The Most Important Question

Question Mark

What is the most important question of all?

On the face of it, that question seems like a sensible one, even an important one. We ask many questions in life, and some are clearly more important than others. For example, the question “Where are my car keys?” is more important than the question “How many ducks are there in Belgium right now?” It’s possible, in principle, to rank questions in order of importance.

So what’s the most important question of all? A number of candidates immediately spring to mind:

  • “Does God exist?”
  • “What is God like?”
  • “What is the purpose of life?”
  • “What does it mean to be human?”
  • “Is there life after death?”
  • “Do we have free will?”
  • “How can I find true happiness?”

And of course we could suggest other candidates. But here’s the funny thing. We’re reflecting on all those different questions right now because we first asked the question “What is the most important question of all?” In fact, it seems to me that when we raise those questions we do so precisely because we consider them to be among the most important questions to ask. In other words, we raise those other questions because we’ve already raised, at least implicitly, that first question.

Or look at it this way. All of the questions listed above are important, as are many others. But they’re also challenging questions. It might take time and effort to answer any one of them. So we would like to know where to begin. To which of those questions should we devote ourselves first? Well, to the most important one, of course. But in order to do that, we first need to answer the question “Which is the most important question of all?”

So it seems that the question “What is the most important question of all?” is prior to all the other important questions. It’s more fundamental than those other questions, which suggests that it’s more important that all those other (important) questions.

According to this line of reasoning, then, the answer to the question “What is the most important question of all?” is simply:

What is the most important question of all?

But that’s disturbingly paradoxical, isn’t it? For it suggests that the most important question of all has an answer that is (1) remarkably easy to deduce and (2) utterly uninformative and unhelpful.

Nevertheless, it still sounds pretty impressive to say that you’ve answered the most important question of all — and that’s exactly what I’ve just done. Aren’t you impressed?

Now, on to the second most important question of all…

One Response to The Most Important Question

  1. That’s a good example of explaining what is logically prior. I always feel like I’m getting blank stares when I try to explain this and not sure if it’s due to my not articulating it well enough or it really is just hard to get our heads around the things we presuppose.