What is the most important question of all time?

Some would say “Why are we here?” or “What’s the meaning of life?” or “How did all of this begin?”. For me, it’s “What is the value of life?” I think this is humanity’s most paramount question because, in truth, it is this question that we all hope to answer when we are asking all the other arcane, philosophical questions. We are constantly trying to gauge, and analyze, and estimate, and establish the value of human life; almost all political endeavors are enacted for making such conclusions.

To me, man’s most pressing need as of late has been redemption. Redemption of life individually and life in general, but nonetheless redemption is what we all want. We all want to know that we exist, and live, and experience pain, pleasure, and everything in between for a reason. It doesn’t even have to be a good reason (see also, religion), just one that provides our lives with meaning and value. Every question of teleology, ontology, aesthetic beauty, epistemology, and metaphysics is ultimately made in the attempt to apply whatever answers that can be revealed to human life and accomplishments. To somehow prove to some unknown, cosmic jury that it is not a crime to exist. To justify ourselves and our actions.

On this forum we debate often over the answer to this question or other extraneous answers that could thereafter answer this question, but the question remains the same. In this thread, I am not asking for answers or opinions or personal revelations; rather, what question do you ask in your mind most often? What question decides your actions? For you, what is the most important question in the world, whether it’s for you or for all of humanity?

How can I get food?

Our predicament is that we don’t even know what question to ask. If there’s one thing history has taught us, it’s that we shouldn’t be surprised to get the most banal answers to what we take to be the most imporant questions. So the question is, what question will yeild the most significant answer - the answer may surprise you.

For the philosopher, the most important question is this: What are the fullest useful ramifications of my beliefs, and do those ramifications show my beliefs to be self-consistent?

For the record, I wasn’t really joking, so please don’t take it that way.

When I said, “How do I get food?”, I mean that “How do I get food?” was the most important question of all time considering no further thought would have been possible without it, nor any step forward toward social or societal structure.

In fear I ask
“What the hell are we doing here?” There has got to be something other then pain anguish and despise.
But when I love i see the purpose.

Another question I get asked alot is "Do you want fries with that?

I like the question posited by Man to Computer in the Isaac Asimov story The Last Question:

Can entropy be reversed? Probably not the most important, but once that is answered…

Ah well, in the story, anyway. :slight_smile:

I like this answer because it takes into account both the “important” and the “of all time” in the original query, the only problem is that I’m not entirely convinced anyone ever actually asked it as a question!

What is my goal and which course of action will bring me closest to achieving it?

Good one, zeusy. Halfway to perspectivism, though. Be careful.

How do you mean, halfway?

The other half would be “and who can I screw in the meantime?”

I jest.

Some questions are better left unasked.

True. But–and this is just my personal opinion–I think all human endeavors have underlying motives, even philosophy.
Philosophy didn’t just pop out of curiosity and a yearning for knowledge like Platonic thinkers like to believe; rather, there’s something we’re trying to get at with philosophical discourse; some applicable course of action we hope to attain by establishing firm ground upon which to launch it.

Philosophy is a preliminary defensive measure of justification for actions; a caveman throws a rock. Another caveman inquires as to why the first caveman did this. The first caveman has no good reason so he returns to his cave and formulates hypotheses and premises and conclusions and retracts said conclusions and pretty much broods around in his cave day after day until he stumbles upon a revelation. The first caveman returns to the second caveman and puts forth his case for throwing the rock. I can assume that his argument was far from Kantian; in fact I’m sure was quite stupid in terms of arguments, but nonetheless it was an argument. And that’s the birth of philosophy.

Being equipped with preprepared arguments has grown to be advantageous in our highly socialized world, and has driven the evolution of the philosophical discourse throughout history; the urge to “deduce” reasons for human conduct. Eventually the existentialists came upon the revelation (much like the caveman) that the most ubiquitous action man could possible commit is merely to exist. To be. It is from there that an overall justification for existence was the focal point of philosophy, and, for the most part, has been since then. In the end, we need to justify our actions and our lives in order to give them any meaning (in our eyes)–in my opinion, there is no such thing as a question which does not ultimately hope to aid in this process.

