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The Meaning of Life: Perspectives from the World's Great Intellectual Traditions | [The Great Courses]

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

What is the meaning of life?It's a question every thoughtful person has pondered at one time or another. Indeed, it may be the biggest question of all-at once profound and universal, but also deeply personal.We want to understand the world in which we live, but we also want to understand how to make our own lives as meaningful as possible; to know not only why we're living, but that we're doing it with intention, purpose, and ethical commitment.
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Publisher's Summary

What is the meaning of life?

It's a question every thoughtful person has pondered at one time or another. Indeed, it may be the biggest question of all - at once profound and universal, but also deeply personal.

We want to understand the world in which we live, but we also want to understand how to make our own lives as meaningful as possible; to know not only why we're living, but that we're doing it with intention, purpose, and ethical commitment. But how, exactly, do we find that meaning, and develop that commitment? How can we grasp why we are here? Or how we should proceed? And to whom, exactly, we should listen as we shape the path we will walk? This comprehensive 36-lecture series from a much-honored scholar is an invigorating way to begin or continue your pursuit of these questions, and it requires no previous background in philosophical or religious thought.

It offers a rigorous and wide-ranging exploration of what various spiritual, religious, and philosophical traditions from both the East and West have contributed to this profound line of questioning, sharing insights from sources that include ancient Indian texts, such as:

  • The Bhagavad-Gita
  • Foundational Chinese texts like the Daodejing and the Chuang Tzu
  • Classical Western texts, such as Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics and Marcus Aurelius's Meditations
  • Modern philosophers and writers like David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Leo Tolstoy
  • The unique perspectives offered by Native Americans, in this case, the Lakota Sioux medicine man and writer, John Lame Deer
  • More recent and contemporary philosophers, such as Mohandas Gandhi and the Dalai Lama
    • Disclaimer: Please note that this recording may include references to supplemental texts or print references that are not essential to the program and not supplied with your purchase.

      ©2011 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2011 The Great Courses

What Members Say

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  •  
    George 03-12-14
    George 03-12-14 Member Since 2013
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Thoughtful, Evenhanded, Precise, and Well Spoken"

    This lecture series discusses The Bhagavad Gita, Aristotle, The Book of Job, Stoicism (including Epictetus, Seneca, Lucretius, and Marcus Aurelius), Confucius, The Dao De Jing (including Zhuangzi), Buddhist teachings (including Santideva and Zen), Hume, Kant, Mill, Tolstoy, Nietzsche, Gandhi, Lame Deer, and the Dalai Lama. He concentrates on bringing out what each subject has to say particularly on the meaning of life, and he always reminds the listener of themes that we have heard in previous lectures and how they compare to the current lecture. He took every perspective seriously, and during each lecture I felt he was making a great case for each viewpoint. He respects Nietzsche and Gandhi equally. He is calm yet engaging speaker. One revelation I had was the difference in how the ancient world generally understands the meaning of life as opposed to the modern world. I got a lot out of listening, and may listen again after a few months. If I were to guess, I would guess he gives slightly more time to compassion/nature of self, but he gives almost equal time to other topics such as the aesthetic/creative and knowledge/progress ideas of the good life.

    10 of 11 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jason USA 08-18-13
    Jason USA 08-18-13 Member Since 2012
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    "So far this is my favorite Audible purchase"
    What about Professor Jay L. Garfield’s performance did you like?

    He is excellent. His voice does reminded me a little bit of a nerdy professor at first, but his enthusiasm and passion for the the subject matter has blown me away. I think he's my favorite narrator that I've come accross to date. I just wish I would have stumbled across him before moving, as I lived not too far from where he teaches.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    No. There is a lot of material covered in each lecture. I can't do too many at once, as each topic needs a little time for reflection. ...although on occasion I do want to push myself and see how many I can do back to back.


    Any additional comments?

    Jay Garfield makes an excellent performance in these lectures. He is fascinated by the material he is covering, and seems to love each topic he covers. Each lecture is between 30 and 45 minutes, which is just about perfect. So far, he has kept my interest for every lecture. I admit, I'm only 15 hours in, but I had to come online and see if he narrates anything else.... unfortunately, it doesn't look like he does at the moment.

