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It's a fine line between living for the moment and being a sociopath.

Patricia B McConnell: For The Love Of A Dog.

Pema Chodron: The Places That Scare You

Daniel Wallace: Mr Sebastian & the Negro Magician

All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. --Pablo Neruda

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Defining meanings taken for granted

Reading on the walk home from work:

Two thoroughly engaging pieces on very different topics, yet which both address the thorny issue of meaning. We speak freely of "spirituality" and "truth", but how closely have we examined what we mean and what others hear?

From "Spirituality in America", by Leigh E Schmidt:

In 1800, the word spirituality had little resonance in the evangelical Protestant vernacular of personal devotion, but during the ensuing century of transcendentalist ferment, it gradually shifted from being an abstractly metaphysical term, denoting an attribute of God or the immaterial quality of the soul, to one highly charged with independence, interiority, and eccentricity.

Below, from "Does Relativism Matter", by Simon Blackburn. (This article was the Voltaire Lecture for the British Humanist Association, King's College London.) I should note that I violently disagree with Blackburn's conclusion on one issue: global climate change. (The lecture was given in 2001. Perhaps ensuing evidence has changed Blackburn's mind. Who knows?) But that doesn't diminish at all my respect for the argument he presents pitting relativism against tolerance, and finding relativism not just lazy, but an offense.

While I have never particularly classified myself a skeptic, I am attracted to this definition of Blackburn's:

...the sceptic makes no attempt to bypass or sideline the issue. The issue is the issue, and so is truth. It is just that according to the sceptic, we cannot find the truth. We must moderate our opinions, confess to our ignorance, avoid conviction and dogma because we recognize the inadequacies of our investigations or our methods.

But, ultimately, I have trouble identifying with a supposedly heroic view defined in the negative. It is not that the truth doesn't exist; it is only that it can't be defined as a final destination. There is always a next stop on this train line. And the pleasure, even the duty, the very motivation of the journey is the hope that it is possible to approach the truth, even if we all die uncertain of just how close we've come.


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