Pre-College Programs

« Return to Course Catalog

The Meaning of Life

Course enrollment will be available for this course once it is scheduled.

View related courses »

Course Description

There may be no single question more important than this: What is the meaning of life? It’s a question we all face, and finding an answer is urgent. Is there even such a thing? If so, is it something outside of us or something we have to give to ourselves? In trying to find answers, we will discuss issues ranging from purpose and fulfillment to happiness and death. By taking this course, you will gain the ability to understand and engage with philosophical texts, apply ideas to real and fictional situations, and (hopefully) achieve a broader understanding of the surrounding world and your place in it.

The question of the meaning of life is no more and no less than the question of why "and if so, how" we should go on. At a time in your lives when you’re facing real decisions about what to devote your life to, finding an answer to this question is more crucial than it has ever been.

First, it’s important to get a handle on what the question is. We’ll discuss what it is that we’re asking and what we assume in posing the question at all.

We will then try to determine how the imminence of death relates to the meaning of life and the possibility of achieving happiness or meaning. This will force us to confront three existentialist challenges: absurdity, pessimism, and nihilism.

Finally, many have tried to escape these conclusions by offering what they take to be the one true meaning of life, or by suggesting that we can each forge our own meaning. We’ll discuss to what extent these suggestions succeed or fail.

Since everyone thinks about the meaning of life, the course will integrate views from a wide range of sources: from classic philosophical texts and poetry to graduation speeches, comics, and self-help books.

This question may be more important than it has ever been before, but it will continue to be as important as it is now. In this course, you will develop an understanding of the basic issues and be able to think more clearly about potential answers. You may not come out with a definitive view about the meaning of life, but you will come out with something more valuable: the tools to continue thinking about and answering the question for the rest of your life.

youtube instagram