Source: pp 95 and 101, What Does It All Mean? A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy (1987) by Prof. Thomas Nagel.
This question assumes 2 below; if 2 is false, then I can understand that 1 is false.

 Perhaps you have had the thought that nothing really matters, because in two hundred years we'll all be dead. This is a peculiar thought, because it's not clear [1.] why the fact that we'll be dead in two hundred years should imply that nothing we do now really matters. [End of 1]
 The idea seems to be that we are in some kind of rat race, struggling to achieve our goals and make something of our lives, but that this makes sense only if those achievements will be permanent. But they won't be. [2.] Even if you produce a great work of literature which continues to be read thousands of years from now, eventually the solar system will cool or the universe will wind down or collapse, and all trace of your efforts will vanish. [🔚] In any case, we can't hope for even a fraction of this sort of immortality. If there's any point at all to what we do, we have to find it within our own lives.

[p 101:]   Some people find this attitude perfectly satisfying. Others find it depressing, though unavoidable. Part of the problem is that some of us have an incurable tendency to take ourselves seriously. We want to matter to ourselves "from the outside." If our lives as a whole seem pointless, then a part of us is dissatisfied -- the part that is always looking over our shoulders at what we are doing. Many human efforts, particularly those in the service of serious ambitions rather than just comfort and survival, get some of their energy from a sense of importance -- a sense that what you are doing is not just important to you, but important in some larger sense: important, period. If we have to give this up, it may threaten to take the wind out of our sails. [3.] If life is not real, life is not earnest, and the grave is its goal, perhaps it's ridiculous to take ourselves so seriously. On the other hand, if we can't help taking ourselves so seriously, perhaps we just have to put up with being ridiculous. Life may be not only meaningless but absurd. [🔚]

  1. If 2 is true, then how is 1 'not clear'?

  2. Does the author change his opinion about 1, in 3? 1 appears contradicted by 3.

  • Can you explain in a little more detail what problems you're having with [1] and [2]? Because I'm not sure I understand your question 3. As for p. 101, can you provide more relevant context? perhaps the previous paragraph(s)?
    – E...
    May 14, 2016 at 23:54
  • Value is an object of the subject. The subject is you. If your life, or aspects of your life matter to you, then they matter. If they don't, they don't. In the long-run your life will be inconsequential, but in the short-term it is most definitely not.
    – Cdn_Dev
    May 15, 2016 at 0:27
  • 1
    It's not really a contradiction because he is expressing doubt in both 1 and 3. If you believe that life is just an evolutionary accident, then logically there is no meaning. However, people really do believe that life is meaningful, and I believe that it is for that reason that he is expressing doubt.
    – user3017
    May 15, 2016 at 3:01
  • @EliranH 5. I cited more from p 101. 6. My question: If the all life will be annihilated and destroyed ultimately, then why is 1 'not clear' (i.e. why is it 'not clear' that nothing matters)?
    – user8572
    May 15, 2016 at 3:34
  • I don't see contradiction for [1] and [3] : the author consider the possibility that life is meaningless. He states that the link between : "everything will disappear" and "life is meaningless" is not clear. That's the [1]. In [2] he only express why the statement "everything will disappear" is true in his opinion.
    – JSFDude
    May 15, 2016 at 6:55

4 Answers 4


This question really only arises for man as he is self-conscious and can see past the moment of now; so for all other forms of life - most life on this earth - this question does not arise.

Heidegger tackles this question in many places; essentially the meaning of life lies in the living of life - its doing; this is at the root of existentialism.

This is why existentialism adopts the slogan that essence follows existence; the essence of what we are, the meaning of our life lies in what we do; its generally signalled by the adjective becoming.


In [2] the author states that there is a notion among people that their achievements should be permanent even though it won't. In [1] he is trying to assert that this is a peculiar notion because, it is not clear (or we don't know) "why does this notion imply that just because things aren't permanent then it is not important?"


everything is meaningless even our being this leaves one question why does anything matter in life: here is my answer nothing matter in life u can do anything u want unless u dont hurt others which leads to u being punished if u alright with that then u can go do anything but u still got the sense of enjoyment in ur DNA so might as well just go and make a good use of it, it dose not matter but u will become happy for a moment


1 is initially unclear --it's a statement that Nagel claims many people believe in a kind of fuzzy, general way, but without explicitly connecting the dots.

2 is Nagel's attempt to give the strongest possible argument for 1. This is proper philosophical technique. If you don't do this, you're arguing against a strawman. Nagel is not endorsing 2 or 1, but he does feel that 2 is the strongest possible argument for 1.

3 expands upon the problematic implications of 1 and 2, presumably in preparation for Nagel to launch a counterargument.

In summary, Nagel is not arguing for 1, 2 or 3, therefore he is not changing his mind in these passages. Instead, he is doing his best to give a fair outline of a position with which he disagrees.

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