Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Anti-purposeful Meaning


     When talking about ‘meaning’ in a general sense, it is usually accompanied by ‘purpose’; more specifically, the purpose is that of life. To most philosophical theories, you cannot have one without the other.            

  There is no exact definition of meaning, but the one that can be most accurate is given by an online dictionary, which states “meaning is the sense or significance of a word, sentence, symbol, etc.; import; semantic or lexical content”. Also, the definition of purpose is “the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists”.           

 The notion that purpose precedes meaning seems unappealing. This is due to the unanswerable questions that this notion provokes, which makes the concept of meaning very restricted, and gives it a doctrine-like nature.

  The fundamental questions that purpose poses are “why” questions. Therefore, when asked about life, the answers tend to be weak because they are oversimplifications. Also, most explanations imply that we have to work our way into having a purposeful life. This method is highly unperceptive because it neglects a lot of human factors, especially emotions.          

  Having a universal explanation for something so abstract and vast like life is useless and dull, for life goes beyond thought and purpose. Even more, it is the epitome of human arrogance and narcissism to claim that life is not worth living without purpose.         

   Since meaning is derived from the significance of things, and since different people find different things significant to them, it makes more sense for the meaning of life to be subjective. It also makes more sense that a purposeful life which adheres to a doctrine is likely to become meaningless.           

 Things that are most significant to us are those that give us pleasure, but this does not mean that a hedonistic life is a meaningful one, for significant pleasures are not restricted to bodily gratification.        

    If one must give a structure for meaning, it is likely to be general and applicable for different types of people that value different things – or simply relative. One theory that is this way is the “Engine Theory”. This theory states that in order to derive meaning, three elements must be present, which are: thought – which has a similar function to the engine lubricant, emotions – which have a similar function to the engine pistons, and personal experiences – which share the function of the driver. Remove any of those three elements and you will not be able to properly derive meaning. Similarly, if you remove any of those elements from a conventional car, it cannot go anywhere.        

    It might be appealing to relate the Engine Theory to Pragmatism. This is due to the significance of experiences. However, unlike the Engine Theory, Pragmatism states that meaning is only derived or discovered through experiences.        

    Similarly, the suggested theory also shares attributes with the theory of Existentialism, but it is different because Existentialism decrees that meaning is only derived through thoughts.         

   Common grounds can be found between Nihilism and the Engine Theory, since both asserts that there is no purpose to life. But unlike the Engine Theory, Nihilism requires that purpose precedes meaning, thus rendering the concept of meaning void.        

    The discontent that people experience does not have to do with the meaning of life, because everyone is living a meaningful life, especially since the concept of meaning is subjective. It is more likely that it arises from uncertainty and its significance. People become discontent when they are uncertain of what is significant to them, which keeps them from knowing what means to them; thus, they ironically feel as if their life has no meaning and their dissatisfaction becomes greater and grows exponentially.         

   Since the concept of living a meaningful life is significant to most people, and since everyone is, in fact, living a meaningful life, this means that knowing that we are living a meaningful life ideally is enough to minimize the dissatisfaction that people experience from that subject, without going into its meticulous details. However, the ironic reality is that everyone is dissatisfied because “meaning” is ubiquitous, which renders the “purpose” of having a meaningful life untenable.  

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