Excellence Reporter: Prof. Carruthers, what is the meaning of life?
Peter Carruthers: The meaning of life is whatever makes the question of the meaning of life go away.
I was greatly troubled by the issue as a teenager and young adult. I read Japanese haiku, studied Zen Buddhism, dipped into ancient Hindu and Buddhist texts, and tried to figure out what they meant by enlightenment.
The question really seemed to matter, and I agonized over it. Indeed, my reasons for majoring in philosophy in college were two-fold: I thought that philosophy would help me to think more logically, and that it would help me to find the meaning of life.
Studying philosophy certainly achieved the former. In a roundabout way, it also did the latter. For I had found something I was good at, which has kept me gainfully employed ever since, writing about issues that fascinate me and trying to help students who are smarter than I am, but who don’t know as much. And in college, during a philosophy seminar, I met the woman who became my wife. We have been together now for 46 years.
After a while I found that I had stopped thinking about the meaning of life. The question wasn’t directly answered. It just evaporated. And so, in a sense, it was answered.
~Peter Carruthers is Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy at the University of Maryland and lives in one of the suburbs surrounding Washington DC. He previously taught at the Universities of Sheffield, Essex, Queen’s Belfast, and St Andrews (all in the United Kingdom). He is the author of more than a dozen books and over 100 articles, mostly in philosophy of mind and cognitive science. His most recent books are, The Centered Mind: What the science of working memory shows us about the nature of human thought (Oxford University Press, 2015) and, Human and Animal Minds: The consciousness questions laid to rest (Oxford University Press, 2020).
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