Re: The Quest for the Purpose of Life

From: Damien Broderick (
Date: Wed Jan 23 2002 - 20:09:11 MST

At 09:04 AM 1/23/02 -0800, Max More wrote:

>I find that Nozick's approach is more enlightening and
>stimulating of thought than either the "this is the answer"
>approach, or Damien's "this is a meaningless question"
>approach. (Damien has a point, but exploring the possible
>interpretations of the question can be productive.)

I didn't say it was `a meaningless question', I said it wasn't a question
at all, it was just a string of words that misleadingly resembled one. That
doesn't mean it mightn't provoke a thoughtful person into considering some
interesting and even important issues.

For example, in the light of evolutionary explanations it seems obvious
that we *can* sensibly ask `what is the purpose of the liver?' without
implying that any *person* or *volitional agent* intended that biological
purpose. Most living sub-structures really do have a teleological aspect.
It's just that this can't possibly apply to life per se--the abstraction,
or the totality of living things--let alone the universe as a whole.

But I do think it's important to admit that some syntagmata ending with a
question mark are really not true questions. `When did you stop beating
your wife?' when addressed prosecutorially to an unmarried woman *looks*
like a question, but it can't be, since it admits of no conceivable answer.
When addressed to a married man who has never beaten his wife...? I'm not
sure, but I have my doubts about it *qua* question (if we agree to accept
Gricean principles of conversational implicature and communicative fairness
as a necessary basis for discourse).

Damien Broderick

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Fri Nov 01 2002 - 13:37:36 MST