And if the explanation for everything is derived from meaning, then where is meaning derived from? In a sense, meaning has to be associated with the a priori concept or notion of searching, given that human beings are always on a constant search for something. Meaning is what determines the constant search, even if those who are searching are not aware of it. And as Henry Kissinger wrote:
“Long ago, in youth, I was brash enough to think myself able to pronounce on ‘The Meaning of History.’ I now know that history’s meaning is a matter to be discovered, not declared. It is a question we must attempt to answer as best we can in recognition that it will remain open to debate; that each generation will be judged by whether the greatest, most consequential issues of the human condition have been faced, and that decisions to meet these challenges must be taken by statesmen before it is possible to know what the outcome may be.”
In turn, and as Hannah Arendt, meaninglessness is derived from a utilitarian outlook whereby everything and everyone is reduced to a set of means to an end and where the end amounts to hollow and transient benefit and utility. In this day and age, for instance, all human beings have been helplessly reduced to consumers and producers of data and “virtual assets” and instruments which are subject to the will of AI and big tech. As Arendt wrote: “The only way out of the dilemma of meaninglessness in all strictly utilitarian philosophy is to turn away from the objective world of use things and fall back upon the subjectivity of use itself. Only in a strictly anthropocentric world, where the user, that is, man himself, becomes the ultimate end which puts a stop to the unending chain of ends and means, can utility as such acquire the dignity of meaningfulness.”
In a sense, everything in the world has changed in a digital and information age, yet nothing has changed, in the sense that meaning is still the thing which is to be sought despite all the changes to our world, hence the paradox. In short, everything is guided by meaning. As Arendt wrote: “The need of reason is not inspired by the quest for truth but by the quest for meaning. And truth and meaning are not the same.” Thus, as opposed to framing or characterizing our search as the search for the truth, the search is essentially aimed towards finding meaning in what would otherwise be a meaningless and nihilistic existence.
As a result, there is a distinction between truth and meaning which needs to be made. While truth pertains to the world of perception and the senses and can always be replaced with new data and information that is projected onto perception and the senses over the course of time, meaning is something that is derived from a constant and never-ending search which is made possible by the human capability of cognition and thought. The truth, as Arendt argued, is a matter of perception and the senses, whereas meaning is a matter of cognition and thought. And to stop thinking would mean ceasing to be human, hence the expression, cogito ergo sum (“I think, therefore I am”). As a result, the search for meaning is a search which does not stop by virtue of the human capability of cognition and thought. To lack this capability or to cease using this capability would mean that one ceases to be human and in turn would amount to a kind of “philosophical suicide” to borrow from Camus which would lead to the decline and stagnation of our most basic faculties and functions as human beings.