Notes From Babel

More on Meaning

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D.A. Ridgely had this response to my comment left to Kuznicki’s post about the futility of talking about meaning in objective terms, the subject of the previous post. Here was my response:

The quote from Schumpeter captures very well my concern over value, and to some extent, meaning. I do not quite know what to make of the idea of standing on one’s convictions while doubting their validity or, worse, committing them to relativity. This is an aspect of lawyering I find particularly repulsive. And it suggests how philosophy is at once the most human and the least human endeavor: the intense scrutiny demanded by philosophy results in precious few undeniable truths; and yet the existential demands of life require impulsive commitments to innumerable simple, ready-at-hand truths.

The fascinating thing about meaning is not the answer we happen to furnish to the ultimate question, but the fact that we ask it, that we acknowledge it as “the ultimate question” of philosophy and of humanity. That very phenomenon suggests, at the least, some commonality, some universality about our nature, even when we provide vastly different personal responses to the question.

I am a theist—a non-denominational Christian. (I haven’t attended church in years, though, one of the perks of generic Christianity.) To preempt the question, yes, I do find meaning in the view of the afterlife that Christianity provides. Some, anyway. Religious doctrine about afterlife is not meant to satisfy one’s longing for meaning. I am somewhat of an existentialist: life is for the living. Meaning comes from all aspects of our experience. I think this was along the lines of Jason Kuznicki’s original point.

But where I became troubled was Jason’s rejection of the human tendency—universal, in my view—to also seek meaning by looking beyond the end of one’s own life. The suggestion that no one should need to contemplate humanity as a whole, or notions of eternity, or other implications outside the scope and control of one’s own life, strikes me as somewhat aloof. Disciplined existentialists or nihilists might be able to train themselves to ignore this part of their mind. This might be the case, at least definitionally (in practice, I tend to believe that we all have bouts, at some frequency, in which we ponder the immortality of our works and acts). Or maybe some folks truly never ever think with any intrigue about what lies outside themselves. (I would find this very hard to believe.)

But the rest of humanity needs that focal point. It is one part—granted, not the whole—of the mental activity that lends overall meaning to an individual’s life.


Written by Tim Kowal

July 31, 2009 at 5:24 am

Posted in Philosophy

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