Philosophy Ph.D. Dissertations


Value, Well-Being, and the Meaning of Life

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Philosophy, Applied

First Advisor

Michael Weber (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

John Basl (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Michael Bradie (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Christian Coons (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Valeria Grinberg Pla (Committee Member)


We talk of lives and activities as being `meaningful’ in the sense that such lives or activities are worth living or doing without obligation. My dissertation explores what it means for an activity to be meaningful in such a sense. In doing so, I answer two questions about meaningfulness: “What makes an activity meaningful?” and “What is the relationship between meaningfulness and well-being?"

My answer to the first question has two parts, one critical and the other constructive. I begin by criticizing the dominant account of meaningful activity in the literature, on which activity is meaningful if, and only if, and because, it gives the acting agent some relevant qualitatively positive experience (e.g. fulfillment) befitting the activity. I deny that meaningful activity requires the acting agent to actually have the relevant attitude. Rather, meaningful activity just is activity valuable in such a way that positive attitudes befit. I then develop this notion of `valuable activity’ in my own account of meaningful activity, on which meaningful activity is that which makes a positive difference.

My answer to the second question is straightforward. Meaningfulness is not a constituent of well-being. Even if meaningful lives are better for those who live them, meaningfulness does not explain why such lives go better.