Monthly Archives: February 2017

Being Meaning

Let’s face it, being is meaning. That is, of course, unless you know about something that has no meaning. If you do, please tell us. Remember, however, as Frank Ramsey once told Wittgenstein, you can’t whistle it either. So as long as we are talking we are in the realm of meaning and that’s it. There is nothing else. And if there were, it would be inside the realm of meaning. The outside is paradoxically inside. We draw the borders, we make the exclusions, it is we who put things outside. The problem here is the “we“. Who are we who make meaning? Are we those Homo sapiens with the big brains, the heroes of radical constructivism? If so, then why would our otherwise selfish, inconsiderate, and destructive species be so generous as to make everything else in the world? Not to mention the sheer unimaginable diversity and creativity of things. Do we really think we make meaning? If not, then who? God has been the best answer to this question for ages. But here again there are so many Gods that it is difficult to understand how they manage to cooperate, especially since they seem not to want to have anything to do with each other. So the God answer is not very satisfying if you look at the big picture and not merely your own garden. The next best answer would appear to be that meaning makes itself. After all, nothing comes from nothing. Selforganization, autocatalysis, spontaneous emergence; take your pick. These seem to be the best answers we have. But then we should admit that “we” is no longer our humble species, but “everything.” Everything has a “voice” of its own and contributes to the “collective.” Everything is involved in making meaning. This is what it “means” to exist. We human beings may play an important role in this process, but maybe not as important as we think. Anyway, we have a certain “responsibility.” We are obliged to “respond” to the many voices, claims, interventions, and disturbances that things are doing in their efforts to come to be.  This could be thought of as the “moral responsibility” of being human, to respond not only to other people, but to all things as well.  If language were indeed a gift, then responsibility in this sense would amount to acknowledging the gift and showing some kind of thankfulness. Heidegger pointed out the close associations between “thinking,” “thing,” and “thanking.” He referred to this interdependency as “gathering.” Gathering things together into one world, that is, allowing (and helping) everything to have its voice, its “say” in what the world means. Latour has formulated this moral responsibility in terms of the institution of a “parliament of things” and proposed a new constitution for the anthropocene in which humans and nonhumans together share responsibility for gathering the “collective.” In an age when the anthropos is seen as the dominating factor, it is perhaps appropriate that humans accept responsibility and no longer push it off onto God.  This seems to make ecology into the most atheistic of all sciences. But no one said the Gods have to be excluded, after all, they also have something to say, each in their own way. So let’s face it, being is meaning, but meaning is not yours or mine or anybody’s; meaning belongs to everything, indeed it is the expression of belonging, the belonging together of one world.