Meaning: Part II

So far we’ve only been discussing the context in which we must consider the question of the meaning of life, or, more explicitly, the meaning of life for us as individuals. One could take the minimalist position of assuming that the meaning of life is inherent in reflective consciousness. It is somehow valuable to us to think about our thoughts, to mull over what we do and say and think in the course of a day. But this leaves us with an emotionless answer which seems to leave out what most people find valuable in their lives.

It seems to me that what most people find meaningful as they participate in reflective consciousness are stories, stories of their life as a whole, stories of particular episodes in their life stories that occur only in dreams, or even daydreams in which they figure more prominently than they might in real events. Even when one is in a hospital bed, perhaps close to the end of his life, the remaining meaning is likely to be in the visits of relatives and staff — past present and future (where these three are quite foreshortened). Our participation in stories is so attractive that we may spend much of our time immersed in novels or watching movies that depict stories which we can participate in without actually participating.

This hard rock of meaning as narrative may not have much moral content. We do of course gain meaning from having done what we feel to be meritorious acts, or acts in which we take pride. We want to feel that we are contributing to the life of others in small ways and large, or have in the past. But for most people I suspect that this moral meaning is less immediate and sustaining than participation in life narratives at various levels.

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