s saying. I feel like I have to read a se ...more
Mark McTague
Three stars should not be taken as a judgment on this book. After all, the author is a literary and cultural critic of considerable renown, and the subject - the meaning of life - does not make for light reading. There is a depth and breadth to his discussion, and not a few tongue-in-cheek comments that lighten the tone while they amuse the reader. Beginning from a discourse on the meaning of "meaning," the text considers several answers to the book's titular question and ends with a well-reason ...more
Tõnu Vahtra
Dec 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
The big question is not how life is but the fact that it is. What is the meaning of "meaning" and what is the meaning of "life"? What?

Not sure if it's possible to write in a more focused book about this topic but I felt a bit too much that the author was jumping between different ideas and theories. Also at times it was difficult to follow the suggested logic but most probably because I was not familiar in detail with different research and theories that already exist on this matter.

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Widely regarded as Britain's most influential living literary critic & theorist, Dr Eagleton currently serves as Distinguished Prof. of English Literature at the Univ. of Lancaster & as Visiting Prof. at the Nat'l Univ. of Ireland, Galway. He was Thomas Warton Prof. of English Literature at the Univ. of Oxford ('92-01) & John Edward Taylor Prof. of English Literature at the Univ. of Ma ...more

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“If it is true that we need a degree of certainty to get by, it is also true that too much of the stuff can be lethal.” 27 likes
“In the pragmatist, streetwise climate of advanced postmodern capitalism, with its scepticism of big pictures and grand narratives, its hard-nosed disenchantment with the metaphysical, 'life' is one among a whole series of discredited totalities. We are invited to think small rather than big – ironically, at just the point when some of those out to destroy Western civilization are doing exactly the opposite. In the conflict between Western capitalism and radical Islam, a paucity of belief squares up to an excess of it. The West finds itself faced with a full-blooded metaphysical onslaught at just the historical point that it has, so to speak, philosophically disarmed. As far as belief goes, postmodernism prefers to travel light: it has beliefs, to be sure, but it does not have faith.” 9 likes
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