Meaningfulness as Sensefulness

Thomas, Joshua Lewis (2019). Meaningfulness as Sensefulness. Philosophia, 47(5) pp. 1555–1577.



It is only in the last few decades that analytic philosophers in particular have begun to pay any serious attention to the topic of life’s meaning. Such philosophers, however, do not usually attempt to answer or analyse the traditional question ‘What is the meaning of life?’, but rather the subtly different question ‘What makes a life meaningful?’ and it is generally assumed that the latter can be discussed independently of the former. Nevertheless, this paper will argue that the two questions are indeed connected, and that identifying and expanding upon the most plausible analysis of the former will provide the resources necessary to determine the most plausible answer to the latter. Specifically, this paper will argue that the traditional question is simply a request for the information which constitutes a coherent answer to one or more of a certain set of questions regarding human existence that were salient to the asker. In simpler language, the meaning of life itself is the information a person needs to make sense of it. This analysis can then also be applied to individual lives, such that asking for the meaning of X’s life is an analogous request for the information necessary to make sense of that life in particular. Running with this concept of the ‘meaning’ of something as its ‘sense’, the paper then outlines an accompanying theory of ‘meaningfulness’ as ‘sensefulness’: a measure of the richness of certain aspects of the life, multiplied by their intelligibility.

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