Published on: 5 March 2013

Year 12 philosophy and ethics students enjoyed a rare opportunity to ponder ‘Meaning and Life’ with a bona fide philosopher recently. Thanks to the Centre for Ethics, the class welcomed philosopher, commentator and author Damon Young.

Damon, who is an Honorary Fellow in Philosophy at the University of Melbourne, presented on the topic with a particular emphasis on the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. Head of Philosophy Dominic Hodnett said the boys listened intently, particularly when Damon read Nietzsche’s famous ‘Eternal Recurrence’ thought-experiment:

What if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you, `This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence – even this spider and this moon-light between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!’ Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him, `You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine!’

The Gay Science (1882)

“Damon explained that Nietzsche, having suggested that the concept of god is dead, was left with the problem of then explaining the meaning of life. Why do we do what we do? What is the purpose of our existence? The prospect (real or otherwise) of the ‘Eternal Recurrence’ will either crush you or lead you to transform your life,” Mr Hodnett said.

After the thought-provoking presentation, Damon faced a range of questions from boys keen to learn more about Nietzsche and the topic of meaning and life in general.