Royal Institute of Philosophy Conference 24-26 July 2020

Meaning in Life and the Knowledge of Death

The Royal Institute of Philosophy Annual Conference 2021

University of Liverpool, 13-15 July 2021

Now Fully Online


Michael Hauskeller (University of Liverpool)


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.

Confirmed Invited Speakers:

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

Drew Chastain (Loyola University New Orleans): Life Extension, Meaning, and Spiritual Experience

Michael Cholbi (University of Edinburgh): Grieving Our Way Back to Meaningfulness

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

Guy Kahane (University of Oxford): Importance, Fame, and Transcending Limits

Frances Kamm (Rutgers University): Meaning in Life as an Issue in Bioethics

Antti Kauppinen (University of Helskinki): Dying for a Cause

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 Pretoria): Comparing the Meaningfulness of Finite and Infinite Lives

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): Why Do People Want to Die? The Meaning of Life from the Perspective of Euthanasia

Daniel Hill (University of Liverpool): Our Lives are Meaningful Only If We Have a Designer

James Stacey Taylor (The College of New Jersey): Promises to the Dead

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

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