Thus, when we say “What is the meaning of life?”, what we’re really trying to say is “What is the meaning of my life, and how should I conduct it?” When we say “Why am I here?” we’re just saying “What am I worth?” The answers themselves aren’t important; it’s the implications of the answers.

In a way, I agree with you, no answer could ever meet our stupendous expectations. In some ways, this means that unanswered questions are the only truly philosophical questions. We are infinitely fascinated with questions that can never yield answers because such questions could very well be harboring a clue or hint for what we should be doing. And that’s just too tantalizing to pass up.


Although, I think that humans are most creative when they are given a goal with no clear parameters or path. For me, just having a goal would suffice, allowing me to invest my time and energy in achieving said goal in my own manner, by my own methods. “What is my goal?” Then again, I’m sure “Do I even have a goal?” might precede that.

Speaking of allocation of time and energy, what of potential; i.e., “How can I best use up my time on Earth?” No one likes having regrets, so that, to me, seems somewhat important.

Interesting. So that is to say that this Universe and all of existence itself may be the answer to some other question. That, of course, brings into thought the deterministic ‘clockwork’ model of the Universe, which is built on the notion that the Universe is fulfilling some sort of destiny. Very Douglas Adams-esque.

Just why???

What was I thinking?

Yes, and the “applicable course of action” is simple: we want to convert. We find ourselves subscribing to one ‘ism’ or another - or inventing our own - and the primary motive for disseminating it further is to amass even more followers. This is how we find our security - we find safety in numbers - and strength in the unity of our thought.

Agreed; I sometimes liken the ideas we come up with to computer programs. Caveman #1 in your scenario is engaged in self-programming. He’s building a program that he can download onto the other caveman’s brain. The function of the program is to placate caveman #2.

The bold text is where our opinions diverge. I don’t think you can call ‘existing’ an act. The closest you can come is “bringing into existence”, and then it’s something done unto us, not something we’re doing. Justifying our existence may be one of the subjects of philosophy - indeed, it is an interesting one - but I don’t think it’s the all-encompassing underlying basis for all philosophy. I think the function of philosophy in human life is the same as it is in science and all other fields of inquiry - we’re trying to figure out the world. This is a uniquely human practice and the underlying drive behind it is to build exhaustive and pragmatic models for the purpose of making life predictable and controllable - at least, this used to the be sole purpose. With the advent of civilization came an extended purpose, which was to make social and political dynamics more fluent and efficient (I can explain further if you want). Whatever serves these purposes is what underlies and drives philosophy - I don’t think the need to justify our existence falls under this.

Yeah, those unanswered questions will serve philosophers with a never-ending source of speculation forever. And that’s a good thing. Certain of our answers to the questions of life need to be ‘recyclable’ - that is, subject to question, re-interpretation, and doubt - so that we can come up with new ones to replace the old when they fall out of use.

It would not obviously be worded as such, as most thought of action is not worded until it is reflected upon, but it is a thought even so and one that upon reflection caused a great multitude of grand historic changes in man’s past.

Aside from the obvious, “we would not exist” BS, let’s look at only schools of thought.

General division of man would not exist in the manner that it does, for the original divide would be that of groups to get food, and the original strife with groups would be that of groups that did not get and those that did get but do not want to share.

Religious concept of taxing would not exist in the manner that it does, for the original explanation of the control of food would be that of providence and the appeasement of that providence would be of the highest importance considering.

General concept of mechanics would not exist in the manner that it does, for the primary use of the reasonably first mechanics would be that of constructions to aid in getting food.

That outlines the three largest schools of thought:
Politics, Religion, and Science.

There is a general rule:
The farther a society is from the question, “How do we get food?”, the closer that society is to higher schools of advanced thought.

Since this is the very simple measure and root of determining the capacity a society has to think beyond the ends of means and survival, then I see absolutely no problem determining that it was, is, and will be the most important question to the human race.