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Meaningfulness: The Foundation of the Good Life
October 20, 2016 - Andrea Cato
The University of the Southern Caribbean (USC) recently hosted the 14th annual George Carlington Simmons Public Lecture Series, which featured Susan Wolf, renowned Professor of Philosophy, from the University of North Carolina. The event was held at Trinidad Hilton on Monday October 17, 2016.
Dr. Wolf engaged attendees in a discourse entitled, Meaningfulness: A Third Dimension of the Good Life. Wolf initially proposed self-interest/happiness and morality, as two dimensions of the good life, but hastened to add that “These leave out many of the motives or reasons that shape our lives; reasons that are neither peripheral nor eccentric…the ones that give us reasons to go on. When we fail to realize the legitimacy and value of these reasons, we miss out.” Meaningfulness, according to Wolf, is the third dimension that completes the “good life”.
Wolf cautioned that she would “not be offering any practical advice” in relation to finding meaningfulness. She stated clearly, “I neither can nor want to tell you which activities attribute to meaningful lives, much less which activities would or do attribute meaning to you.” She aimed solely to call attention to meaningfulness as a category, offer an analysis of it, and encourage listeners to “enquire and reflect on how to live…with an enhanced vocabulary, and an understanding that is less impoverished than the simple models of human motivation and reason.”
Despite a reluctance to adopt a prescriptive stance, Wolf presented some options for those in the quest of third dimensional meaningfulness. First, “Get involved with something other than one’s self…something whose value is independent of and has its source outside of one’s self” – in contrast to Sisyphean meaninglessness of engaging in inconsequential pursuits. Second, “Find your passion and go for it…an intelligible one.”
Dr. Sylvan Lashley, Dean of the School of Business, Entrepreneurship and Continuing Studies supports the view that “you must have a force outside of yourself. You cannot find meaning within your own sphere, because you’ll have a problem that’s bigger than who you are, and then, who do you go to, or what do you go to? There must be an absolute one, absolute self, or an external force outside of yourself.” Lashley also expands this view by stating that objectivity in meaning – absolute meaningfulness, is found in God, who is “the absolute one.”
The lecture and preceding discussion were intellectually stimulating for attendees and “opened up new thinking [prompting them] to look more into it” according to Mr. Bertie Henry, Trust Services/Revolving Fund Director, Caribbean Union Conference of Seventh Day Adventists. Henry resolved to conduct further research on the topic, as the speaker seemed “unwilling to commit to specifics.”
Mr. Thomas Isaac, Social Sciences lecturer at USC, and respondent to the feature presentation added that the realm of philosophy offers no concrete answers, as can be found within the realm of theology.
The 2016’s Simmons lecture “gave us a new look at a familiar idea, and expanded our thinking of meaningfulness in ways in which we do not normally think,” stated by Dr. Vernon Andrews, former President of CUC (now USC).
Dignitaries and honoured guests in attendance included the Right Honourable Nyan Gadsby-Dolly, Minister of Community Development, Culture and the Arts; His Excellency, John L. Estrada, US Ambassador to the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago; Dr. Ramesh Deosaran, Professor Emeritus, UWI; Dr. Kern Tobias, President, Caribbean Union Conference of SDA; Dr. Hilary Bowman, AG. President, USC and Mr. Thomas Isaac, Lecturer, Social Sciences, USC.
In order to continually enhance the presentation of the George Simmons Lecture Series, Dr. Phyllis Andrews, has been appointed by the President of USC for the past two consecutive years, to oversee the organization and execution of this elegant, intellectual affair. Toward this end, she has liaised with Dr. George Simmons, and his wife Esther, to whom USC is forever indebted.
Dr. George Simmons, who turned ninety-five this year, addressed those present via video as he was unable to personally attend the lecture this year.