Module Details

The information contained in this module specification was correct at the time of publication but may be subject to change, either during the session because of unforeseen circumstances, or following review of the module at the end of the session. Queries about the module should be directed to the member of staff with responsibility for the module.
Title The Meaning of Life and Death: Exploring the Ultimate Question
Code PHIL273
Coordinator Professor M Hauskeller
Year CATS Level Semester CATS Value
Session 2023-24 Level 5 FHEQ Second Semester 15


This module aims to familiarise students with concepts and arguments that play a key role in the philosophical discussion on meaning in life. Students will improve their ability to analyse and critically evaluate arguments, and to develop, refine, articulate, and present their own views on challenging intellectual and existential problems.

Learning Outcomes

(LO1) Students will acquire a good working knowledge of the key philosophical issues that questions regarding meaning in life raise.

(LO2) Students will become familiar with the main theories and arguments in the philosophical debate about meaning in life.

(LO3) Students will learn how to conduct semi-structured qualitative interviews and to report their findings.

(LO4) Students will learn how to provide critical summaries of philosophical texts.

(S1) Students will develop skills in working collaboratively to analyse qualitative data and present team responses to philosophical problems.

(S2) Students will develop their analytical skills in relation to selected philosophical challenges.

(S3) Students will enhance their oral and written communications skills and develop skills in explaining complex material in a concise and precise manner.

(S4) Students will develop their ability to sift through information, assessing its relevance and importance to what is at issue.



The module will focus on the following key topics: the connection between meaning of life and meaning in life, the meaning of ‘meaning’ when applied to people’s lives, mortality’s threat to meaning, meaning and story-telling, meaning and purpose, meaning and objective values, the experience of meaning (and meaninglessness), meaning and impact, meaning and happiness, meaning and non-human animals.

The module can be taken as a preparation for the third-year module on Existentialism (PHIL332).

Library resources will be accessible through the module reading list, other key learning resources will be accessible through Canvas.

Students are expected to read all the core resources named on the reading list and to find their own supplementary resources. Independent reading around the topics discussed is recommended, but not essential.

Indicative List of Core Readings:
William James, “Is Life Worth Living?” (1895), in: Wi lliam James, The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy, New York/ London/ Bombay: Longmans Green 1896, 32-62.
Susan Wolf, “Meaningfulness: A Third Dimension of the Good Life”, Foundations of Science 21(2016): 253-269.
Cheshire Calhoun, “Reasons of Love: Response to Wolf”, Foundations of Science 21 (2016): 275-277.
John Wisdom, “The Meanings of the Questions of Life” (1965), in The Meaning of Life, ed. E.D. Klemke, New York/ Oxford: Oxford University Press 2000, 257-260.
Kurt Baier, “The Meaning of Life” (1957), in: The Meaning of Life, ed. E.D. Klemke, New York/ Oxford: Oxford University Press 2000, 101-132.
Richard Taylor, “The Meaning of Life” (1970), in Life, Death and Meaning. Key Philosophical Readings on the Big Questions, ed. David Benatar, Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield 2004, 19-28.
Cheshire Calhoun, “Geographies of Meaningful Living”, Journal of Ap plied Philosophy 32/1 (2015): 15-34.
Kai Nielsen, “Death and the Meaning of Life (1978)”, in The Meaning of Life, ed. E.D. Klemke, New York/ Oxford: Oxford University Press 2000, 153-159.
Richard Taylor, “Time and Life’s Meaning”, The Review of Metaphysics 40/4 (1987): 675-686. Reprinted in: Exploring the Meaning of Life. An Anthology and Guide, ed. Joshua W. Seachris, Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell 2013, 296-303.
Thaddeus Metz, “Meaning in Life”, in The Palgrave Handbook on the Afterlife, eds. B. Matheson & Y. Nagasawa, London: Palgrave Macmillan 2017, 353-370.
William Lane Craig, “The Absurdity of Life Without God”, in: William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologies, Wheaton, Ill.: Good News Publishers/ Crossway Books 1994, 57-75.
Lisa Bortolotti, “Agency, Life Extension, and the Meaning of Life”, The Monist 93/1 (2010): 38-56.
Aaron Smuts, “The Good Ca use Account of the Meaning of Life”, The Southern Journal of Philosophy 51/4 (2013): 536-562.
Guy Kahane, “Our Cosmic Insignificance”, Nous 48.4 (2014): 745-772.
Ben Bramble, “Consequentialism about Meaning in Life”, Utilitas 27/4 (2015): 445-459.
William James, “On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings”, in: William James, Talks to Teachers on Psychology and to Students on Some of Life’s Ideas, New York: Henry Holt 1899.

Teaching and Learning Strategies

Discussion seminars: 1 hour per week, 11 hours in total, used for the free (text-independent) exploration of the philosophical issues that the meaning-in-life topic raises.

Text analysis seminars: 1 hour per week, 11 hours in total, used for a close reading and analysis of key philosophical texts relating to the issues explored in the discussion seminars.

Independent learning: 128 hours, to be used for interviews, group deliberations, seminar preparation, reading of core texts, note taking, critical reflections, and reading of other relevant literature related to the module topic.

Teaching Schedule

  Lectures Seminars Tutorials Lab Practicals Fieldwork Placement Other TOTAL
Study Hours   11


Timetable (if known)              
Private Study 128


EXAM Duration Timing
% of
Penalty for late
Take home exam. Resit possible.  24    70       
CONTINUOUS Duration Timing
% of
Penalty for late
Interview report. Resit possible as individual or group interview report. (Students resitting this assessment will be expected to work together as a team).    15       
Seminar engagement and contribution. Resit opportunity: oral exam: 30 minutes.    15       

Recommended Texts

Reading lists are managed at Click here to access the reading lists for this module.