Thank you very much, Dr. Templeton, and distinguished members of this panel here for your remarks. I have to say I feel once more the sense of being overwhelmed that I experienced when I first heard of receiving this prize which I didn’t even know I could be a possible candidate for. But I can see and I understand now the thinking behind the judges and the people in the foundation and I’m very deeply honored by this. I feel such a sense of being overwhelmed and very humbled about this that I sometimes have trouble seeing myself in these glowing descriptions. But I certainly think that what has been described here is something that I’ve tried to do. Let me try to describe very quickly how I’ve been trying.
We talk here about spiritual discovery and that being put as an analogy to scientific discovery in chemistry, physics, and so on. I think it may be better to say, in part, spiritual rediscovery because there is a tremendous capacity in human life to forget things that we somehow deep down knew. And of course a lot of great philosophers from Plato on have talked about this extensively and, in a sense, the 20th century philosopher, Heidegger, speaks of forgetfulness of being. I think there is a kind of forgetfulness we fall into and in particular there are a set of forgettings that are very central to the modern world.
In a sense the modern world, and what we call the secular world, has led, among other things, to people wanting to forget certain answers to the questions of life. There has been a rebellion in certain areas against religion in my own home society in Quebec, and a tremendous rebellion in the 1960s, and a great rejection by many people of the Catholic faith and the church. That hasn’t happened everywhere, but things like that have happened elsewhere.
So certain answers have been totally rejected. But what is really dangerous is to forget the questions. In a certain sense, what I’ve been trying to say is something like this. Human beings, whether they admit it or not, live in a space of questions, very deep questions. What is the meaning of life, what is a higher mode of life, a lower mode of life, what is really worthwhile, what is the basis of the dignity that I’m trying to define for myself, the hunger to be really on the side of the good and the right, in popular terms to be part of the solution and not part of the problem, and I can mention many others. These are deep hungers or searches or questions that people are asking all the time.
And the basic thesis that I have been offering on this could sound very crazy and wrong to some people, but I really think it’s the truth. Everybody exists in this space of questions whether they recognize it or not. They may not think they’ve been posing or solving the question of the meaning of life, but, being a human being, that has to get to you at some level and you have to be living an answer to that, whether you recognize that or not.
And I think one of the really important rules of human science is to bring this out and to bring out very often the inarticulate answers that people are living. That’s why we need another understanding of reason. It’s not simply moving deductively through an argument, it’s also being able to give voice and articulate some of these very deep-lived positions of people and bring them out to the surface. Why do this? I could say, ‘Socrates, come here and tell us again the unexamined life isn’t worth living.’ I think that’s part of it, but also I think it’s terribly damaging if we forget these questions because a lot of the things that happen in our world have happened because people have answered them in a certain way.
I’ve talked about this in the last few days. A lot of the violence we see in our world today comes when young people are recruited to certain causes which make them do really horrifying killings. And what recruits them is some offer, some supposed offer, of a real sense of meaning to their lives. They may be living in a stage of unemployment or they see no future or they have no sense of dignity, and they get these answers. They may not think of themselves as having answered a question but they have answered a question and of course in this case answered it in a terribly destructive and self-destructive way.
But unless we see that they’re working in that space of questions, like all of us, we won’t know why they’re doing it, we won’t know what to do to maybe convince them to find another answer to this. We just will be helpless. I don’t really call Socrates to my support here, in pleading that these are important questions, but we have to bring them up, we need actually to live in our world in a way that we can ultimately establish some way of peace and comity and understanding with each other.
Although this is a kind of leap, if you like, of scientific faith to begin with, that we have to understand humans on this level, I really am very convinced of it. It’s my trying to bring this up and put it forward that I think is the great affinity that I have with the goals of the Templeton Foundation.
I must say just one more thing. I have tremendously benefited from work with others in various networks which have been discussing this, because this is the kind of issue you can’t solve within one single discipline. You have to bring in people from a whole set of disciplines. I feel at this moment how tremendously I owe a lot of what I am able to say to a whole set of networks.
And of course, et, Michel Rutin l’a mentionné, c’est ma vie au Québec, dans une famille un peu double, un peu entre deux solitudes. C’est ma vie au Québec dans toutes les grandes questions qui se sont posées à nous. C’est ça qui a alimenté, dès le très bas âge which has given me a sense from a very young age of a sense of importance of these questions. So I feel a tremendous debt to McGill and to all the groups and the movements and the networks that have made it possible for me to stand here today and give my thanks for this tremendous honor that you’ve done me. Thank you very much.