Meaning of Life: Perspectives from the World's Great Intellectual Traditions

Rated 3 out of 5 by from Meaning of Life not Perfection of Life I enjoyed this trip through various philosophies up to the final lecture. At this point, it seems that Professor exchanged the development of what stimulates a meaningful life to thoughts of procuring a perfect life. A person can nurture in oneself whatever they decide can create a meaningful life complete with its flaws, trials, triumphs and excellence. The only perfection of life is that it is.
Date published: 2021-05-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Delivery Jay delivered the content of this course in a thoroughly engaging manner without bias to a particular discipline of thought, but rather high-lighting the value of each perspective. The content was richly engaging and I found myself eagerly anticipating next lecture.
Date published: 2021-05-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Execllent. Professor Garfield has a broad as well as deep understanding of the world's religious and philosophical traditions, and it's obvious that he cares deeply about sharing the wisdom that he has explored as a scholar.
Date published: 2021-05-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Magnificent engagement with the viewer. What a magnificent course! Engaging directly with the viewer, you and I, in a most personal and unusual way, Jay Garfield draws us into and includes us in a discussion of life’s most important question as answered by some of the greatest thinkers of the past three thousand years. Whether one agrees or disagrees with each of these philosophers as their thoughts and beliefs are introduced by Professor Garfield, if you will DEEPLY engage with each of them, read the coursebook afterwards, and then, perhaps, watch each lecture a second time before moving on to the next, you might have as profound and life-changing an experience as it is possible to have with a course. If you are willing to accept the challenge that this course offers to your own ways of thinking and feeling, you will probably be greatly rewarded. Try it, and be brave as you do it.
Date published: 2021-04-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Succeeded in a hugely difficult task Where does one even start to select and then address the viewpoints of history's prominent thinkers? No matter where Garfield went would be sure to disappoint some. And there, lies the interesting rub as I read the reviews. Seems that those who offered a negative review had already made up their minds to think negatively about what was taught. I agree that there were some holes and jagged edges in the lessons, but they all tied together so well as a cohesive conclusion drawn at the end. Where were the similarities across the great minds? Those meaning of life lessons were clearly relevant as Garfield concluded. I believe the lessons to be very powerful, thought-provoking, and valuable. For those who challenge my opinion, please take the initiative to express your perspective in your own 36 hour course. I'll be more than happy to learn. Until then ...
Date published: 2021-03-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good presenter - Thought provoking Scanning through the reviews there seems to some confusion as to the focus of the lecture series. One reviewer was disappointed as it did not mention Islam; another slammed it for being overly religious. I did not see this as a series focused on religion, but as a survey philosophical attempts—some of which are religious in nature—to get to the meaning of life. Professor Garfield's area of interest seems to be Eastern philosophy, and this probably accounts for the course being slight skewed in that direction or perhaps because the East has being pursuing the subject longer. One reviewer did comment that the lectures were a little uneven, and I would not argue with that. Professor Garfield’s reaction to stage direction was a first a bit distracting and then became somewhat humorous. Apparently The Great Courses staff likes to keep their presenters moving. Professor Garfield has a lot of enthusiasm for his subject, and is very knowledgeable. His presentations are clear and easy to follow. To me philosophy has always been a subject that frequently causes me to go “huh!”… that only happened a couple times in the 36 lectures. As could be expected there is no one answer to the meaning of life and people are still attempting to answer that question. Professor Garfield did present some possible options developed over the centuries by some of the best intellects. One of his goals was to give you tools and an appetite for pursuing the subject more. He did that.
Date published: 2021-03-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Meaningful Top course among the many. Very informative, engaging.
Date published: 2020-12-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastically comprehensive and thought-provoking I listened to the bulk of these lectures while on an extended road trip with lots of time to think. And this course definitely gave me a lot to think about. I really appreciated the inclusion of a diversity of views, each covered in sufficient depth for me to understand the central tenets of each. Learning in this way allowed me to assemble elements from a range of disciplines to create something meaningful and insightful for me. In addition to finding the professor extremely knowledgeable, I enjoyed his demeanor and thoughtfulness. Presumably through his teaching experience, he seems to know common traps or shortcuts we can take when studying this kind of material and included appropriate cautions and guidance to help us preserve the integrity of the texts and get the most out of them. My only disappointment is that this appears to be the only class he offers on this platform. I would definitely sign up for more.
Date published: 2020-11-17
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Meaning of Life: Perspectives from the World's Great Intellectual Traditions
Course Trailer
The Meaning of the Meaning of Life
1: The Meaning of the Meaning of Life

Establish the solid ground from which your journey will begin. You'll learn the meanings that the word "meaning," itself, may embody and preview the approaches you will take to the question that gives the course its name....

