So large set of “meaning” questions are straightforwardly questions about the good: the meaning of life/ whether life has any meaning are the same question as what good there is to life or whether life is good.
If Aristotle is right, many of these good questions are function questions, as when we ask what something’s good for.
But then are meaning of life questions just questions of what a living thing is good for? Do we want the answer to include the bacteria in my sinuses, the mosquito that buzzes in my ear, the carrots in my garden, the chickens in the coop, etc.?
Unlike Aristotle, we seem to have a sense that something can just be there without having anything it should be doing. We know what it means to object that something doesn’t do, it just is. This is even seen as a virtue, cf. art.
This sense we have of the virtue of art parallels the sense we have of human goodness. “The dignity of the person” or “the equality of individuals” isn’t seen as depending on what they do. Christianity boasts of this inherent/ essential dignity or unalienable claim to divine love. DeKoninck railed mercilessly against this idea as the ultimate perversion, but JPII ended up the saint.
I know vaguely what tree-functions and tree goods are, but I’d rather use many of them for boards, campfires, shade, ash, etc. When it comes to the ore in the ground, even the vague sense of its own good gets lost, and I’m left only with what its good for. What is the inorganic but the ashes of some burned-out star? (Substance)
What is accidental becomes essential to intention.