As we began reading and discussing Goethe’s Faust in my freshman seminar class, I decided to raise an even bigger question than the ones that we had been tackling so far this semester. I asked them what the meaning of life is.
One student raised his hand and said “42.”
I had to explain it for some students. But Douglas Adams’ famous treatment of this topic actually fit what I hoped we would talk about nicely. Students proposed answers, in particular “happiness,” in a way that soon made evident that they were not at all sure what the question was – just like the characters in Adams’ novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, who get the answer only to discover that they don’t know what the question is. We’ll be talking more about this next time.