Interviewer: In daily life we refer to different kinds of meanings: we talk about the meaning of a person’s actions, the meaning of a word, the meaning of life. What sort of meaning that you have in mind as a philosopher? Are these sorts of ‘meanings’ all the same?
Patrick: The kind of meaning that I am hoping to explore is that abstract and woolly kind of meaning that we refer to when we say that ‘I am struggling to find meaning in my life’. I sense that this is a very different kind of meaning to the meaning of a word, for example, although another term for the meaning of the word is a definition, and those moments in our lives that offer most meaning tend to be referred to as defining moments, so maybe the differences are not so stark. Maybe it is just less easy to define or give meaning to a life than a chair. That said, I do not want this to become a conversation about ‘the meaning of life’ as such (Monty Python solved this riddle a while back: “Well, it’s nothing very special. Uh, try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations”), but rather about the role of philosophy in aiding those who engage in it to live more meaningful lives. Does reading the canon of Western philosophy make one’s life more meaningful? I suspect it can, but I am still struggling to work out why this may be the case. If meaning can be sought from philosophy, is this any different to the kind of meaning one can extract from science? And are these kinds of meanings less profound than those traditionally found in religions? I am intrigued by religions and concerned by what we have lost in throwing them out. When you read people like Dostoevsky, you sense a profound loss, but in our secular age it becomes increasingly difficult to work out what this may have been.