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Meaning in Life and Why It Matters

3.52  ·  Rating details ·  246 ratings  ·  31 reviews
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. Rathe ...more
Hardcover, 143 pages
Published March 21st 2010 by Princeton University Press (first published January 1st 2010)
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Maughn Gregory
Jul 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
I wish more philosophers wrote like this: clear, jargon-free, concise and addressed to human experience. I also like the format of a position statement followed by a number of responses, and then a response to the responses. Wolf argues, and I agree, that "meaning" in life is not the same as either morality or self-interest, and that our habit of defining the latter as mutually exclusive makes it hard for us to understand what makes a life meaningful.
Jun 28, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone with a general interest in ethics.
Shelves: kindle, philosophy, warm, rich
a good solid read, and, like many published lectures, it has the advantage of greater accessibility than is typical of a book of contemporary philosophy. but it has at its heart a couple of questions that no professional philosopher i know of has ever managed to settle-- particularly questions about the objectivity of value and what role the outcome of a project has in determining the value of having undertaken it. and though it's not her explicit aim, wolf's lectures also helped me to bring int ...more
Jul 03, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2019
I'm giving this book three stars not because it is particularly bad or good one way or another, but because I think I would need to devote more time to this book than I'm willing to to really determine its merit. That said, I appreciated the layout of this book quite a bit (essay, comments, response).
Z. J. Pandolfino
Mar 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
Susan Wolf offers an insightful account not of the meaning of life, but rather meaning in life, which she formulates in at least three different ways. According to her Fitting Fulfillment View, a life is meaningful “insofar as its subjective attractions are to things or goals that are objectively worthwhile.” She takes this to mean that “one’s life is meaningful insofar as one finds oneself loving things worthy of love and able to do something positive about it.” Finally, “a life is meaningful…i ...more
Billie Pritchett
Jan 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: life-and-death
I finished reading Susan Wolf's book Meaning in Life and Why It Matters . It was a short book and really terrific. In the book, Wolf tries to identify what it would mean to say someone has meaning in life. She's not trying to supply what in particular would bring meaning to a person's life but trying to create some general rubric for how to assess whether somebody has a meaningful life.

She talks about how sometimes we act by doing what we want. She refers to it as satisfying our pleasures or
May 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: filosofie
Although rationally I agree more on Peter Singers objective naturalist account of utilitarism, I do also really believe intuitionally in Wolf's account of a meaningful life.. Really like the way she tries to unite subjective fulfillment and objective values, although certain point remain vague or ambiguous. For instance her argumentation for the fact that objective values exist. Plus she seems to grant a meaningful life only to people in affluent societies ...
Jan 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Still digesting her arguments. Might bump up a star later...
Aug 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy, ethics
This book presents an argument for the importance of meaning in our lives. That is meaning in the sense that we act out of love for objects that we value. In valuing these objects we identify them as worthy of our love and therefore our attention and concern. This is posed as an alternative to theories that advocate the primacy of egoism or altruism as the motivating force in such choices. I encountered this book while reading Jonathan Haidt's discussion of the moral principles of different peop ...more
Apr 27, 2020 rated it liked it
I first came across Wolf's theories on meaning in life (not the meaning of life) in Todd May's A Significant Life: Human Meaning in a Silent Universe where I wasn't especially convinced by his exposition on them. So I decided to go to the source. I really liked the structure of the book (and wish more non-fiction followed it). Wolf puts out her theory in two (not especially long) chapters. Then there are replies from four other people offering respectful criticism. Then Wolf responds to them in ...more
Apr 27, 2016 rated it liked it
2.5 stars!


Factors to Make a Decision:
1) happiness
2) moral obligations
3) meaningfulness - a) subjective attraction (what one wants to do), b) objective attractiveness ("the greater good," worth being passionate about), c) engagement (passionate because of goodness)

Meaningfulness must be entirely separate from pleasure and moral duty.

Meaningfulness is subjective (personal passion) and objective (useful, challenging). The objective value of an activity does not depend on an individua
Nripesh Pradhan
Jun 24, 2017 rated it liked it
This book won't give you the answers that you were looking for, but it will help you refine your questions a bit better.
Arno Mosikyan

Wolf seeks to explicate, defend, and secure the category of meaningfulness as a distinctive dimension of good lives. She distinguishes it from two other categories; namely, happiness, often associated with rational egoism, and morality, often associated with an impartial concern with human wellbeing. Meaningfulness is neither of these, on Wolf’s view, but it is much to be sought for and an essential element of a fully satisfying life.

