Our Search for Meaning

“The two most influential works of Western modernity – Hobbes’ Leviathan and Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations – were predicated on the idea of humans as the maximising animal. Politically this led to the social contract; economically to the division of labour and the free market. Humankind, however, is not merely a maximising animal. We are also, uniquely, the meaning-seeking animal. We seek to understand our place in the universe. We want to know where we have come from, where we are going to, and of what narrative we are a part. We form families, communities and societies. We tell stories, some of which have the status of sacred texts. We perform rituals that dramatise the structure of reality. We have languages, cultures, moralities and faiths. These things are essential to our sense of continuity with the past and responsibility to the future. Without them it is doubtful whether we would have reasons for action at all beyond the most minimal drives for survival. That is why religion is a persisting feature of the human situation, and will not disappear so long as we ask the most fundamental questions of why we are here and what kind of world we seek to create.”

The Dignity of Difference, p. 166