Susan Wolf’s Theory

Philosopher Susan Wolf believed there was a definition for what made a life meaningful. In her definition, she included three parts. Wolf thought that for one’s life to be meaningful, that individual had to be actively engaged in a somewhat successful project of positive value. She used these three parts of her definition to rule out lives that she defined as not meaningful. By saying a life had to be actively engaged, Wolf ruled out the life she described as “the blob.” This life was one of sitting on the couch, drinking alcohol and not doing much else. Using the second part of her definition, being successful, Wolf ruled out what she called the “bankrupt” life. An individual under this category spends their entire life building up a company to give to their child only for it to go bankrupt right before they pass the company on. The bankrupt life could also be described as working on a science project for years only for it to already have a solution or to be solved by someone else first. The bankrupt life is one that is devoted to something only for it to fall through in the end. Wolf’s third part of her definition of a meaningful life, a project of positive value, rules out what she defines as a “useless” live. The idle rich who inherit money and don’t have to work, or the CEO of a company who’s only goal is to make as much money as possible are examples of someone who lives a “useless” live. Without all three of these parts of Wolf’s definition, an individual’s life would not be meaningful. Below are examples of celebrity lives that can be analyzed to see if these individuals have a meaningful life according to Susan Wolf’s three part definition.

Caitlyn Jenner

Caitlyn Jenner’s life does indeed satisfy the three conditions of Wolf’s theory.  Before she underwent the surgery, Jenner was an olympic runner.  Being very successful as an American runner, Bruce Jenner was both actively engaged and working on a project of a positive value.  Wolf doesn’t go into great detail on what a positive valued project is, but bringing home olympic medals for your country is definitely positive.  As for whether or not she was successful, Jenner has an olympic gold medal from the decathalon in the 1972 Olympics in Montreal to prove that she’s worked on a successful project.  In Wolf’s view, all of these things show that Caitlyn Jenner definitely has a meaningful life.

Donald Trump

Trump is a polarizing figure, of which many have strong opinions, but through Susan Wolf’s beliefs regarding the meaning of life, his has been very meaningful. The man has been successful in nearly every endeavor he has under taken, besides the housing  decline in the 90s. His business is wildly successful, making him worth nearly 4 billion dollars, his TV show went on for 14 seasons over 7 years, and he is the front-runner in the presidential race. His days at the military academy and the University of Pennsylvania helped craft his dedication to his ambitions, leading to his active engagement in everything. Though people may not like him, it can’t be argued that his work in real-estate means a lot to society, regardless of his motives, he provides shelter for families, provided entertainment with his show, and is attempting to take on the most strenuous position a man can occupy: the President of the United States, for the sake of improving the country. These pursuits are noble causes, and require large sacrifices by the individual performing the tasks, and his activities can be clearly seen showing far-reaching positive values, from giving people places to live, to re-shaping American politics forever. Having easily fulfilled all of Wolf’s criteria for a meaningful life, she couldn’t even argue against his life lacking meaning if she disproved of his views, he has simply been too successful.

Kanye West 

Through Wolf’s theory, Kanye West has lived a very meaningful life. He has met and surpassed Wolf’s three standards to what she considers a meaningful life. To start off, Kanye is very engaged in the music industry and recently released a new album call The Life Of Pablo, which has taken off and is now on iTunes due to popular demand even though is was not supposed to be.  He also began to make his own clothing line and shoes as well. Both of these business ventures have been very lucrative. One of his shirts could sell for as much as $4,000 and his shoes could even surpass that. This brings up Wolf’s second aspect of a meaningful life, which is to be successful. Kanye clearly has accomplished this by how well his business ventures have done. The fact that people will pay that much money just to wear something that was made by Kanye West means he is very well known and people look to him as a fashion icon. The same could be said for his music. Every album he has made over the last ten years has had number one hits and has earned many awards. On top of this, he has married Kim Kardashian, who is one of the richest celebrities in reality TV. As for Wolf’s final standard, which is a person has to earn their money all on their own and they have to have more motives than just making money, Kanye meets this requirement as well. He came from a split home and was not rich growing up. He made it all on his own with the help of his mother. With all of his businesses ventures, he makes sure what he produces is authentic to him and reflects his personality. He also does not just focus on work. Since having his first child, North West, he has made a lot more time with his family and stepped back from the music scene for awhile.

Hugh Hefner

Through the scope of Wolf’s theory, the life of Hugh Hefner would likely be seen as a controversial, yet meaningful life. While he is as polarizing of a character as there is, Hefner has lived his life in a way that fulfills Wolf’s three main tenants of a meaningful life: he has been very actively engaged in every endeavor he has taken on, he has experienced extreme success in creating his own publication and brand, and his work, while contentious, has brought its own form of positive value into the world. Hefner’s life has been one that can be characterized by his ambition, passion, creativity, and boldness. In his high school and college days, he began to show an interest in journalism and sexually-related sociological research. After a brief military stint, he began his career in publishing at Esquire magazine, where he worked for a short time before eventually leaving the company to pursue his dream of having his own publication. Soon after in 1953, he began Playboy Magazine and over the next twenty years, Playboy grew from a magazine to an empire while Hefner gained notoriety and fame as an international sex symbol. He completely revolutionized the adult entertainment industry and did so because he was extremely engaged and interested in his field. His brand is still known internationally-known today and his net worth has grown to an estimated $50 million, so he more than satisfies Wolf’s requirement for a successful and lucrative project. While his work is definitely controversial, positive value can still be found in its existence. When Playboy was created, America was in a state of post-war depression and for some, the magazine gave them an outlet and helped to pull them out of the sexual repression of the era. Wolf states that a morally good life and a meaningful life separate things that that someone can have one without necessarily having the other. While some may not agree or approve of Hefner’s lifestyle, it is hard to argue that he has lived a meaningful life. This video below is an episode off of the reality TV show MTV Cribs, showing just how successful Hugh Hefner has been in creating the Playboy mansion where he continues to live to this day.