David Foster Wallace on the Good Life

In Steven M. Cahn & Maureen Eckert (eds.), Freedom and the Self: Essays on the Philosophy of David Foster Wallace. Columbia University Press. pp. 133-168 (2015)
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This chapter presents David Foster Wallace's views about three positions regarding the good life—ironism, hedonism, and narrative theories. Ironism involves distancing oneself from everything one says or does, and putting on Wallace's so-called “mask of ennui.” Wallace said that the notion appeals to ironists because it insulates them from criticism. However, he reiterated that ironists can be criticized for failing to value anything. Hedonism states that a good life consists in pleasure. Wallace rejected such a notion, doubting that pleasure could play a fundamental role in the good life. Lastly, narrative theories characterize the good life by fidelity to a unified narrative -- a systematic story about one's life, composed of a set of ends or principles according to which one lives. Wallace believed that these theories turn people into spectators, rather than the participants in their own lives.
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