the unity of meaning and pleasure

The two nihilisms, the passive one of religious world-deniers and world-destroyers and the active one of a-religious inventors of arbitrary values, are opposed to each other. The struggle between them isn’t played out just in the hearts of individuals but on the world stage – among religious fundamentalists clutching transcendent meaning with desperate hands and between those fundamentalists and a-religious libertines, flanked by “last men” fighting for the pleasures and comforts of their way of life….

The recursive struggle between these two nihilisms is one of the great antagonisms of our time.

In choosing between meaning and pleasure we always make the wrong choice. Pleasure without meaning is vapid; meaning without pleasure is crushing. In its own way, each is nihilistic without the other. But we don’t need to choose between the two. The unity of meaning and pleasure, which we experience as joy, is given with the God who is Love.

  • Miroslav Volf, Fourishing (2015)

2 thoughts on “the unity of meaning and pleasure”

    1. Thanks for asking! It shows the danger of reading something in context and hoping that it still makes sense as an excerpt.
      Volf sees two opposing “nihilisms” – those who religiously deny the world (and, hence, pleasure – he gives the example of Dante labelling all other loves “irrelevant” after finding love of God) and those who a-religiously deny any ground for a source of meaning (“we have to [arbitrarily] create our own meaning” – the “last men” is a reference to Nietzche). So he then goes on to suggest that they are nihilistic precisely because they create a false choice between meaning and pleasure, when joy is found precisely in the unity of the two.

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