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April 19, 2015


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Our web of practices, with their beliefs and values, does not rest on a ground assured by the universe. As with meaningfulness, the universe is silent on this matter. But neither do the beliefs and values in that web arise simply according to individual or collective whim.

Sounds like May has replaced God with The Web.

So in one sentence what is May's meaning of life?

That would be really brilliant and we could cut through all the pondering and speculating and buzzwords and crap.

George, May considers meaning to be a "how" not a "what." It is a process, not a thing. Meaning arises from living our narrative values, such as steadfastness, adventurousness, intensity, etc.

There is no set list of narrative values, nor is it necessary for a meaningful life to know that we are living by certain values. So there is no Meaning of Life, no objective entity like gravity or electromagnetism.

What May tries to do in his book is elucidate what people mean by "meaning." Often words are used without much thought being given to them, which confuses discussion of them.

"life is a process, not a thing" you said.

Well, your body itself is both a process and a thing. So you appear to be wrong.

Your post begins with the words, Values end up being..."

As you are a much admired and followed keen observer and beautiful articulator of much good sense found here on your outstanding blog, perhaps you can come up (not down :-) with a logical answer to this hopefully reasonable question which I have been contemplating for many decades...

How is that processes and actions once concluded can be said to "end up", even when they end up down?

Warmest regards

I have been reading Ronald Dworkin”s “Justice for Hedgehogs,” which presents his theory of justice in much the same terms as your post discusses. I have been working off and on on a way for citizens to protest on and comment on public policy by presenting their position in terms of their values. When arguing whether something is right or wrong, be it abortion or HB 2666, I want to get to the underlying issue and present it in terms of whether or not it is compatible with my values and the implicit purpose of the state and the role of the state vis a vis the citizen.

Dworkin asks what causes us to have the opinions we do about right and wrong? Do the best answers validate or impeach your opinions?

He argues that the best explanation of why we hold most of our opinions is also a sufficient justification for those opinions. The best explanations of belief validate belief.

He asks where do these opinions come from (Or, are moral beliefs accidents)? He identifies faith upbringing,.relationships with others, community, the law, social norms, education,family bonds, and your sense of responsibility.

Asking whether moral beliefs be objectively true he suggests that moral responsibility emerges from opinions drawn from a reasonably well-integrated and authentic system of conviction.

We cannot vary moral attributes except by varying the ordinary facts that make up the case for claiming those attributes. We cannot make sense of the cruel counterfactual question: Would you think X unfair even if it wasn’t unfair?

There is no causal interrelation between moral truth and moral opinion. Moral facts can cause people to form moral convictions that match the moral facts.

People can have no sound reason to think any of their moral judgements is a correct report of moral truth.

I am particularly taken by his observation that “The argument ends when it meets itself if it ever does.” (Dworkin, 117). If you organized all your moral convictions into an ideally effective filter encapsulating your will, they would form a large interconnected and interdependent system of principles and ideas. You could defend any part of that network only by citing some other part, until you somehow managed to justify all parts in terms of the rest.”

The truth of any true moral judgment consists in the truth of an indefinite number of other moral judgments. And its truth provides part of what constitutes the truth of any of those others. There is no hierarchy of moral principles built on axiomatic foundations. . .”

If this sounds like circular reasoning, Dworkin argues that, yes it is, just as the scientific method itself is circular.

Some of his other observations include:

“We develop our moral personalities through interpretations of what it is to be honest or reasonable or cruel, or what actions of government are legitimate, or when the rule of law has been violated.” (Dworkin, 158)

Yale, you ask some excellent questions. In general, I think the answer is that mental cognition is strongly connected with the body. George Lakoff describes this in great detail in his fascinating book, Philosophy in the Flesh, which I've mostly read.

This article about Lakoff and embodied cognition contains a quote right along your line.

We understand control as being UP and being subject to control as being DOWN: We say, “I have control over him,” “I am on top of the situation,” “He’s at the height of his power,” and, “He ranks above me in strength,” “He is under my control,” and “His power is on the decline.”

Similarly, we describe love as being a physical force: “I could feel the electricity between us,” “There were sparks,” and “They gravitated to each other immediately.” Some of their examples reflected embodied experience. For example, Happy is Up and Sad is Down, as in “I’m feeling up today,” and “I’m feel down in the dumps.”

These metaphors are based on the physiology of emotions, which researchers such as Paul Eckman have discovered. It’s no surprise, then, that around the world, people who are happy tend to smile and perk up while people who are sad tend to droop.

Metaphors We Live By was a game changer. Not only did it illustrate how prevalent metaphors are in everyday language, it also suggested that a lot of the major tenets of western thought, including the idea that reason is conscious and passionless and that language is separate from the body aside from the organs of speech and hearing, were incorrect.

In brief, it demonstrated that “our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature.”

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