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Contrasting Meaning and Value

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Meaning and Value

I introduce the importance of meaning and value. I use these two particular terms since I need an opposition between subjectivity and objectivity. In my perspective, the difference between psychology and existentialism is the difference between value and meaning.

The purpose of using two concepts that are in opposition to each other is to illustrate the method of solving philosophical paradoxes. The two opposed concepts form a pair, or binary.

Sub - Headings
Being and Becoming

To understand the role of the individual within society, we need to consider two issues : why  the individual relates to society, and how  he relates to society. The first issue leads to the production of meanings. The individual seeks subjective meaning to his life : why should he have relationships?  The second issue leads to the conversion of meanings into values. His answers are translated into objective values as he learns how to engage in relationships. Meanings reflect the person's focus on subjectivity and his /her own uniqueness. Values represent the focus on objectivity and social relationships. Hence the relationship between meanings and values is a relationship between subjectivity and objectivity.


The process of childhood growth into adulthood produces a person who has acquired, voluntarily or involuntarily, many fixed beliefs and prejudices. Voluntarily-accepted beliefs represent social learning. The involuntarily-accepted beliefs are just another name for social conditioning. These fixed beliefs enable a person to structure his character, since they create values. Values are the standards that he bases his identity on.

The voluntarily-accepted beliefs are the effect of the transition from subjective meanings to objective values.

However, this is not always the case with involuntarily-accepted beliefs : usually they are copied directly without the child engaging in subjective reflections. The values formed from direct copying have usually been created either mechanically or subconsciously, and hence are usually enshrouded in confusion and self-deception. The long-term effect of these confused beliefs and values is to produce determinism ; that is, a person usually acts in a present situation in a manner that was first established in the past of long ago. The more that he centres himself in these confused beliefs and values so the more he finds that he is subject to determinism and fate. [¹]

Psychology is the investigation and understanding of this fixed structure.

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In contrast, the existentialist tries to live a very different situation. He accepts his limitations from the past ; his character is his present starting point. And from this starting point he tries to live a life of meaning, a life of choice, a life of free will. This is the important difference between standard man and existential man. Standard man acts from values. Existential man seeks meanings. Meanings become the way that life is lived, lived in all its drama. The meaning of anything is just what that thing can teach him. Meanings are just the idealistic ideas that are important to him.

Existentialism is the investigation and understanding of meaningful choice.

Values give structure and an element of rigidity to a person’s character, and help determine his actions and behaviour. Hence they are objective. Whereas meanings are always subjective, since flexibility of character and ability to change are of prime importance. However, values and meanings are not isolated from each other. They are tied together through relativity. [²]

The world is a relative world. The world is relative because consciousness is relative. Anything that is relative has both a subjective component and an objective component. Self-consciousness, as pure relative subjectivity, arises from its relationship to social reality, a relative objectivity. Within language, the objectivity of the world produces a subjective interpretation of it. The standardised sameness (objectivity) of the world is tied to the uniqueness (subjectivity) of the individual. Meaning is subjective and value is objective. The subjectivity of meaning is tied to the objectivity of value.

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I digress on Sign Systems
Language can be analysed as a sign system. However, language is a secondary system. In my view, consciousness can itself be viewed as a sign system, and the sign of language is just a counterpart to it. In the two sign systems, consciousness is fundamental and language is only derivative.

To recap on the sign (from the article Semiology) : in the work of Saussure, the sign is the unit of language. The sign has two parts : a name plus an idea. The name is a word for an object or event, and the idea is the image in the mind of that object or event. These parts are termed the signifier and the signified. The sign is a compound of a word that signifies, and the idea in the mind which is the signified.

The sign usually refers to a particular object in the external world to which we are drawing attention. For example, the word ‘dog’ is the signifier, and the idea or image in my mind of a small mammal with four legs, etc, is the signified.

Now I return to meaning and value.
Within the signs of consciousness and language :

The signifier produces subjective meaning.
The signified produces objective value.

However, this viewpoint can be weighted to emphasise just one factor, so there are two extreme ways of valuing relativity. For the introvert, the subjective mode, arising from self-consciousness, produces meaning. The objective mode, arising from social reality, has little value. The extrovert reverses this format : the subjective mode is unimportant and only the objective, social mode is desired and valued.

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Being and Becoming

How do these views relate to Being (the concept of stability and essence) and Becoming (the concept of change and impermanence)?
Traditional philosophers preferred Being as the primary feature of reality. However, my view of relativity implies that neither is more important than the other. Being is objective. Becoming is subjective. They are relative to each other. In my view, the relation of Being to Becoming is the ground of all relativity. Relativity gives rise to sign systems, so therefore Being and Becoming can be considered to be the primal sign system in creation, from which human consciousness is formed.

One of the ways in which I classify a person is that he /she is a binary arrangement of consciousness. It consists of a static structure (determinism, or fixed beliefs created in the past) plus a particular perspective on life (the ego, or the agency that has free will). Another name for determinism is karma. I relate this view to subjectivity and objectivity: the subjective mode of consciousness is the ego, and the objective mode is karma. The ego is of the present and is changeable, whilst karma is of the past and is fixed and stable. [³]

Karma = Being. ( = the signified )
Ego = Becoming. ( = the signifier )

This view means that the individual can focus on either mode in his spiritual practice. Being and Becoming form a binary, so neither is ultimate. The difference is that the person who focuses on freedom and choice needs to follow Becoming, whilst the religious person who focuses on duty and purity needs to follow Being.

Being is the path of value. Becoming is the path of meaning. These paths are separate in their requirements and separate in the way that they structure the world. Each path leads to a distinct manner of making sense of reality : the person can focus his life on either the pursuit of truth or the pursuit of goodness.

The signifier = meaning
= the domain of truth and ignorance.

The signified = value
= the domain of good and evil.

Each person oscillates between these paths over his cycles of reincarnation. But ultimately the seeker has to gravitate to ethics as the centre of his/her practice. The pursuit of truth is too hard, so that only a little truth can be discovered in any era. But this little ration of truth is enough to enable the practice of ethics to be updated to meet new conditions of society and individuality.

These examples of meaning and value illustrate the way to solve philosophical paradoxes.
Each person has two sources of influence acting on him/her : these are subjectivity and objectivity. Hence the solution of a paradox must reflect this fact.

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The number in brackets at the end of each reference takes you back to the paragraph that featured it.
The addresses of my other websites are on the Links page.

[¹]. I have an article on Determinism on my website Discover Your Mind. [1]

[²]. My ideas on relativity begin with the article The Ego and Relativity. [2]

[³]. See the article Existentialism and Psychology for the use of the terms ego and karma. More ideas on karma are in the article Note on Karma. [3]

Home Emotion and Abreaction References and Links Note on Karma

The articles in this section are :

Existentialism and Psychology


Contrasting Meaning and Value

The Antinomies

Summary 2

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