Re: The Meaning of Life

From: Brent Meeker <>
Date: Tue, 20 Feb 2007 09:06:58 -0800

Tom Caylor wrote:
> On Feb 19, 7:00 pm, "Stathis Papaioannou" <> wrote:
>> On 2/20/07, Tom Caylor <> wrote:
>>> On Feb 19, 4:00 pm, "Stathis Papaioannou" <> wrote:
>>>> On 2/20/07, Tom Caylor <> wrote:
>>>>> These are positivist questions. This is your basic error in this
>>>>> whole post (and previous ones). These questions are assuming that
>>>>> positivism is the right way of viewing everything, even ultimate
>>>>> meaning (at least when meaning is said to be based on God, but not
>>>>> when meaning is said to be based on ourselves).
>>>>> Tom
>>>> Can you explain that a bit further? I can understand that personal
>>> meaning
>>>> is not necessarily connected to empirical facts. The ancient Greeks
>>> believed
>>>> in the gods of Olympus, built temples to them, wrote songs about them,
>>> and
>>>> so on. They provided meaning to the Greeks, and had an overall positive
>>>> effect on Greek society even though as a matter of fact there weren't
>>> any
>>>> gods living on Mount Olympus. Just as long as we are clear about that.
>>>> Stathis Papaioannou
>>> It is a given that whatever belief we have falls short of the set of
>>> all truth. But here we are talking about different "theories" behind
>>> beliefs in general. Positivism is one such "theory" or world view.
>>> This problematic type of world view in which positivism falls has also
>>> been referred to as "rationalism in a closed system". In such a world
>>> view there is no ultimate meaning. All meaning is a reference to
>>> something else which is in turn meaningless except for in reference to
>>> yet something else which is meaningless. We can try to hide this
>>> problem by putting the end of the meaning dependency line inside each
>>> individual person's 1st person point of view. At that point, if we
>>> claim that we still have a closed system, then we have to call the 1st
>>> person point of view meaningless. Or, if we at that point allow an
>>> "open system", then we can say that the 1st person point of view has
>>> meaning which comes from where-we-know-not. This is just as useless
>>> as the meaningless view (in terms of being meaningful ;). This is all
>>> opposed to the world view which allows an ultimate source of meaning
>>> for persons. If there were such an ultimate source of meaning for
>>> persons, then, even though our beliefs would fall short of the full
>>> truth of it, it makes sense that there would be some way of "seeing"
>>> or discovering the truth in a sort of progressive or growing process
>>> at the personal level. Gotta go.
>>> Tom
>> I don't see how ultimate meaning is logically possible (if it is even
>> desirable, but that's another question). What is God's ultimate meaning? If
>> he gets away without one or has one from where-we-know-not then how is this
>> different to the case of the individual human? Saying God is infinite
>> doesn't help because we can still ask for the meaning of the whole infinite
>> series. Defining God as someone who *just has* ultimate meaning as one of
>> his attributes is a rehash of the ontological argument.
>> Stathis Papaioannou
> Ultimate meaning is analogous to axioms or arithmetic truth (e.g. 42
> is not prime). In fact the famous quote of Kronecker "God created the
> integers" makes this point. I think Bruno takes arithmetic truth as
> his ultimate source of meaning. If you ask the same positivist
> questions of arithmetic truth, you also have the same problem. The
> problem lies in the positivist view that there can be no given truth.
> Tom

I think you mis-state the positivist view; which is that what we can directly perceive can be the referent of true statements. But I take your point. It is strictly parallel to the question of what is reality. It seems pretty clear that we can't know what is real as opposed to what seems real to us; except for our own thoughts. So some people deny there is any reality and we're just making it all up in a dream (solipism) or in a kind of joint dream (mysticism). Others suppose there is a reality but it's completely unknowable. Scientists generally suppose there is a reality, which we can never know with certainity, but which we may know some aspects with varying degrees of confidence through inductive inference. Some on this list suppose that we may be entities in a computer game and so we can never know the really real reality of the programmer. Theists suppose there is a reality that cannot be known through perception but only through revelation (as if the programme
r told his creations about the computer). Some seize on the fact that we must know our own thoughts and conclude that reality must consist of observer-moments.

Brent Meeker

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Received on Tue Feb 20 2007 - 14:08:05 PST

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