Meaning as Being

Herman Dooyeweerd, the eminent Dutch philosopher once wrote that “meaning is being.” I’ve staked my life as a Christian and my career as a philosopher on this one idea, “meaning is being.” Thus, “to be” has nothing to do with thinking; Descartes’ cogito ergo sum fails to capture what it is to be, let alone what it is to mean. If Dooyeweerd is right, then all that exists, inasmuch as it exists rightly, is full of meaning – it matters, it has depth, breadth, height and scope.

But what does it mean to exist rightly? For me it means, following Aristotle, to be itself fully without constraint. For, inasmuch as one is not able to fully be oneself, one is not unable to embody ones own meaning. It could be said that, if one is unable or unwilling to truly be themselves, they are unable to truly tell or their own story. Perhaps it would be better to say that one is truly unable to be an actor in the story in which they participate.

For, to argue that being is meaning is to argue that to be is ultimately disclosure. Meaning must be communicated; it must be disclosed. Thus, we can say that to be, inasmuch as it is “to mean” is also to disclose, which presupposes the existence of another to which one’s meaning and being may be disclosed. Therefore we agree with Levinas when he suggests that the only way to truly be ourselves authentically is to recognize the legitimacy of the face of the Other; insodoing we recognize our own legitimacy as we disclose ourselves and allow the Other to disclose themselves to us.

Clearly this presupposes a certain degree of vulnerability: When we look at the Other, we are giving the Other permission to look back at us in the same measure by which we ourselves look. This is the beginning of ethical responsibility; to wound the Other without allowing the Other to wound us in the same measure is disorder; it is sin. Sin could thus be understood in part as a rejection of disclosure – we expect the Other to disclose itself fully to us without our own reciprocation. This is selfishness, pride, sloth.

Meaning is Being: Being is Meaning: Meaning is Being is Disclosure: Disclosure is Honesty: Honesty is Truth: Truth is Justice. Justice is meeting the Other face-to-face without withholding. It is the absolute vulnerability of absolute Trust. It is Faith. Faith is Freedom.


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