Dan P. McAdams - December 2016 Meeting Topic

Three Kinds of Meaning, All Social:  Human Actors, Agents, and Authors

For the December 2016 meeting of the Virtue, Happiness, and Meaning in Life group, I will expand upon a presentation I gave at a small conference in Barcelona, in April of 2016, on The Meaning of Meaning:  An Exploration of the Psychology of Purpose.  Sponsored by the Templeton Foundation, the conference mainly featured psychological and social scientists.  The talk I gave in Barcelona built upon a chapter I wrote a few years ago for a book entitled, The Psychology of Meaning (Eds:  Markman, Proulx, and Lindberg; American Psychological Association Press, 2013).  I will include a slightly revised draft of that chapter as the reading for our December meeting.

Like the paper I presented back in June of 2016 (“Psychological Science and the Nicomachean Ethics”), this selection organizes the topic into three broad conceptual domains – the ideas of the human being as (1) a social actor, (2) a motivated agent, and (3) an autobiographical author.  The issue of meaning in life means different things at each of these three levels.  From the standpoint of the social actor, meaning is found in the effective performance of social roles.  From the standpoint of the motivated agent, meaning resides in life’s most cherished goal and value pursuits.  Finally, as autobiographical authors, human beings find or create meaning in the stories they construct about how they have come to be the unique persons they are becoming.  In the presentation I will make at the December conference, I will draw upon both psychological research and my own life experiences to illustrate the three different ways in which human beings apprehend meaning in their lives, and I will argue that all three meanings are inherently social.