So we are talking about purposes, possible answers to why? questions, rather than meanings in the linguistic sense. But Bill's next paragraph is this:When we ask philosophically about the meaning of life we are asking about the ultimate and objective point, purpose, end, or goal of human willing and striving, if there is one.
That being said, the similarities and differences of existential and linguistic meaning are worth noting. Two quick points. One is that a human life could be construed as a vehicle of linguistic meaning. Suppose a misspent youth issues in a man’s life-long incarceration. One might say of such a man, ‘His life shows that crime does not pay.’ This is a bit of evidence for the thesis that a life can have linguistic meaning: the miscreant’s life can be reasonably taken to express the proposition that crime does not pay. There is also the phenomenon of meaningful gestures and looks. There is the look that says, ‘I don’t believe a word you are saying.’ From some students I have received the look that bespeaks, ‘I don’t believe a word you are saying, and you don’t either.’ So if looks and gestures can carry rather specific linguistic meanings, then perhaps lives can as well. This is not to say that existential meaning is a species of linguistic meaning, but that there are analogies between them worth exploring. Indeed, if one were to assimilate one to the other, it would be more plausible to assimilate linguistic meaning to existential meaning.That last assertion is intriguing and I'd like to see Bill develop the idea, though I doubt it will be easy. I can agree that our miscreant's life shows that crime doesn't pay. We could say that his life exemplifies the proposition crime doesn't pay. But it hardly linguistically means that proposition. That would be like saying that my wearing a pair of socks and shoes means that two plus two equals four. This really does look to me like the kind of category mistake that Bill denies in the preceding paragraph. But maybe I'm a crabbed old positivist. And could a life mean, in Bill's extended sense, a falsehood? Suppose our man misspends his youth but gets away with it. Does his life mean that crime does pay? Is this life an untruth?
Bill is on much firmer ground in his next paragraph:
Existential meaning and linguistic meaning are alike in having dependency on a larger context. More on this later perhaps.The second point is that there is an analogy between the way in which context is essential for both linguistic and existential meaning. Words and sentences have their meanings only in wider linguistic contexts. An individual life, too, has what meaning it has only in a wider social and perhaps even cosmic context. This will be explored further below when a distinction is made between anthropic and cosmic existential meaning.