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

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

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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
    • PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

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

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  •  
    George 03-12-14
    George 03-12-14 Member Since 2017
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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.

    32 of 33 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John Campbell Winnipeg, Canada 11-24-14
    John Campbell Winnipeg, Canada 11-24-14 Member Since 2003
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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.

    14 of 15 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jason USA 08-18-13
    Jason USA 08-18-13 Member Since 2017
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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.

    19 of 22 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Davide 07-17-13
    Davide 07-17-13
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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.

    23 of 28 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Marc 07-03-17
    Marc 07-03-17
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    "hard to rate fair: Light and Shadow, but good ..."
    Would you be willing to try another book from The Great Courses? Why or why not?

    I am torn ... I fully agree with those critics that value Mr. Garfield's respect towards various religious ideas. Yet, I feel like most of the times this respect keeps him from the necessary (read: scientific) "critical approach" to ideas. He does get into some very careful, "soft" critics at times when he puts various ideas next to each other, trying some superficial comparison. But ... every single lecture made me scream out: He, that's a claim you can't proof, if you (believers in a certain religion or philosophy) base your perspective on the world on THAT assumption, we are having a communication problem! Unfortunately I cannot DISCUSS what Mr. Garfield reports as the respective beliefs, so I am left frustrated. And this is exactly my problem with most of the "Great" Courses: Anyone even slightly interested in the respective topic will always have questions, different points of views or, sometimes (not necessarily in this course, but still) more up-to-date information than the lecturer. With the lectures usually being very, very "light", only barely scratching surfaces, you usually just shrug and go home. That's unfortunate - because: THE MEANING OF LIFE sounds like an important topic. This course hasn't answered the question about it, though.


    Have you listened to any of Professor Jay L. Garfield’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    Mr. Garfield speaks very slowly, at times almost "sad". His pronunciation is easy to understand, although at times a bit distracting. I listened at 1.5 speed and found it more comfortable than default speed.


    If you could give The Meaning of Life: Perspectives from the World's Great Intellectual Traditions a new subtitle, what would it be?

    How to replace the title with something completely different :-). The problem is: Mr. Garfield starts the course by almost immediately replacing the question "what is the meaning of life" with the question "how do you lead a meaningful life". Obviously the two phrases do NOT address the same topic at all, with the one being somewhat universal, the other being completely individually weighted. With the "answers" given by most of the religions and philosophies discussed in this course being debatable (to say the least) and in no way "universal" or "timeless", this makes the course somewhat meaningless (pun intended). If all the "meaning of life" is about is to "lead a meaningful life", you can just define your personal meaning of life and by aligning your life to that - personal - meaning, you fulfilled your goal: Living a "meaningful" life. That definitely is not enough to answer the original question.


    Any additional comments?

    On the topic of "His Holyness": While I do agree on Mr. Garfield paying respect to the beliefs he discusses, I felt like laughing when the last few chapters insisted in calling someone "his Holyness". Don't get me wrong: Everyone can call herself "holy", I don't mind at all! But either something IS holy, then you don't need to ADDRESS it that way (because how you address it doesn't change the fact that it is holy) or it is NOT. Then, if it is not holy, addressing it as holy does not MAKE it holy. To me this "game" of calling something or someone "holy" (not for you, personally, where it is absolutely fine, but as a "generally acclaimed FACT") is childish in the worst meaning of the word. This painted the respect Mr. Garfield showed somewhat shallow for me. On the topic of "debatable": I said above that every lecture left me crying for a discussion. Obviously this is not the place to start such discussions, but let me give some examples: If one religion/belief claims that "what makes a wheel work is not the hub in its center, but the HOLE in the hub - it's the ABSENCE of something that makes the something work!", then every CHILD has to ask: But how could the hole be there if it wasn't for the hub in the first place? What is a hole without its rim (read K. Tucholsky on that one)? If the hole by itself could make the wheel work, why do you NEED a wheel, obviously the hole alone would do. As it seems, it is the BALANCE, the existence of BOTH - hub AND HOLE - that makes the wheel work. Neglecting the need for SOMETHING in order to make the NOTHINGNESS meaningful seems rather stupid. NOTE: I do not SAY it is stupid! I say it SOUNDS stupid - so I really would need some discussion on that! If most religions/philosophies - according to Mr. Garfield - claim that "if you don't understand this, then you are stupid" (which seems to be the case according to this course), I feel like it doesn't MATTER what they think the meaning of life is. Because if I cannot UNDERSTAND the meaning of life, that meaning has no MEANING to me - logically. So their answer is completely irrelevant to me. That is a very sad outcome of centuries of philosophical debate, I would say! What I MISSED in the course was an attempt to answer the question "IS there a meaning of life?" Or: "Does life REQUIRE a meaning?" Or "Why do we look for meaning when just LIVING would do perfectly fine, as every cat can tell?" No, this is not ironic. I missed the fundamental question - and its answer.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jeanette Florida 11-27-15
    Jeanette Florida 11-27-15 Member Since 2014
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    "Wow"