33 min
The Bhagavad-Gita-Choice and Daily Life
2: The Bhagavad-Gita-Choice and Daily Life

One of the core texts of the Mahabharata-a major moral and religious text for most Hindus-introduces you to the critically important skill of truly reading a text, deeply and with comprehension. It also begins your consideration of the concept of human choice....

30 min
The Bhagavad-Gita-Discipline and Duty
3: The Bhagavad-Gita-Discipline and Duty

Plunge more deeply into the Bhagavad-Gita's wisdom by grasping the three kinds of yogas, or disciplines, embedded in its metaphors. See why these disciplines of action, knowledge, and devotion are all required if life is to be coherent, integrated, and rational....

30 min
The Bhagavad-Gita-Union and Purpose
4: The Bhagavad-Gita-Union and Purpose

Conclude your reading of the Bhagavad-Gita with an appreciation of the theophany-Krishna's revelation of the nature of divinity. True freedom, says the Gita's final message, comes from disinterested action, reflective knowledge, and a finding of value at the cosmic level of a universe divine in its own right....

32 min
Aristotle on Life-The Big Picture
5: Aristotle on Life-The Big Picture

Shift your perspective from India to the roots of Western thought about life's meaning by beginning your study of Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics. This introductory lecture sets out the framework of Aristotle's view, as set forth in the lecture notes kept by his son and pupil, Nichomacheus....

31 min
Aristotle-The Highest Good
6: Aristotle-The Highest Good

Explore Aristotle's search for the "highest good." It is a search that takes you through his famous "function argument" and offers an explanation of the comprehensive state of being known as eudaimonea, the fully flourishing life that may well elude evaluation until long after death....

30 min
Aristotle-The Happy Life
7: Aristotle-The Happy Life

Your examination of Aristotle's ethical teachings concludes with his explanation of virtue, its key dimensions, and its necessary coupling with action. Special attention is also paid to the importance of friendship....

32 min
Job's Predicament-Life Is So Unfair
8: Job's Predicament-Life Is So Unfair

As you move to the Hebraic tradition, you grasp how the core question has shifted. Instead of seeking our answer in our relationship to the cosmos, as in the Indian tradition, or to society, as in that of the Greeks, the focus is now on our relationship to a personal God....

30 min
Job's Challenge-Who Are We?
9: Job's Challenge-Who Are We?

The book of Job brings an encounter with a troubling conclusion. Although life may indeed have meaning, it is a meaning shrouded by a mysterious divine, and we may need to live in ignorance of what that meaning may be....

32 min
Stoicism-Rationality and Acceptance
10: Stoicism-Rationality and Acceptance

Your focus moves to the beginnings of Stoic moral theory in the writings of Seneca and Epictetus. Their accounts of a good life describe one that is moderate, reasonable, and controlled, living in harmony with the universe and society, and accepting of the inevitability of death....

29 min
Human Finitude-The Epicurean Synthesis
11: Human Finitude-The Epicurean Synthesis

A brief introduction to Lucretius, the foremost Epicurean philosopher, serves as a gateway to the thought of Marcus Aurelius. Aurelius's Meditations synthesizes Stoic ideas about rational order and the importance of emotional control with Epicurean ideas about finitude and impermanence....

31 min
Confucius-Order in the Cosmos and in Life
12: Confucius-Order in the Cosmos and in Life

Your focus shifts to China and the ideas attributed to the man known to the West as Confucius. Hear what his teachings have to say about concepts like warm-heartedness, propriety, virtue, filial piety, the nature of the universe, and the achievement of an effortless excellence of character....

29 min
Daodejing-The Dao of Life and Spontaneity
13: Daodejing-The Dao of Life and Spontaneity

An exploration of a very different Chinese approach to understanding than that set forth in Confucianism begins with a cautionary demonstration of the startling differences in interpretation that will always be present among various translations of a text....

