Wilson's Explanation Of Different Usages Of The Word Meaning

Discuss the February 2015 philosophy book of the month, The Meaning of Human Existence by Edward O. Wilson.
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Wilson's Explanation Of Different Usages Of The Word Meaning

Post by Scott »

[This topic is about the February 2015 philosophy book of the month, "The Meaning of Human Existence" by Edward O. Wilson. Please refrain from participating until you have read the book.]

I think Wilson does a great job of defining meaning at the beginning of the book to provide a proper context for the rest of the writing in the book. Agree or not with one's arguments, it's simply proper argument form to provide definitions and present an argument clearly.

On page 7 (of my copy of the book), for instance, Wilson writes the following:
Edward O. Wilson wrote:In ordinary usage the word "meaning" implies intention, intention implies design, and design implies a designer.
Edward O. Wilson wrote:There is a second, broader way the word "meaning" is used and a very different worldview implied. It is that the accidents of history, not the intentions of a designer, are the source of meaning. There is no advance design, but instead overlapping networks of physical cause and effect.
I agree with Wilson's description of the usage of meaning. In fact, it resonated so basically with me that I recall upon reading it I was much less interested in reading the book. (I'd rather read arguments by someone with whom I disagree than read someone who writes what I already think.) However, especially after reading the rest of the book, I think it is was very helpful to the completeness of the points in the book that Wilson provided this basic, almost undeniable distinction between what the word meaning can mean, so that we the readers know how what he writes later connects to his conclusions about what the meaning of human existence is.

What do you think? How do you think Wilson's explanation of the different usages of the word 'meaning' compliment the rest of the book?
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Re: Wilson's Explanation Of Different Usages Of The Word Mea

Post by Elder »

I was very impressed with the book, especially with the way it started.

I was 18 when I stated the "meaning of my life" for the first time. I started by analyzing the meaning of the word 'meaning'. I asked myself: how is that word used? Every example I could think of suggested the 'function' of the object that the word 'meaning' was applied to, in human existence. So, I concluded: the meaning of my life is its function in my existence: life itself. I never changed that conviction.

I found Wilson's definition of the word 'meaning' very similar to my own and I saw how he used this rigorous approach in the rest of the book. My favorite part had to do with morality and the duality of human motivation.

Wilson found two fundamental and different motivations. He called them "individual-level selection" and "group-level selection" in our evolutionary process. The result of individual-level evolutionary selection predisposes us to favour our own and our progeny’s survival over the interests of our group. The result of the group-level evolutionary selection motivates us to serve the interests of the various groups we are part of. As he so eloquently states:
We are unlikely to yield completely to either force as the ideal solution to our social and political turmoil. To give in completely to the instinctual urgings born from individual selection would be to dissolve society. At the opposite extreme, to surrender to the urgings from group selection would turn us into angelic robots - the outsized equivalents of ants.
Once we realize this duality, then we have a foundation under our philosophical feet to build an ethical theory on an objective and realistic platform.
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Re: Wilson's Explanation Of Different Usages Of The Word Mea

Post by Jan Sand »

The two possibilities of meaning indicated, intention with an an entity that intends and accidental seems to me to leave out one possibility. Most physical natural processes are obviously lacking intention but there is one exception. Life processes which utilize the two active factors, genetic variation and environmental conditions, operating in unison display an intention for the survival of a life form. This intention is not, of course, always successful. Nevertheless it seems to have been successful enough to see to it that life as a phenomena has survived in a huge number of different forms into the present and some forms, such as humanity for example, have developed abilities to anticipate possible difficulties so that it can be successful in a very large number of different environmental challenges. This indicates that evolution is a process with intention without the necessity for an intending entity. The process itself displays intention.
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