Wolf argues in her first lecture that meaning in life
Alexander Graden Kalamaroff
Jun 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
Wolf asks to us to consider "meaningfulness," as a pursuit separate from both morality and happiness, which is necessary for us to live the good life. I found her argument quite compelling and although the notion of objective value that she argues for is always going to be vague, I found it to be a functionally useful requirement even if I would be satisfied with a broader definition of objective value that Wolf seems to be.

Right now I find so much discussion about life either dominated by the
Dec 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Ok, I gave it 5 stars because her arguments as to what consitutes a meaningful life is very detailed. So detailed, in fact, that I found her sentences hard to follow; the sentences could be so long that I had difficulty following them and I had to read them again. Maybe it's that I'm just not accustomed to reading philosophy. Also, the rebuttal from Jonathan Haidt, in the form of an appended essay, is excellent.

As one GR reviewer wrote, this book will make you re-think your idea of a meaningful
Jacob Williams
Jun 07, 2019 rated it liked it
What this book offers: a reasonable conception of meaning and some interesting discussion of its implications
What not to expect: life-changing revelations or actionable advice

I read this as part of a philosophy book club and wrote a longer review here: .
Taichi Kato
Oct 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Good writing, it's articulate and clear. Refreshing to see this kind of writing within philosophy. As with many other preceding philosophers, the problem of the objectivity of value is understandably unsolved, albeit it is explicitly addressed.
Nov 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: bookshelf
Interesting ideas, decent read. Intuitively her ideas make a lot of sense, but sometimes almost seem too vague to be useful/distinctive. Understanding meaningful living is a useful contribution to one's decision process and for that she should be applauded.
radio cryptid
Dec 29, 2019 rated it liked it
Aristotle with a bit more spice. There's some problems, but still damn good philosophy.
Bay Long
Like her other works, in this book Susan Wolf defends a commonsensical view, which is that the meaning in life is consisted of personal pursuits of objectively valuable ends. I am not a fan of Wolf.
Aug 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
I am pretty sympathetic to the view on offer here and have none of the qualms that commentators (and even, to some extent, the author herself) seem to have about objective value. The simple thesis is this: meaning in life is a matter of doing something you value which also has objective value.

There is,of course, some trickiness here and Professor Wolf runs the risk at some points of giving post hoc answers to questions about objective value in order to avoid counterexamples. For instance, it mi
 Imani ♥ ☮
University reading. Insightful in the best way. Raised some interesting questions about life and what makes life meaningful. Is writing book reviews on Goodreads, as an independent activity, making my life meaningful? As this book ultimately suggests it is not only for me to question and eventually decide, it all depends on what a large majority is able to value and thus, bring meaning to it. Great lecture by Susan Wolf.
Dec 22, 2015 rated it liked it
The degree of clarity Sue has managed to add to this field is great, it's really opened up a lot of potential for analytic philosophy. In terms of her ideas I think her papers are better, but there are some interesting responses at the end of the book.

I don't buy her theory, and I think some of her arguments are really bad, but equally some of things she says sometimes are really thought provoking, oh hang on, no I think I'm thinking of her papers?
Sandeep Gautam
Dec 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ve-psych
A very clear, accessible and important treatise on meaningfulness and its importance in life. Susan Wolf writes very clearly and makes some important contributions; which are followed by equally lucid commentaries by other philosophers and psychologists and then her response that tries to tie everything together.
Wish more philosophy books were as clear and engaging as this was. Gave me new ideas and those are subject for another day/ blog-post!
Jul 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Lovely book. Well argued but also open. Her responses to the commentators are particularly good. This book engages the question Harry Frankfurt addresses in much of his work -- is caring/ loving something enough to make it important? Does one need objective meaning in life. Recommended
Jun 21, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting ideas. Worth a read.
Zhang Chen
Only finished the two lectures by Wolf
Ft. Sheridan
May 29, 2010 rated it it was ok
The best part is where she uses Bernard Williams's ideas.
Aug 26, 2014 added it
Princeton Pre-read 2014.
Aug 15, 2016 marked it as library-to-read
Shelves: mobius
rec by Haidt 2012
rated it liked it
Apr 02, 2020
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Susan R. Wolf (born 1952) is a moral philosopher and philosopher of action who is the Edna J. Koury Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Wolf earned a BA from Yale University in philosophy and mathematics and a PhD in philosophy from Princeton University with a dissertation directed by Thomas Nagel.

Before taking up her current position at North Carolina, Wolf

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