Royal Institute of Philosophy Conference 24-26 July 2020

POSTPONED: Meaning in Life and the Knowledge of Death

The Royal Institute of Philosophy Annual Conference 2020



This conference will explore the relation between our mortality (and the knowledge thereof) and our experience of meaningfulness (and meaninglessness), with particular focus on the question whether death undercuts meaning in life, as some life extensionists proclaim, or whether, on the contrary, meaning depends on our mortality.

Philosophical questions arising from our global community’s growing involvement in the human enhancement project have concentrated mainly on the question whether human enhancement in general, as well as particular suggested changes in the human condition (such as the retardation and possible reversal of ageing processes), are a) desirable or undesirable, and b) ethically permissible or impermissible. Yet changes of the human condition can only ever be seen as enhancements with respect to certain purposes that have to be assumed as worth pursuing. However, there is no agreement about which purposes are ultimately worth pursuing. The main difference between those that are generally in favour of human enhancement and those who adopt a more sceptical stance is that they have different views about what matters in life. Thus the whole human enhancement debate is, in its core, a debate about meaningfulness, and the questions that are being asked about the desirability and permissibility of certain forms of suggested enhancement cannot really be answered before the more general question about what gives meaning to our life has been answered in a satisfactory way.

The conference aims to increase our understanding of a) what meaning in life is: how it is to be understood, what its constituents are, and how it can be properly distinguished from other features that are commonly thought to be required for a good life, such as happiness, b) in what way, if any, mortality can be said to be detrimental to a life’s meaningfulness and what follows from this for the desirability of radical life extension and other (limit-removing) alterations of the present human condition, and c) in what way, if any, death and mortality can be said to be requisites or at least constituents of a meaningful life.


Environmental Travel Guidelines

The Department of Philosophy at the University of Liverpool is committed to the British Philosophical Association’s guidelines for environmentally responsible university business travel (,environment,travel,guidelines.pdf).

Please consider those guidelines when making travel arrangements. To avoid unnecessary travel, you have the option to participate in the conference at a reduced fee through live streaming or video-conferencing.


Equality and Diversity

We also subscribe to the British Philosophical Association and Society for Women in Philosophy’s Good Practice Scheme, which aims to assist UK philosophy departments, learned societies and journals in ensuring that they have policies and procedures in place that encourage the representation of women in philosophy:

Our conference policy includes using the hand/finger rule, prioritising questions from students (graduate and undergraduate), and trying to ensure that there is time for all questions.


Confirmed Invited Speakers:

Havi Carel (University of Bristol): Meaning, Value, and the Imperfect Life

Barry Dainton (University of Liverpool): Death and Ways of Avoiding Its Clutches

Michael Hauskeller (University of Liverpool): When Death Comes too Late: On the Potential Pitfalls of Radical Life Extension

Guy Kahane (Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics): Importance, Fame, and Transcending Limits

Frances Kamm (Harvard University): Death Wish and the Absence of Meaning

Antti Kauppinen (University of Helskinki): TBA

Teodora Manea (University of Liverpool): The Meaning of Pain and the Pain of Meaning. A Hermeneutical Analysis of Pain as an Existential Companion

Stephen McLeod (University of Liverpool): Needs, Harm, and Death

Thaddeus Metz (University of Johannesburg): Could a Mortal Life Be Meaningful When Compared with an Eternal Life in Heaven?

Sven Nyholm (University of Utrecht): Meaning, Anti-Meaning, and the Knowledge of Death

Thomas Schramme (University of Liverpool): Can We Measure the Harm (or Benefit) of Death?

Fredrik Svenaeus (Södertörn University, Stockholm): To Die Well: The Phenomenology of Suffering and End of Life Ethics

James Stacey Taylor (The College of New Jersey): On Dying in Vain

Yiota Vassilopoulou (University of Liverpool): On Beauty, Death, and Meaning



Conference fees:

University of Liverpool staff and students: no charge

Regular: £120 (early bird registration before 15 May: £80)

Students: £80 (early bird registration before 15 May: £50)

Virtual participation through video conferencing: £30

Conference dinner (Saturday night, 25 July): £30

Registration deadline: 30 June

Register here


Call for Papers:

There are two ways for conference participants to present:

  • Poster presentations
  • 10 minute responses to the invited talks

If you are interested in giving a poster presentation, please send an abstract to the organizer ( by 30 April. If you would like to respond to one of the invited talks, please send the name of the speaker you wish to respond to and a brief explanation of why you want to do so. If accepted, you will be sent the speaker’s paper two weeks before the conference.

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