Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics 11:91-111 (2021)
AbstractOn a widely accepted view, what gives meaning to our lives is success in valuable ground projects. However, philosophers like Kieran Setiya have recently challenged the value of such orientation towards the future, and argued that meaningful living is instead a matter of engaging in atelic activities that are complete in themselves at each moment. This chapter argues that insofar as what is at issue is meaningfulness in its primary existential sense, strongly atelic activities do not suffice for meaning. Instead, finding one’s life meaningful is warranted both by sustainable success in valuable prospective (future-oriented) projects, and by success in reflexive projects that aim to promote or realize a practice-dependent value that can be realized at each moment, but never for good. The latter kind of activities are only weakly atelic, since their aim remains distinct from the activity, and individual actions gain significance from serving a long-term commitment. Thus, whether our ground projects are prospective or reflexive, what we do at each moment contributes to leading a meaningful life only when it’s connected in the right way to what we do at other moments.
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