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Live life like you mean it

19 November, 2007

This is interesting: J L H Thomas in ‘The Mean-ing of life’ suggests that

“… life has a meaning when we ‘mean’ life, when we convey or express something by our actions : the next question is how we do that. The idiom of doing something ‘meaning it’, that is seriously, helped a little here by suggesting that mean-ing is not so much a matter of what we do as of the way we do it…”

He goes on to suggest that:

“… the meaning of an action does not depend solely upon ourselves: we cannot simply mean what we like by what we do. Rather, the meaning depends in part upon the background or context of action, which provides a pattern to which our action conforms : when scoring a goal, the context is provided by the rules of football word Thus,… we set our aims and objectives in life, but we do not determine the meaning of what we do, which arises instead from the interplay between our actions and their context.

He goes on:

“… we had to recognise that the meaning of life is not, as it were, spread evenly over the whole of life, like the icing on a cake : the meaningfulness of our actions is a matter of degree rather than an all-or-nothing affair – no one would consider washing up to be as meaningful as philosophical discussion, for example.

“Rather, the meaningfulness of life is concentrated at certain points, or ‘hot spots’, an idea we could express terminologically by dividing actions into ordinary everyday acts and especially meaningful deeds. This concentration of meaning is indeed part and parcel of meaning itself, for the meaningful or significant stands out from its background : were everything equally meaningful, nothing would stand out, and so nothing mean.

” … these areas of intense, concentrated meaning” are all “ceremonial in nature. (Ceremony intended here to include such things as everyday courtesy, professional etiquette, forms of hospitality, neighbourly services, celebrations, pedagogical situations, the conventions of public meetings, and artistic and sporting events, for example, as well as the explicitly ritual) : all these occasions, when life, so to speak, is accelerated, irradiate the rest of life and imbue it with meaning.

“Life as a whole acquires meaning when we engage in ceremonial (or better, sign-like) activity, and so behave meaningfully : the meaning of life… is a mosaic of mean-ings, rather than one all-embracing Meaning.”

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One Comment leave one →
  1. 20 November, 2007 1:02 am

    I like this way of looking at things. In my Christian context the attitude of thankfulness provides meaning to life in this way, with the philosophical implication of poverty. Meaning is often found in obedience and duty, also in the negative perceptions of fear and hatred, for some people in morality and self righteousness. Suggested reading is definitely the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. Don’t take this the wrong way!

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