Philosophical journalists would be an interesting breed. I don’t mean bent, bearded men toting reporters’ notebooks and tape recorders stumbling across Capital Hill–although that would be interesting. Nor do I mean reporters jabbing politicians with barbs about how the latest bill violates Kant’s categorical imperative. Instead, I imagine people curious to see what other people think, people who like asking questions about our basic assumptions.
Today, I watched a documentary called the “Nature of Existence.” The filmmaker, named Roger Nygard, chronicles answers to those “big questions”–like the meaning of life–by interviewing people from around the world, including hard-core Indian ascetics, fiery evangelists, physicists, artists, and waitresses. Some dash off the questions with a humorous observation, others admit their own ignorance, and some weave stories substantiated by absolute conviction.
His methods are those of a journalist, but his focus is on first principles, the realm of the philosopher.
Scanning titles in the non-fiction and creative nonfiction shelves at bookstores, I realize modern readers still have a lot of questions. We like to pretend we are practical these days, zeroed in on the nuts and bolts of economics and applied science. But I feel we only use new disciplines to fill an age-old void: purpose and meaning.