The meaningfulness of life

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Michael Stocker


Life, Meaning of life, Objective value, Subjective value, Immortality

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Philosophy


I argue that meaningfulness in life has to do both with factors internal to a person and with factors external to a person. I argue for this by arguing for three more specific theses. First, I argue that, other things being equal, a life with some achievements in it is more meaningful than a life without achievement. Second, I argue that in order for activity to be meaningful, it must meet certain criteria. Finally, I argue that human nature imposes constraints on meaningful projects .

My chapter on achievement accommodates the strong intuition that achievements contribute meaning to a life. I give an account of a particular kind of achievement---meaningful achievement (henceforth m-achievement)---whereby something counts as an m-achievement only if it satisfies certain conditions. The first two conditions an m-achievement must satisfy have to do with the idea that m-achievements are definitive of whom one is. The second two conditions have to do with the idea that an m-achievement cannot be trivial.

My chapter on activity does two things. First, it shows why the dominant strain of objectivist theories about meaningful activity is incomplete. Second, it shows what is needed to provide a complete theory. It does the latter by taking the theme of the internal and external and by developing it more fully. I give an account of meaningful activity in which meaningful activity promotes both internal and external goods.

In the final chapter, I give an account of constraints, deriving from human nature, that meaningful projects must have. I consider the question of what immortality would be like for us, and I develop an argument to suggest that immortality would be meaningless. This is because an immortal life is one in which certain meaning-conferring constraints would not be in place. I continue to refer to the internal and external in this chapter, showing repeatedly why both are important.


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