Comments on “Sartre’s ghost and the corpse of God”


I know this is a stub, but...

One might say that it lives in the space-between subject and object; or that it pervades the situation in which it manifests, including both subject and object. But these metaphors are misleading; meanings simply don’t have locations.

Is there already an explanation somewhere why these metaphors are misleading? Why would it be harmful to say that meanings live simultaneously both inside and outside a person?

Not located

Is there already an explanation somewhere why these metaphors are misleading?

Not yet, I’m afraid!

Why would it be harmful to say that meanings live simultaneously both inside and outside a person?

Well… “misleading” rather than “harmful.” Just because meanings don’t have locations. They depend on things that have locations (brains; road signs), but it just doesn’t make any sense to say they are located themselves.

It might be a matter of semantics

This is in accord with Wikipedia’s definition of Existential Meaning

Existentialism supposes the meaning lives inside your head so it is subjective, internal, and individual

I’ve got a friend who says
That is not exactly Sartre’s or Heidegger’s position
The word Meaning has a different meaning for Existentialists
Existential Meaning is just a part of the whole Knowledge
Although it is individual-specific
It does not exist by itself
And is not the result of mere will

Existential Meaning is the part of Knowledge we’re conscious of
Sartre’s pre—reflexive cognito is the part of Knowledge we’re not conscious of
It is nebulous and patterned
Results from interactions across the subject-object limits
Things we don’t perceive directly
But that we can assume we have Knowledge of
Based on our actions in the world

We turn knobs to open doors
Even though we’re not conscious of the mechanism at hand (sorry)
It’s natural and unaware

Sartre’s pre-reflexive cognito = Meaningness’ Meaning

Meaningness Meaning is nebulous yet patterned
Words mean different things to different persons
Although they do obey perceivable patterns
Existential Meaning lives solely inside a person
Which is compatible

What do you think?
If this is true, it bears the question:
How is Meaningness different from Existentialism? (aside from semantics)
I’d love to better understand the differences

Thanks in advance!


I’m using the word “existentialism” roughly the way it is currently popularly understood. That is quite different from Heidegger’s existentialism. You are right that his version is close to the view I take in this book!

Well, I suppose if anyone is

simon3of3pontus's picture

Well, I suppose if anyone is to make use of volatile material like Heidegger, best leave it to you Vajrayana nutters. Any thoughts on Ernst Junger and his “anarch” concept?

Thought experiments

A response to this question would have to depend on why someone asked it. Presumably it’s not a practical one, so what is the motivation?

Thought experiments are of dubious value, usually, I think. They abstract away the contextual factors that could lead to meaningful answer.

Abstraction in thought experiments

The reason why people abstract away certain factors in thought experiments is because they can help to focus on other factors without complication, as well as to test our intuitions (like yours about meaning inherently being social). Scott Alexander wrote about the general approach in moral philosophy here:

As he also noted there, Einstein used thought experiments you likely wouldn’t consider realistic when formulating his theories of relativity. They seemed to be quite useful to him.

Justifying abstraction

binky's picture

For issues about meaningness, the contextual factors matters a lot, i.e. abstracting them away completely changes the nature of the question, so one may not be able to answer the practical question even when given the correct answer (if it exists) of the abstract question.

But I believe that abstract thought experiments still have their values: not by answering the abstract question and then descending the answer to the practical question, but by realizing the faliure of attempts on answering the abstract question in order to gain insight of the practical question.

A friend tells you where to see this nature of meaning...

Matt C. Wilson's picture

You’re given an address, nothing more.

You draw out your phone, open a map application, type the address into the input field, and press Search.

In the source code of the app, the text you entered is collected from the field, labeled ‘searchTextbox’, and stored in a variable labeled ‘searchContents’, albeit briefly. Your search is shortly transmitted in a compressed data representation to a faraway server. The payload is received, and turned back into an envelope from which your search text is extracted. That variable, in turn, is passed to a method that makes inferences from the text and produces an associated set of geospatial coordinates. The server processing the search uses that location, in turn, to generate a map image semi-dynamically, combining preexisting base tiles with a location marker unique to your search, as well as several representative nearby wayfinding marks.

As the location data and image are transmitted back to you, your phone stores your search and the associated results in a history list in the app. You are presented with a button, saying “Go!”, which you eagerly press, and begin your journey.

After several hours, you arrive at an open field, in the middle of which is a large sign. You approach the sign to see what it reads. It says, simply:

“The search that brought you here - where does it exist? When did it begin?”

After reflecting, you decide to call an existentialist friend.

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This page is in the section Meaning and meaninglessness,
      which is in Doing meaning better.

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