    Each lecture gives a brief overview of the various world religeons and major philosophies. The purpose isn't to tell you what the meaning of life is, but rather to discuss some of the major world ideas about the meaning of life - not just in respect to religion, but also from a philisophic viewpoint as well.

    Overall, I'm thrilled with this purchase, which is why I wrote this review. A+ on all counts.

    11 of 13 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Davide 07-17-13
    Davide 07-17-13
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Really awesome"

    Disclaimer: I'm not a professional reviewer, and this is my first review.

    I must admit I listened only to the first 4 lectures of this course, and I felt the need to write a review. I was really pleasantly surprised by the level of scholarship and professionalism professor Garfield displays. I knew and was familiar with many concepts Professor Garfield explains, but the way he explains them, the repetition he makes, and the explanation of the etymology of single words makes this course a must have.
    I'm also going slow into listening the material, because Professor Garfield emphasizes some concepts, and convey some ideas which are really rich, and most of all spiritual.
    Some of these ideas In order to be "digested" need quite some time, and many ideas leave me totally absorbed by the implications. And of course the comparison with ideas/concepts from western theology.
    So one of the goals of this review is to thank Professor Garfield for explaining the material so well, and of course for being so thorough.

    I'm truly happy that Audible and the Great Courses started this partnership. Because it was something missing, and now I can enjoy all these great professors, and their knowledge.

    14 of 17 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John Campbell Winnipeg, Canada 11-24-14
    John Campbell Winnipeg, Canada 11-24-14 Member Since 2003
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "The Biggest Question in Life Explored Brilliantly"

    Jay L. Garfield is a wise and thoughtful guide to the philosophical exploration of the greatest question in life. Just what is the meaning of life?

    He discusses the meaning of the question in the first place and then goes on to discuss a broad range of philosophers and traditions as he helps us understand the different approaches. I was impressed with the course right from the beginning and that positive impression only grew as I listened to the entire course.

    Jay Garfield is passionate, humble, and respectful in his teaching. He covers a broad range of thinkers and links them nicely. He paints a broad landscape of the majesty of philosophy when it helps us explore the meaning of our individual and social human experience.

    The course was not short and it covered a lot of material, but the pace was excellent. I learned a great deal, but would be happy to hear a lot more of Jay Garfield. A great Audible program for anyone interested in the big picture of human life - highly recommended. Jay Garfield is a brilliant teacher who shares his passion as much as his knowledge.

    This would be a great course for anyone wanting to dip their toe into philosophy. I expect that it would encourage many to plunge in after that first dip.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    BryanW 04-05-14
    BryanW 04-05-14 Member Since 2010
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    "Prime examples of meaningful life Philosophically"

    The lecturer gives an amazing overview of the meaning of life from early Greeks to modernity. Each set is historical and then philosophical by turn. The ways of thinking of our lives are ably and interestingly compared by the lecturer. I was often thrilled by the parallels between the ideas. This is an excellent series for philosophy that isn't overwhelming (mostly).

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dave Monrovia, CA, United States 12-14-13
    Dave Monrovia, CA, United States 12-14-13
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    "Really enjoyed it"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Yes, it was presented in a enthusiastic manner and well structured. This is my first philosophy audio course and it seemed like great place to start.


    What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

    The subject matter is the most compelling aspect.


    What about Professor Jay L. Garfield’s performance did you like?

    His ability to compare and contrast the various philosophies and present them relative to each other. Also, his ability to bring attention to the why certain ideas are important for each philosopher, and how those ideas fit into history.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    Many of the lectures were moving (it is about the meaning of life afer all). The lecture on Tolstoy made me purchase and listen to the Death of Ivan Illyich, so I guess you could say that one had an impact on me.


