Meaningfulness as contribution

Frank Martela*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


This article aims to offer a refined way of understanding what we mean by the concepts of meaningfulness and meaning in life. The first step is to separate worthwhileness, as the broadest evaluation of life taking all types of values into account, from meaningfulness, which is seen as one type of intrinsic value along with, for example, well-being, moral praiseworthiness, and authenticity, which I argue are also separate types of intrinsic value. After discussing why we should not settle with the currently popular fitting attitudes analysis of meaningfulness, I argue that the meaningfulness of a life should be seen to be about the positive contribution beyond itself that this particular life is able to make. I show how this analysis is different from previous similar accounts and how it is able to avoid a number of challenges that have troubled these previous accounts, such as the pleasure machine challenge, the results machine challenge, and the doing good unintentionally challenge. I also demonstrate how it is able to account for prototypical examples of meaningful and meaningless lives and how it is compatible with subjectivism, supernaturalism, and objective naturalism, which is seen as a merit. Finally, I conclude with some notes about what could make life meaningful, given the current analysis of meaningfulness itself.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)232-256
Number of pages25
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2017
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • LIFE


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