Comments on “Eternalism: the fixation of meaning”

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In Terms of Popular Philosophy...

James Hansen's picture

The concept of nihilism and eternalism, in the domain of meaning, seem very intuitive. Yet, the term ‘nihilism’ is almost universally recognized, while ‘eternalism’ is not. It’s not just that the term ‘eternalism’ is not in common parlance, but the general idea is not at all widely recognized as being an ‘idea’. Why do you think this is? Isn’t it a bit strange?

Not that this is any steadfast metric, but when I enter the query, “Everything is meaningful” into Google, the first result is a link to one of your articles. Whereas when I search, “Nothing means anything” I find a vast area of philosophy-related resources instead.

I’m probably driving this into the ground, as you’re aware of the idea. Anyway, I wonder why this all is so.

A bit strange

Yes, I agree, it’s quite odd! And I don’t have any good theory.

My only guess would be that, in the Western tradition, “religion” is the category that wound up taking up the space where “eternalism” ought to have been.

That left blind spots where the two concepts fail to coincide. So (1) non-eternalist religions are misunderstood, and (2) non-eternalist religions are misunderstood.

As an example of (2), many Christians say that “atheism is just another religion,” and atheists push back with “no, it’s just the absence of a religion.” And in some sense they are both right. The atheists are right literally, but their critics are right that, as an organized movement, atheism can become highly eternalistic, and so displays many of the same characteristics as eternalistic religions. (Which is a problem, in my view.) The lack of a word for eternalism is part of the problem: atheists can’t see their own dysfunction, and critics don’t have good a way of pointing it out.

If Only

James Hansen's picture

Very interesting; now there’s a whole area of exploration in and of itself. If only there was a popular philosopher of the 20th century who could’ve enunciated this issue in the right way.

It seems that this may not have occurred, in part, because there are some major cultural factors which have led people to think about meaning in ‘prescribed’ ways. I think this is something you’ve written about here and there.

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