“The meaning of meaning” (1)

The sense of “the meaning of meaning” is that while we can attribute a clear meaning and sense to most of our activities: getting food, filling up the car, opening an umbrella, etc., we can also ask whether any of these various meaningful things is itself meaningful. Many of the parts of the story make sense, but there is a question whether they are part of any larger story. Do all these events fit into a larger story of life as a class struggle? A divine test? A march of Enlightenment? A progression of historical dialectic? Is the story basically over, perhaps because the only point of development was to get to conscious beings?

Suppose belief N consists in claiming that all such accounts are either false or unknowable. N-ism means either that there is no such larger story in which our actions have some larger sense, or we are not in any position to know whether there is.

Thesis: N-ism just as much a claim about our place in the universe as any of the positive accounts or mythologies given above.

Reasons Against the Thesis:

1.) The whole point of N-ism is to deny that there is any “place” for us within the universe at all. There is no larger story in which our actions take part. There are the various meaningful activities of persons and groups of persons more or less proximate to each other, and that’s it.

2.) Transcendent meaning – pace the Marxists – seems inseparable from transcendent consciousness or life. Either the universe itself is some sort of developing organism, or it is infused with it, or some divinity acts within it. But this does not solve the problem of the meaning of meaning but only shifts the goalposts, since the universe-organism or god can raise the same question whether this transcendent story itself has any value within a larger, transcendent story. What motive do we have for asking about a larger story that any other organism or divinity would not have?

3.) The shift from all non-N thought to N-ism seems to involve a clear and definite shift from enchantment to disenchantment. The fundamental truth that we find ourselves immersed in is not a narrative account but more of a chaotic weather of things floating about and bumping into each other. Explaining stars and planets does not involve anything resembling a good tale or a legend.



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