Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What Does It All MEAN?

(Note: As a textual convention I will write terms I mean in a technical, narrow, non-portable sense in ALL CAPS. It is my intention to provide the entire meaning that I intend those words to have in my text. They don't necessarily have any relationship to the same words used in other contexts, though they might.)

MEANING is the product of CONTENT (facts) and CONTEXT (assumptions). MEANING is what we "get" from words and experiences that we can in turn communicate as words and experiences. MEANING is inherently contextual. It requires some set of assumptions, some axiomatic foundation upon which to rest, 0r, alternatively, to act as a filter for the infinite facts that one can collect about anything.

MEANING, then, is a matter of opinion. It is a matter of agreement on the facts of the case, and of the assumptions used to interpret them. When we attempt to determine what something MEANS, we set the facts in the context that we find self-evidently TRUE. What is TRUTH? TRUTH is simply agreement with some standard, and in the case of CONTEXT, TRUTH is self-evident. Not rational, not logical, not defensible except as being self-evident.

So, if MEANING requires, CONTEXT, and context requires TRUTH (of the self-evident variety) we find that MEANING is really a matter of opinion, with which one may legitimately agree or disagree, and which is also multifaceted. That is, we can disagree on meaning and both be "right".

MEANING then is not "objective" in any sense that people ordinarily MEAN when they use "objective" in discussing epistemology. It is subjective, it requires arbitrary choices of axiomatic principles. If this is the case, there can be no objective MEANING. To put it a different way, if there is something objective, it is MEANINGLESS.

MEANINGLESS but not worthless. MEANING it turns out, it is a chimera of language. We have a very strong belief that things must have MEANING to be important or accessible. It seems, though, that the experience of objectivity, if there is one, must lie outside language and its insoluble bond with MEANING.

Shuzan's Short Staff

Shuzan held out his short staff and said:
"If you call this a short staff, you oppose its reality.
If you do not call it a short staff, you ignore the fact.
Now what do you wish to call this?"

Mumon's comment:

If you call this a short staff, you oppose its reality.
If you do not call it a short staff, you ignore the fact.
It cannot be expressed with words
and it cannot be expressed without words.
Now say quickly what it is.

Holding out the short staff,
He gave an order of life or death.
Positive and negative interwoven,
Even Buddhas and patriarchs
cannot escape this attack.

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