Re: Please check in here if you're going to join the "Finding Purpose in a Godless World" discussion!
Thanks for an interesting response. I have to agree with you that casting the same term as "gave her life meaning" does make it more intelligible, even if the oddness is still visible as you say. I fear this is a topic that is "in the semantic weeds" and that the best I can do is argue connotations, which of course tend to differ for different people.
I meant to just explain how I react differently to the terms, in the same spirit as your reaction, but somehow I ended up promoting a particular usage. What a surprise (not).
I guess I also think "matters" is plainer for emphasizing the sharedness.
I tend to view the derivation of purpose from what matters as more legitimate than deriving mattering from purpose, rather than less possible or less legitimate. I fear that the moralist in me is a strong voice, and I try to recognize the hazards of thinking that way, but in my view modern culture has gone way too far in the other direction. I think much of the culture of the cognoscenti in the U.S., anyway, has taken to worrying about "shoulding on yourself" instead of being willing to criticize their own choices and purposes.
I find myself wondering how much of that is due to academic abdication. Much of the academic enterprise in the humanities has been taken over by people who assume that "critical" means "critical of institutions" rather than ever examining the beam in one's own eye. Rorty has said as much. Combined with a frankly facile assumption that moral choices imply a socialist system, the intellectual ground has been scorched in which normal lay persons (i.e. those not having tenure) might once have grown an inner sophistication about judgments on integrity, virtue and meaning.
I am quite sympathetic to the notion that people will lead better lives if institutions are more just. That, to me, is a basic article of my faith. But the reverse is, of course, also true. If we ignore the value of private caring about what really matters, in social discourse, we overprivatize our perspective on what matters and invite The Sopranos, Breaking Bad and Harvey Weinstein.
This is, in fact, the state of corporate America and American institutions in general. The "forced moves" perceived by people's institutional roles has all but foreclosed the possibility of meaningful discourse about principle. For Brett Kavanaugh to approach questions of jurisprudence with the Senators in the same candor that Robert Bork did is unimaginable, because these days nobody gets to that level who doesn't understand that the forces who put them there will not tolerate failing to follow their directions. If you watch Kavanaugh carefully you can see his personality fracturing under that stress - his urge to be a thinking being is having its last breath squeezed out by the grinding stones that gave us the truly incredible Janus v. AFSCME decision.
Umm, I think we have an artifact here. A different dimension of semantic difference between purpose and mattering (besides the greater sharedness in mattering) is the enacted nature of purpose. Something can sit out there mattering, like climate change, without it giving any purpose to many of the people it matters to. To put it bluntly, they are pretending it doesn't matter. But of course it does. Wait, wait, you might say, as far as they are concerned, it doesn't matter to them
. The concepts are tricksy, and this illustrates one reason why it is important not to privatize our vocabulary of values. Yet even in a private context, I may pretend my bank account is going to be fine, but if I keep taking a lot more out than I put in, it matters. What I find matters, or find meaningful, may not be what actually matters, or is actually meaningful.
Well, I am arguing that what seems to make something meaningful, in our experience internally, may represent a poor map of cause and effect. That if we actually understood, say, that the NRA is just acting as a tool of the armaments industry, it would change what conclusions we reach about what matters.