The Meaning of Life

In life – as in philosophy – when faced with a question the most important thing is not necessarily finding the answer. It may be more important to know whether the question is the right one to ask. The question concerning the meaning of life is no exception.

“What is the meaning of life?”

Before we set off on a long – perhaps endless – search for an answer, let’s pause a while to consider why we are asking it. WHY are we asking it? Why are WE asking it? Why?

It is easy to assume that everyone is like us, and everyone – at some time – will come face to face with the question of the meaning of life. Will they? Have they? Let’s look at one example: Aristotle. He wrote a long book about life and happiness – a book entitled “Ethics”. Aristotle loved to answer questions. Surely in a book about life and happiness he would at least touch on the question of the meaning of life. But he doesn’t. He ignores it completely. Why? Did he just forget?

Aristotle’s “Ethics” is a description of the good life – the happiest possible life – written for a class of aristocrats who believed they were living the best of all possible lives. If you are in that happy position, the question of the meaning of life simply never crops up.

That grave question is more likely to crop up if – for some reason – you are not living the good life and are not firmly convinced that your life is the happiest life that is humanly possible. So it may have cropped up for a few of Aristotle’s slaves – people mentioned in the “Ethics” only in passing, and only to explain that a slave might enjoy some of the simple pleasures of life, but could not possibly be truly happy.

The idea that life needs a meaning assumes that this life – our life – is not the good life, so the search begins for a reason why we have to go through with all this, and inevitably there is the question of whether there might be something beyond this life – something to be hoped for – some other life offering happiness finally for the wretched.

A first conclusion: If the question of the meaning of all this turmoil burns in the bowels of the mind, this is a symptom of a malaise. The task, then, is not to find an answer, but a cure, and thereby put an end to the question.

Hypothesis: The only real cure is social – a different order of things that would enable everyone to be convinced that they are living the good life.

In other words, the real answer to the question of the meaning of life is politics (in the good old-fashioned Greek sense of the word, from a time before political parties and flag-waving conferences were invented). So – to misquote the old song by Olivia Newton-John – let’s get political.

Question: But can we find a way to go beyond that old, old division of an aristocracy enjoying the good life and the masses working their fingers to the bone and wondering what it all means?