Comments on “What is meaningness?”

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mtraven 2013-05-09

Your “atheism as a given” link is broken, which is too bad, since it sounded like something worth showing to a few loud atheists I know.

Personally I would like a neologism like meaningness for a stance towards [the concept of] god that is not adequately captured by a/theism or other existing vocabulary. Don’t have it yet, and the stance itself is a work in progress.

atheism has not yet arrived

David Chapman 2013-05-09

Yes, sorry, that link is a forward reference.

The point of the page it will link to is that eternalism is (in my opinion) a bigger problem than supernaturalism. Having gotten rid of God, there’s a strong tendency to put something else in its place that is similarly eternalistic. Among loud atheists, that’s often scientism, or some conception of Rationality, or a political or ethical system. These are also factually wrong, and have many of the same malign emotional dynamics as theism.

I look forward to reading more about your alternative stance!

once and future atheism

Kate Gowen 2013-05-09

This is so obvious as to be probably trivial– but defining oneself in opposition to (whatever) is pretty much always “the road to nowhere,” isn’t it?

That’s why “agnostic” has more going for it, I think: a positive assertion of a lack of knowledge.

I have to say I'm very

Niv 2013-09-13

I have to say I’m very interested on what you’re writing. Please follow up.

In fact, it has inspired me to write something similar, not about meaning, but rather about various philosophical concepts that I think haven’t been explained to the layman with clear language and with actual examples on how it matters for everyday life.

One thing that puzzles me is your conception on whether meaning is not subjective. I do think it’s subjective, or should I say, intersubjective. I believe meaning to be created by our own “humanity” and by humanity I mean the quality of being human. (Intersubjectivity and the illusion of objectivity is one of the subjects I’d like to present to the common people with clear language)

Is meaning subjective?

David Chapman 2013-09-13

Hi, Niv,

Thank you for your enthusiasm!

I think meaning arises as an interaction between oneself and one’s environment—physical and social. Actually, there is no principled way of drawing a hard boundary, so “interaction” isn’t quite the right word—it implies that there are two objectively separate things that interact. But it’s more nearly right than “subjective,” which suggests that meaning is something that happens in your head alone.

Meaning isn’t a human thing. For starters, lots of things means the same to other animals that they mean to us. For another, it depends on non-animate circumstances.

I hope you do write those things you are inspired to!

I see. Like all communication

Niv 2013-09-14

I see. Like all communication, words can be a little fuzzy sometimes. What I meant with “subjective” is not that meaning is disconnected from reality, but that meaning always requires a subject (at least what I mean by the word “meaning”). I think any animal classifies as a subject. Of course they percieve a meaning that sometimes it’s the same. But also they can percieve a different meaning. For example, bird sing. We perceive it as singing, but I’m pretty sure the birds themselves attach a very different meaning.

So that’s what I meant by humanity. Most of the time we can sort of try to understand the meaning that another fellow human being also understands, because we’re similar. We can even have understading with animals like cats and dogs, and maybe if we study the bird hard enough we can sort of have a hint of what they perceive. But in the end our humanity marks the limit, the frontier of the meaning we perceive, it’s just that the human mind is pretty powerful and can perceive a lot of things.

That’s why I emphazised humanity and subjectivity.

Atheism and Agnosticism

I take atheism as a given

I think you meant agnosticism. Atheism itself actually declares an absolute certainty “there is no meaning, etc”. What’s required for this part to be reasonable to the reader is agnosticism “we have no way to prove that there is, or is not, a meaning in life”.

Atheism is about god(s)

David Chapman 2016-12-12

I think you may be confusing atheism (non-belief in God(s)) with nihilism (active disbelief in meaning).

It’s possible to believe in meaning without believing in any gods (and many people do).

