Authors
Michael Prinzing
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Abstract
The desire for a meaningful life is ubiquitous, yet the ordinary concept of a meaningful life is poorly understood. Across six experiments (total N = 2,539), we investigated whether third-person attributions of meaning depend on the psychological states an agent experiences (feelings of interest, engagement, and fulfillment), or on the objective conditions of their life (e.g., their effects on others). Studies 1a–b found that laypeople think subjective and objective factors contribute independently to the meaningfulness of a person’s life. Studies 2a–b found that positive mental states are thought to make a life more meaningful, even if derived from senseless activities (e.g., hand-copying the dictionary). Studies 3a–b found that agents engaged in morally bad activities are not thought to have meaningful lives, even if they feel fulfilled. In short, both an agents’ subjective mental states and objective impact on the world affect how meaningful their lives appear.
Keywords experimental philosophy  folk theories  meaning in life  moral psychology
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