I’ve always been interested in people who willingly risk or give up their lives for something they deeply believe in. I’m a coward myself – I’d never be the first person to stand up to a dictator. But some people, like Sophie Scholl, who was part of the student resistance against Hitler, do such things, and pay for it. I think their lives end up being more meaningful as a result even if they fail in their main objective. Such cases highlight the importance of integrity, or living up to one’s commitments, in meaningful living, or dying, as it may be, as well as the risk involved in commitment, since if you die for a bad cause, you’ve only harmed yourself. However, if leading a more rather than less meaningful life benefits rather than harms you, there are possible scenarios in which you yourself are better off dying for a good cause than living a longer moderately happy life. This presents a version of a well-known puzzle: what makes dying for a cause a self-sacrifice in the first place, then? I sketch some possible answers.
Antti Kauppinen is Professor of Practical Philosophy at the University of Helsinki. Prior to taking up his current position, he worked at the universities of St Andrews, Amsterdum, Dublin, and Tampere. His research focuses on ethics. He has written a number of papers on meaning in life.