Start Here

Raederle Phoenix 2019-10-02

This page sets the tone for the book better than the discussion of Eternalism and Nihilism before it, I believe. Also, as someone who already isn’t an eternalist or a nihilist, I found that section repeatedly triggering and somewhat confusing. Instead of trying to summarize my own current sense of meaningness in my life, I will say that beliefs align almost perfectly with Teal Swan’s (who you may or may not have heard of). I will probably be leaving more comments as I read, as this book is what we have chosen this month to read for our Polymath Club (a book club for reading non-fiction). Blessings. ~ Raederle (pronounced Ray-der-lee)

Neither religion nor philosophy

Shea Eugene 2020-04-07

What else is there then?
By no means can I defend every system of thought that calls itself “religious” but if one tries to erase the concept from life, one is left floating in a void. The etymology of the word suggests a tether to reality.
And again - lots of funk’d up philosophy out there… but to toss the concept entirely? How will one have any questions worth asking?
I found your article because I was hoping for some additional insight into the concept of meaning.
The question of Meaning, it seems to me, only has a couple of possible answers:
There is a meaning to life and it is defined by a source outside of the self.
There is no meaning to life and humans need to create meaning as they see fit.
Neither are fully satisfactory - the first feels like a violation, the second… A Noble Lie.
If a life has no value - innately - by which I mean “a life is valuable because it is a life” - it has no real meaning. I am searching for a reason why meaning and value feel so interconnected, and yet I am certain they are. Atheism, nihilism and other such ism’s strip life of innate value - reducing it a collection of cell structures that somehow mysteriously developed the ability to navel-gaze. Most religious systems withhold value from the person until they perform and earn their value. This states, if only in shadows, that life has no value unless we give it value through our actions and performance. In this core respect, Atheism and Catholicism are the same - they do not know how to assign value to the “me” that exists independent of my behavior - they can only offer a A Noble Lie. It is ultimately pragmatism in some not-so-clever disguise. Pragmatism cannot give my life real meaning - it can only give my life as utility to another who would use it and toss it in the heap when my behavior is no longer benefiting.
A gemstone does not sit in a quarry with value. It has value only when it is dug up and taken to market where a system of supply and demand is used to determine it’s worth. If a human life is like that gemstone - only valuable once the marketplace of society and civilization determines it’s worth - it has no real value apart from that system. If there are no other systems of determining value in existence (which the ism’s seem to say) then my value (and therefore the meaning of my life) is fully dependent upon a fickle system of human opinion. I can make up whatever junk I like to feed the need, but the Noble Lie will always flash like a siren from the corner of my vision.

The other alternative

David Chapman 2020-04-07

Shea, you have stated the problem exceptionally clearly!

This page addresses this conundrum directly. As you say, meaning cannot be either objective nor subjective—and therefore it may seem that it cannot exist at all.

Fortunately, it does exist, but is neither objective nor subjective. There is another alternative, which that page explains.

Learn to think concretely again

James 2020-04-07


I wrote a reply to your comment, but it got really long, so I’ve posted it on my Dreamwidth:

It helped me work out some of my own thoughts on the issue here, which is why it ran so long.

The overly-simplified tl;dr version is that you’re thinking in unhelpful abstractions, and that’s where your problem is coming from; learn to think concretely again and your problem should largely dissolve.

(PS to David: during this, I realized why the recent comment links weren’t taking me directly to the comment; commas are being inserted into the number part of the comment’s anchor tag. So the link that Shea’s comment should end with #comment-2422 but is getting mangled into #comment-2,422. Not sure if you’re aware of that issue.)

Meaningness is concrete

David Chapman 2020-04-07

Thanks, James, that’s clearly put and is in accord with my understanding!

I noticed the comma issue a day or two ago, and thought I’d fixed it. If you can point to a specific still-current instance, I will try and fix it harder?

Bigger hammer

David Chapman 2020-04-07

Ah, I think I’ve found the remaining problem and hit it with a bigger hammer. Please do let me know if you find this or other bugs, though!

Thank you!

James 2020-04-07

I’m quite pleased to hear you liked my response. I’ve been wrestling with your work here for a few years now, so I’m glad to see I’ve been understanding it at least a little bit.

And the link issue seems fixed now. Thanks for that.

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