Schematic overview: all dimensions

This page is a schematic overview of the main part of the book Meaningness. It briefly describes the various stances one can take to each of the dimensions of meaningness.

The meanings of the rows in the tables are explained in “The psychological anatomy of a stance.”

Meaning and meaninglessness

SummaryEverything is given a fixed meaning by an eternal ordering principle (Cosmic Plan)Nothing is really meaningfulMeaning is nebulous, yet patterned; meaningfulness and meaninglessness intermingle
What it deniesNebulosity; meaninglessnessPattern; meaningfulness
What it fixatesMeaningMeaninglessness
The sales pitchYou are guaranteed a good outcome if you follow the rulesYou don’t have to care!
Don’t get fooled again
Accurate understanding of meaningness allows both freedom and purpose
Emotional appealCertainty; understanding; control. Reassurance that if you act in accordance with Cosmic Plan, everything will be well.Intelligence. Also, nothing means anything, so not getting what you want is not a problem.
Pattern of thinkingDeliberate stupidity; sentimentality; self-righteousnessContempt; rage; intellectualization; depression; anxietyJoyful realism
Likely next stancesMissionMaterialism
AccomplishmentUnify your self with Cosmic PlanTotal apathyWizardry
How it causes sufferingAction based on imagined meanings fails; narrowed scope for action; Cosmic Plan makes insane, harmful demandsHave to blind self to meaningfulness; undermines any practical action
Obstacles to maintaining the stanceDifficulty of blinding oneself to manifestations of nebulosity, and submitting to Cosmic PlanDifficulty of blinding self to manifestations of pattern, and abandoning all desiresUnappealing due to complexity and uncertainty
Antidotes; counter-thoughtsCuriosity; realism; intelligence; enjoyment of nebulosity, meaninglessness, un-knowingEnjoyment of pattern; recovery of passion
Intelligent aspectThere is meaning, and it is not merely subjective, so nihilism is wrongThere are no inherent, objective, or eternal meanings, so eternalism is wrong
Positive appropriation after resolutionRespect for pattern is a compassionate aspect of realismRecognition of nebulosity is a wisdom aspect of nihilism; nearly-correct understanding of defects of eternalism

Unity, diversity, and separateness

SummaryAll is OneI am clearly distinct from everything and everyone elseReality is indivisible but diverse
What it deniesDifferences, boundaries, specifics, individualityConnection, dynamic interplay, unbounded responsibility
What it fixatesUnity; also over-emphasizes connectionBoundaries, separateness, limitations, definitions
The sales pitchYou are GodClarity gives you control
Emotional appealI am all-powerful, all-knowing, immortal, invulnerableI am not contaminated by other beings, and have only specific, limited responsibility for them
Pattern of thinkingWillful stupidityDistrustEngagement
Likely next stancesEternalism, mission, true self, specialnessCan combine with either eternalism or nihilism
AccomplishmentDirectly perceive all things as OnePerfect independenceSelf and other neither distinct nor identical
How it causes sufferingHave to blind self to diversity of physical realityAlienation due to being cut off from world and others
Obstacles to maintaining the stanceObviousness of diversityObviousness of connectionDifficulty of understanding the philosophical view
Antidotes; counter-thoughtsAppreciation of diversityAppreciation of connectedness
Intelligent aspectI am not entirely separate from anythingThe world is endlessly diverse
Positive appropriation after resolutionProvisional understanding of indivisibilityPoints toward appreciation of diversity


StanceMissionMaterialismEnjoyable usefulness
SummaryOnly eternal purposes are meaningfulOnly mundane purposes are meaningfulAll purposes are meaningful, when they are. Do things that are useful and enjoyable.
What it deniesValue of mundane purposesValue of eternal purposes
What it fixatesValue of eternal purposesValue of mundane purposes
The sales pitchFind and follow your true mission, and the universe resonates with youHe who dies with the most toys, winsThere is no scoreboard
Emotional appealExciting, personal, transcendent purpose lifts you out of mundanityGet what you want
Pattern of thinkingFantasy; non-ordinary methods for seeking the supposed true missionGrim self-interestFlow
Likely next stancesEternalism; specialness, true selfNihilism; ordinarinessNobility, intermittently continuing
AccomplishmentSacrifice all mundane purposes to eternal mission (saintliness)Exclusive self-interestRennaisance person
How it causes sufferingCan never find your supposed true mission; neglect mundane aspects of lifeCan never get enough; alienation from others and from authentic creativity
Obstacles to maintaining the stanceReasonable self-interestCompassion, creativity Is that it? No hope of completing purpose, so no hope for salvation or basis for self-congratulation
Antidotes; counter-thoughtsMundane purposes matter to meI do care about others, and about creative work
Intelligent aspectEternal purposes are valid; materialism is unsatisfyingMundane purposes are valid; mission is a fantasy
Positive appropriation after resolutionCreativity and generosity are aspects of enjoyable usefulnessMaterial satisfaction and accomplishment are aspects of enjoyable usefulness


