Meaning in Life and Why It Matters:

Meaning in Life and Why It Matters:

Susan Wolf
Introduction by Stephen Macedo
John Koethe
Robert M. Adams
Nomy Arpaly
Jonathan Haidt
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: STU - Student edition
Pages: 168
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  • Book Info
    Meaning in Life and Why It Matters:
    Book Description:

    Most people, including philosophers, tend to classify human motives as falling into one of two categories: the egoistic or the altruistic, the self-interested or the moral. According to Susan Wolf, however, much of what motivates us does not comfortably fit into this scheme. Often we act neither for our own sake nor out of duty or an impersonal concern for the world. Rather, we act out of love for objects that we rightly perceive as worthy of love--and it is these actions that give meaning to our lives. Wolf makes a compelling case that, along with happiness and morality, this kind of meaningfulness constitutes a distinctive dimension of a good life. Written in a lively and engaging style, and full of provocative examples,Meaning in Life and Why It Mattersis a profound and original reflection on a subject of permanent human concern.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3459-4
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    Susan Wolf
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    Stephen Macedo

    SUSAN WOLF’S TOPIC in these essays—formerly lectures delivered at Princeton University in November 2007—is familiar and inescapable, and yet the topic has not received sustained philosophical attention. Her subject is not the question of the ultimate meaning of human life: whether humans are part of a larger narrative or higher purpose or plan of the sort associated with religious traditions. Nor does Wolf make it her project to fend off existential dread or the fear that, absent some larger narrative, human life must ultimately be meaningless, snuffed out by death and the eventual implosion of the universe. Nor,...

  5. Meaning in Life and Why It Matters
    • Meaning in Life
      (pp. 1-33)

      PHILOSOPHICAL MODELS of human psychology—or, more specifically, of human motivation—tend to fall into one of two categories. Perhaps the oldest and most popular model conceives of human beings as egoists, moved and guided exclusively by what they take to be in their own self-interest. However, there have long been defenders of a dualistic model of motivation as well, according to which people are capable of being moved not only by self-interest, but also by something “higher.” Kant, for example, famously thought that in addition to being subject to inclinations, people are capable of being moved and directed by...

    • Why It Matters
      (pp. 34-64)

      IN THE PREVIOUS LECTURE, I argued that philosophical models of human psychology that divide all motives and reasons into the self-interested and the moral, or the personal and the impersonal, were simplistic and distorting, failing to capture the character of our relationships with many of the things and activities that are most important to us. Further, I claimed that insofar as such models encourage us to think about our lives in terms only of happiness and morality, they lead us to neglect another important dimension along which lives can be better or worse—namely, the dimension of meaningfulness.

      But what...

  6. Comments and Response
    • Comment John Koethe
      (pp. 67-74)

      I FIND SUSAN WOLF’S ACCOUNT of what makes a life meaningful persuasive on the whole, and do not intend to criticize it.¹ What I want to address are some consequences of a particular application of it. Some may find these consequences troubling, though I myself do not.

      On Wolf’s account a life is made meaningful by a subjective commitment to, or a love for, a project or activity of objective worth. The subjective component precludes the possibility of someone’s life being meaningful for reasons of which she is not cognizant (for example, because it happens to have beneficial effects), which...

    • Comment Robert M. Adams
      (pp. 75-84)

      PEOPLE SPEAK OFTEN ENOUGH of a human life as being meaningful or meaningless, having or lacking a meaning, either at a given time or in its history as a whole. Almost always, when we think in those terms, we want to find meaning in our lives; we do not want them to be meaningless. Philosophers, at least in the English-speaking world, have published relatively little about meaningfulness in life, despite its apparently profound human importance. We have found the concept of it a tough nut to crack and pry open.

      A most welcome exception to this generalization is Susan Wolf’s...

    • Comment Nomy Arpaly
      (pp. 85-91)

      I WOULD LIKE TO APPLAUD Susan Wolf for standing in front of an interdisciplinary crowd and declaring:I am conducting research with no practical implications that I know of, and I am proud. Philosophy, even the philosophy of human values—and for that matter the search after knowledge and understanding in general—needs practical justification like a fish needs a bicycle. In fact, of the various things that tell us apart from other apes, the ability and inclination to pursue nonpractical interests is one of the truly priceless.

      Which leads us to another thing for which I would like to...

    • Comment Jonathan Haidt
      (pp. 92-101)

      AT THE AGE OF FIFTEEN I began calling myself an atheist. It was bad timing because the next year, in English class, I readWaiting for Godotand plunged into a philosophical depression. This was not a clinical depression with thoughts of personal worthlessness and a yearning for death. It was, rather, the kind of funk that Woody Allen’s characters so often exhibited in his early movies. For example, inAnnie Hall, a flashback shows us a nine-year-old Allen-esque boy being asked by a doctor why he is depressed. The boy’s response is that he has recently learned that the...

    • Response Susan Wolf
      (pp. 102-132)

      I COULD NOT HAVE ASKED FOR a more gratifying set of commentaries. They are generous and constructive, challenging and provocative. Notably, every one of them stresses the importance of thinking about the question of meaning in life in a way that applies to real people, as opposed to people who are merely conceptually possible. (Indeed, they often refer to specific people, ranging from Henri Rousseau to Claus von Stauffenberg to a University of Virginia student.) Notably, too, they are graceful, witty, utterly free of jargon, and at the same time intellectually serious. Academic philosophy is often portrayed as pedantic, irrelevant,...

  7. Contributors
    (pp. 133-136)
  8. Index
    (pp. 137-143)