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LUISS Guido Carli

The meaning of life is in critical thought

Professor Maffettone and his new publication with LUISS University Press

Maffettone Il valore della vita LUISS University Press

 “What really matters, and why?” This is the question behind Il valore della vita, the most recent publication from Sebastiano Maffettone, LUISS professor of Political Philosophy, published by LUISS University Press

“The book’s title (the meaning of life) is too ambitious to be real, it’s obvious that nobody knows the true purpose of life,” explains Professor Maffettone. “What we do know is that such a central theme is hardly mentioned in Western thought, while it is far more discussed in Indian and Chinese philosophy. Art and religion offer a more direct approach than philosophy, however, philosophy manages to handle its complexities in a deeper way. Philosophy takes longer, but through deep reflection, finds better answers.”

“Twenty years after its first publication, the book supports the idea that there is no immediate evidence to understanding the meaning of life, but plural and personal interpretations. “My theory is that the true meaning of life is thinking about life. According to Socrates, the unexamined life is not worth living. This critical choice doesn’t rely on one’s first intuition but aims to connect everything, to build a reflection between subjective and objective, through ethics and metaphysics.”

valore della vita LUISS University Press

The book’s aim is to reach the widest audience possible, addressing those from outside the world of philosophy. “All  20th century Western philosophies were based on anti-metaphysics. However, the way I see it, metaphysics and continuous speculation must never be left aside. There are so many ways to look at the world, and each has good reason behind its understanding of life. I feel like pluralism is a part of the world’s structure. It’s not accident, it’s the rule.”

If in the classic world, society sought a single reality, today the only conceivable way is intrinsic pluralism. “On one hand, ethics has a subjective value and always entails intrinsic pluralism. On the other hand, there is an objective component of meaning as an organic unit: the sum of all its parts is inferior to the whole. Life is measured in totality and not in single parts, much like orchestra music. Aristotle’s well-being as self-realization (Eudaimonia), thought for an ancient world with a few privileged people, is still relevant due to the basic disassociation that it offers. We seek to understand what we want in life but we don’t expect an objective and universal response.”

Even literature helps deal with the complexity of the problem. The stories and writings of Lev Tolstoj reoccur several times in the book, connecting research on the meaning of life to the experience of death. “The anecdote about Tolstoj running away from home at 82 shows us that dramatic life decisions can happen at any age, not just in youth. Already in The Death of Ivan Ilych, we can see profound reflection on the death of a man, that is always subjective and very personal. Death must be coherent with the principles a man followed in his life, like the death of Socrates, who chose to respect the principles he believed in, even when it meant dying for them. What other proof do we have to evaluate the meaning of life besides what we accomplished and preached during it?”

The final section of the book is dedicated to analyzing cases in which ethics and politics meet. “There is nothing intuitive in bioethics, and there are no easy solutions,” concludes Professor Maffettone. “The truth is that every decision in life is political because it involves making a choice. Nobody knows what and how a life can be defined as one, and those who claim to be certain for intuition are wrong. Science never says things like that. Only ethical-political decisions can do so. It is essential to balance interests and values before making any political decisions, remembering when possible, the idea that it should be those who face the consequences of the law to decide on it.”