    What a (mostly) comprehensive examination of many of the great thinkers and traditions of faith and philosophy, explained in an engaging way that makes complex ideas clear without underestimating his listeners. I truly enjoyed and learned from this, and would love to have given this 5 stars across the board, but for two items. First, this exploration is really more accurately an exploration of "How to live a meaningful life", not "What is the meaning of life" - those two concepts intertwine but are not identical, and most of this series explores the former more than the latter. And second, I am surprised that he included no Christian thinker or philosophy. He looks at Job from the Old Testament, but to leave out Jesus (and the radical philosophy he brought to the time), seems to be a significant omission. I would have liked to hear Garfield speak on that, and to set that thought tradition alongside that of Buddha, the Bhagavad-Gita, Gandhi, Tolstoy, Kant, and others.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    satya 08-04-15
    satya 08-04-15 Member Since 2016
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    "From Aristotle to Dalai lama. What an eye opener!"

    This is my first foray into philosophy and what a foray it was!

    This is such an eye opener of a course. Professor Garfield is equally passionate about the old and the new; the east and the west. Some sections like the Confucius and the Dao perspectives feel incomprehensible, but they reward you very well in the end, if you have the patience.

    The best part of the book was the modern and the post modern philosophies. I really loved Tolstoy and Gandhi. I believe that's where my perspective lies.

    For the past few years I was struggling with religion and its place in my life. I was debating whether I was an agnostic or an atheist. But now I know that I am neither and I am both. I might even be religious and may once in a while believe in god. After listening to this lecture I believe this dichotomy should persist in me and I will not allow myself to be boxed in to one perspective.

    I am one and I am all.

    6 of 8 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.


    8 of 11 people found this review helpful
  •  
    sigrun Stavanger, Norway 09-10-13
    sigrun Stavanger, Norway 09-10-13 Member Since 2012
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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!

    8 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    The Critic 05-04-15
    The Critic 05-04-15
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    "Superb"

    I would highly recommend this audiobook. Very well researched and presented. Life changing really. Now I need to listen to it again!

    4 of 6 people found this review helpful
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  • 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)

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  • mr.andrius
    erith, United Kingdom
    2/25/15
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "great stuff"

    really liked it. story is fasinating,narrator is supurb. it is my first review of any audiobook,so its says it all.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • SA
    7/18/15
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Absolute joy to hear Professor and his thoughts"
    If you could sum up The Meaning of Life: Perspectives from the World's Great Intellectual Traditions in three words, what would they be?

    Widen your horizon!


    What was one of the most memorable moments of The Meaning of Life: Perspectives from the World's Great Intellectual Traditions?

    Loved the delivery of the course. Each chapter gives you so much to absorb and so much to think about. It covers the different traditions and life of meaning in each of the traditions discussed.


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

    Discussions about death and life cycle.


    Any additional comments?

    Highly recommended. I have heard this book twice and would love to go through it again in some time. There is some new meaning you can find on each read.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Tomé
    7/14/15
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Best one yet"

    I'm seriously addicted to these courses as I'm sure loads of people are and this is the best I've heard so far out of 20 or so.

    In terms of delivery: Jay Garfield gives excellent summaries of each philosophy he talks about and has left me wanting to read up on every thinker he discussed.

    In terms of content: I had no idea how inspiring this would be. Listen for yourself!

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • 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.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Amazon Customer
    6/9/17
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Enriched and inspired"

    I enjoyed this course so much. Jay Garfield communicates his excitement for the subject with carefully drawn portraits of thought around life's meaning from different thinkers. I was reintroduced to familiar texts with a fresh approach, and I learned some fascinating aspects of other world figures that leaves me both wanting to know more and inspired to personal change. So pleased I listened to this course. 😀

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Isam
    London,UK
    2/2/17
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "absolutely fantastic course, I fully enjoyed it an"

    fully enjoyed it, the narrator has a clear voice and a very good style of teaching.Everything is simplified and given in manageable chunks

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Jane
    5/15/16
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Wonderful overview of the world's greatest thinkers."

    These lectures make the world of philosophy accessible and exciting. The brilliant explanation make this a truly excellent course.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • a addison
    3/29/16
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "interesting course"

    course brings East and west traditions to life makes you want to read the texts

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Ian
    2/18/16
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Heavy"
    What did you like most about The Meaning of Life: Perspectives from the World's Great Intellectual Traditions?

    It's extremely digestible, for such a heavy course.


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

    No, its a book to savour, chunk by chunk.


    Any additional comments?

    Lots of great chapters, but the Book of Job and the Mahabharata are standouts. The concepts are so clearly explained that you can actually grapple with them.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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