11 thoughts on “On meaning”

  1. Meaning is something that we, as humans, create. We can place it where we personally think it belongs or we can be told that something has meaning. Either way, you assume that meaning is, in a way, tangible. It may not be something that can be directly measured, but one would assume that more meaning can be allocated to one thing and less to another. That ability shows that humans ascribe meaning to things based on whatever they decide to base it on- we can also base it on nothing.
    For example, two people can visit to the Sistine Chapel. One can ascribe this experience as holding great meaning to them, they may remember the details vividly, it may even influence how they live their lives (perspective change). While the other person may appreciate greatly the art and architecture of the chapel, but they may not find the same meaning in the experience as the first person.

  2. One reaching meaning is being content, fulfilled and having purpose. The pursuit of meaning is arguably as old as man itself, there have been many theories from St Augustine to Friedrich Nietzsche and to the post world war 2 french thinkers, Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Satre.

    Having welcoming the bleak, futile and arbitrary void of meaning described by Nietzsche in the past I found it neither encouraging nor favourable. Afterwards, I also tried embracing the absurdity of life, which Albert Camus described.

    After this, I realized that the pursuit of meaning is futile. It already exists without the clear acknowledgment that it does. Specific, unique meaning exists in every individuals life no matter how trivial it may seem to other people. Loved ones, family, friends, ambition, goals etc are all meaning towards people and these provide meaning.
    But they are impossible to see with such a wide perspective

    1. Daniel,
      this often happens when we engage in philosophical pursuits. The more we attempt to grasp something, using syllogisms and lines of argumentation, the more it escapes us. But once we let go the ambition to pin it down, as it were, in a single expression of conceptual reasoning, something reveals itself to us — whether in the form of a fleeting understanding, or something more lasting. That is not to say that we should either abandon all intellectual pursuits, or conclude there is NO meaning whatsoever; it may simply be that, as it is often the case, in philosophy (as well as other preoccupations), a grain of humility can bring us more than a ton of wisdom. Keep searching, and reading — not only ‘the essentials’. Try, for instance, Camus’ "The Sea Close By".

  3. Meaning, be it of life or moments therein, varies significantly from person to person. It is dependent on one’s level of consciousness or lucidity, interpretation and background. Experiences of the past can shape one’s outlook on life and world, thus affecting how one interprets meaning. Intelligence and emotional understanding result in profound interpretations of meaning. Individuals with a high level of intellectual and emotional intelligence can find themselves realizing more profound and indeed more complex explanations for meaning. Inversely, individuals of low intelligence, will arrive at far more simplistic explanations for meaning or it may be lost on them altogether. Irrespective of profundity or intelligence, one’s interpretation of meaning can have the same effect on life and outlook. The application of meaning can also go both ways, it can be a moment or event which shapes your interpretation of life’s whole meaning or it may also be life’s meaning that shapes one’s interpretation of one moment or event’s meaning.

    1. So what do you think, Pascal, if the sense of meaning can go both ways, why do we even need to distinguish between simplistic and sophisticated interpretations? Or higher and lower pleasures, to paraphrase John Stuart Mill?

      What I would be interested to learn more about is, what is your understanding of the difference between consciousness and lucidity? And equally, that between intelligence and emotional understanding.

      I couldn’t agree more with the notion that our history, culture, and general background shape our thinking and understanding — whether conceptual, emotional, or otherwise. Hans-Georg Gadamer spoke about this at length.

  4. Meaning is merely a connection of thoughts, trying to explain everything around us. Everyone learns about the meaning of things through their parents, friends, and environment, but in the end, it ultimately comes down to an individual to decide what meaning they give to a certain aspect. Ultimately what we understand as the meaning is the combination of personal and universal value giving us an idea of how to understand life.

  5. Meaning encompasses the thoughts and feelings an individual has toward a word, event, object, action, or anything else. We reach meaning through culture. In this case, culture refers to the shared beliefs, values, attitudes, and understandings of a group of people. Additionally, people do not have culture, they share culture. Culture can be shared with large groups of people (American culture) or few people (familial culture). Certain things have certain meaning to everyone in the world, but that meaning is not universally the same because of the variety and sheer number of cultures that exist. For example, the concept of a free sandwich would have vastly different meanings to a group of homeless people, the royal family, and a tribe of indigenous people who have never before seen processed food. Each of these groups shares an understanding of the world around them and through that understanding, they ascribe meaning to their surroundings in order to make sense of their environment.

    Some may believe that everything inherently has meaning. This position reminds me of the question, "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound?" If a rock exists on the ground, and no one is around to give it meaning, does it still have meaning? We may never know for sure the answer to either question, but it is true that a child in an American school, a scientist in India, and a Buddhist monk in Tibet would perceive the meaning of both the tree and the rock a little differently.

    1. Ally,
      thank you for sharing these thoughts. They make a lot of sense to me, which is perhaps surprising given that I come from a European, rather than American culture. Can you imagine a situation where an American might perceive the rock as a Buddhist monk would? Or, an Indonesian who might look at the fallen tree and see exactly the same thing as an American — which is at odds with his/her own culture?

      What I am trying to say is, there might be other influences on what kind of meaning we assign to things/words/events etc., other than cultural ones. And sometimes, something just seems to reveal a meaning to us — without us having done anything about it (with all our cultural, intellectual etc. background). And other times, there is just silence. Why do you think that is?

  6. I believe that meaning and value could be considered somewhat synonyms. It is possible for one to claim that there is no meaning in something, just because there is no emotional value, educational aspect, or simply interest to it.
    There is no universal concept of meaning, human beings tend to create their own definition of meaning and assign it to things, people, concept, etc.
    Meaning can differ according to differences in education, culture, language, religion, character traits and views on life. It is one of the most personal, strictly individual things.

    1. Mayya,
      you’ll probably enjoy reading Umberto Eco’s "The Name of the Rose". (Read it before watching the film though).
      So you cannot think of any example of an idea, aim, or value, which people from across continents and cultures might embrace, in other words, something we could refer to as ‘universal’? What about human rights?
      I am intrigued by your suggestion that meaning and value may be synonymous. What about statements or events charged with negative meaning? We should think this through…

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