Death and the meaning of life

Sunday 23 October, 16.00 - 17.15 , Cinema 3 Emotional Intelligence
Listen to this session at the bottom of this page.

‘Not to be here, not to be anywhere, and soon.’ Philip Larkin’s words help us focus on the great existential question: how should we live our lives when we are permanently under the shadow of our own death? It was once taken for granted that religion provided an overarching framework to guide believers on how to live their lives, usually with an eye firmly fixed on the pleasures or torments of an afterlife. Alternatively, Classical philosophers like Epicurus and Lucretius offered the comforting thought that death is nothing, since none of us will live past his or her own death to be made any the worse for it. In the 21st century, however, many religions have little to say about the hereafter, and non-religious approaches - often barrenly stoical - can seem unsatisfying and bleak.

There have been many other approaches to the question of how best to live a mortal existence, and it can be argued that most of human culture has evolved partly as an answer to this inescapable predicament. We seek to leave memories of ourselves in the form of art, of achievements, of precious children, in the hope that something of us will remain even when our bodily lives are ended. But such endeavours do not offer direct guidance on how we should live our lives on a daily basis, and nor do they provide much consolation given the fact of our own personal annihilation.

What is the good life? What does it mean to talk about a life well-lived? Should we take no thought for the morrow, and live for the highs and lows of the moment? If God is dead, is all hopeless? Does the answer lie in bucket lists, keenly ticking off our clichéd mortal ambitions as we near our autumnal days? Or might there be something deeper, somehow more instructive and more substantive, to be garnered during our allotted span of years?