The appeal of eternalism

Smarmy guy

Eternalism is the most attractive of all stances.1 It’s simple and easy to understand. It promises everything you could want from meaning: certainty, safety, understanding, and control. It offers solid ground; a foundation on which you can build a meaningful life.

Eternalism guarantees that everything is under control, meaningness-wise. Meanings are clear and fixed; they won’t slide out from under you. Ethics won’t change with fashion; your purpose in life won’t suddenly become pointless; you are not going turn into someone other than the person you truly are and have always been.

If you play your part in the Cosmic Plan, everything will be well. You are guaranteed a good outcome if you follow the rules. Even when your life seems to be a chaotic disaster, even when you doubt whether it means anything—even then, it is all part of the Cosmic Plan, and there is nothing to worry about. Conflict and uncertainty, all sorts of messiness about meaning—these are only illusions.

  • 1. Eternalism seems also to be the most biologically natural stance. Something like it is automatic; our brains just go there by default. See the discussions of patternicity earlier, and magical thinking later. More precisely, the innate human worldview is probably animism, which is not quite eternalistic. Animism makes everything meaningful, but does not make explicit that everything is meaningful—which is part of my understanding of eternalism.


This page introduces a section containing the following pages:

  • The promise of certainty

    What we want most from meaning is guarantees. Religions, political ideologies, and other eternalist systems promise certainty; but they cannot deliver.

  • The illusion of understanding

    It’s deluded to think we mostly understand issues of meaning (ethics, purpose, value, politics). Ideologies deliberately create and sustain that illusion.

  • The fantasy of control

    Eternalism promises complete control over life—but that is an impossible fantasy. Influence through collaboration and improvisation are possible, however.

  • The wheel of fortune

    Eternalism promises answers about good and bad—the meanings we care about most—but cannot deliver.

  • Eternalism as the only salvation from nihilism

    Eternalism's final promise is to keep nihilism at bay. There is a better alternative to both!

This page is in the section Eternalism: the fixation of meaning,
      which is in Meaning and meaninglessness,
      which is in Doing meaning better.

The previous page is ⚒︎ No cosmic plan.

General explanation: Meaningness is a hypertext book. Start with an appetizer, or the table of contents. Its “metablog” includes additional essays that are not part of the book.

To hear about new content, Subscribe by email subscribe to my email newsletter, Follow Meaningness on Twitter follow me on Twitter, use the Syndicate content RSS feed, or see the list of recent pages.

Click on terms with dotted underlining to read a definition.

The book is a work in progress; pages marked ⚒︎ are under construction.