Betekenis en leven

Bijdragen 54 (2):162-176 (1993)
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Dutch: Bij alle aandacht die er op dit moment is voor de aard van zingevingsvragen is de analogie tussen de betekenis van taal enerzijds en leven en werkelijkheid anderzijds wel opgemerkt, maar nog nergens uitvoerig doorgelicht. Marcel Sarot voorziet in dit gemis door een zorgvuldige analyse van de structurele overeenkomsten tussen verschillende theorie├źn over beide vormen van betekenis. Vervolgens past hij de gemaakte onderscheidingen toe in een weerlegging van de argumenten tegen de the├»stische vorm van zingeving van Elmar D. Klemke en Jaap van Heerden. English: The question of the meaning of life is the subject of a lively scholarly debate both in the Netherlands and abroad. I concentrate on an aspect of this question that has often been mentioned but is still waiting for a careful treatment: the analogy between linguistic meaning and the meaning of life. With respect to linguistic meaning, I distinguish between two types of theories of meaning. According to the first type of theory words are names for concepts and hence also for the structural divisions of reality to which our concepts correspond, and the meaning of a word is the concept (or thing or class of things) to which it refers. According to the second type of theory, words are tools which we use to exercise conceptual skills, and the meaning of a word is the conceptual skill exercised with that word. Corresponding to these theories of linguistic meaning, I distinguish between two types of theories of the meaning of life. According to the first type of theory, externalism, the meaning of life is determined by its relation ("reference") to a transcendent primary determinant of meaning; it is therefore independent of the "use" we make of it. According to the second type of theory, internalism, the meaning of life is determined by the use we make of it: life cannot acquire meaning without our giving meaning to it. Just as the theory which construes words as tools does not imply that we cannot use words to refer to extra-linguistic objects, internalism does not imply that reality does not provide objective grounds upon which to build our meaning. Subjective internalists argue that there is no such ground and that man has to create his own meaning ex nihilo, but objective internalists, most theists among them, argue that there are such grounds. Finally I employ the distinctions made above in a counter-argument against the anti-theistic arguments of two subjective internalists, Jaap van Heerden and Elmar D. Klemke. I show that they mistakenly suppose that the theistic alternative has to be construed along externalist lines, whereas theists themselves construe their theory of meaning along objective internalist lines, which renders it much more plausible.

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