Lecture review: An Evening with A C Grayling, QPAC

What is the meaning of life? Professor A C Grayling has the answer. 

Who knew a philosophy lecture would be so popular in this modern age? Contemplating life’s big questions, Professor A C Grayling invited us to examine the philosophies by which we live.

The QPAC Concert Hall was converted to a more intimate setting as the audience settled in for an evening of open questions with the British philosopher, interviewed by playwright, director and ArtsHub‘s newest feature writer David Burton.

Author of over 30 books, Grayling honoured ideas from a diverse range of thinkers, opening with one of the great Greek plays, Aeschylus’ Eumenides, the third in the Oresteia trilogy, to explore how the concept of virtue has changed its meaning. It was clear that virtue and kindness were main themes this evening. Grayling proposed that adding meaning to the mundane could turn any day into a better one. 

Without notes or references, Grayling told the ancient stories as though they were his own, turning them into modern interpretations and explaining the definitions of the Latin words throughout. 

Marrying deep questions with light-hearted commentary made for gentle insights into philosophy and life – which happens to be the title of his new book.

Happiness was discussed through the history of the word, including how the meaning has changed over the years. Grayling explained that the phrase in the United States Declaration of Independence, ‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’, is not referring to the emotional state of happy “smiley smiley” we think of in modern times, but rather a particular set of circumstances: you have a roof over your head, you have food to eat and some security about your future. He suggested that the pursuit of happiness now is thinking about exploring how your life is really worth living.

When it comes to a life worth living, there’s only a certain amount of time, less than 1000 months for an average human lifespan, Grayling said. Breaking it down, he reminded the audience that unless we party a lot, we are asleep for a third, and spend another third most likely waiting in a queue – which doesn’t leave much time to pursue goals and passions. He then asked the crowd to question the concept of time, to consider that time should be measured in how we live. For example, if you live every day in the same way, you will only live a day, but if you live every day to its fullest potential – whatever that may look like for you – you may just have the time of your life.

Grayling took on a variety of questions from the audience, from Indian philosophy, through to well-being trends. Never skipping a beat or not knowing what to say, he answered each query as eloquently as the last, offering the audience a more practical guide to using philosophy in everyday life, but also urging us as individuals to keep searching for the answer within ourselves.

Read: Book review: The Female Gaze in Art and Photography by Anita Selzer

From the audience at QPAC Concert Hall in Brisbane to taxi drivers in London, there is one question the professor is always asked: what is the meaning of life?

With no fanfare or frivolity, Grayling put it quite simply – the meaning of life is what you make it.  

Philosophy and Life: An Evening with AC Grayling was on for one night only on 28 November 2023.
Concert Hall, QPAC.

Philosophy and Life is available in bookstores now.

Lisette Drew is a writer, theatre maker and youth literature advocate, who has worked nationally and overseas on over 50 theatrical productions. Her play, Breakwater, was shortlisted for two playwriting awards and her novel The Cloud Factory was longlisted for The Hawkeye Prize. In 2022 she received a Kill Your Darlings Mentorship and was a City of Melbourne Writer-in-Residence. Lisette shares her love for stories and storytelling running writing and theatre workshops for children.