Abraham Kuyper Center

Subproject 4

The University and the Meaning of Life

Project leader: dr. Emanuel Rutten


What is the meaning of life? This life-shaping question is hardly ever raised in academic teaching. Yet, being able to cogently reflect on what is significant, worthwhile, and valuable to pursue in life is indispensable for personal growth and development. It is an epistemic responsibility of universities to educate their students on how to deal with this grand question.

This project’s aim is to elucidate how reflection on existential questions, such as ‘What is the meaning of life?’, can be undertaken. Can it be approached by purely scientific means, or is there a need for a more inclusive model of rational deliberation?

This project will argue for and develop the latter option as follows.

    1. The first step will be to argue that the proper object of deliberation for answering such deep questions is a worldview. (Underhill 2009; Naugle 2002) A worldview is a broad picture of the nature of reality. People inevitably shape their lives by adopting some worldview, either explicitly or implicitly. Examples include materialism, humanism, and theism. Adopting a worldview enables us to attribute meaning to our experiences. A worldview guides our lives and informs the way we understand ourselves and the world that surrounds us. (Griffioen 2012; Holley 2010; Stenmark 1995; Underhill 2009; Hiebert 2008) This project investigates the peculiar nature and function of a worldview. Which elements are constitutive of it? How do these relate?
    2. For a long time philosophers of science have been developing criteria for the rational evaluation and comparison of scientific theories. (Stenmark 1995) This project aims to do the same for worldviews. Advocates of purely scientific approaches to the evaluation of worldviews often ignore a crucial question that should be asked before starting to assess the rationality of a given worldview, namely: what model of rationality should be invoked for assessing a life-orienting worldview? Should it be similar to the model of rationality used in science? Or do we need a different one? (Stenmark 1995; Deutscher 2011) The project develops an inclusive model of rationality that is specifically suited to evaluate the reasonableness of worldviews. (Below, it will be explained which methodology will be used to develop this model.) It will be argued that such an evaluation must simultaneously take into account cognitive-theoretical as well as existential-practical reasons people may have for their worldviews. This idea will then be further developed by identifying criteria for the rational evaluation of worldviews. (Vidal 2012; Stenmark 1995) In doing so, the project deploys insights from philosophers from both the continental and analytical tradition, such as Martin Heidegger, Hannah Arendt, Charles Taylor, David Holley and Mikael Stenmark, who have been working in the same or related areas.