AUTUMN 2019: THIS LIFE
How are we to think about the fact that we (probably) only have this life? One popular response to this post-religious insight is captured in the lifestyle acronym “YOLO”. The idea is that as you only live once you should seize the day, tick off all the items on your bucket list, and so on. Despite this acronym no doubt inspiring many good things, it has, at best, extremely limited revolutionary potential.
For Martin Hägglund, by contrast, there is no more serious fact than that of our finitude, and it is upon this insight that he builds the incredibly rich and ambitious philosophical picture in his recent book, This Life: Why Mortality Makes Us Free. Hägglund rejects any notion that a secular life rooted in our finitude somehow falls short in comparison to the religious idea of an eternal life. Through sustained critical engagements with powerful narratives such as Max Weber’s hypothesis of the post-religious “disenchanted world”, Hägglund undermines the idea that we humans are condemned to yearn for the eternal and to experience our finitude as a form of captivity. It is in fact only our finitude itself, he argues, that can serve as the basis for finding meaning in life. Deeply rooted in a dialogue with philosophical, literary, political, and religious traditions, This Life reminds us of what philosophy can aspire to. I am delighted that Hägglund agreed to take part in an extended discussion of his book, with a wonderful set of responses from Frederick Neuhouser and Lea Ypi, and Jensen Suther.
Finitude has two main meanings: 1) related to our mortality, and 2) related to our limitations (in comparison to an infinite being). In the second section, both senses of the word are drawn upon, with Kate Kirkpatrick exploring how Simone de Beauvoir came to embrace her finitude, Elizabeth Robson critically engaging with Simon Critchley’s worries that finitude leads to nihilism, and Joseph Schear offering a clear overview of Martin Heidegger’s inheritance of Immanuel Kant’s account of the finitude of our intuition.
Elsewhere, Michael Lewis gives a compelling account of how Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction can illuminate tensions in the apparent opposition between nationalism and cosmopolitanism that lies at the heart of the ongoing Brexit debate, and Mara van der Lugt questions what we mean by pessimism, and why we are so quick to equate it with resignation or fatalism. Her essay, one of the longest to be published in the journal’s 96-year history, is a joy to read. The issue closes with the opening part of Ciaran Cummins’ new column, “The Public Philosopher”, alongside “The Anthropo(s)cene” and “The Art of Questioning.”