I conducted an interview about meaning with Jacob Leppek, the organizer of a very successful philosophy group called Grassroots Philosophy in Lansing, MI. Here are the results of that interview:
1. How is meaning different than value?
Meaning is derived from perceived value. We gain a sense of meaning from actions related to what we value. A task is meaningful to the extent it worth completing with respect to an ultimate goal. Meaning differs from value because it is an overarching narrative that encompasses value judgements. If an individual obtains an existential sense of safety or certainty or purpose as a byproduct of an action, they obtain meaning. If, for example, you think it is valuable to help other people because it reduces their suffering, then that action contributes to a deeper sense of meaning in your life. Your construed meaning minimizes the anxiety around why you’re here, what you should do, and explains your role in society. How we learn to value is another question entirely.
2. Are objects inherently meaningful?
Objects are not inherently meaningful, but are valuable. Moreover, I wouldn’t argue that life itself is meaningful, but I would say that life is inherently valuable. Regardless of whether we don’t exist before birth and after death, or if life is a trial for a higher state of being, experience in itself is valuable. It may be pleasurable or painful, good or bad. This allows us to draw a sense of meaning throughout our lives. Many people find meaning in suffering, either (a) for a larger purpose, or (b) for the experience of awareness.
3. Can meaning be objective?
Meaning is not objective, according to my original definition of meaning in question one. This would be wrong, of course, if the universe had a defined single purpose.
4. What is the relationship between meaning and “What is?” To what extent do we possess the freedom to create?
I don’t necessarily see a direct relationship between meaning and an objective reality. We could say that the lack of awareness with an objective reality encourages us to find meaning in our subjective viewpoints. Without knowing the ‘true’ nature of the universe, we’re almost forced to choose a purpose. As such, this circles back to question one of how meaning is defined.
5. How is storytelling involved in the transmission of meaning?
We experience something, and then we sort it and make up stories about it and make sense of it as it relates to us. Those stories seem valuable because they seem to explain the world and give us the physical capacity for action that we frequently desire to extend our initial sense of awareness out into the physical world.
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