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Thread: 'Meaning' Redux

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    GemQuest Moderator Gary Wassner's Avatar
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    'Meaning' Redux

    Camus wrote: “The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

    Can we do that? Is the struggle enough?
    Last edited by Gary Wassner; July 24th, 2008 at 09:38 AM.

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    Just Another Philistine Hereford Eye's Avatar
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    If it isn't, what's the alternative you'd like to see in its place?

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    GemQuest Moderator Gary Wassner's Avatar
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    Though I certainly don't, Camus suggested suicide.

    Too dark for me.

    Is the meaning then in the struggle or in the result?

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    Just Another Philistine Hereford Eye's Avatar
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    Ah, the traditional non-answer to the question. Didn't ask what Camus thought; asked what you'd like to see in its place. You've evidently been giving this quite a bit of thought since the topic ties into your previous thread. So, where are you today?

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    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Well it's the traditional "it's the journey, not the destination," though in the case of life itself, the destination is death, so of course the journey looks better most of the time. Suicide would be abandoning the journey to get right to the destination, which if you're a depressive like Camu, has some romantic appeal.

    Then there's the proposal that how much you wonder about the meaning of life is directly proportional to your income and life situation. The more money you have, the more you worry about meaning in life, and so on.

    For me, the relativist comes out again here. The universe is random. There are patterns in it and we make plans in it and they can be disturbed in an instant. What is meaningful and what constitutes the "heights" varies for each person, so other people musing about meaning is interesting to me. Other people telling me what meaning is for all is not interesting to me.

    I don't know if the struggle is worth it, especially when the struggle is different for each person and usually grossly unfair in its distribution. But it's ours, and it's our kids, and that's enough most of the time to make us try to get off the floor mat and keep on.

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    Just Another Philistine Hereford Eye's Avatar
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    But...
    Can't you make the case that all media is an examination of the meaning of it all? And, if you can make that case, then must you not accept the search for meaning is more than a matter of economics?
    In a movie I watched the other night, The History Boys, a teacher points out that Hardy was the first to name a common drummer in his poetry, the name was Hodge. Prior to Hardy, only the VIPs got their names into poetry, sort of like "the meaning of life is directly proportional to your income and life situation" supposing that you include soldiers as a significant 'life situation." And, if you let me include soldiers, than why can we not include every human being who has trod this globe?

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    >:|Angry Beaver|:< Fung Koo's Avatar
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    I never thought Camus' fable/allergory/whatever of Sisyphus had any real applicability to the human experience. Sisyphus is essentially an immortal, doomed to infinite repetition of the same life, each time with the same task, done the same way -- the same journey, ad infinitum.

    So unless you're Buddhist, the example has very little applicability -- and even if you are Buddhist, it still doesn't because reincarnation is not a mere repetition. It is progressive. Growth.

    And besides, I have to ask -- where does the assumption come from that "filling one's heart" is equatable to "meaning"??? These need not be the same, nor even connected.

    Quote Originally Posted by Gary Wassner View Post
    Though I certainly don't, Camus suggested suicide.
    And that's not really accurate either. He suggests revolt. Which is to suggest continual struggle. Which, in the philosophy of the absurd, remains absurd because it's cyclical, answering the question with itself.
    Last edited by Fung Koo; July 24th, 2008 at 11:06 AM.

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    Just Another Philistine Hereford Eye's Avatar
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    I can accept Camus' use of Sysiphus. It works as well as any metaphor for the meaning of life, which is a philosopher's dilemma: seeking a meaning for life.
    I'm siding with that school that believes the whole debate rests on the notion of cause and effect. Our culture seems to ask: If life is a cause, what is its effect? Seemingly vast majorities of us do not seem to have the ability to accept life as an effect rather than a cause. Looking for the effect of life leads to all sorts of unwholesome ideas, e.g., the necessity of an after life, organized religion, the idea of evil, et al.

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    GemQuest Moderator Gary Wassner's Avatar
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    For me, the Sysiphus reference is key. Camus takes the original meaning and turns it upside down. In doing so, it becomes a positive one. The absurdity of life, the lack of ultimate meaning, is mitigated by the process of life. Forget the ulitimate. It's not there. It's not important. Focus on the process, the struggle. That strips the negatives from the sense of suffering and adds value to even the worst of situations.

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    bmalone.blogspot.com BrianC's Avatar
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    Struggle = meaning? I suppose that there is a message in the struggle to live. To live we must act, we must push air in and out of our lungs, we must eat and drink, find shelter from the elements and saber-toothed tigers, copulate, raise children, harness fire; to live is to struggle, and to choose to struggle implies value, and value implies meaning. But Camus is wrong about the alternative. Suicide is also an action. The alternative to action is inaction, it is lying down and doing nothing. Still, even that is a choice, and choice implies value, value implies meaning.

    Camus was also wrong about using Sissyphus to illustrate his thought. Sissyphus had no choice. He was compelled to push that stone, without reward, without end, and specifically without meaning; that's what made it punishment.

