“Granpa?” (yes, it’s that boy again), “What’s the meaning of existence?”
I know my limitations. A question that has occupied the finest minds of Homo Sapiens – and, for all we know, other species as well (those dolphins are no slouches) – for thousands of years was hardly going to receive a definitive answer on the way to the bus-stop. And I speak as one who is not only a grandfather but also the proud possessor of a 2-2 in Philosophy, and therefore ought to be comparatively well up on these matters.
Although, as any fule kno, you cannot derive a fact from a value.
And that’s the is-ought dichotomy, that is.
“What do you mean?” I replied, giving the stock philosophers’ response to any question more complex than “would you like a drink?’ (A: Yes. Always) and thus buying myself some time to gather my thoughts.
“How did we get here? What are we here for?”
This boy does not mess about. With relief, though, I saw a way of approaching my attempt at a proper response.
“Well, that’s two different questions really”.
“Firstly, there’s how humans evolved, starting with just the atoms in the universe and getting to how we are today. And then there’s the second part, about since we are here, what should we do? Lots of clever people have spent their whole lives trying to answer those questions, but still nobody really knows. The first one is science really, but the second one is called philosophy. That’s what I studied at university”.
“Hmmm. I think I prefer the second” (Good lad)
“So do I, but it’s a really difficult question. What do you think?” (I am so good)
“Hmmm. I don’t know. Since we are here, there must be something we’re supposed to do. I’m confused”.
“It is very confusing. Lots of people will try and tell you what you should do, but that doesn’t always mean they’re right, although they will be sometimes. You don’t have to agree with them. Maybe the best thing is to do what you think is right and treat people the way you’d like them to treat you”.
And that’s Kant’s Categorical Imperative that is. Sort of.
The boy lapsed into thought and we walked along together in silence for a couple of minutes.
‘Granpa?” (Oh God, now what?) “Can we sit upstairs on the bus?”