Materialism

This page is outdated. The text below is from the first, 2007 draft of Meaningness. My understanding of the material has changed since then, and the style I write in too. Someday I would like to rewrite this; but I hope the 2007 version may be adequate for now.

Materialism is the confused stance that only “mundane,” self-interested purposes are meaningful.

As an attempt to reconcile eternalism and nihilism—with an emphasis on nihilism—materialism tries to overcome the obstacles to nihilism and the defects of eternalism.

  • The central obstacle to nihilism is the obviousness of meaning; especially the meanings of one’s desires and the objects of one’s desires. Consequently, materialism is all about self-gratification and self-preservation.
  • The central defect of eternalism is its demand that you serve the “eternal,” “higher,” or “transcendent” purposes of the Cosmic Plan. Those are often unreasonable, inconvenient, painful, or outright harmful. Materialism rejects eternalism’s demand by denying the meaningfulness of all purposes other than the mundane ones. Those, which we share with other social mammals, are too obvious to deny.

Materialism is most obviously about the accumulation and consumption of physical objects, and the term is sometimes used to refer exclusively to that. But in a broader sense it covers dedication to the pursuit of any self-interested purpose. These include, for instance popularity, fame, sex, status, and power.

Materialism doesn’t work, but we often adopt it because it seems like common sense. The sense is that getting what you want is what makes you happy; not getting what you want, or getting what you don’t want, makes you unhappy. If you could get enough of what you want, then you’d be much happier.

And, this is mostly not wrong! Mundane purposes are real purposes, and are often entirely worth pursuing. The complete stance toward purpose—“enjoyable usefulness” recognizes this.

There are two problems. First, getting what you want often doesn’t make you happy. Second, ignoring unselfish, eternal purposes can make your life pretty meaningless, which is a bad thing in itself, and also usually makes you unhappy when you notice and admit it.

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