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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...

Is there any example of something which holds value, but has no actual or potential application? Is value really just a measure of usefulness, or is it a distinct quality?

On the one hand, most anything we can imagine has some sort of potential application. But the fact that we could use Michelangelo's Pieta to block a washed-out road doesn't have anything to do with why we think the Pieta is valuable. Now if we're prepared to use "usefulness" loosely enough, then the "value=usefulness" idea might get a better run for its money. A work of art has the potential "use" of eliciting aesthetic experiences from us. However, the obvious reply is that those experiences are valuable for their own sake and not because they're useful for some other purpose. The defended of the "value=usefulness" idea can still make a few moves. Aesthetic experiences, the story might go, are conducive to a good life. (We'll leave aside the large question of just what a good life amounts to.) But there are two obvious replies. One is that even if aesthetic experiences can be part of some larger value, they could still be valuable for their own sake. The even more obvious reply is...

Hello, I'm 17 years old. I'm in a situation where I have dropped out of high school because I strongly feel I am better off without it. I am about to travel around the united states with a 27 year old man that i only met and talked with on the internet/phone for four years. In all of that time I learned to have complete trust in him because I see him as like a older brother now. It is still very possible to be lead a successful and happy life without schooling. Now further, I plan on pursue my writings in poetry and writings on my thoughts in general that i believe to have a spiritual/philosophical value. I believe in situations where the mind is constantly adapting to new environments (travel) it sets a great catalyst for creative thoughts. This is my dream and needs be fulfilled to have an existential based life realized. A lot of great philosophers have been home schooled and led rather independent life styles, which I am doing as well. I still haven't completely denied the possibility of going to a...

Please don't take this the wrong way. Though I wouldn't use words like "stupid", I'm on your parents' side. A man who would take a 17-year-old whom he has never met and with whom he has no real-life acquaintance on the sort of journey you describe against the wishes of the people who know him well is a man whose judgment I would not trust. And the fact that you don't see the worry gives me reason to think you aren't yet ready to make a decision like this yourself. You write "Clearly, though, young as I am, am ready to embark on a journey that will change my life." I ask: why is this clear? And to whom? Here's where we actually get to a philosophical point: the fact that you feel convinced and that it seems clear to you doesn't provide anyone - you nor anyone else - with a real reason to believe that it's true. There are too many unknowns here for gut instinct to be worth much. Might everything turn out well? It might. Or it might not. Can you become a well-educated person without...

Is there any coherent non-religious argument that shows that the appearance of life on the universe is a "good" or "valuable" thing? It seems to me that something is valuable iff there's somebody who values it. So life would not be valuable when it does not exist, but it would become valuable when it does exist? Would it value itself? I'm not sure if this circular reasoning, or there's some solid ground. What would be some standard literature on this kind of issues?

An interesting question. I'd start by suggesting that your "if and only if" is open to challenge. First the less important part for our purposes: the fact that somebody values something doesn't obviously mean it's actually valuable. Some people value terrible thing, after all. There's a chilling scene in James Clavell's novel Shogun in which a samurai takes deep, deliberate and despicable pleasure in the screams of a man being tortured to death by a torturer who specializes in optimal cruelty. The samurai clearly values the experience, but I'm not willing to say that it's therefore valuable . Still, it seems right that value has a deep connection with experiences and the beings who have them. That may seem to be all that your worry needs. In other words it might seem that something is valuable only if someone values it or, more broadly, only if it evokes the right sort of reaction in some sentient being. But this is too strong. Consider: something could be exquisitely beautiful (to take...

I just turned 60 and my left-of-center value system has in some ways become more conservative. At the same time, I have become more intolerant of right-wing views to the point where I find myself feeling uncomfortable with the thought of socializing with neoconservatives and tea-party types. I would not want to invite such types to my home, yet being a liberal, question my capacity for tolerance. I am contemplating asking new 'friends' just what their views are and making a decision. This has a narcissistic flavor, but I don't need token neo-cons for entertainment value (as they would keep pet liberals) or as reminders of what the dark side looks like. I guess the GW Bush legacy has opened my eyes. I am repelled. Is this chauvinism/tribalism consistent with living an authentic life I understand to be directed by evolutionary forces that propel me to seek out maximum stimulation in order to realize my potential? Suggested readings would be appreciated. Many thanks.

I'd like to start with the last bit. You say that you understand living an authentic life as "directed by evolutionary forces that propel me to seek out maximum stimulation in order to realize my potential." I'd suggest some skepticism about that. If you mean by "evolution" what biologists mean, then there are no such forces; evolution isn't goal directed. And in any case, it's not obvious that "maximum stimulation" is the best way for for anyone to realize their potential. On the contrary, it's at least as likely that most of us suffer from too much stimulation as from too little. Down in the foothills, let's start with an example. I don't get along with racist bigots who lard their conversation with vile remarks. I've had all the "stimulation" from such people that my potential calls for. Being authentic doesn't call for inviting them to my dinner parties. On the contrary, doing that would be downright inauthentic. I'd be pretending a friendship that doesn't exist. Tolerance doesn't call for...

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