Anything Can Be Meaningful

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It is widely held that for a life to be conferred meaning it requires the appropriate type of agency. Call this the agency requirement. The agency requirement is primarily motivated in the philosophical literature by the assumption that there is a widespread pre-theoretical intuition that humans have the capacity for meaning whereas animals do not; and that difference must come down to their agency or lack thereof. This paper aims to undercut the motivation for the agency requirement by arguing our pre-theoretical intuitions actually run opposite; that animals, and even objects, can have meaningful lives/existences. The argument is twofold. First, I extend an existing argument for animals as having a capacity for meaning to objects. Second, I argue maintaining that only humans have the capacity for meaning results in the more counterintuitive upshot that all animals and objects have, by definition, meaningless existences. Since we pre-theoretically believe that anything can be meaningful—even things which by definition lack agency—then we have strong reason for being sceptical about an agency requirement for meaning in life.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)427-455
Number of pages29
JournalPhilosophical Papers
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2022
Externally publishedYes

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