30 min
Daodejing-The Best Life Is a Simple Life
14: Daodejing-The Best Life Is a Simple Life

Some beautiful readings from the Daodejing bring out the profound differences in outlook that set it apart from Confucianism. Grasp how it turns away from social structures and the "cultivation" of individual excellence in favor of a simple, natural life....

31 min
Daodejing-Subtlety and Paradox
15: Daodejing-Subtlety and Paradox

Conclude your immersion in the Daodejing with this examination of some of its most important aspects. Take in its perspectives on the nature of the universe, the subtlety and suppleness of virtue, the value of "negativity," and the delicacy of life....

31 min
Zhuangzi on Daoism-Impermanence and Harmony
16: Zhuangzi on Daoism-Impermanence and Harmony

Your exploration of Daoism ends with its longest classical text, the Zhuangzi. You find not only the themes of spontaneity and the suspicion of logic, but also ridicule of the Confucian emphasis on ritual, propriety, and rigid relationships....

32 min
The Teachings of the Buddha
17: The Teachings of the Buddha

This lecture begins with the search for enlightenment by a young Indian prince and concludes with an introduction to what he found-the so-called Four Noble Truths, including the eightfold path to sharing that enlightenment....

32 min
Santideva-Mahayana Buddhism
18: Santideva-Mahayana Buddhism

Here you begin your study of one of the major evolutions in Buddhist thought, the Mahayana, and one of its major texts-Santideva's Bodhicaryavatara-a "how-to" manual for leading an enlightened life....

32 min
Santideva-Transforming the Mind
19: Santideva-Transforming the Mind

Enhance your grasp of Mahayana Buddhism and Santideva's description of the meaningful life, achieved only through the "six perfections"-the pursuit of generosity, propriety, patience, effort, meditation, and wisdom....

31 min
Zen-The Moon in a Dewdrop and Impermanence
20: Zen-The Moon in a Dewdrop and Impermanence

Expand your understanding of Buddhism with an introduction to Zen. This path to Buddhahood is aimed at direct transformation. Knowledge is handed directly from mind to mind, with great emphasis placed on a teacher-disciple lineage that each Zen master can trace directly to Zen's originating moment....

32 min
Zen-Being-Time and Primordial Awakening
21: Zen-Being-Time and Primordial Awakening

This lecture takes you through Zen concepts like duality and non-duality, perception and conception, Dogen's presentation of time as the very nature of our world, and what is required to reawaken our primordial Buddha-nature....

32 min
Taking Stock of the Classical World
22: Taking Stock of the Classical World

A look back at the classical traditions studied thus far reveals that although there is no unanimity, there are common dimensions, as well as a consensus about the value of a virtuoso life attained through contemplation and practice....

31 min
Hume's Skepticism and the Place of God
23: Hume's Skepticism and the Place of God

European modernity brings the first challenges of science and reason to the primacy of theology. David Hume argues that, although theism may well be reasonable, it cannot be rational, establishing the foundation for separate public and private spheres....

32 min
Hume's Careless and Compassionate Vision
24: Hume's Careless and Compassionate Vision

You explore Hume's distinctions between Nature and Second Nature, the importance of our social lives to our cognitive lives, and the key roles our passions and imagination play in our beliefs and actions....

31 min
Kant-Immaturity and the Challenge to Know
25: Kant-Immaturity and the Challenge to Know

The work of Immanuel Kant is considered the demarcation line for modern academic philosophy. Here you take up Kant's view of the Enlightenment as a call for people to emerge from their self-imposed immaturity and realize their nature as fully formed human beings....

30 min
Mill's Call to Individuality and to Liberty
26: Mill's Call to Individuality and to Liberty

Readings from John Stuart Mill's On Liberty reveal the first purely individualistic doctrine of the meaning of life encountered in the course. Mill presents the strongest possible defense of the connection between a meaningful life and a liberal social order....

32 min
Tolstoy-Is Everyday Life the Real Thing?
27: Tolstoy-Is Everyday Life the Real Thing?

A novella by Tolstoy presents a very different and critical view of modernity, suggesting that its values of secularization and mass society invariably lead us, in fact, to a life that is meaningless....

