UserpicRunning with the Pack

I'm really pleased to be able to say that I've signed a contract for my next book, again with Granta, the publishers of The Philosopher and the Wolf. The working title is Running with the Pack. It's about running with dogs and wolves in various parts of the world. It's also about the meaning of life. Which means I won't be writing about the meaning of life any more on this blog: after giving me a not inconsiderable advance, Granta would be very upset with me if I gave it all away for free. For what it's worth, I assure you I am now in possession of the answer, and it's a doozy. But it won't be available until late 2011.

But I will say one final thing about this issue: specifically, about the question. That was the hard part - I was sweating blood trying to work out what the question is. In fact, I actually had to work out the answer before I could work out the question. Sometimes that's how things go.

When someone says: "What is the meaning of life?' What do they mean?

Words and sentences have meaning. Life is not a word or sentence. Therefore, life doesn't have meaning. I learned that growing up in the merry old hey-day of linguistic analysis. This shows that ‘meaning' as deployed in ‘the meaning of life' does not mean the same as ‘meaning' when used for words and sentences. So what does it mean?

It could mean ‘purpose'? Could, but doesn't. Defence of this postponed until late 2011.

It might mean ‘value'. What is the value of life? But, if so, then if a life had no meaning it would have no value. For various obvious reasons, I don't want to say this. If someone's life is meaningless, it does not mean their life has no value.

This gets us a bit closer to what the question is: ‘How should I live?' Or, then same thing: ‘What should I value?'

But ‘should' is a funny word, and has at least three different meaning: logical, prudential and moral. Forgot the logical sense; it's not relevant here. The moral and prudential sense of should are basically, restrictions on how I should act. ‘How should I live?' interpreted morally, means: ‘What moral requirements should I recognize and act upon?' These requirements would be moral exigencies.

The thing about exigencies is that we have to act on them, whether we want to or not. Prudentially, I should work. This is unfortunate. Morally, I should try and alleviate suffering when I can. This is unfortunate in another way. It is unfortunate that there is so much suffering. Exigencies don't reveal the meaning of life, they distract us from it.

Suppose there were no prudential or moral exigencies in your life. You live in a world where you can get whatever you need or want at the push of a button, a world where there was no suffering that you should try to alleviate. Morally and prudentially, you're off the hook. Then ask yourself: in this situation, how should I live? This is another sense of should - neither a moral nor a prudential sense. If we can answer this question, we have answered to the question of the meaning of life.

There: clear as mud. 

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