Meaningfulness and Identities

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 11 (2):123-148 (2008)
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Three distinct but related questions can be asked about the meaningfulness of one's life. The first is 'What is the meaning of life?', which can be called 'the cosmic question about meaningfulness'; the second is 'What is a meaningful life?', which can be called 'the general question about meaningfulness'; and the third is 'What is the meaning of my life?', which can be called 'the personal question about meaningfulness'. I argue that in order to deal with all three questions we should start with the personal question. There is a way of understanding the personal question which allows us to answer it independently of any consideration of the cosmic question, but which nonetheless helps us see why the cosmic question should be dismissed as a bad question. Besides, a recommendable answer to the general question can be derived from my understanding of how the personal question should be answered. Two notions are essential to my account, namely, the notion of identities and the notion of a biographical life. And the account can be epitomized in this enticing way: a person's life is meaningful if it contains material for an autobiography that she thinks is worth writing and others think is worth reading.



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Wai-hung Wong
California State University, Chico

Citations of this work

The Meaning of Life (Second Revised Edition).Thaddeus Metz - 2021 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Conceptualising Meaningful Work as a Fundamental Human Need.Ruth Yeoman - 2014 - Journal of Business Ethics 125 (2):1-17.
Well-Being and Meaning in Life.Matthew Hammerton - 2022 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 52 (5):573-587.
Meaningfulness as Sensefulness.Joshua Lewis Thomas - 2019 - Philosophia 47 (5):1555-1577.

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Ontological relativity and other essays.Willard Van Orman Quine (ed.) - 1969 - New York: Columbia University Press.
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The View From Nowhere.Thomas Nagel - 1986 - New York: Oxford University Press.
The sources of normativity.Christine M. Korsgaard - 1996 - New York: Cambridge University Press. Edited by Onora O'Neill.

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