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.
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.
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’.