Consider this intuition:
- If this earthly life is all there is, our lives are insufficiently meaningful.
Maybe there is a non-cognitive explanation, tied to the selective advantages of our believing (1). As a general methodological principle, however, I want to avoid such non-cognitive evolutionary explanations of beliefs absent particular evidence, because that path leads to scepticism, besides being strewn with unevidenced just-so tales.
Let me suggest one cognitive explanation: People intuit (1) because they have a more basic perception that:
- The main meaning of our earthly lives comes from or is largely shaped by the meaning that these lives have in the light of our lives after death.
- If there were no afterlife, then our lives would be insufficiently meaningful, where "insufficiently" is measured relative to the kind of meaning that they in fact have.
Now let me add one further twist. After all, there are people who don't believe in an afterlife but who still find (1) very plausible—and their belief in (1) then makes them feel terrible. (Cf. Mickey in the middle portion of Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters.) They cannot justify (1) by means of (3). Nonetheless, (1) appears well-entrenched.
Here I want to use a really clever idea that Dan Johnson gives in a recent issue of Faith and Philosophy to examine our justification for the possibility premise in the ontological argument. Johnson thinks that the premise that possibly God exists is a premise that we derive from the claim that God exists, and the latter claim is one we have prior knowledge of by means of the sensus divinitatis. An atheist may then lose the justified belief that God exists, while keeping the derived belief that possibly God exists, with this derived being still justified by its past justification. The S5 ontological argument can then be used to leverage this derived belief into a full-blown belief that God exists. This is circular—and yet perfectly justified, as long as the atheist did not have good reason to cease believing in God. Johnson makes a similar move with regard to the cosmological argument, but I am less willing to go there with him.
Anyway, applying Johnson's idea to the case at hand is a cinch. We have a prior intuition that (2). From this, we derive (3) and then (1), right sense of "sufficiently". Even if we lose a belief in an afterlife, we can hold on to (1), which is a kind of shadow of the deep intuition that (2). We can even give an argument from (1) to (2), which is in a sense circular, but not viciously so:
- Given the fact that a finite life of intellectual and moral virtue could be meaningful, (1) only has a reasonable interpretation on which it is true if (3) and (2) are true.
- The intuition in (1) does have a reasonable interpretation on which it is true.
- Therefore, (2) is true.