Appendix: Glossary

This is a glossary of words I've used in non-standard ways in Meaningness. Ones in blue link to pages that discuss them in more detail.

“Accomplishing” a stance means adopting it consistently whenever its dimension of meaningness comes up. This is difficult and rare; perhaps psychologically impossible.
“Adopting” a stance means using its pattern of feeling and thinking to address the dimension of meaningness it relates to. Often one adopts a stance only momentarily, and typically without noticing it.
allied stance
Some stances ally with others, based on a shared emotional “texture,” or on making similar promises, or because they provide plausibility for each other. For example, the stance True Self allies with monism because it is a ploy for explaining away your apparent limitations and differences from other people. Other stances clash with each other. For example, True Self does not go well with nihilism, because the True Self is supposed to be extremely meaningful, and nihilism denies all meaningfulness.
“Appropriating” a confused stance means using it as a communicative tool, while actually adopting the corresponding complete stance instead.
atomized mode
The atomized mode of relating to meaningness abandons coherence, but provides access to all of globalized culture via the internet. The atomized mode resembles nihilism because systems of meaning are impossible. There are no standards for comparing value, so everything seems equally trivial, and equally a crisis. However, whereas the threat of nihilism is the loss of all meaning, the atomized world delivers far too much meaning, in a jumbled stream of bite-sized morsels, like sushi flowing past on a conveyer belt, or brilliant shards of colored glass in a kaleidoscope.
The stance that everything happens for a reason, in accord with the Cosmic Plan; except perhaps that free will allows us to violate the Plan.
Chaos is the stance that nothing happens for any particular reason; the universe is essentially random.
choiceless mode
In the choiceless mode, you are unaware of differences of opinion concerning meaningness. You take meanings for granted, without asking “why” questions. It could also be called the communal mode or “tradition.”
Committing to a stance means resolving to adopt it consistently, whenever the dimension of meaningness it addresses comes up.
complete stance
Complete stances acknowledge the nebulosity and pattern of meaningness, avoiding the errors of fixation and denial. They are more difficult to adopt than confused stances, but are more workable in the long run.
confused stance
Confused stances try to avoid the anxiety of ambiguity through fixation and denial of a dimension of meaningness.
Cosmic Plan
I use “Cosmic Plan” to refer to any idea of an ultimate source of meaning, such as God, the Absolute, destiny, Reason, highest consciousness, or whatever. All such ideas are inherently eternalistic.
countercultural mode
The countercultural mode of relating to meaningness attempts to develop a new, alternative, universalist, eternalist, anti-rational system for society, culture, and self, that is meant to replace the mainstream. I discuss two countercultures in depth, the monist “hippie” counterculture of the 1960s-70s, and the “Moral Majority” counterculture of the 1970s-80s. Both failed because neither’s vision appealed to a majority, and they could not accommodate diversity, due to their universalism.
Denial is the psychological strategy of refusing to admit the existence or significance of meaningness. It is one defense against the anxiety provoked by nebulosity. See also fixation, another defense.
Meaningness has various “dimensions”: purpose, personal value, ethics, sacredness, and so forth.
Dualism is the confused stance that everyone and everything is a clearly distinct, separate, independently-existing individual.
enjoyable usefulness
Enjoyable usefulness is the stance that purposes are co-created in an appreciative, compassionate dance with the world; both mundane and eternal purposes can be meaningful; you might as well find things to do that are both enjoyable for you and useful for others.
Essentialism is the view that every object has a well-defined, objective "essence": a hidden true nature, consisting of fixed properties that determine what sort of thing it is and how it must behave. Relying on fixation, it is closely related to eternalism, the denial of nebulosity. Relying on definiteness, and with the assumption that the universe can be objectively divided into objects, with objectively definite properties, it is closely related to dualism.
eternal ordering principle
An “eternal ordering principle” (or Cosmic Plan) is any supposed fundamental basis for the universe, providing an ultimate source of value, ethics, and explanation. God, Fate, Rationality, The Absolute, Cosmic Consciousness, Progress, Science, and many other candidate fundamental principles have been proposed. The view of this book is that there is no such thing.
eternal purpose
“Eternal” purposes are supposed to transcend death. Artistic accomplishment and altruistic activity are typical examples.
Eternalism is the stance that sees the meaning of everything as fixed by an external principle, such as God or a Cosmic Plan. It forms a false dichotomy with nihilism, which regards everything as meaningless. The stance of meaningness recognizes the fluid mixture of meaningfulness and meaninglessness in everything.
ethical eternalism
Ethical eternalism is the stance that there is a fixed ethical code according to which we should live. The eternal ordering principle is usually seen as the source of the code.
ethical nihilism
