Meaningfulness and Time

Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 84 (2):345-377 (2011)
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(Pdf updated to final, slightly revised version of November 2010) Almost everyone would prefer to lead a meaningful life. But what is meaning in life and what makes a life meaningful? I argue, first, for a new analysis of the concept of meaningfulness in terms of the appropriateness of feelings of fulfilment and admiration. Second, I argue that while the best current conceptions of meaningfulness, such as Susan Wolf’s view that in a meaningful life ‘subjective attraction meets objective attractiveness’, do a fairly good job capturing meaningfulness at a time, we need an account that makes sense of the intimate connection between meaningfulness and having a direction in one’s life. According to the Teleological View I propose, what makes a single chapter of a life most meaningful is success in reaching central, objectively valuable goals as a result of exercising essential human capacities. Life as a whole is most meaningful when past efforts increase the success of future goal-setting, goal-seeking, and goal-reaching, so that the life forms a coherent whole without being dedicated to a single aim. Since coherence in this sense is a holistic property of a life, global prudential value is not a function of local prudential values. I suggest that just as pleasure is the final good of human beings as subjects of experience, meaningfulness is the final good of human beings as active agents.

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Antti Kauppinen
University of Helsinki


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