Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Meaning of Life

 I’ve been reading a bit of philosophy lately. I suppose we all have some interest in the questions of philosophers. In my case though, I just wanted to read up on the philosophers so that I’d sound intelligent down in the pub on a Friday night. If someone said something like ‘I can’t stand all this clerical abuse stuff’, I could turn around and say “a tyrant must put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to religion. Subjects are less apprehensive of illegal treatment from a ruler whom they consider god-fearing and pious. On the other hand, they do less easily move against him, believing that he has the gods on his side.” Then I’d murmur ‘Aristotle’ under my breath.
But it didn’t work. I’ve ended up bogged down in all these questions about the meaning of life that I just can’t get my head around. At the moment I’m on Spinoza. He’s the guy who asks these five questions:
Spinoza: a genius with popping
out eyes who ended up
as a lens grinder

Why does anything exist?
How is the world composed?
What are we in the scheme of things?
Are we free?
How should we live?

 I know that the answers are all in the book, but I keep falling asleep when I read it because it’s one of those books that have all these little numbers in it that refer to some point or other that you have to look up in the back of the book so I tend to get a bit lost. If I understand him correctly though, the man is cool. He argues for freedom of thought and religion, and we’re talking the 1600’s here. Guess what he wanted to do? He wanted to take political power away from the clergy, and criticized organised religion. He was into a pantheistic view of God, and was all for the idea of a democratic and secular society. So it was kind of like what Ruairi Quinn wants to do with the primary schools, just 500 years earlier.
Then he wrote a book called ‘The Ethics’, and it only got published after he snuffed it. I don’t know much about that book because it was written in the form of definitions, propositions and axioms, and it’s all about metaphysical stuff and logics. Bottom line is this though: he believed that everything in the universe is one single substance that you can call ‘God’ or ‘Nature’. Everyone, according to Spinoza, is a localised concentration of the attributes of reality, because the only true individual is the universe as a whole. And with that in mind, to become free, you are supposed to understand that if you see how everything is one, then you are aware of the totality of the universe, which is to be free. Well I think that’s it.
Obviously, the same thing happened to Spinoza that happens to most thinking people. He was expelled from the synagogue and denounced by Christians as an atheist, so he gave up the aul’ philosophy and spent the rest of his days earning a living as a lens grinder.
All the same though, I’m still stuck on the first question. Why does anything exist?
I remember years back one of my kids was doing a course in philosophy for gifted 8 year olds. Before going to it he claimed that he shouldn’t really be giving up his Saturday for a subject that he already knew everything about. ‘What do you mean’ I asked him. ‘Philosophy asks the question as to what is the meaning of life’ he replied, ‘and I already know that.’ ‘Great’, I replied, ‘tell me, I’d love to know.’
‘Life doesn’t have a meaning’, he said, ‘if it did, there would be no need for evolution.’
Sounds plausible, but it still leaves you stuck on the first question ‘why does anything exist?’
I think I’ll talk about football down in the pub on Friday. 

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