I am delighted to say that I have finally got my Meaning of life project back online. Back in 2003, I wrote to every (professional) philosopher in the country (all 643 of them) to ask them about the meaning of life, the universe and everything. This is what I said.
Dear Prof X/Dr Y,
As a professional philosopher, I am sure you are continually plagued by cranks and lunatics. I am no exception.
I have got it into my head that you are well placed to know about life, the universe and everything. Therefore, I am writing to ask if you could tell me the meaning of it all. (Do not be too flattered, I am writing to every philosopher in the country!)
If God were required to explain himself I am sure he could do it in a few elegant paragraphs on one crisply typeset foolscap sheet (though as an atheist I have not tried asking him.) You are welcome to go further than this but I would prefer something more like Meditations than either Either/Or or Being & Nothingness.
For the sake of brevity and convenience, please feel free to merely refer* me to a paper you have written elsewhere or something classic by a dead Greek or German.
One final very mundane point, I am not some highbrow Henry Root and in any case the laws of copyright are on your side. But, who knows, if philosophers turn out to be a particularly witty bunch or if you and your peers disagree strongly then I may collect the responses I receive and attempt to publish them.
*As you know, no letter from a crank is complete without a split infinitive!
And how many do you suppose replied? It was a lot less than 42. They weren’t exactly brimming over with enthusiasm for the topic, a lot of them said that it is the wrong question to ask if life has any meaning. i got about 20 replies and very few answers.. you and I might have thought that philosophers would be seekers after truth or lovers of wisdom or something useful of that ilk but mostly they are grumpy pedants.. who were largely content to point out the meaningless of my question as phrased and avoid addressing the geniune query that motivated it. Hell, I even got one death-threat!
But still I shouldn’t be too hard on them.. they were after all the very small minority that actually troubled to respond.. and some of them were quite witty. Derek Parfitt was crystal clear, Nancy Cartwright was refreshingly honest (this one, not this one) and I’ll bet Michael Rush knows all four verses of Monty Pythons philosopher’s song.