Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Wainfleet Philosopher's Cafe and the Meaning of Life

I am the animator of a discussion group run by the Wainfleet Library called the Philosopher's Cafe. Here is the mailing I wrote to its members for September.

originally written September 5, 2013

The Meaning of Life

About ten years I came out for the Wainfleet Library's monthly Philosopher's Cafe. It was 2004, and the meeting was in its first year. An initiative of Lorraine, a library employee, the Cafe was inspired by former librarian Stan Skrzeszewski, from London Ontario. Stan is a former philosopher-in-residence at a library, and he started up Philosopher's Cafe groups in several libraries across Ontario. I was impressed by the business card he handed out, proclaiming him to be a "Philosopher Practitioner." It also included a picture of a bust of Socrates. He has visited our meeting several times over the years. Before the second year started, Loraine went away for what proved to be a permanent maternity leave. The library asked Stu Edwards and myself to animate the discussions. The next year Stu moved away, and I have done it alone ever since.

The topics we have discussed have covered every possible facet of philosophy and modern life. In the first meeting I attended, the topic was, "What is truth?" Stan once suggested, "What makes a good politician?" Generally, I have found that the most popular concern, one we return to again and again, is the environment. People, I found, are very worried about global warming, and how we are going to save ourselves from its consequences. Another preoccupation is democracy, questions to do with how we can arrive at decisions that will save us from such threats. At the end of each meeting, the group itself decides the topic for the next month. The only rule is, if you suggest a topic of discussion, be sure to turn up next time to remind us why you wanted to talk about it! In June, the suggested subject for our first meeting this year, Thursday 12 September, 2013, was: "What is the Meaning of Life?"

What do you think the meaning of life is? It is a difficult and profound question. But it does have a funny side, as demonstrated in the Monty Python movie, "The Meaning of Life" The Ancient Greeks considered the question itself to be meaningless, completely unanswerable. Life has to be lived first, before you can even think about what it means. They had a saying, "Call no man good until he is dead." They did not mean that the only good person is a dead person. No, only that life is subject to a sort of uncertainty principle where you can only judge goodness or meaning once it is over, once everything is complete. Whether you agree with that or not, do come out to the Wainfleet Cafe at 6:30 PM, Thursday 12 September, for a lively discussion.

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