The Definition of “Success”

About a year ago, I spoke with a philosopher who was, at the time, at least, very into anti-careerism. She and I spoke about many things, and one of those things was the definition of “success.”

I like to think I have had success in my life. I organized a rally that drew over 100 people. I have been published. I have made A’s in my philosophy courses. Those are ways in which I may have been successful.

With the ruthlessness in grinding competition that paves the way for cheating (think of the recent university fraud scandal) and other terrible behavior, it may be we need a new definition of “success.”

When one goes to a cocktail party, typically one is asked, “What do you do?” This, in a way, is a time when one signals just how “successful” one is. Philosophers I have known have always struggled with this question, since “philosopher” isn’t something one typically aspires to be in contemporary American society and the term itself often conjures Ancient men in togas for those unfamiliar with the area of study. Thus, philosophers–and others so situated–may be in a unique position to offer better definitions of “success” than those which are currently offered.

My inkling is that we need a definition of “success” that entails something like honor, moral pride and, perhaps, the tales of good things one has done in life. Such people often don’t like to boast, so perhaps gauging one’s success in this way ought better be told by others rather than oneself.

But–I’m open to suggestions.

What’s clear is that the cut-throat tendency linked to the current definition of “success” is problematic. And it gives rise, to those with such temptations, to cheat, lie, steal, and more.

What’s a better definition of success? One that bypasses the human inclination to commit such bad acts? Let me know if you have a good one.


Author: Jennifer Lawson

Philosopher. That is all.

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