A Life Worth Living

‘If a list could be made of all the things that are valuable for their own sake, these things would be the ingredients of a life worth living’.

J. Glover, Causing Death and Saving Life, p.51.

I think most of us have the concept of a life worth living at least in our own cases. I mean that we have an idea of what would make our own lives worth living, and what would take away that. These things include all the activities that we currently enjoy doing for their own sake.

What does it meant to do something for its own sake? Well all of us at times have to do things that we don’t particularly enjoy or want to do, but we do them in order to achieve some other goal. For instance take a common household chore like doing the laundry or dishes, many people do these chores because they have the goal of having clean clothes and dishes not because they find the activity of washing clothes and dishes enjoyable for its self. When we are doing something for its own sake we are doing it because the activity we are engaged in is the end goal for us.

If what makes life worthwhile is doing something or some set of activities that are end goals in themselves then if we knew all the sorts of things are worth doing in themselves then we would know all the sorts of things that make life worthwhile for people.

Such a list would surely be disputable if we thought that it must apply to all people since people vary and have different goals and what they take enjoyment out of differs. Yet it is likely that we can identify common elements if we describe them in very broad terms.



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4 Responses to A Life Worth Living

  1. Mike says:

    There’s no such thing as something which has value for its own sake. Value is not a property of things in the world (i.e. as opposed to things in the mind); rather, people designate the value of things in the world according to their appraisal. In other words, things have value because people value them, and there is no other basis for value than this.

  2. Hi Mike,

    Thank you for taking the time to comment.

    Yes, it can seem like there is no such thing as that which has value for its own sake when we imagine a world without people (or better without sentient creatures). I agree that there seems no value to a deserted lifeless world that is independent of sentient creatures or the possibility of such creatures arising. Value may be dependent on sentient creatures rather than independent of them.

    However, there may still be some use to the concept of intrinsic value that is compatible with the above view about value. Consider many people habitually attribute a distinction between things that they find reason to do for its own sake and for the sake of something else, i.e, someone may care for another person and be asked why do you care for them? If they respond – to reduce their suffering the interlocutor may again ask but why reduce another person’s suffering, then for many I suspect that this question will make little sense. This is because the person sees reducing another’s suffering is a good in itself. Other things the person does i.e. purchasing ointment, bandages may only have value in relation to what we see as valuable as an end in itself.

    Thank you

    • pedeleao says:


      It sounds like you’re just affirming what I said. If a person sees something as a “good in itself,” isn’t that the same as appraising it as having value?

  3. No, there is a difference between something being good in itself and good in relation to something else.

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