David Hume sounds like a philosopher I would like to get to know more about. He’s the focus of this month’s Philosophy Now magazine and the editor did a nice intro piece that inspired me to want to know more. Like the editor, Rick Lewis, I’ve asked myself many times “what should I do with my life?” I’ve made many trips to the mirror seeking the answer from the only person I’m told can answer that question. Every time I think I have it figured out, something happens that throws my whole spec out of the window and it’s right back to the mirror I go again.
Hume asks the question “What ought you to do with your life?” Some times I think this is the most important question in the world, other times I think why bother, just get up in the morning and do your thing. Now here’s the tricky bit for me, if I hold fast to the view that there is an afterlife of some sort, then I can relax in the belief that this life isn’t the end, that there’s more to come once I expire. But increasingly I’ve begun to question more and more as to whether that belief is true. Because the existential version of that story is that there is nothing after this life. This is it. You get one shot, make the most of it. That sentence makes me draw a breath. If I only get one shot, and this is it, then I don’t want to waste it. I want to do something meaningful with this life.
What constitutes a meaningful life? To answer that question, I need to know what is the purpose of life? Hence the question: “What exactly is any human life for?” Is it for expanding scientific knowledge? For helping those who suffer? For raising children? For making as much money as possible? For becoming the world paintball champion?
There is a philosophical argument about whether or not you can derive a knowledge of anything’s purpose simply from the facts about? From what I gather, Hume’s “is” and “ought” argument says no. On that basis, the answer to the question “What ought you to do with your life?” is that nothing about how the world “is” can possibly tell you. There is no objective ‘purpose of life’ to find – only projects we ourselves freely choose.
I know this is an over simplification of the argument. So I’ll have to go deeper. But at least it gives me something to mentally chew on during my travels this week.