    2 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    sigrun Stavanger, Norway 09-10-13
    sigrun Stavanger, Norway 09-10-13 Member Since 2012

    reader & writer

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "First class philosophy"

    Teaching philosophy is challenging, in the form of an audiobook even more so. For how can one make complicated reflections into simple sentences? I don't know! But I do know that this is what Garfield does in this audiobook. He makes deep thinking comprehensible, he makes philosophy matter!
    If you're looking for the meaning of life - well, go ahead, listen to this!

    3 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Tom Iwanski 06-27-14
    Tom Iwanski 06-27-14 Member Since 2012
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    "Well done"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Yes I do, and I have. For the person who is looking for a thoughtful and well presented survey of philosophical traditions, this book is ideal.


    What did you like best about this story?

    The theme was presented consistently across diverse philosophical traditions across the centuries.


    What about Professor Jay L. Garfield’s performance did you like?

    Professor Garfield's passion for the topic is obvious in his presentation of the different traditions. He is even handed in his assessment and his personal biases were not obvious. I really liked his selection of readings from the texts and his appreciation for the artistic beauty of the writing.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    No way - it took weeks. Even though I was very interested in the subject matter, I listened one lecture at a time and would at times repeat lectures if I felt I hadn't absorbed the material.


    Any additional comments?

    This book was a great fit for me. I found it enlightening and thought provoking, and the presentation by Prof. Garfield was well done.

    1 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Apoiuwerhpga 12-06-14
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    13
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    "Same problem as with all Great Courses"

    Great Courses uses "time stretch" software to speed the narration so that their audio courses can be compressed into shorter time. It makes for uncomfortable listening because nobody talks that fast in real life.

    As a consequence, I have to purchase my own "time stretch" software to revert Great Courses to a more natural tempo, so that speech is slow enough that I can listen without discomfort. That is not always possible, however, because Audible.com uses its own proprietary audio format to prevent unauthorized copying. That restriction is a major nuisance because sometimes a person, like me, as a legitimate need to copy and to modify an audio book. It is for the reason that I just explained.

    I have listened to numerous audio books, manufactured by Great Courses - i.e. The Teaching Company. In nearly every instance, they all suffer the same problem. The narrator talks too fast for a listener's comfort.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mark Normal, IL, United States 12-24-13
    Mark Normal, IL, United States 12-24-13 Member Since 2003
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Selling a point of view"
    Would you try another book from The Great Courses and/or Professor Jay L. Garfield?

    NO


    What was most disappointing about The Great Courses’s story?

    Great until the end when he used philosophers to sell a point of view. I enjoy OBJECTIVE history. This book DOES NOT meet that objective. I do not like attempts to manipulate me.


    What about Professor Jay L. Garfield’s performance did you like?

    The first 75% of the book was good.


    You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

    Yes ... it was really good for a while.


    Any additional comments?

    Big disappointment near the end. Very SELECTIVE in choice of philosophers as well as points to be considered. I know this is always true but seemed obvious to me that instructor was selling his own viewpoint.

    7 of 25 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 1-10 of 11 results PREVIOUS12NEXT
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  • BabaOne
    9/20/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Insights into life's puzzles"
    Where does The Meaning of Life: Perspectives from the World's Great Intellectual Traditions rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    My favourite audio book so far.


    What did you like best about this story?

    The variety of teachers and perspectives offer both great and subtle insights into the meaning of existence and our place in the puzzle.


    Which scene did you most enjoy?

    The early chapters and the last two were the most enlightening.


    Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    No, but it made see where I have/had holes in whole.


    Any additional comments?

    This book won't give you the answer to the meaning of life straight away, but it will offer you a way to see where you need to lay down your baggage and pick up new ways of thinking. It's well presented and easy to listen to. I really enjoy this work, and I never tire of listening to it.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • David
    Lichfield, United Kingdom
    9/6/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Life-changingly fantastic"
    What about Professor Jay L. Garfield’s performance did you like?

    His very clear passion and love of the subject


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    The second climax of the bhavadgita, the description of daoism, and understanding the zen notion of impermanence


    Any additional comments?

    Thoroughly recommended. Probably my favorite great courses series so far (out of about 10)

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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