Tuesday 24 September 2013

A talk for the Chaplain

I've been asked to give an early morning talk, on the 18th November, in a series of informal breakfast discussions by the UCLan Chaplain, Andrew Clitheroe (pictured). I plan to discuss what we talk about when we talk about the meaning of life (to misquote Raymond Carver).

We give much of our lives a purposive or narrative structure. We think of it as involving actions undertaken for reasons which not only explain why we do what we do but also what we do. For example: “Why did you raise your arm?” “I was voting”. Given the wish to vote, raising an arm may be the right and meaningful thing to do. But the general features of action explanation suggest a further question, waiting in the wings: “Why were you voting?” The answer may be an appeal to a yet broader context such as: “I wanted to change the government” or “I was exercising my hard won democratic rights” but in either case, a yet further question may be suggested. Typically, this regress of possible questions and broader contexts does not bother us in the hurly burly of practical action. But sleepless at 5am it may. And then we may wish to invoke a context to give meaning to all our actions for which the further question “Why...?” cannot get a grip. Such a context may be the meaning of life itself.

I will discuss whether anything could possibly fill this role and how we might respond to a negative answer.