StanceThe authentic, true, deep selfSelflessnessIntermittently continuing
SummaryThe hidden, true self is directly connected to the Cosmic Plan, bypassing social constrictionsThere is, or should be, no selfSelfness comes and goes; it varies over time and has no essential nature
What it deniesNebulosity of selfPatterns of self; the self/other boundary; natural self-interest
What it fixatesThe patterns of selfness; the self/other boundaryDiscontinuity; absence of self/other boundary
The sales pitchYour true self is much more exciting than your yucky regular oneYou can get rid of your yucky regular selfThe patterned self is unproblematic once its nebulosity is accepted
Emotional appealI’m much better than I thought I wasI have nothing to lose
Pattern of thinkingRomantic idolization of fantasy selfWillful blindness to continuity and self-interestHumorous affection for one’s foibles; absence of anxiety
Likely next stancesEternalism, monism, specialnessNihilism, ordinarinessNobility, enjoyable usefulness
Accomplishment Authenticity in sense of living from true self instead of regular selfEgolessnessConjuring supple, playful magic in the shared self/other space
How it causes sufferingAttempts to retrieve supposed true self fail; attempts to live up to it failNeglecting practical personal affairs
Obstacles to maintaining the stanceNon-existence of true selfManifestations of regular selfFear of discontinuity; cannot repair or remove self
Antidotes; counter-thoughtsNo essential nature, no coherent true selfI have much in common with who I was and will be
Intelligent aspectRecognizes negative social conditioning & possibility of spontaneityRecognizes lack of essential nature or durable continuity
Positive appropriation after resolutionPoints toward power of nobility: we can be much more than we generally pretendPoints toward generosity of nobility

Personal value

SummaryI have a distinct and superior value given by the eternal ordering principleMy value comes from being like everyone elseDeveloping all my abilities in order to serve others
What it deniesShared humanityUnusualness
What it fixatesPersonal valuePersonal value
The sales pitchYou are better than they areDon’t put on airsBe all you can be
Emotional appealReinforces egoNo need to live up to potential
Pattern of thinkingDisdain; self-aggrandisementFearfulness, lazinessImpeccability
Likely next stancesMission, true selfMaterialismEnjoyable usefulness
How it causes sufferingEgo-trips; role anxiety; need for constant confirmationSuppression of individuality
Obstacles to maintaining the stanceFamiliarity of experience; maintaining image is exhaustingUnusual impulses; cannot conform to herdSelfishness; fear; laziness
Antidotes; counter-thoughtsRecognition of shared humanityRecognition of potential and uniqueness
Intelligent aspectRecognition of potential and uniquenessRecognition of shared humanity
Positive appropriation after resolutionNobility does rise above the ordinaryHumility is an aspect of nobility


StanceTotal responsibilityVictim-thinkLight-heartedness
SummaryWe each create our own reality and are responsible for everything that happens in itIt’s not my fault and I am too weak to deal with itPlayfully co-create reality in collaboration with each other and the world
What it deniesContingency, limitsResponsibility, capability, freedom
What it fixatesResponsibilityOverwhelming power of circumstances
The sales pitchPerfect circumstances can be achieved with sufficient effortYou are oppressed and therefore blameless
Emotional appealFantasy of control over futureNo need to make any effortNo need for self-criticism or for anxiety
Pattern of thinkingAggressive, paranoidFearful, depressed, emotionally manipulativeEffortless accomplishment
Likely next stancesSpecialness, true self, missionOrdinariness, materialismNobility, ethical responsiveness
AccomplishmentKing of the UniverseHave all needs met by exploiting others’ pityEffortless creativity
How it causes sufferingHypervigilance; can’t meet infinite requirements with finite capacityResentment, depression, neglect of opportunities
Obstacles to maintaining the stanceObviousness of limitsObviousness of opportunitiesHard to let go of need to be reassured about outcomes
Antidotes; counter-thoughtsLetting go of fantasies of accomplishment; willingness to failGratitude; letting go of payoffs; walking away; practical action
Intelligent aspectRecognition of possibilityRecognition of limits
Positive appropriation after resolutionExperience depends more on our own perception & action than is usually thoughtBecause we have finite capabilities, we can cut ourselves some slack


StanceEthical eternalismEthical nihilismEthical responsiveness
SummaryThe Cosmic Plan dictates a fixed ethical code according to which we ought to liveEthics is a meaningless human invention and has no real claim on usEthics is centrally important to humans, and is not a matter of choice, but is fluid and has no definite source
What it deniesAmbiguity of ethics; freedom; courage; creativityEthical imperativeness
What it fixatesEthical code (rules/laws)Absence of ethical absolutes
The sales pitchCosmic justice guarantees reward/punishment if you obey/defy the ethical codeDo as thou wilt shall be the whole of the LawEthical anxiety is unnecessary
Emotional appealAvoiding blame; preventing others from harming/offending youTake what you want; don’t let morality get in the way
Pattern of thinkingSelf-righteousnessArroganceLight-hearted concern
Likely next stancesReligiosity, missionSecularism, materialismLight-heartedness, nobility
AccomplishmentRemorseless soldier of GodSociopathyEthical maturity
How it causes sufferingHarmful actions are sometimes required by the supposed rules; beneficial ones may not be promotedWithout ethics, harmful actions are just rational self-interest
Obstacles to maintaining the stanceSituations in which ethical rules are unclear or promote obvious harmNatural concern for othersRequires close attention to particulars; no guarantee of blamelessness
Antidotes; counter-thoughtsAllowing ethical ambiguityRespecting ethical imperatives
Intelligent aspectRecognizes the importance of ethicsRecognizes the ambiguity of ethics
Positive appropriation after resolutionPoints toward nobilityPoints toward ethical maturity

