Exploring the problem of the meaning of life

Module details

  • Offered to 1st years
  • Tuesdays 16.00-18.00
  • 8 weeks (autumn or spring term)
  • Planned delivery: On-campus (South Kensington)
  • Non-credit only
How to enrol

You may have wondered what point, purpose or meaning life can possibly have.

There may be things you want or feel obliged to do, but is there any objective reason to regard them as important things to do? Can sense be made of suffering or is it all for nothing? Does religion provide a solution? Or if ‘God is dead’ (as Nietzsche put it), is there some other reason to go on? Should it matter if life is ultimately devoid of meaning?

This module looks at some serious philosophical answers to these questions, some dating back to Greek antiquity, others prompted by absurd routines and potentially catastrophic consequences of modern life.

Information blocks

Learning outcomes

By the end of this module, you will be better be able to:

  • Demonstrate awareness of problems that arise in formulating the question of the meaning of life
  • Select relevant philosophical sources
  •  Integrate concepts using self-directed primary and secondary research
  • Apply key concepts, research, and feedback in your written work

Indicative core content

  • Conceptions of happiness
  • Aristotle’s virtue ethics
  • Cynicism, epicureanism and stoicism
  • Arguments for the existence of God and the problem of the evil
  • Determinism and fatalism
  • The free will problem
  • Schopenhauer’s pessimism
  • Nietzsche’s response to Schopenhauer; the meaning of the slogan ‘God is dead’ 


Learning and teaching approach

A range of discussion activities will be used to make learning active. Though you will need to do some preparation for sessions, you will be encouraged to regard the sessions themselves as the times when you study for the module. You will be asked to decide what you think, not told what to think, and will be asked to do this in class, not in private study after class. You will be asked to respond to presentations from the module leader and to listen and respond to other students’ responses.

You will submit your summative essay through the module VLE, through which you will receive written feedback within two weeks of submission.


Coursework: Essay - 1500-2000 words (100%)

Key information

  • ECTS value: 0
  • Requirements: You must be prepared to attend all classes and to spend about an hour a week preparing for each session
  • This module is designed as an undergraduate Level 4 course. For an explanation of levels, view the Imperial Horizons Level Descriptors page.‌