The sentence goes as follow:

Being rationally uncommitted does not do away with all the other sources of motivation that get us by — habit, desire, fear of the law and so on.

I googled the phrase and got this: get by means "to be able to live or deal with a situation with difficulty, usually by having just enough of something you need, such as money".

It seems slightly odd to adapt the above definition to this sentence. Is this the case? What does it mean by "motivations that get us by"?

  • 2
    A slightly different definition (from Collins) is if you can get by with what you have, you can manage to live or do things in a satisfactory way. I think get us by here means enable us to carry on with our lives. Commented Jan 23, 2021 at 10:05
  • This sounds like it said by an agnostic or atheist person about being such, in which case it is responding to the belief that without god the only “logical” thing to do is to curl up and die as life is shot and has no purpose and is saying there are other things than an immortal after life giving life meaning.
    – jmoreno
    Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 11:47

2 Answers 2


I looked in several online dictionaries and was surprised to find, as you apparently also did, that none of them listed a transitive meaning for "get by". That phrasal verb is widely used in a transitive sense with the meaning mentioned by KB in a comment above:

enable (someone or some persons) to carry on with (that person's or those persons') lives


We have material resource and non material resource to deal with a hard situation, so motivations can be one of the non material resources for us to live or deal with a situation with difficulty.

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