Which philosophers have defended both the claim that any attitude (a pro attitude to anything) can ground meaning and moral error theory? It may even be the the received view among the population in general.

There are indeed some philosophers who think that any pro attitude toward anything suffices for meaning

One is not really being true to oneself, losing oneself in a meaningful way, or having a genuine reason to live insofar as one, say, successfully maintains 3,732 hairs on one’s head (Taylor 1992, 36), cultivates one’s prowess at long-distance spitting (Wolf 2010, 104), collects a big ball of string (Wolf 2010, 104), or, well, eats one’s own excrement (Wielenberg 2005, 22)... there seem to be certain actions, relationships, and states that are objectively valuable (but see Evers 2017, 30–32) and toward which one’s pro-attitudes ought to be oriented, if meaning is to accrue...[philosophers] usually seek to avoid the counterexamples, lest they have to bite the bullet by accepting the meaningfulness of maintaining 3,732 hairs on one’s head and all the rest (for some who do, see Svensson 2017, 54–55; Belliotti 2019, 181–83).

And if nothing is moral then that might open the floodgates even further, so that not only is maintaining an exact number of hairs meaningful, but that no steps we take to do so (headhunting) are morally wrong.

Who could defend such a claim? To say that anything can be meaningful and no way of getting it is wrong seems like the antithesis of philosophy.

Or are the two are actually incompatible, so that if we take error theory seriously enough subjectivism can be limited and exclude silly (if not evil) counter examples.

  • 3
    Moral error theory based on argument from queerness (moral nihilism) and falsity of agent motivation internalism doesn't mean it grounds meaning if any at all by arbitrary attitude, on the contrary it just implicitly ultimately grounds on motivation externalism wherefrom most mundane seemingly subjective individual attitudes could be reduced to nothing else but bodily emotions belonging to human nature as part of the whole nature often observable by others objectively and determined by external causes... Sep 10 at 5:33
  • did you read the quote @DoubleKnot ? ii'm not sure why you disagree with what i said
    – user67675
    Sep 10 at 19:43
  • i am concerned by what you are saying @DoubleKnot you seem to think that if nothing is moral then subjectivism about the meaning of life is automatically limited against all possible counter examples. there is no way i can see that this is the case. can you elaborate or not?
    – user67675
    Sep 11 at 0:15
  • oh right i think i get you @DoubleKnot you mean that without moral values and limits to meaning, we can truly enjoy other values (practical and epistemic). i think that is too quick to assert. e.g. people who think that some apparent meaning is not meaningful are not obviously less able to practice epistemic virtue etc.
    – user67675
    Sep 11 at 3:03
  • 1
    Nothing is required to change, just hope my composition is not more cryptic and rhetorical... Sep 28 at 6:20

1 Answer 1


Nietzsche, Nietzsche may well be a moral error theorist

it was only early in the nineteenth century that writers began to write directly about “the meaning of life.” The most significant writers were: Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Tolstoy. Schopenhauer ended up saying that the meaning of life is to deny it; Kierkegaard, that the meaning of life is to obey God passionately; Nietzsche, that the meaning of life is the will to power...

But it looks like the counter examples fail, and pro attitudes (admiring the hairs on my head) cannot ground silly examples of meaningful lives: not everything expresses (not every subject position possesses) the will to power quite as much.

Likewise, while Buddhas may be in some sense past morality, they all live the same life, which has a meaning (however that could apply, to others?) not from trivial self involvement but compassionately helping all sentient beings to reach enlightenment.

If you need an argument for why it may not even by possible (which is just silly speculation):

  1. the meaning of life is either propositional or not
  2. if it is propositional then it is "queer": so no lives are meaningful for Mackie
  3. if it is not propositional then reasons to think a life is meaningful are internal: so for Mackie "are not the only or the main source of such a [sociocultural] framework-relative authority"
  • oh, probably nonsense by me here
    – user67675
    Sep 12 at 4:57

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