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The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World
Flanagan, Owen J.
MIT Press / Softcover / 2009-04-01 / 0262512483
Philosophy / Cognitive Psychology & Cognition
price: $28.95 (may be subject to change)
304 pages
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If consciousness is the "hard problem" in mind science—explaining how the amazing private world of consciousness emerges from neuronal activity—then the "really hard problem," writes Owen Flanagan in this provocative book is explaining how meaning is possible in the material world. How can we make sense of the magic and mystery of life naturalistically, without an appeal to the supernatural? How do we say truthful and enchanting things about being human if we accept the fact that we are finite material beings living in a material world, or, in Flanagan's description, short-lived pieces of organized cells and tissue? Flanagan's answer is both naturalistic and enchanting. We all wish to live in a meaningful way, to live a life that really matters, to flourish, to achieve eudaimonia—to be a "happy spirit." Flanagan calls his "empirical-normative" inquiry into the nature, causes, and conditions of human flourishing eudaimonics. Eudaimonics, systematic philosophical investigation that is continuous with science, is the naturalist's response to those who say that science has robbed the world of the meaning that fantastical, wishful stories once provided.

Flanagan draws on philosophy, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and psychology, as well as on transformative mindfulness and self-cultivation practices that come from such nontheistic spiritual traditions as Buddhism, Confucianism, Aristotelianism, and Stoicism, in his quest. He gathers from these disciplines knowledge that will help us understand the nature, causes, and constituents of well-being and advance human flourishing. Eudaimonics can help us find out how to make a difference, how to contribute to the accumulation of good effects—how to live a meaningful life.

"The book sparkles with thought and a likeable humour."
Steven Poole, The Guardian
"Science tells us that we're imperfect products of biological trial and error, reconstituted remnants of exploded stars, and likely to be gone in the time it takes the Universe to make a cup of coffee. Some people find this unsettling, but Flanagan thinks we can handle it. With an open mind, good humor, encyclopedic knowledge, and philosophical tenacity, Flanagan tackles the Big Question: Can we find Meaning and Truth at the same time? Great reading for Homo sapiens."
Joshua Greene, Department of Psychology, Harvard University
"Flanagan brings his down-to-earth, ever-engaging style to the deep quandary of the human condition: how to flourish as material beings in this material world. Eschewing spiritualist notions of 'enchantment,' he argues passionately that 'empiricism is the best source of true wisdom about our nature and our situation.' In his inimitable way he takes on evolution, brain science, philosophy of mind, and the Abrahamic religions to develop a Buddhist-inspired vision of "Eudaimonics": the art of human flourishing. The Really Hard Problem will appeal to philosophers, cognitive neuroscientists, religionists, and others open to materialist efforts to bridge the science/religion divide."
Gillian Einstein, Associate Professor, Departments of Psychology, and Public Health Science, University of Toronto
"Owen Flanagan explores the questions that matter most to us—life's magic, mystery, and meaning—in the most engaging, even entertaining, style. By expanding philosophy from a Eurocentric bias to include views from the East, Flanagan finds fresh answers to perennial questions. The Really Hard Problem is a delight."
Daniel Goleman, Psychologist, and author of Social Intelligence

About the Author

Owen Flanagan is James B. Duke Professor of Philosophy at Duke University. He is the author of Consciousness Reconsidered (MIT Press), The Problem of the Soul: Two Visions of Mind and How to Reconcile Them, and other books.

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