Five Tests for What Makes a Life Worth Living
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What makes a life worth living? This is not the same question as what makes a life good for the one who lives it.1 A theory that answers the latter question is a theory of well-being (i.e., “welfare” or “prudential value”). The two questions are clearly related and they are often conflated. But most likely worth is not strictly a matter of welfare, since one can live a life of great hardship and suffering that might nevertheless be worth living. Prima facie compelling examples abound: The proverbial soldier in a foxhole who throws himself on a grenade to save his comrades does not enhance his welfare. Far from it. But he does improve the worth of his life.
We should distinguish between (1) a life worth starting and (2) a life worth continuing. The phrase “a life worth living” is ambiguous.2It might mean either. Here, I am concerned with whether life is worth starting, not whether it is worth continuing. Clearly, throwing yourself on a grenade is not a great way to make...