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The last few years I've struggled with Nihilism - my work, games, activities really just have no fun or spark like they used to have. I have many sleepness nights where I'm wracking with existential thoughts and anymore I feel like just sentient matter waiting to die, and yet I dread that moment where my consciouness will no longer exist. My questions are - How do you break through Nihilism? How does one truly come to terms with impermanence and actually enjoy the short time they have left despite a meaningless, uncaring universe? I have read Camus and Sartre but I still struggle with the existential angst.

It's important sometimes to distinguish between intellectual problems and other kinds of problems. Many, maybe most of the people I know well are atheists. They agree with you: the world doesn't contain any meaning of its own, it doesn't care about us, and nothing is permanent. The difference between most of those people and you isn't that they've had some philosophical insight that you haven't. The difference, I would gently suggest, is that you are depressed and they aren't. I'm not a psychologist, but the way you describe your state of mind sounds like a textbook depression. How we think about things is certainly relevant when we're depressed, but the way it's relevant isn't just about content. Two people can both think that the world is indifferent to us, but for one this isn't an intrusive idea. It doesn't stop her from enjoying her work and her friends and her pastimes. It doesn't keep her awake at night. The other finds himself perseverating about it, brain caught in a loop. Getting out of that...

Is there any reason to think that happiness is of any importance?

There are different things you might mean, and the answer will depend on which ones you do mean. Since I'm particularly unsure what you mean by "importance," I'm going to look at a nearby question: is there any reason to think that happiness is a good thing? That raises the question of what counts as happiness, and without trying to give anything like a full-blown theory, I suggest thinking of happiness as human thriving. And without giving a precise definition of "thriving," we can come at it this way: imagine someone who has the usual daily ups and downs, but is engaged, resilient, productive, with a normal range of healthy emotions, who can take pleasure in things worth taking pleasure in, etc. etc. etc. Is this a good thing? It's hard to see what possible reason there could be for thinking it's not. Imagine two villages. In one, most people are thriving; in the other, more or less no one is. Which would you rather live in? Which is a better model for what we'd like other places to be like? For most...

Hi there. I've recently become depressed over the fact, said by some philosophers, that everything we do and enjoy is merely a distraction. I really don't want to think this as I love my passions dearly. But my anxiety keeps making me believe what they said. Is it true? Or are what we enjoy in life more than just distractions? Thanks.

Distraction from what? Perhaps these people think there's something else we should be paying attention to, to the exclusion of all else. What? Even if what it is is a Very Good Thing, there are lots of good things, and if we ignore all the others, the world will be the poorer for it. Maybe they think no one should pursue purely personal interests. But all else aside, if you don't take time for yourself, there's a real chance that you'll be less good at contributing to whatever common good is at stake. Or is the claim that nothing matters? If so, it doesn't matter that you're doing whatever you're doing; if nothing matters, nothing matters. In any case, it's pretty plausible that art, music, friendship, play, and countless other things do matter in their varied ways. At least, it's more plausible than hifalutin arguments to the contrary. So my advice is: don't be bullied by the scolds. The best response (if not the best revenge) is to live well, and that includes making room for the passions that...

Is there any reason to believe that one sex is biologically superior to the other in a generalized sense? I've heard it said that men are inferior to women because they don't live as long and, in every age group are more likely to die than women. Add to that the fact that men's immune systems aren't as resilient as women's, they invest much less in reproduction, more boys than girls have ADHD or autism, and (it has been argued) men's sexual and aggressive urges are the cause of most violence and suffering in the world. As a man myself, I find these notions deeply troubling, not least because I am not a violent person, but also because though the above facts are scientific, I've read other arguments that evaluative notions of 'superiority' and 'inferiority' have no place in scientific discourse. So if it's not for scientists to say whether or not one sex is superior to the other, which type of expert should we appeal to, if at all? Philosophers such as yourselves, who presumably understand value better...