Social authority

StanceReasonable respectabilityRomantic rebellionFreedom
SummaryContribute to social order by conforming to traditionsMake an artistic statement by defying authorityValue social order as a resource; satirize it as an impediment
What it deniesNebulosity of social orderValue of social order
What it fixatesSocial orderHeroic status of the counter-culture
The sales pitchLaw’n’orderDeath to the oppressors!
Emotional appealIt’s safeIt’s sexy
Pattern of thinkingEmotional constrictionConfused romantic passion, testosterone poisoningPolitical maturity
Likely next stancesOrdinariness; dualismSpecialness; mission; nihilistic rage; true selfNobility, light-heartedness, kadag
AccomplishmentPillar of societyRomantic martyrdom
How it causes sufferingComplicity in oppression; abandoning of responsibility and moral maturityOpposes realistic action to ameliorate conditions; justifies violence
Obstacles to maintaining the stanceSocial conventions stifle expression and opportunitySilly; doomed by definitionUrgency of social imperatives
Antidotes; counter-thoughtsWho cares what they think?I’m being silly and just striking a pose to look cool
Intelligent aspectRecognizes value of social orderRecognizes arbitrary and restrictive character of social order
Positive appropriation after resolutionPoints toward kingly qualities of nobility; society as a beneficial structurePoints toward warrior qualities of nobility; charismatically involving; makes splendid art


SummaryThe sacred and the profane are clearly distinct in the Cosmic PlanSacredness is mere superstition; nothing is sacredBecause nothing is inherently sacred, everything can be sacred
What it deniesNebulosity of sacredness; vastnessSacredness; vastness
What it fixatesThe sacredArbitrariness of perception of sacredness
The sales pitchAvoid contamination through ritual purityFreed from religion, we can get on with practical projectsThe good bits of religion without the dogma
Emotional appealPersonal superiority through religious conformity; minimize uncanniness of vastness by codifying itDon’t have to think about that uncomfortable religion stuff; pretend you don’t see vastness and hope it goes awayCan neither dismiss nor grab onto sacredness
Pattern of thinkingSelf-righteousnessPretending not to care about meaning; apathyAwe
Likely next stancesReasonable respectability, mission, specialnessMaterialism, ordinarinessFreedom
AccomplishmentPerfect ritual purityTotal inability to experience aweAbility to experience anything as sacred
How it causes sufferingParanoia about contamination; resources and opportunities wasted; tribalist vilification Flatness of existence in the absence of the sacred
Obstacles to maintaining the stanceObvious mundanity of religious formsSpontaneous religious feelingsInnate reactions of disgust
Antidotes; counter-thoughtsPurity is a matter of perception, not truthI do sometimes experience awe
Intelligent aspectRecognition of sacrednessRecognition that nothing is inherently sacred
Positive appropriation after resolutionSacredness mattersNarrow religion is harmful; something better is available


SummaryEverything happens for the best, in accord with the Cosmic Plan. (Except free will lets us do evil.)The universe is random; nothing happens for any particular reasonThere are no ultimate causes, and causation is nebulous, but we naturally observe patterns
What it deniesPointless sufferingInterpretability
What it fixatesReasons[Nothing]
The sales pitchThere is no need to suffer, so long as you conform to the Cosmic Plan[This is a hard sell ] God is dead. Dance with reality
Emotional appealCan pretend there is no pointless suffering[This may be only a theoretical possibility]
Pattern of thinkingKitschDespairRealism
Likely next stancesEternalism, religiosityNihilism, secularism
AccomplishmentPollyanna, CandideLa Nausé (Sartre)Maximal ability to influence events, without attachment to outcome
How it causes sufferingDenying pointless suffering makes it hard to alleviate[Theoretically, inability to take practical action]
Obstacles to maintaining the stanceObviousness of pointless suffering (our own and others’)Obviousness of causalityNo guarantees
Antidotes; counter-thoughtsLots of stuff just happens[Probably not necessary]
Intelligent aspectThings often do make senseThings often are inherently uninterpretable
Positive appropriation after resolutionPoints toward pragmatic competencePoints toward comfort with uncertainty


This page is in the section Doing meaning better.

The next page in this section is Meaning and meaninglessness.

The previous page is The Big Three stance combinations.

General explanation: Meaningness is a hypertext book (in progress), plus a “metablog” that comments on it. The book begins with an appetizer. Alternatively, you might like to look at its table of contents, or some other starting points. Classification of pages by topics supplements the book and metablog structures. Terms with dotted underlining (example: meaningness) show a definition if you click on them. Pages marked with ⚒ are still under construction. Copyright ©2010–2017 David Chapman.