It is not always that the words mean what they are believed to mean. Sometimes words have hidden sense discovering which requires thorough analysis and interpretation of the word from different perspectives. This is especially true about the words and phrases that have generalized meaning. One of such phrases is “nothing matters” which serves as a title for Richard Hare’s story about the young man whose life was changed after incorrect interpretation of the words. Expressing this idea, Hare states that the assertion that “nothing matters” rests on a conceptual mistake with the concept of ‘matters’ changing the meaning of the phrase if it is interpreted incorrectly; this suggests an idea that the only type of meaning possible is subjective meaning because every person interprets words in relation to his/her own problems; Hare is successful in making his argument due to the logic of his explanations.
First of all, Hare posits that the expression ‘nothing matters’ is based on a conceptual mistake. This mistake, according to him, consists in the fact that the word ‘matters’ has a separate meaning for every person: “If a person is concerned about something and wishes to give expression in language to this concern, two ways of doing this are to say ‘This is important’ or ‘It matters very much that so and so should happen and not so and so’” (Benatar 43). With respect to this, the word ‘matters’ means that somebody has concern about something, which means that it can be asked “when it is said that something matters or does not matter, ‘Whose concern?’” (Benatar 43). Therefore, if the concept of ‘matter’ is interpreted incorrectly, then the meaning of the whole phrase ‘nothing matters’ is distorted.
In addition, this argument implies an idea that people are subjective in interpreting words and concepts. This can be proven not only by the fact that Hare’s Swiss friend interpreted the concept incorrectly, but by the idea that Hare had his own interpretation of this concept. It is interesting to note that Hare is confident in his argument, which means that he does not admit that he might be wrong. This means that Hare, just like any other reader, was subjective in perceiving the information and interpreting the concept in a definite way.
Finally, this argument can be regarded as quite successful and convincing. One of the reasons why Hare is successful in this is that he gives logical explanation to all his ideas. For instance, he states where exactly his Swiss friend was wrong when interpreting the concept under consideration. First, he mentions, that he perceived the concept ‘matters’ as “something (some activity or process) that things did” (Benatar 46), rather than as ‘concerns’, which is a correct interpretation of this word. And secondly, he explains why this is incorrect; he states that his friend took “for a real moral problem what was not a moral problem at all, but a philosophical one – a problem to be solved, not by an agonizing struggle with his soul, but by an attempt to understand what he was saying” (Benatar 46). These logical explanations make Hare’s argument successful.
In sum, one and the same concept may be interpreted differently by different people. This was the case with Hare’s ‘Nothing Matters” where, as stated by the author, the concept of ‘matters’ was interpreted incorrectly. Hare’s argument was rather subjective, but he still was successful and convincing when making it due to his logic of explanations.
Benatar, David. Life, Death & Meaning: Key Philosophical Readings on the Big Questions. New Jersey: Rowman and Littlefield, 2004.