    If living is choosing, to act or not to act, then the meaning of life is found not in choosing but in the quality of our choices. A glass may be half-full or half-empty, but it is what we put in that glass that really matters. That's why it's so complicated and ephemeral, infinite choices and consequences and more choices. We create meaning, or the lack of meaning, by how we live our lives, not by simply living. Meaning is purely internal, individual, unknowable, untransferable, and ultimately meaningless to anyone else. Perhaps that is why we strive so hard to find some sort of external reference point for meaning.

    Does that clear things up?

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    GemQuest Moderator Gary Wassner's Avatar
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    Crystal!

    Choices definitely define us, both to ourselves and in the eyes of others. But meaning is more ephemeral. Does it matter what people think of me after I'm no longer alive? Does it matter what people I don't know think of me? Does it matter what people I do know think of me? If so to any of them, what does it mean to matter?

    Should we define our lives by virtue of pleasure or by the lack of pain and suffering? Is the moment the only thing that counts?

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    >:|Angry Beaver|:< Fung Koo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hereford Eye View Post
    I can accept Camus' use of Sysiphus. It works as well as any metaphor for the meaning of life, which is a philosopher's dilemma: seeking a meaning for life.
    Only if one accepts the fundamental conceit of his argument, which is contemporary to Camus, that the proletariat are interchangeable. That there is no fundamental individuality, no subjectivity, in the life of those who toil.

    Quote Originally Posted by Gary Wassner View Post
    The absurdity of life, the lack of ultimate meaning, is mitigated by the process of life. Forget the ulitimate. It's not there. It's not important. Focus on the process, the struggle. That strips the negatives from the sense of suffering and adds value to even the worst of situations.
    Can we really equivocate "struggle" with "process"? The former implies active pursuit toward some goal, whereas the latter is self-referential. Camus uses "struggle" from the Marxist tradition, and in this sense he most accurately is talking survivalism. The pursuit by life of life itself -- the struggle to reproduce.

    Life as Process is entirely different. The whole dynamic shifts away from the concept of struggle. Camus asserts the acceptance of the absurd is the root of liberation, and the absurdity is the struggle itself. So in this conception, I question whether we can understand the acceptance of the absurd as the fundamental requirement for understanding Life as Process. It seems to me we must dispense with the absurd entirely in order to accept Life as Process.

    Absurdity itself, to be "true" in Camus' sense, would imply an objectively verifiable truth to untruth -- "The truth is there is no truth..." that old trick. False rearrangement of words to sound deep. So again, this goes back to accepting the fundamental conceit of his argument that all life is interchangeable.

    Quote Originally Posted by BrianC View Post
    Camus was also wrong about using Sissyphus to illustrate his thought. Sissyphus had no choice. He was compelled to push that stone, without reward, without end, and specifically without meaning; that's what made it punishment.
    Point of correction -- that is precisely the basis of Camus' argument. That Sisyphus himself knows the absurdity of the punishment basically because it wasn't his choice. In Sisyphus' case, unlike the rest of us swine, there is a priori knowledge that the activity itself is interminable and pointless. We don't have that luxury. So Camus' assertion is that we must accept the absurdity of it all as a starting point -- the a priori -- in order to begin the revolution. Instead of starting with "there is meaning out there" and making ourselves miserable with constant let-downs, we should start with "there is no meaning" and just enjoy the time we have here, as much as possible, as loud as possible.... ultimate, unfettered hedonism.

    If living is choosing, to act or not to act, then the meaning of life is found not in choosing but in the quality of our choices. A glass may be half-full or half-empty, but it is what we put in that glass that really matters.
    Somehow, despite misstating his notion of the absurd, you've still come out with his same conclusions! Ironic, nay?

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    GemQuest Moderator Gary Wassner's Avatar
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    We want order and we search for meaning. The world is neither ordered nor inherently meaningful. Voila!

    Absurd, isn't it?

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    Just Another Philistine Hereford Eye's Avatar
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    Meaningful? Or purposeful? Or some other-ful?
    The wonder of language bites us again.
    When I find beauty in this world, is that not the same as finding something meaningful? If I discover another human being's actions abhorrent, have I not ascribed meaning to those actions? Can we exist without finding meaning?
    OTOH, when we examine our lives for purpose - why am I here? * - isn't that where things get bogged down in goal and/or struggle? The purpose of life is:...?
    Fung Koo wants to distinguish between struggle and process and his thought drives me immediately to Heinlein's "waiting is." What if life is not a transitive statement begging completion; what if life is a complete thought? IOW, what if life just is? It's a whole new t-shirt line: Life just is. In fine print, elsewhere on the shirt you could have: So, get over it.


    *Reminds me of an old management cliche for a business meeting that read: always start the meeting with the question "why are we here and what do we hope to gain?" That's the question religions purport to answer, isn't it?

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    Kiss my axe! kahnovitch's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gary Wassner View Post
    Is the meaning then in the struggle or in the result?
    Considering the result is death regardless, then it's the struggle surely?

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