Addressing the Question’s Lack of Clarity: Securing a Non-linguistic Usage of “ ”
option for addressing the clarity problem is to retain the use of the word “ ” and to secure a usage that applies to
non-linguistic phenomena, given that in asking the question of life’s , one is not asking for the semantic
of the word “life.” This strategy
is especially concerned with finding a natural interpretation of the question
through a plausible employment of the term “ .” “ ” has multiple s, and at least some of the more
prominent ones mitigate its usefulness in the context of trying to formulate
the intuitions driving the question of life’s . Indeed, if one is asking for the
semantic of life rather than “life,” then the
accusation of incoherence is plausible. We ask for the s of semantic constructions, but not of
things like physical entities, events, or life in general. The problem then is
that “ ” is a term which appears to
most naturally find its home within a linguistic context. However, life itself
is not such a context. That is to say, in asking the question, one is not
asking for any sort of definition of “life” or a description of this term’s
usage. But then, what is being asked? This is where the problem lies.
problem is solvable, though, given that asking what something means need not be a request for a definition or description.
There are additional non-linguistic contexts in which the locution, “What is
the of x?”
makes perfect sense (for example, intentional signification, non-intentional
signification (that is, natural signs), and so forth.) (see Nozick 1981). Some
of them even share family resemblances to the question of life’s . One in particular is especially
question, “What is the of x?”
functions naturally in the largely non-linguistic context in which we seek to
know how something fits within
a larger context or narrative. We naturally and
legitimately invoke the formula, “What is the of x?” in
situations where x is
some fact, event, or phenomenon we encounter and of which we want to know the
fact’s or event’s or phenomenon’s “. . . implication in the wider world within
which this notion [or fact, event, or phenomenon] makes the sense it makes”
(Wright 2003: 719). This “wider world” Wright considers to be a worldview,
metanarrative, or something similar.
his point, Wright uses the example of how one comes to understand the Easter
Event (that is, the putative bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazerath). For
example, a well-educated Roman soldier who comes to learn of the event may
contextualize it, and therefore “fix” its , through the myth ofNero redivivus, the idea that Nero had
come back to life in order to return to Rome in all his glory. The event means something different for him than for, say, Saul of Tarsus.
The wider worldview framework or narrative (or even simply a more localized
narrative which is, itself, part of a larger worldview narrative) will play a
heavy hermeneutical role, then, in “discovering” (some may prefer determining) what any given fact, event, or phenomenon
means. Discovering this will be a product of asking and answering
questions like: In what larger narrative(s) does the sentence (intended to
refer to a fact, event, or phenomenon) belong? What worldviews do such narratives
embody and reinforce? What are the universes of discourse within which this
sentence, and the event it refers to, settle down and make themselves at home –
and which, at the same time, they challenge and reshape from within? (Wright
of the of life, one
could argue that we are trying to find the “wider world” (i.e., worldview,
metanarrative) in which the existentially salient elements and accompanying
questions of life fit. These existentially salient elements and accompanying
questions of life, for which the word “life” is a marker, are perennial of life themes. They are what often prompt in
us the grand question: “What is the of life?” and include:
(1) Fact—something exists, we [humans] exist, and I exist / Question—Why does anything or we or I exist at all?
(2) Question—Does life have any purpose(s), and if so,
what is its nature and source?
(3) Fact—we are often passionately engaged in life pursuits and projects
that we deem valuable and worthwhile / Question—Does
the worth and value of these pursuits and projects need grounding in something else, and if so, what?
(4) Fact—pain and suffering are part of the universe / Question—Why?
(5) Question—How does it all end? Is death final? Is there
an eschatological remedy to the ills of this world?
(5) constitute the cluster of considerations that track discussions of life’s , even though reasonable debate will
exist about the details. In asking, “What is the of life?” it is plausible to view this as the
request for a “wider world” (that is, worldview, metanarrative) through which
to secure answers to these questions. Viewed as such, this renders the
question, “What is the of life?” coherent and intelligible by
securing a usage of “ ” that fits
naturally within a non-linguistic context.