Maybe It's Just Me, But...

Musings of a mildly mad multi-disciplinarian

Meaning in Life (And Why It Matters)

I've been doing a bit of reading on meaning lately, not so much to help find the meaning in my life, but rather to see what the big deal is—why is it important and why does it matter? Maybe a new book by philosopher Susan Wolf can help... Read More

My life has to have meaning too?

What if they read a really great poem at my funeral? Would that be meaningful enough?


That wouldn't do you much good "in life," though, would it?

My life has meaning...

"What if they read a really great poem at my funeral? Would that be meaningful enough?"

I would suppose that the process of creating the poem and anticipation untill the day comes might be meaningful for the creator! :)

Finding Meaning

Thank you for a serious discussion of an important subject. In my view, the most important subject. While “most men live lives of quiet desperation” as Thoreau has said, there is an alternative, which rests on finding meaning and purpose for one’s life. Also, thank you for mentioning the wonderful work of Victor Frankl. At least from my vantage point, Man’s Search for Meaning is one of the most important books ever written.

Thanks, Paul...

...I couldn't agree more on Frankl - I expect to draw from his work for a long time to come.

meaning & coercion

Great post, thank you very much again.
I think Susan Wolf is right, or mostly right. Just like sense of self may actually be a kind of dialectical play between senses of self & others (which by the way relates subjective & objective worlds), meaning may arise from a dialectical play between "Fulfillment View and the Larger-Than-Oneself View" (ditto).

This make much sense (!) for me when comparing with attachment theory. After Bowlby's early theory, much work has been done to try and interpret adult things under a similar frame. And it seems to work fine, including biologically, to the point that nowadays infant-mother attachment is widely considered as a prototype for a wide range of adult affective feelings and relations.
What if a similar parallel could be drawn between child & adult activity? (See Peter Gray's blog "Freedom to Learn" for wonderful insights: When let free to do it, kids are constantly active in self- development & learning, and in an incredibly efficient manner. The key point is for this activity to be autonomous, I mean self-driven. Salient aspects are:
1. Gravity of involvement, especially when it is challenging or even requires surpassing oneself. Kids love activities that both allow & demand giving their best.
2. Pleasure, fun, enjoying the activity in & for itself. Kids quit when something gets boring or unpleasant.
3. Participation, beeing useful. Kids strive for taking part to the community's needs, if only for a marginal amount.

We could easily transfer this to adult lives, couldn't we? I guess points 2 & 3 are close to Susan Wolf's points.
The core & root factor for me is autonomy (which I'm very please to find in your posts). The best way to quickly lose motivation for a loved activity is to make it a profession, i.e. in most cases to lose choice. It has been shown that kids lose pleasure and involvment when forced to do something at school, even when they would have done it spontaneously. Are they thus deprived of meaning?
I think there is no mystery ingredient in meaning(fulness), instead it just arises when we are lucky enough to practice autonomous activities (which leads to points 1-2-3 in most cases). This nearly does not exist in civilisation; rather civilisation is precisely the opposite, both for kids & adults. A similar statement could be said of happiness, probably, beeing just the "normal" human mood when we are able to drive our lives naturally.
Thus, instead of wondering about meaning, we may ask what lack of meaning is, or rather where it comes from? My answer is: mainly, from coercion.

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Mark D. White is the chair of the Department of Philosophy at the College of Staten Island/CUNY.


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