Ethical nihilism is the stance that ethics are a meaningless human invention and have no real claim on us.
ethical responsiveness
Ethical responsiveness is the stance that ethics are not a matter of personal or cultural choice, but are fluid and have no definite source.
In this book, existentialism means the stance that meaningness is subjective. In contrast, eternalism and nihilism both assume that meaningness must be objective. Usually existentialists also say meaning should be a purely individual creation: a perfectly free choice, possible only when you throw off all cultural assumptions and social pressures. That is not actually possible, and existentialism collapses into nihilism when you seriously attempt it. The complete stance is that all three are wrong: meaningness is neither subjective nor objective. It is a collaborative accomplishment of dynamic interaction.
Fixation is the psychological strategy of attaching spurious certainty and definiteness to pattern. It is one defense against the anxiety provoked by nebulosity. See also denial, the other defense.
intermittently continuing
Intermittently continuing is the stance that selfness comes and goes, varies over time, and has no essential nature.
“Materialism” has two meanings in this book, which are only distantly related. Mainly, I use it to refer to the stance according to which only self-aggrandizing, mundane purposes (such as money, sex, power, and fame) count as truly meaningful. It also refers to the metaphysical belief that only things made from physical matter exist.
“Meaningness” is the quality of being meaningful and/or meaningless. It has various dimensions, such as value, purpose, and significance. This book suggests that meaningness is always nebulous—ambiguous and fluid—but also always patterned. Confusion about meaningness results from denying nebulosity or fixating pattern.
Meta-rationality means thinking about and acting on rational systems from the outside, in order to use them more effectively. It evaluates, selects, combines, modifies, discovers, and creates rational methods. Meta-rationalism is an understanding of how and when and why rational systems work. It avoids taking them as fixed and certain, and thereby avoids both cognitive nihilism and rationalist eternalism.
“Mission” is the stance that holds that only your unique, eternal, transcendent purpose is truly meaningful.
mode of meaningness
How meaning fell apart” suggests a series of modes of relating to meaningness. In the choiceless mode, meaningness is taken as given, without question. In the systematic mode, meanings have to be justified. (This is closely connected with eternalism.) As systematic justifications break down, the countercultural, subcultural, and atomized modes are successive attempts to relate to the fragmentation of meaning. Finally, the fluid mode synthesizes the functional aspects of all the previous ones.
Monism is the confused stance that All is One; that my true self is mystically identified with the Cosmic Plan; that all religions and philosophies point to the same ultimate truth.
muddled middle
Confused stances come in mirror image pairs: extreme views on meaningness. Each pair shares an underlying mistaken metaphysical assumption about the nature of meaning. A muddled middle is an attempt to compromise between the extremes, to find a correct middle way. These fail because they do not correct the metaphysical error. The stance that corrects the error is complete, meaning that it neither fixates nor denies any aspect of meaningness.
mundane purpose
Mundane purposes are those that humans share with other animals. They are mostly self-centered (security, power, reproduction); but also include limited altruism, on behalf of one’s immediate relatives.
native mode
Your native mode of relating to meaningness is the one you are most comfortable using. Typically people adopt the mode that is most popular during their late teens and early twenties. Thus, for most Baby Boomers, the countercultural mode is native; for Generation X, it is the subcultural mode; and for Millennials, the atomized mode.
Nebulosity is the insubstantiality, transience, boundarilessness, discontinuity, and ambiguity that (this book argues) are found in all phenomena.
next stance
Because stances are unstable, it’s common to wobble from one to the next, without even noticing. There are predictable patterns of which stances are likely to follow another as it becomes untenable, based on the emotional logic of the first stance’s failure and the next one&rsqo;s promise.
Nihilism is the stance that regards everything as meaningless. It forms a false dichotomy with eternalism, which sees everything as having a fixed meaning. The stance of meaningness recognizes the fluid mixture of meaningfulness and meaninglessness in everything.
Nobility is the stance that resolves specialness and ordinariness. Nobility consists in using whatever capacities one has on behalf of others.
Confused stances allied with nihilism often insist that a particular sort of meaning is entirely non-existent. Such meanings are usually only nebulous (vague), rather then absent.
Ordinariness is the confused stance that no one is better than anyone else, and that one’s value derives from herd membership.
Participation is the stance that there is no single right way of drawing boundaries around objects, or between self and other. Things are connected in many different ways and to different degrees; they may also be irrelevant to each other, or to you. Connections are formed by meaningful, on-going interaction.
Pattern is the quality that makes phenomena interpretable: regularity, causality, distinctness, form.
