Monty Python and the Search
for the Meaning of Life
We all struggle to lead good lives, looking for guidance from a variety of social institutions. For example, many people draw on their religion to help them figure out how to lead an ethical and meaningful life. The members of Monty Python draw humor from the challenges involved in making proper use of the guidance these institutions provide, usually by showing the dismal failure of our efforts. We can explore some of the most influential of these institutions and their relationships to moral theories by taking a tour through the works of Monty Python and examining the themes they discuss.
Python's Flying Circus
One social institution that seems to provide guidance is the marketplace. According to the famous image given by the Scottish Enlightenment philosopher Adam Smith (1723–1790) in his 1776 work The Wealth of Nations, the marketplace acts as an “invisible hand” that guides people motivated by their own self-interest to make contributions to the greater good of society. On this view, people work primarily to accumulate wealth for themselves; however, in a market setting the only way to gain this wealth is by providing goods and services that others value, resulting in a happier