Infinity goes up on trial: must eternal life be meaningless?

Chappell, Timothy (2007). Infinity goes up on trial: must eternal life be meaningless? European Journal of Philosophy, 17(1) pp. 30–44.



Wowbagger has a problem: how to make an infinitely long life meaningful. His answer to this problem is studiedly perverse. Presumably, part of his reason for taking on the project he does is that everyone likes a challenge—and the project of insulting everyone in the universe, in alphabetical order, is really challenging even if you’re immortal. Still, his response to the question ‘How shall I make my life meaningful?’ seems to be not so much an attempt to answer it as to stick two fingers up at it. Can anyone find anything less perverse to say about that question?
If the late and lamented Douglas Adams is to be believed, some beings can. The non-accidental immortals, the ‘serene bastards’ of Wowbagger’s envy, have no trouble coping with everlasting life. Adams does not tell us how they manage to cope; which is a pity, because many contemporary philosophers, notably Bernard Williams (1973) and Adrian Moore (2006), see a conceptual problem here. They cannot conceive how anyone could cope with immortality, even in the rather minimal sense of ‘cope’ that Wowbagger manages. This paper argues that their arguments fail. An eternal life, I argue, can be meaningful, and under the right circumstances, will be more meaningful than any finite life could be, because free from a threat to meaningfulness that cannot be removed from any finite life. We therefore have reason to want eternal life lived under these circumstances.

Viewing alternatives


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions