SAAP 2016

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The Marriage of Ideals and Strenuous Actions: Exploring William James’ Account of Significant Life

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In his essay “What Makes a Life Significant” James argues that significant lives are based on a marriage of two components: consciously chosen ideals and bold energetic activity. James’ metaphor of “marriage” richly indicates the relationship between ideals and courageous activity. As is the case in so many of his writings, James’ metaphors perform philosophical functions by situating abstract concepts like a “significant life” in experiential contexts that reveal core aspects of their meanings. I offer a fresh interpretation of the two elements of significant living, and then explain how they are integrally connected, or, “married.” James’ account is worth another look, in part, because of the unique way it probes the issue of a meaningful life without presuming a single conception of the good life. He helps us to see how to address important issues of character in a pluralist age.


Todd Lekan    
Muskingum University
United States


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