Volume 58, Issue 1, March 2018
Ordinary Meaningful Lives
Neil Levy has argued that “superlative meaning” can be attained only through “inherently open-ended” projects. This implies a two-tier system of meaning: one for elites, the other for ordinary people. It sets lives characterized by “open-ended” work over and against those that find meaning in commonplace sources, e.g., personal relationships. I argue that Levy’s argument rests on two mistakes. First, it confuses two senses of “superlative meaning”—superlative abundance and superlative safety. Even if his argument succeeds, it merely shows that certain sorts of work produce the most reliably meaningful lives rather than the most abundantly meaningful. Second, contra Levy, who assumes that only work can generate superlative meaning, I build on Thaddeus Metz’s argument that loving relationships can count as superlatively meaningful. I argue that recognition of this point undermines the philosophical basis for Levy’s two-tier system of meaning. Ordinary lives are not doomed to be second-class meaningful lives.