Meaningfulness, Existentialism, and the Reverse Priority View

Aimee Adriana Santillan, University of Texas at El Paso


In this thesis, I will argue that existentialism provides a more helpful guideline to understanding the relationship between meaningfulness and morality. Then, I will explain how existentialist ethics provides a good example of a moral theory that balances morality and meaningfulness. In Chapter 1, I will highlight the important considerations that philosophers like Susan Wolf, Bernard Williams, Harry Frankfurt, and Sophie Grace Chappell have pointed out could be reasons for action that are important enough to outweigh moral duty in some situations. In Chapter 2, I will further outline Wolf’s criticism of normative ethical theories and explain her “meaningfulness” objection. I will explain how she uses this objection to highlight how normative ethical theories can seriously threaten the integrity of the self. Finally, in Chapter 3, I will defend a view of morality that balances morality and meaningfulness by giving priority, not to morality, but to what is most meaningful in the lives of individual moral agents. I call this view the “reverse priority view.” This view draws examinations about the self, morality, and value from 20th century existentialism, but ultimately aims to highlight the way in which non-instrumental values can compete in different situations and the way in which the agent might be able to navigate through this problem. Overall, I think we should all care deeply about making the world a better place, and in general about moral considerations, but only after we take care to give adequate place to our own concerns, to our own well-being, and most of all to the commitments that make our lives worth living.

Subject Area

Ethics|Ethnic studies

Recommended Citation

Santillan, Aimee Adriana, "Meaningfulness, Existentialism, and the Reverse Priority View" (2023). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI30525288.