What's It All About? Philosophy and the Meaning of Life

What's It All About? Philosophy and the Meaning of Life

What's It All About? Philosophy and the Meaning of Life

What's It All About? Philosophy and the Meaning of Life


What is the meaning of life? It is a question that has intrigued the great philosophers--and has been hilariously lampooned by Monty Python. Indeed, the whole idea strikes many of us as vaguely pompous, a little absurd. Is there one profound and mysterious meaning to life, a single ultimate purpose behind human existence?

InWhat's It All About?, Julian Baggini says no, there is no single meaning. Instead, Baggini argues meaning can be found in a variety of ways, in this life. He succinctly breaks down six answers people commonly suggest when considering what life is all about--helping others, serving humanity, being happy, becoming successful, enjoying each day as if it were your last, and "freeing your mind." By reducing the vague, mysterious question of meaning to a series of more specific (if thoroughly unmysterious) questions about what gives life purpose and value, he shows that the quest for meaning can be personal, empowering, and uplifting. If the meaning of life is not a mystery, if leading meaningful lives is within the power of us all, then we can look around us and see the many ways in which life can have purpose. We can see the value of happiness while accepting it is not everything. We can see the value of success, without interpreting that too narrowly. We can see the value of seizing the day as well as helping others lead meaningful lives. We can recognize the value of love, as perhaps the most powerful motivator of all.

Illustrating his argument with the thoughts of many of the great philosophers and examples drawn from everyday life, Baggini convincingly shows that the search for meaning is personal and within the power of each of us to find.


'You're T. S. Eliot,' said a taxi driver to the famous poet as he stepped into his cab. Eliot asked him how he knew. 'Ah, I've got an eye for a celebrity,' he replied. 'Only the other evening I picked up Bertrand Russell, and I said to him, “Well, Lord Russell, what's it all about?” And, do you know, he couldn't tell me.'

On which man is the joke in this true story? Is it Lord Russell, the great philosopher, who despite all his supposed intelligence and wisdom was unable to answer the cabby's question? Surely if anyone can tell us 'what it's all about', the world's greatest living philosopher can? Or is it the taxi driver, who expected to hear the solution to such a big problem in the course of a short journey? Even if Russell knew the answer, wouldn't it require time and patience to explain the secrets of the universe?

Perhaps the best answer is that neither man merits mockery. Certainly not Russell, for if it were possible to answer the question properly in ten minutes someone would already have publicly done so and the taxi driver would not have needed to ask. But nor should we mock the taxi driver for his ignorance. His question is one almost everyone asks at some point.

The problem is that it is vague, general and unclear. It is not so much a single question but a place-holder for a whole set of questions: Why are we here? What is the purpose of life? Is it enough just to be happy? Is my life serving some greater purpose? Are we here to help others or just ourselves?

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