Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Subjective meaning - relativity of values

The podcast is called Your Purpose Centered Life and carries the pretentious subtitle: A Plan for Authentic Living. Speaker Eric Maisel, philosopher psychologist and author of books on coaching, uses the podcast to build up an argument about the meaning of life. Intentionally he detaches the meaning of life from religion and also from the idea meaning is something outside of the individual that needs to be discovered or acquired. In his opinion, meaning needs to be made. One decides, personally on the meaning of ones life.

The 5th episode works out the character of meaning and profoundly places it in the individual, making it entirely personal and subjective. Maisel places it entirely in the psychology and personal philosophy and ethical evaluations of the individual. This makes sense and coherently fits with the whole idea that meaning is the result of a personal choice. He disconnects it from objective, or intersubjective meaning. He makes no mention of how the individual can arrive to an understanding of the quality of various options. The socialization, the connection with the values of peers seems to play no role. At least it is not mentioned. Maisel takes it even this far: If someone takes the freedom as carte blanche for selfish objects as meaning, he is free to do so; you will have no ground to say he is wrong. "We cannot hold him to standards that do not exist."

I disagree here. Standards do exist. If not objectively, then at least socially. There is value in what society tries to learn us through religion and other value systems, how fallible, limited and abused they frequently are. Also, it is my opinion, we are not capable to think (completely) outside the box we were raised with. Most of all, we are no gods or animals that we can live outside the polis, that is society. We stand a better chance of choosing meaning and satisfyingly live by it, if it resonates with those of our peers. If we take the total relativism of values Maisel seems to propose, for one I cannot understand how man can rationally arrive at meaning, but secondly and more importantly, how such a view brings us anywhere else but to the war of everybody against everybody. Where there is no objectivity or at least intersubjectivity, there can be no dialog. When meaning can by essence not be shared, there can be no talk and any conflict of interest immediately involves a threat of life.

In coming episodes we will see if Maisel addresses this threat in any way.
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