<i>Every Time I Find the Meaning of Life, They Change It</i>, by Daniel Klein. Every Time I Find the Meaning of Life, They Change It, by Daniel Klein.
Every Time I Find the Meaning of Life, They Change it

Let's start with the title of this  box of goodies. Most people will want to know what is meant by "they". Who exactly are the nasty folk  supposed to be moving the goals of life? An experienced philosopher may focus instead on a more tricky concept in the title, namely "I". The vertical pronoun is the governing force in contemporary culture. It is the god many people worship. But what does it actually represent? Is there an "I" looking for the meaning of life or does the meaning of life create the "I".
Anyone who'd prefer to think of an existential dilemma as a joy ride would do much worse than to enlist Daniel Klein as a co-pilot. Readers familiar with his Travels with Epicurus will have relished the gentle scorn with which he teats the "forever young" movement as he journeys in search of "an authentic old age". Epicurus was one of the less epicurean philosophers, just as Plato was one of the less platonic. He helps Klein identify the freedom that, Klein believes, is the ticket to a happy old age.  Klein has also been the co-author of a couple of "philosophy through jokes" books that demonstrate that bad jokes can make good philosophy, just the same as bad philosophy can make a good joke.
Every Time I Find the Meaning of Life  plays with a simple but delightful idea. As a young man, Klein started collecting  arresting quotes from the great minds of history. He called these quotes his "pithies". Now, approaching 80, he finds his notebook again and begins to comment on what those short extracts, once so dear to him, might mean after a passage of half a century or more. The beauty of this is the humility of a man who has worked his mind hard enough to be able to claim, without jest, that he knows less than he used to.
Klein is a witty advertisement for the practice of dealing with life's challenges by deep listening. This means returning to voices from the past and seeing what nerves they touch. He explores, for example, an understanding of eternal life that involves living so completely in the present moment that the past and future fade away. He wonders if death might simply involve such a total experience of the present moment and hence of timelessness.
There are lots of great quotes and stories. One of each might whet the appetite. Clive James said "a sense of humour is common sense, dancing". The story concerns the high-toned British philosopher, A J Ayer. Ayer was once at a cocktail party in New York where he was appalled by the way Mike Tyson was treating a female guest. Ayer told the boxer to watch himself. Tyson said "Do you know who the f--- I am? I'm the heavyweight champion of the world." Ayer responded: "And I am a professor of logic … I suggest we talk about this like rational men."
There are many books that offer a degustation menu of morsels of philosophy. Daniel Klein is able to make a party of them.
Michael McGirr teaches philosophy at St Kevin's College in Melbourne.