A Fragile Life: Accepting Our Vulnerability

University of Chicago Press
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It is perhaps our noblest cause, and certainly one of our oldest: to end suffering. Think of the Buddha, Chuang Tzu, or Marcus Aurelius: stoically composed figures impervious to the torments of the wider world, living their lives in complete serenity—and teaching us how to do the same. After all, isn’t a life free from suffering the ideal? Isn’t it what so many of us seek? Absolutely not, argues Todd May in this provocative but compassionate book. In a moving examination of life and the trials that beset it, he shows that our fragility, our ability to suffer, is actually one of the most important aspects of our humanity.

May starts with a simple but hard truth: suffering is inevitable. At the most basic level, we suffer physically—a sprained ankle or a bad back. But we also suffer insults and indifference. We suffer from overburdened schedules and unforeseen circumstances, from moral dilemmas and emotional heartaches. Even just thinking about our own mortality—the fact that we only live one life—can lead us to tremendous suffering. No wonder philosophies such as Buddhism, Taosim, Stoicism, and even Epicureanism—all of which counsel us to rise above these plights—have had appeal over the centuries. May highlights the tremendous value of these philosophies and the ways they can guide us toward better lives, but he also exposes a major drawback to their tenets: such invulnerability is too emotionally disengaged from the world, leading us to place too great a distance between ourselves and our experience. Rather than seeking absolute immunity, he argues most of us just want to hurt less and learn how to embrace and accept what suffering we do endure in a meaningful way.

Offering a guide on how to positively engage suffering, May ultimately lays out a new way of thinking about how we exist in the world, one that reassures us that our suffering, rather than a failure of physical or psychological resilience, is a powerful and essential part of life itself.
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About the author

Todd May is the Class of 1941 Memorial Professor of philosophy at Clemson University. He is the author of many books, including A Significant Life, also published by the University of Chicago Press.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Mar 1, 2017
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Pages
272
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ISBN
9780226440019
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Language
English
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Genres
Philosophy / General
Philosophy / Religious
Religion / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Todd May
What makes for a good life, or a beautiful one, or, perhaps most important, a meaningful one? Throughout history most of us have looked to our faith, our relationships, or our deeds for the answer. But in A Significant Life, philosopher Todd May offers an exhilarating new way of thinking about these questions, one deeply attuned to life as it actually is: a work in progress, a journey—and often a narrative. Offering moving accounts of his own life and memories alongside rich engagements with philosophers from Aristotle to Heidegger, he shows us where to find the significance of our lives: in the way we live them.

May starts by looking at the fundamental fact that life unfolds over time, and as it does so, it begins to develop certain qualities, certain themes. Our lives can be marked by intensity, curiosity, perseverance, or many other qualities that become guiding narrative values. These values lend meanings to our lives that are distinct from—but also interact with—the universal values we are taught to cultivate, such as goodness or happiness. Offering a fascinating examination of a broad range of figures—from music icon Jimi Hendrix to civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer, from cyclist Lance Armstrong to The Portrait of a Lady’s Ralph Touchett to Claus von Stauffenberg, a German officer who tried to assassinate Hitler—May shows that narrative values offer a rich variety of criteria by which to assess a life, specific to each of us and yet widely available. They offer us a way of reading ourselves, who we are, and who we might like to be.

Clearly and eloquently written, A Significant Life is a recognition and a comfort, a celebration of the deeply human narrative impulse by which we make—even if we don’t realize it—meaning for ourselves. It offers a refreshing way to think of an age-old question, of quite simply, what makes a life worth living.
Todd May
Todd May
Todd May
The fact that we will die, and that our death can come at any time, pervades the entirety of our living. There are many ways to think about and deal with death. Among those ways, however, a good number of them are attempts to escape its grip.

In this book, Todd May seeks to confront death in its power. He considers the possibility that our mortal deaths are the end of us, and asks what this might mean for our living. What lessons can we draw from our mortality? And how might we live as creatures who die, and who know we are going to die?

In answering these questions, May brings together two divergent perspectives on death. The first holds that death is not an evil, or at least that immortality would be far worse than dying. The second holds that death is indeed an evil, and that there is no escaping that fact. May shows that if we are to live with death, we need to hold these two perspectives together. Their convergence yields both a beauty and a tragedy to our living that are inextricably entwined.Drawing on the thoughts of many philosophers and writers - ancient and modern - as well as his own experience, May puts forward a particular view of how we might think about and, more importantly, live our lives in view of the inescapability of our dying. In the end, he argues, it is precisely the contingency of our lives that must be grasped and which must be folded into the hours or years that remain to each of us, so that we can live each moment as though it were at once a link to an uncertain future and yet perhaps the only link we have left.

Todd May
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