I have called this site RationalMeaning.com. This is because it has two central points about which I use to explain what I think about things. Therefore I think I should define these terms separately as well as in combination.
RATIONAL here refers to man’s faculty of reason. What is reason? Well, it has been described in various ways over history and very often in unhelpful, or even destructive, ways. I define reason as man’s faculty of conceptual cognition, which is to say, how we know things by means of concepts. The biggest difference between human beings and all other known entities, is that we have this conceptual consciousness. Almost everything worth thinking and speaking about in regards to our lives have a thoroughly conceptual foundation, conceptual context, and conceptual implications. We share the ability to sense simple sensations and perception with other forms of life. but sensations and percepts make up only a small part of what we know and what we really care about.
Reason is NOT at all anything ineffable or mystic, but most solid of realities we confront. However, many writers have confounded reason with vague longings or mystic ritual. Reason, it might be better said is actually common sense rightly understood. From the very nature of concepts there flow logic, mathematics, and coherence. More than anything, the discussion of reason should be seen as an effort to fully know how we know, and therefore be certain about our conclusions. However, what also comes from reason is values and that is a whole field in itself.
We still have many basic problems in ethics, not just in everyday practice, or as political matters, but more fundamentally, on a philosophic level. This philosophic difficulty spawns political and practical difficulties on a mass scale. Sad to say, ethics is an underdeveloped science. By the same token, however, this may be in fact an opportunity for our time to make substantial progress. I think I have taken a few steps in that direction.
To adequately address ethics, we must now address MEANING. I did not discover this by my own inspiration and I did not coin the term. However, I recognized its place in philosophy when it was presented to me. The person who broke this all open for me and for many others is the distinguished Austrian Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl. He wrote the book “Man’s Search For Meaning” in the 1940′s and the book has had widespread acceptance. In this book, he discusses the ultimate grounds for motivation. Although his theory had been thought out before the war, when he was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, he had first-hand verification in detail of his thoughts about human living.
In his book, he explains that sometimes prisoners simply gave up. They could not be motivated to do anything. No tasks would be performed even under brutal beatings and threats. They often would not even get out their beds. They typically died, one way or the other in days, once they had given up. For them, life had no meaning. In contrast to those prisoners were others who never gave up. You might well ask what were the crucial differences between survivors and casualties here. Essentially, the survivors had a reason to live. It might be the hope of seeing family again. It might be to fulfill a mission or job they wanted to do. It might be that they simply took pride in holding fast to their lives, no matter what. Such things gave meaning to their lives.
Those things are meaningful values, values being those things which one acts to gain or keep. As Frankl shows, meaningful values in some ways are quite peculiar. Consider a parent of a child or children. Most of us readily understand that many parents will be willing to die for their children and also be willing to keep alive for their children, even if life is a struggle. This seems paradoxical. On the one hand – death, on the other – life. It may seem strange, but we cannot deny the reality of meaningful values. Much about our lives are determined ultimately by what we hold as supreme meaningful values. If we assume that their are no meaningful values, by definition we are saying life is meaningless. To believe that wholeheartedly is to be depressed, even suicidal.
I think we have much to discuss about meaningful values and that such discussion will have massive effect on philosophy, psychology, and the humanities, not to mention contemporary politics.
Reason and meaningful values are intertwined subjects requiring extended discussion of first the one and then the other, then a melding of the two, then starting over. We are complex beings and in order to cover the field adequately, there is no substitute for having a long and involved discussion over time. It is my mission not only to discover many of these aspects, but to make them intelligible in a relatively straightforward way for anyone who takes these matters seriously. To say the least, none of this is easy, but I will do my best. I also invite you, the reader, to reach out to me whenever you find something definitely wrong, but even more so, if what I write is not clear to you.
I believe this can only be a long-range effort. I hope you will join me on this journey.