Externalism, internalism, and meaningful lives

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper argues that participants in the subjectivism/objectivism/hybridism debate, a central issue in recent meaning in life research, conflate two different distinctions marked by the terms objective and subjective, one having to do with the question of whether life's meaningfulness depends on factors internal or external to the agent, the other having to do with the question of whether there is any ‘absolute’ as opposed to ‘relative’ truth about the first question. The paper then argues that a distinctive type of hybridism with respect to the first sense is true. To vindicate this type of hybridism, the paper identifies, by using examples and counterexamples, internal and external necessary conditions for having meaningful lives. In this type of hybridism, internal states that are not directed at external factors, such as autonomy, serenity and contentment, are also taken account of, and, more generally, internal and external factors need not relate to each other at all. Further, although the more a combination of internal and external factors is valuable the more meaningful a life is, not any increase in the value of any relevant internal or external factor enhances meaning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)137-146
Number of pages10
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 John Wiley & Sons Ltd


  • externalism
  • internalism
  • meaning in life
  • meaning of life
  • objectivism
  • subjectivism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy


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