The physicist Wolfgang Pauli apparently didn't have much patience for what he saw as nonsense. More than once, it seems, he dismissed an idea by saying that it was "not even wrong." I'll have to admit: the idea that one sex is superior to the other in any all-things-considered way strikes me as a plausible candidate for "not even wrong" status. Men and women are different. On average—though only on average—women may have some advantages compared to men, and vice-versa. I'm skeptical that there's some way to accumulate these sorts of on-average facts into some meaningful sense in which women are overall superior to men, or the other way around. And even if there were, there's way too much variation for this to tell us much of anything person-by-person. In any case, the kind of superiority you're concerned about is, as you suggest, not a scientific notion. The kind of superiority you're worried about has to do with whether one sex is in general "better" or perhaps even "nobler" than the other. We...

I was once asked in an interview 'What would you change in the world if you had the power to do so?' I replied that 'if there was no life after death, I would destroy the human race including myself and my family, thus preventing the suffering every human would have undergone if they were alive'. Aside from life after death, at first glance you might think of me as a satanic human being, but I am exactly the contrary, I am a medical student. It would cause temporary suffering but it would also banish endless suffering as well as happy things. My question is that is it ethical and moral to do so?

This strikes me as a particularly easy question. The answer is no. Among other things, you seem to be making two assumptions. The first is that the suffering prevented by destroying everyone outweighs all the the happiness and satisfaction that would also be prevented. That's already pretty unobvious. But in fact, as you've stated your view, you'd even be justified in wiping out people who would get more satisfaction than suffering out of their lives, since I assume that "everyone" means "everyone." I don't see a scintilla of justification for that. The more serious problem is in assuming that because this is how you see things, it would justify wiping everyone out, no matter what their view of the matter might be. That's a pretty extraordinary thing to assume. I'm not about to accuse you of being satanic. But the view you're offering might deserve that label.

I am a scientist with very strong desire for personal growth.I acknowledge the undeniable practical values of science in making better world. However, I am wondering how being a scientist would contribute to my own growth and self-actualization.(regardless of financial or social gain of being a scientist). Also is it worthy to put my life on practicing science which mostly involve in a very narrow research area. I mean if putting so much time and energy on such tiny bit of knowledge is really good and in accordance with my ultimate goal of being self-actualized?

I think the best place to start is by asking yourself what "self-actualization" is supposed to be and why it's so important. The phrase "self-actualized" has a sort of aura about it, but I'm not sure it's a helpful one for thinking about how we should live. One of my problems with the phrase is that as it's often used, it seems to mean something that has to do with a rather narrow sense of bettering oneself. Wanting to live a good life is a noble goal. Part of living a good life has to do with making good use of the gifts one has been given, to borrow language from the religious tradition. And I sense that that's part of your concern. One doesn't want one's life to be devoted to trivial things. But most of us have to make a living, and making a living by doing routine science doesn't seem ignoble—not least since one can never be sure what the larger consequences will be. So if you find satisfaction in doing science and do it well and conscientiously, I'd say you have nothing to be ashamed of. But...

Do you agree that hedonism (or some related ethical egoism) is the best life philosophy in this turbulent world? Eighty years is the average timespan of a human life on Earth in which dependency on parents during youth and dependency on others in feeble old age take almost half that time. Pain or sickness, dealing with problems of urban living, climbing the corporate ladder, and menial tasks take almost half of the rest. So what is life for but for enjoyment or pleasure? It is for this reason that I and many other people find the well-dressed gentlemanly self absorbed playboy to be much more worthy of admiration than the monk who tries to save starving children in a far away land that ordinary people would not want to set foot on. We are the helpless straw dogs of the natural forces that made us, that gave us our unchosen ancestry and inalienable character. We ought to embrace and accept this fate without complaint, and not be fooled by all the artificially constructed nonsense of Gods, religious dogma,...