Rationalisms are ideologies that claim that there is some way of thinking that is the correct one, and you should always use it. Some rationalisms specifically identify which method is right and why. Others merely suppose there must be a single correct way to think, but admit we don?t know quite what it is; or they extol a vague principle like “the scientific method.” Rationalism is not the same thing as rationality, which refers to a nebulous collection of more-or-less formal ways of thinking and acting that work well for particular purposes in particular sorts of contexts. See also: meta-rationalism.
“Really” is a weasel-word. It is used to intimidate you into accepting dubious metaphysical claims. When someone uses it, substitute “in some sense,” and then ask “in what sense?”
reasonable respectability
The stance that one should contribute to social order by conforming to traditions.
Religiosity is the confused stance that the sacred and profane are kept always clearly distinct by the eternal ordering principle.
Confused stances are resolved by dissolving their fixations and accepting what they deny. Specific “antidotes” or counter-thoughts are available that help with this.
romantic rebellion
The stance of defying authority, in an unrealistic way, to make an artistic statement.
Romanticism—in this book—is the view that the True Self is mystically connected with The Entire Universe. The "True Self" is spiritual and emotional and intuitive, so Romanticism is anti-rational. Romanticism is closely related with monism, since it imagines connections that do not actually exist. Unlike monism, however, Romanticism does not deny all differences. Historically, it was primarily an aesthetic movement, based on the idea that ultimate reality expressed itself through the artist's True Self based on their special connection.
“Secularism,” as used in this book, refers to the confused stance that nothing is sacred.
“Selflessness” is the confused stance that there is, or should be, no self. Some interpretations of the Buddhist doctrine of anatman are examples, as are some Christian ideas of saintliness.
Someone is thought to be special if they are given a particular distinct value by the (imaginary) Cosmic Plan. This is not actually possible.
Stances toward meaningness are inherently unstable, because they fail to fit reality or are emotionally unattractive. One uses specific patterns of thinking, feeling, talking, and acting to stabilize a stance, making it easier to remain in it. Typically this is unconscious, but with practice one can deliberately deploy particular patterns to move from one stance to another.
A stance is a basic attitude toward meaningness, or toward a dimension of meaningness. Most stances wrongly fixate meaningness, or deny the existence or nebulosity of a dimension of meaningness. Typically stances come in pairs, which form false dichotomies. The simplest examples are eternalism and nihilism.
subcultural mode
The subcultural mode abandons the attempt to find universal meanings suitable for everyone. Earlier modes of meaningness claimed to base such meanings on some foundational eternal ordering principle—but there is none. Subculturalism abandons eternalism and instead provides multiple “neotribal” systems of meaning that are meant to appeal only to small communities (subsocieties) of like-minded people.
“Systems,” in this book, are conceptual, methodological, and institutional structures that make claims about meaningness. These include, for instance, religions, philosophies, political ideologies, and psychological frameworks. A system includes a structure of justification, which explains why you should believe its claims, and typically grounds in an eternal ordering principle. I contrast systems with stances, which are much simpler attitudes toward meaningness.
systematic mode
The systematic mode attempts to justify all meanings with some explanatory structure. Typically, this system builds on a foundational eternal ordering principle. The systematic mode is eternalistic, claiming to offer absolute certainty, understanding, and control. In the late twentieth century, it became clear that this is impossible, and the systematic mode failed.
total responsibility
Total responsibility is the stance that we each create our own reality and are solely responsible for everything that happens in it.
true self
The “deep" or “true” or “authentic” self is an imaginary, inaccessible superior identity, which has a magical connection with the Cosmic Plan. “Depth psychology” is particularly big on the true self, but this confused idea has become wide-spread.
“Ultimate” and “ultimately” are words that often turn up in discussions of meaningness. They can be legitimate, but are often advertising hype, obfuscation, or intimidation.
The stance that “it's not my fault and I am too weak to deal with it.”
When you have committed to a stance, but have not accomplished it, then you are “wavering.” Wavering means that you are trying to adopt a stance consistently, but are finding it difficult or impossible to do so.


The next page in this section is Appendix: Further reading.

The previous page is Meaningness and Time: past, present, future. (That page introduces its own subsection.)

This page’s topic is Terminology.

General explanation: Meaningness is a hypertext book (in progress), plus a “metablog” that comments on it. The book begins with an appetizer. Alternatively, you might like to look at its table of contents, or some other starting points. Classification of pages by topics supplements the book and metablog structures. Terms with dotted underlining (example: meaningness) show a definition if you click on them. Pages marked with ⚒ are still under construction. Copyright ©2010–2019 David Chapman.