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PHIL 1001S Week 4 Philosophy and Society

The Ideal Society

Plato’s analogy of the city-soul examines the concept of justice by starting with broader examples and then moving to smaller ones. Hobbes argues that justice can only exist in a “civil state” where subjects abide by laws enforced by centralized power. Without such a state, people would live in a state of nature characterized by a war of all against all.

Locke posits that all individuals have a natural right to self-ownership and suggests that dividing power is the best way to protect citizens from government tyranny. Rousseau argues that a legitimate society should be built on voluntary authority, considering authority created through force, violence, and war as illegitimate. Hegel believes that the State should develop individuals as members of larger communities and serve as a vehicle for the historical progress of human freedom.

PHIL 1001S Week 4 Philosophy and Society

Karl Marx views the State as a means for economic domination by the wealthy class over the poorer class, controlling the production and distribution of goods in society. Democracy, according to Marx, entails rule by the people, which involves majority rule and the consent of the governed.

The Meaning of Life

Exploring the relationship between philosophy and the meaning of life, philosophers have offered multiple answers to this question. We have also examined philosophical responses to this question and ways in which philosophers have resisted it. Classical approaches to the meaning of life include Socrates’ emphasis on an examined life, which may not necessarily lead to concrete wisdom, and Plato’s belief that true wisdom lies beyond the sensory world.

PHIL 1001S Week 4 Philosophy and Society

Aristotle suggests that finding the meaning of life comes through appropriate happiness, which defines the good life. Additionally, Buddhism associates the meaning of life with the cessation of suffering, while Daoism sees meaning in non-action, flowing with reality rather than resisting it. Nihilism and existentialism affirm human freedom in addressing the meaning of life. Nietzsche, for example, views freedom as the will to power, critiquing conventional values and creating new ones. Sartre and Kierkegaard argue that life’s meaning arises from our existence, even in the absence of certainty regarding the choices we make.


One significant attempt to address the meaning of life is found in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. The allegory describes a group of people chained and forced to observe shadows on a cave wall, representing an illusory reality. Those who discover the truth have a responsibility to return and enlighten others. Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle focused on the search for wisdom and defining a good life.

PHIL 1001S Week 4 Philosophy and Society

Lyotard considers these answers as narratives and warns against reducing knowledge transmission to scientific explanations that disregard tradition and custom. Michel Foucault questions the possibility of studying oneself through the human sciences, using the painting “Las Meninas” to illustrate this contradiction. When discussing the meaning of life, religion plays a significant role. Buddhism seeks to uncover the truth of life by addressing suffering and attachment, while Daoism advocates following the natural course of things and avoiding conflict.

Supernaturalism, influenced by the traditions of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism, views life’s meaning as tied to a spiritual dimension, namely God. On the other hand, naturalism suggests that life can determine its own meaning, either subjectively or objectively. Nihilism rejects all theories and perspectives on the meaning of life, asserting that life is ultimately devoid of meaning. Various philosophers, including Nietzsche, are associated with nihilism, although Nietzsche primarily critiques morality and the undermining of individual power. Ultimately, ethical theories such as deontology and utilitarianism also engage with questions about the meaning and purpose of life, making it one of the most profound philosophical discussions to date.

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