31 min
Nietzsche-Twilight of the Idols
28: Nietzsche-Twilight of the Idols

Nietzsche initiates postmodernism in philosophy-its first sustained attack on modernity. Through readings from his Twilight of the Idols, you grasp Nietzsche's dismissal of modernity's core values, including philosophical progress, reason, systematicity, god, and transcendent value....

30 min
Nietzsche-Achieving Authenticity
29: Nietzsche-Achieving Authenticity

Nietzsche's repudiation of modernity's concept of a meaningful life does not mean he lacks his own. This lecture presents his vision of life as a successful creative act on a grand scale, with oneself as the hero of a great autobiography....

30 min
Gandhi-Satyagraha and Holding Fast to Truth
30: Gandhi-Satyagraha and Holding Fast to Truth

Your introduction to the thought of Gandhi reveals him as even more radical than Nietzsche. Although a realization of Gandhi's views would admittedly sacrifice many of modernity's benefits, including much of technology, medicine, and law, it is a price he says we must be willing to pay....

31 min
Gandhi-The Call to a Supernormal Life
31: Gandhi-The Call to a Supernormal Life

Gandhi's own life serves as an example of the supernormal life he advocates. See how his argument for what he believes to be the only meaningful life includes echoes from almost every text we've examined....

31 min
Lame Deer-Life Enfolded in Symbols
32: Lame Deer-Life Enfolded in Symbols

Readings from Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions offer a different vantage point for seeking meaning: a symbolic view of life. It is not that modernity lacks its own symbolism or is without meaning, says this Lakota Sioux holy man, but that it means the wrong things....

28 min
Lame Deer-Our Place in a Symbolic World
33: Lame Deer-Our Place in a Symbolic World

Go deeper into Lame Deer's critique of modernity, examining his ideas about the impact of money and our fetishism about it, the alienation from nature it brings about, and modernity's simultaneous denial and spreading of death....

33 min
HH Dalai Lama XIV-A Modern Buddhist View
34: HH Dalai Lama XIV-A Modern Buddhist View

You are introduced to the Dalai Lama's Buddhist-inflected but very modern, secular vision about the universal human goal of happiness. You learn its components and the relationship between their pursuit and the interconnectedness of human life....

32 min
HH Dalai Lama XIV-Discernment and Happiness
35: HH Dalai Lama XIV-Discernment and Happiness

A vigorous discussion of how to achieve happiness reveals how the Dalai Lama's views of a meaningful life, modern as they are, also contain a deep traditionalist thread. We must still commit to the bodhisattva path, the altruistic aspiration to attain awakening for the benefit of all....

32 min
So, What Is the Meaning of Life?
36: So, What Is the Meaning of Life?

Tempting as it may be to form a single answer agreed on by all, there is none to be found. What is clear is that there are recurrent themes, with the answer that works for you likely to be found among them....

34 min
Jay L. Garfield

The beauty of 'doing' philosophy is that we don't have to make yes-or-no choices.


University of Pittsburgh


Smith College

About Jay L. Garfield

Dr. Jay L. Garfield is Doris Silbert Professor in the Humanities, Professor of Philosophy, and director of both the Logic Program and of the Five College Tibetan Studies in India Program at Smith College. The holder of a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Pittsburgh, Professor Garfield also serves on the faculties of the University of Massachusetts, Melbourne University in Australia, and the Central University of Tibetan Studies in India. A specialist in the philosophy of mind, foundations of cognitive science, logic, philosophy of language, Buddhist philosophy, cross-cultural hermeneutics, theoretical and applied ethics, and epistemology, he has been widely honored by fellow scholars. Professor Garfield has written more than 100 scholarly articles and reviews and has written or edited, alone and with colleagues, more than 15 books, including Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way: Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika (2002); Empty Words: Buddhist Philosophy and Cross-Cultural Interpretation (2006); Buddhist Philosophy: Essential Readings (2009); Pointing at the Moon: Buddhism, Logic, Analysis (2009); Trans-Buddhism: Transmission, Translation and Transformation (2009); Moonshadows: Conventional Truth in Buddhist Philosophy (2010); and The Oxford Handbook of World Philosophy (2010).

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