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Ronald Dworkin

“Philosophers used to speculate about what they called the meaning of life. (Now that is the role of mystics and comedians.) In the absence of a special kind of religious faith, or a special kind of genius, it is difficult to find enough product value in our brief and inconsequential lives to suppose that human lives have meaning through their impact — that is, in virtue of the difference it makes to the rest of the universe that these lives have been lived. […]

Living a good human life, a life one can look back on with pride, is rarely valuable because that life, abstracted from the process of creating it, has any great value in itself. It is valuable because the process of creating it is valuable…

Aristotle thought that a good life was a life spent in contemplation, exercising reason and acquiring knowledge. Plato thought that it was a harmonious life achieved through order and balance. Neither of these ancient ideas require that a wonderful life have any impact at all: any way in which the world is better or even different after someone has lived because of the way he has lived. Most people’s opinions, so far as these are self-conscious and articulate, ignore impact in the same way. A great many people think that a life devoted to the love of God is the finest life to lead, and a great many, including many who do not share that opinion, think the same of a life lived in inherited traditions and steeped in the satisfactions of conviviality, friendship and family. All these lives have, for most people who want them, subjective value: they bring satisfaction. But so far as we think them objectively good – so far as it would make sense to want to find satisfaction in such lives or to think one had any kind of responsibility to pursue them — it is the performance value of living in a certain way rather than the impact of having lived that way that counts.”


Pulled from Ronald Dworkin’s remarkable, accessible book on life and philosophies of meaning Justice for Hedgehogs.