Home » philosophy » Philosophy – week one / Day four

Philosophy – week one / Day four


Today’s presentation was ‘Philosophy and (the question of) the Meaning of Life.

The object of this section was not to answer the question “What is the meaning of life?”.  It was to think about the question in the right way. When anyone mentions ‘the big’ question I can’t help thinking of this:-

I was glad that the answer was not ‘Jumper’ .

(If you are interested in the number 42 it pops up all over the place – google it)

To find out what the meaning of life is you have to first know what the question is. You have to know what is expected from this answer and who the answer is for and why it was asked.

From Wikipedia

At the end of the radio series (and television series, as well as the novel The Restaurant at the End of the Universe Arthur Dent, having escaped the Earth’s destruction, potentially has some of the computational matrix in his brain. He attempts to discover The Ultimate Question by extracting it from his brainwave patterns, as abusively suggested by Ford Prefect, when a Scrabble-playing caveman spells out forty two. Arthur pulls random letters from a bag, but only gets the sentence “What do you get if you multiply six by nine?”

“Six by nine. Forty two.””That’s it. That’s all there is.”

“I always thought something was fundamentally wrong with the universe”

Distant voice “Base thirteen!”

You should not assume that everyone uses the same base system as you do. That is not purely a mathematical observation. People have different values so the meaning of their lives will not all be the same.

Dave then discussed the word ‘Meaning’ and whether we can even ask the question ‘What is the meaning of life’. Is that a sensible question to ask or can ‘meaning’ only relate to language? Is ‘life’ something that can have meaning? If we define ‘meaning’ as “Intended to communicate something that is not directly expressed” can we say that ‘life’ communicates or expresses? Rather than the ‘meaning’ of life, what we might see as important is actually the ‘point’ or the ‘purpose’ of life.

There were a lot of question in this section and a lot to think about. We can’t avoid philosophical questions. They are there whether we want them or not. What is important is to decide which ones we want to ask.

A final quote from Hilary Putnam  that Dave thinks really helps understand what philosophy is about:

Philosophy needs vision and argument… there is something disappointing about a philosophical work that contains arguments, however good, which are not inspired by some genuine vision, and something disappointing about a philosophical work that contains a vision, however inspiring, which is unsupported by arguments…Speculation about how things hang together requires… the ability to draw out conceptual distinctions and connections, and the ability to argue… But speculative views, however interesting or well supported by arguments or insightful, are not all we need. We also need what [the philosopher Myles] Burnyeat called ‘vision’ – and I take that to mean vision as to how to live our lives, and how to order our societies.

Summing up

Four days into my course on philosophy I feel that I am getting closer to an understanding of what philosophy is about.

I have learned that philosophy is different to different people and that even philosophers don’t agree about what exactly it is.

What is important or fundamental is also different to different people so that whether they find philosophy important or not is subjective.

Whether we want philosophy or not it is there. Questions are always there and there are an infinite number. We can chose to ask them or not.

Deciding what to ask and how to ask it and what we actually expect from the answer is not something that we do all the time. We would only do this for important questions. Just because it is important doesn’t make it philosophical.

Determining what a good / important  question is means asking ourselves what is important to us. Once we have that worked out, which might be very simple if the answer is money or chocolate, then we can start to work out ways of thinking about it.  Even just working out what is important to us can be revealing and help to focus.

OK – I hope I am getting closer. Feel free to correct me if you think I am not ‘getting it’. 



  1. gbl55 says:

    Great to see the ‘Hitch Hiker’s’ again 🙂 I’m also in introphil but very much as a philosophy beginner so I’m working through the material very slowly. I like the videos but find the forum somewhat overwhelming with hundreds of ‘Meaning of Life’s without much application of what’s being taught – but people are certainly having a whale of time!.

    Your summing up seems perfectly fine – you’re getting it! My own less ambitious attempt just for the first video is here: gbl55.wordpress.com/ . There are only around 7 blogs I know that are (potentially) discussing introphil – I was pleased to find one more!
    Gordon Lockhart

    • Louise Taylor says:

      Hello Gordon.
      Thank you for commenting on my post. I too am a philosophy beginner and I don’t understand some of the language used. My dictionary is working overtime. I was a big fan of Hitch Hikers. When I was looking for the clip to put in the post I found a newer version but nothing beats the original. It was so Monty Python.
      I will have to check out the other blogs. I started following yours so that I we can progress in the fog together 🙂

  2. Jaap says:

    Hi Louise, Arthur Dent is probably a philosopher too. He is always making Ford Prefect emotional by asking ‘ stupid’ questions. I prefer jokes as an antidote to too much ‘vision’.
    Happy mooc-ing

    • Louise Taylor says:

      Thanks Jaap.
      I am having difficulty staying serious with this course and I should really as I want to understand it. I don;t want to spend ages wondering if it is worth it because I might be a brain in a vat after all.
      I read a post of yours earlier about theology and people saying bless you or I’ll pray for you – I think that was you? A lot of people say bless you in the North of England and my Islamic students say Unsha’Allah at the end of the course when I say – see you next week, I think there are a lot of different customs like this. It becomes something to say like when you say ‘I’m fine’ when someone asks how you are even if you’re not.
      Happy philosophising.

  3. Nat Nelson says:

    A nice round up of the course. Will have to start reading your blogs after each lecture to ensure I have understood!

    • Louise Taylor says:

      Thank you.
      Now that I have finished EDC I think I can catch up on philosophy. I’m afraid I haven’t taken some of it very seriously.

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