Wistful certainty

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Wistful certainty, a ploy for maintaining the eternalist stance, follows this pattern of thinking:

There must be a…

For example,

  • There must be a God, or at least a Something
  • There must be a meaning to life
  • There must be a special purpose I was put here to fulfill
  • There must be a right ethical system
  • There must be a correct form of government
  • There must be a reason this happened
  • There must be a rational explanation for everything

“Wistful” certainty occurs when one can’t think of a reason there “must” be whatever it is. One is sure, however, because eternalism wouldn’t work if whatever it is weren’t true.

  • There must a God, or at least a Something, because otherwise: there would be nothing to hold meaning reliably in place.
  • There must be a meaning to life, because otherwise: it’s meaningless and I might as well kill myself.
  • There must be some special purpose I was put here to fulfill, because otherwise: I would be worthless.
  • There must be a right ethical system, because otherwise: I’d have no idea what to do.
  • There must be a correct form of government, because otherwise: there would be no way to guarantee justice.
  • There must be a reason this happened, because otherwise: the Cosmic Plan would be incomplete.
  • There must be a rational explanation for everything, because otherwise: the universe wouldn’t make sense.

This is wistful because one wishes one could think of a better justification than “or else eternalism would fail.” It is certain because the possibility of letting go of eternalism seems unthinkably awful.

Wistful certainty is the first of several ploys for explaining away non-perception of meaning. This is a little different from earlier ploys that hallucinate particular meanings, or that blind you to meaninglessness. In this third category of ploys, you are aware that you are not perceiving meaning.

Wistful certainty tends to lead to paralysis, because you believe you don’t have enough understanding to act accurately.

Wistful certainty can also lead to imposing fixed meanings or smearing random meanings around, as ways of resolving the anxiety of not-knowing.

The antidote is to remind yourself that many things are meaningless, or have inherently vague meanings, and that action is possible anyway.


This page is in the section Eternalist ploys and their antidotes,
      which is in Eternalism: the fixation of meaning,
      which is in Meaning and meaninglessness,
      which is in Doing meaning better.

The next page in this section is ⚒ Faithful bafflement.

The previous page is ⚒ Bargaining and recommitment.

This page’s topic is Eternalism.

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 ©2010–2020 David Chapman. Some links are part of Amazon Affiliate Program.