Source: The Meaning of Life: A Very Short Introduction (1 ed 2007) by T. Eagleton. p. 50 Middle - p. 51 Top.

We can always ask, after all, why someone should want to know the meaning of life. Are they sure that it will help them to live better? After all, men and women have lived superlative lives without apparently being in possession of this secret. Or perhaps they were in possession of the secret of life all along without knowing it. Maybe the meaning of life is something I am doing right now, as simple as breathing, without the faintest awareness of it. What if it is elusive not because it is concealed, but because it is too close to the eyeball to have a clear view of? Perhaps the meaning of life is not some goal to be pursued, or some chunk of truth to be dredged up, but something which is articulated in the act of living itself, or perhaps in a certain way of living. The meaning of a narrative, after all, is not just the ‘end’ of it, in either sense of the word, but the process of narration itself.

Wittgenstein puts the point well. ‘[1.] If anyone should think he has solved the problem of life’, he writes, ‘and feel like telling himself that everything is quite easy now,
[2.] he can see that he is wrong just by recalling that there was a time when this “solution” had not been discovered;
[3.] but it must have been possible to live then too
[4.] and the solution which has now been discovered seems fortuitous in relation to how things were then.’
Behind this sentiment lurks Wittgenstein’s conviction that the meaning of life, if there is such a thing, is neither a secret nor a ‘solution’, ideas which we shall be investigating later. Meanwhile, we can ask once again: what if the meaning of life were something that we should at all costs not discover?


13 Wittgenstein, Culture and Value, 4e.

My disagreement with 2-4 above insinuates possible misunderstanding. E.g., consider someone who was suffering an Existential Crisis (abbreviated to EC), but now thinks to have solved the problem of life. Then how are 2-4 true?

3 above can be rebutted: Before the solution, he was physically living, but not happily living or living to his full potential.

4 also: The EC compelled him to discover this solution. So how can the solution be 'fortuitous in relation to how things were then', when 'things' refers to EC in this context?

  • 2
    I'm guessing Wittgenstein simply meant that if living then was not following the prescription of a "secret to life" then coming across the "secret to life" by living that way would have to be fortuitous indeed since one would presume that having the secret to life was presumably one of the goals achievable by following the aforementioned prescription. Note, he's not saying it would be impossible, only that it would need to be fortuitous. – Isaacson Jun 7 '17 at 9:33

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