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God's purpose as irrelevant to life's meaning: reply to Affolter


Elsewhere I have contended that if a God-centred account of meaning in life were true, it would not be because meaning comes from fulfilling God's purpose for us. Specifically, I have argued that this ‘purpose theory’ of life's meaning cannot be the correct God-based view since God would have to be atemporal, immutable, and simple for meaning to logically depend on His existence, and since such a being lacking extension could not be purposive. Jacob Affolter has developed a fresh account of the kind of purpose that is necessary for meaning in life, has argued that a God without extension could ground it, and has also provided some tentative reason to believe that only such a God could do so. I respond in three ways: by questioning whether the sort of purpose Affolter thinks is necessary for meaning in fact is; by arguing that an extensionless God could not ground it; and by indicating the way that a purely physical world could.

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1. Metz ThaddeusCould God's purpose be the source of life's meaning?’, Religious Studies, 36 (2000), 293313.

2. Affolter JacobHuman nature as God's purpose’, Religious Studies, 43 (2007), 443455.

3. Ibid., 453.

4. For a recent example, see John Cottingham The Spiritual Dimension: Religion, Philosophy and Human Value (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), ch. 3.

5. Jean-Paul Sartre Existentialism is a Humanism, tr. Philip Mairet (London: Methuen & Co., 1948).

6. Affolter, ‘Human nature as God's purpose’, 453.

7. I have developed this view in Metz ThaddeusContributions toward a naturalist theory of life's meaning’, Dialogue and Universalism, 8 (1998), 2532; and ‘Utilitarianism and the meaning of life’, Utilitas, 15 (2003), 50–70.

8. As for how the physical properties denoted by the phrase ‘intrinsically valuable’ get fixed, I follow the Cornell realists in appealing to a causal theory of reference and synthetic a posteriori necessities. See, e.g., David Brink Moral Realism and the Foundations of Ethics (New York NY: Cambridge University Press, 1989).

9. Metz ‘Utilitarianism and the meaning of life’, 68.

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Religious Studies
  • ISSN: 0034-4125
  • EISSN: 1469-901X
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