I've been trying to find the argument here. It seems to be "Life can really suck. Therefore you should look out for Number One." Am I missing anything? I think that's called a non sequitur . Now it's true that self-expression and contentment are goods. (Not sure what the word "spiritual" adds here.) But there are lots of goods, many of which aren't self-centered. Or so most of us think, even though we all know that life can really suck. It's also true for some people that helping others doesn't fit with their "internal purpose." (I assume that means something like "their own predilections") But your conclusion only follows if we agree that a person's "internal purpose" is the only one that should get any weight. And since that's exactly what's at issue… (Not to mention that it's not obvious that you yourself would be better off if most of us only gave a damn about ourselves.) But all of this is pretty obvious, which is why I have the feeling that you're pulling our legs. ("well...

Is there any point to attempting to better society, or is it better to live in self interest?

There is a point in trying to make society better: if you succeed, society will be better. Is it better to live purely self-interestedly? It might be better for you . But that doesn't mean it would be better. However, I assume that the point behind your question is why anyone should ever bother doing things that aren't just for their own benefit. If you're looking for an answer that appeals only to your self-interest, then the books are pretty well cooked. It could be that if we all do things for other people, we'll be better off ourselves, and sometimes it actually is true. But it's not guaranteed. Ayn Rand argued (I've forgotten where exactly) that if we act altruistically by "sacrificing" our own interest for the interests of others, we've acted against what should be our own highest value. But either this is just a tautology (if I'm doing things that aren't for my own benefit, then I'm doing things that aren't for my own benefit) or else it's something there's no good reason to...

Is it possible for anything to matter? My teacher always tells me if I do bad in a drama scene, I shouldn't worry about it because no one will remember or care in a few weeks. Doesn't that apply to everything? If I cure cancer, surely that will affect almost everyone on the planet, but will anyone even appreciate it a million years after the fact? A billion? Humans can't last forever, and eventually our species will die - meaning no one will be alive to remember cancer even existed. Even Earth will die eventually. Even the Galaxy!! So how can anything I do be important in the grand scheme of things?

There's a classic paper by Thomas Nagel that addresses your question. It's called The Absurd . It appeared the Journal of Philosophy , v. 68 no. 20, 1971. A bit of googling just might find you the full text, though of course <*cough*> I could never actually suggest that you look for a copy produced without regard for copyright. Nagel thinks there's no getting around the absurdity of life. In fact he thinks there's no conceivable way that life could not be absurd. I can't say I'm completely convinced, but be that as it may; you might find something useful in this, from the end of Nagel's paper:         If sub species aeternitatis there is no reason to believe that anything matters, then that doesn't matter either... Nagel adds that once we see this, we can live our absurd lives with irony rather than heroism or despair. Your mileage may vary. Here's a slightly different take. In my more sanguine moments, I'm inclined to say that it doesn't matter if things don't matter...

In his response to an earlier question about physical beauty, Nicholas D. Smith responded: "Unfortunately, a lot of good-looking people are not very beautiful in any way other than the way they look." Though there might be some rare exceptions in the world, for the most part I agree with his statement. And I'm wondering about the relationship between physical beauty and virtue... If, hypothetically speaking, Mr. Smith's claim were a natural law (Good-looking people are not very beautiful in any way other than the way they look) what then would be the most likely cause for its validity? In other words, do external factors such as our society/culture make it difficult for good-looking people to develop in more internal ways, such as through character, morality, kindness etc. Or does physical beauty itself inherently impede the good-looking ones from ever becoming beautiful in more virtuous ways?

There's difficulty that stand in the way of answering your question. In the actual world, it's not a law that physically beautiful people aren't virtuous. Some are, and some aren't. So your question is about a world with different laws than this one and you're asking what would be the explanation for a regularity in that world that doesn't hold up in this one. Now such questions aren't necessarily meaningless. One way to understand them: think about a world that's otherwise as much like this one as possible, except that beautiful people aren't virtuous. Do we have any hope of getting a grip on that question? Possibly. Though there certainly are people in the actual world who are both beautiful and virtuous, perhaps there's some statistical correlation between beauty and lack of virtue. (I'm skeptical, but let that pass.) If so, then the way to answer your question would be to investigate whatever it might be in this world that underlies the statistical pattern, and extrapolate from that to a...

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