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A friend of mine committed suicide recently, and I find myself instinctively trying not only to understand why she did it and the cause and effect of how it happened, but trying to impose meaning -- trying to work out what the "significance" of her death is, and looking to sum up her whole life the way a funeral celebrant might, and say these are the patterns and themes and shape of it, this what it amounted to, this is what it represented, these are the takeaway ethical messages for your own life. But is there really any significance in suicide, is there any point to asking what it means, or is it senseless, like washing the dishes or mowing the lawn or any other physical event or act? And is it disrespectful to try to interpret meaning into someone's life or death or reduce their life to a moral lesson? The process not only feels a little bit like a lie, but also like it objectifies them and takes away from their humanity.

You are obviously grappling with your friend's death, and I appreciate the sophistication and sensitivity evident in your question. I think it's crucial here to distinguish the meaning or "significance" of suicide from the meaning or significance of your friend's suicide. It's important that we resist what I think of as the easy mystification of suicide. There is an unfortunate tendency to infer from our inability to understand a particular suicide or to imagine ourselves engaging in the act ourselves that suicide is unfathomable, incomprehensible, or beyond reason. The truth is we understand a fair bit about the causes of suicide, have growing knowledge of how to prevent it, and so on. We should not let our emotional reaction to suicide -- whether it be shock, dismay, anger, whatever -- lead us to treat suicide as a "senseless" or trivial act. That said, what we know about suicide in general can be difficult to extrapolate to particular people and cases. Individual people are in certain ways more...

Not sure whether this question would fall under philosophy or psychology (both perhaps) but I was always curious why it is that children love video games but hate homework. Cognitively they are pretty much the same. They challenge the child to think critically to solve a problem, and provide a sense of reward when completed, so why is one cherished while the other despised?

Looks like a psychological question with philosophical implications! Difficult to say for certain, but I would venture that the difference comes down to the nature of the reward. Unless a child is a professional video game player, playing the game has no rewards beyond the satisfaction of playing. The child is moved to play by intrinsic motivation . In contrast, in most cases, the rewards of completing one's homework are largely extrinsic , stemming from the praise a child gets from parents or teachers for completing it, grades, etc. And there's an abundance of evidence that the nature of our motivation for engaging in an activity shapes how rewarding or worthwhile we find it: Activities we perform for their own sake are experienced as more rewarding or worthwhile than activities whose rewards lie outside it (in social esteem, income, and so on). This is why most of us find play more gratifying than work, even when play is hard work! Edward Deci https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_L._Deci has...

We laud veterans for having "fought for their country" regardless of what the fight may have actually accomplished. For example, many people who regard the Vietnam War as a failure--or worse, a moral atrocity--still hold Vietnam vets in high regard. It strikes me that reverence for veterans rarely considers whether their actions actually made any of their countrymen better off (never mind people in other countries). We have a notion of honorable military service that is tenable only insofar as it abstracts away the actual practical outcomes of warfare. When we praise a veteran, what exactly are we praising them for?

One morally important distinction here is between conscripted and voluntary military service. As you are probably aware, the United States currently has an all-voluntary military; every soldier is a soldier by choice. This has not always been the case (either in the U.S. or elsewhere). Nations sometimes requires military service of all citizens as a matter of course and/or utilize a draft during wartime. Let's focus first on those whose service is voluntary. Our attitudes toward those who volunteer for military service are, in my estimation, incoherent. We have become too quick to "thank them for their service" without due concern for the morality of their service. Classical just war theory divides the moral appraisal of war into two: there is the question of whether a nation's waging war in a given set of circumstances is just, and there's the question of whether a war is justly waged (whether, for example, the tactics or strategies used to pursue victory are just). Soldiers can therefore err morally...

Are there any good reasons to think that life has intrinsic rather than instrumental value?

First, let me offer a gloss on your question: By 'life' here I take take you to mean something like an individual person's being alive or continuing to live, as opposed to all of human life, or biological life in general. I must admit that I cannot think of any compelling reasons to believe that life has intrinsic value, that is, value in its own right or for its own sake. When we reflect on our reasons for wanting to continue to live, we might say 'it's great to be alive!' or 'ain't life grand?' But appearances notwithstanding, such remarks don't seem to amount to saying that merely being alive, apart from the quality or worth of that life, is valuable for its own sake. Rather, we seem to have in mind that there's something about life that is great and grand, apart from simply being alive. If we try to imagine just being alive, is that a good state to be in? As soon as we are tempted to say 'yes,' we are likely to start referring to facts that would make life good but not for its own sake: the...

When discussing new laws that give government agencies greater powers in relation to surveillance, people sometimes claim, "If you haven't done anything wrong, then you shouldn't have anything to hide." This doesn't sit right with me, but I find my disquiet difficult to explain. It's not that I'm worried about bad governments potentially abusing such powers; it's more that I feel some sort of violation has happened. In a very different context, when people reveal their inmost thoughts on social media, or even post nude photographs of themselves, it's sometimes said, "This is who I am. Why should I hide anything or keep anything secret?" Again, I'd suggest that the value of some sort of privacy or private space is being questioned. There's a sort of implicit challenge as to why anyone should be private at all. I was wondering whether philosophers have any good reasons why some sort of secret, private space should be valued in itself. If one is not a criminal, is there any reason not to live one's life...

As you suggest, the 'you haven't done anything wrong, so why should you be worried about surveillance?' stance doesn't seem to capture the privacy-based objections to being watched, observed, etc. That stance appears to assume that the only reason we might care about privacy is that it affords us some ability to prevent our illegal, immoral, or embarrassing behavior from being found out. I'm skeptical that privacy has any value "in itself," as you mention. Instead, privacy seems closely related to many other things we may value. Among the values philosophers have suggested privacy serves: - Privacy may protect our right to control the dissemination of information about ourselves and to protect our capacity to craft a public persona distinct from our innermost thoughts or feelings. - Privacy may be essential to intimacy with others or to the development of meaningful relationships with others. - Privacy might serve to enable us to control others' access to us and so limit their ability to manipulate or...

Hi! I like to know how a philosopher comes to conclusion that a particular thing has an Instrumental value or an Intrinsic value. I read in Wikipedia, in Swedish section, that ice cream has an instrumental value, that there is no end in itself to eat ice cream, but it is good and makes me feel good. Feeling good has an intrinsic value. Is it a matter of on's preference to arrive at that kind of conclusion? Is it possible to say that any thing that is made by human has an Instrumental value.? Thank you for your help! Best regards Alan

The notion of intrinsic value is important to many debates in philosophical ethics. Very roughly, to say that something has intrinsic value (or is intrinsically valuable) is to say that it is good or desirable as such or for its own sake. On classical views, what has intrinsic value is worth seeking or having for reasons having to do with its own properties or nature. In your example of eating ice cream, the act of eating the ice cream does not seem to have intrinsic value. Rather, eating the ice cream is a way to attain something that has intrinsic value: pleasure, or "feeling good," as you expressed it. In this respect, ice cream itself does not have intrinsic value but has instrumental value: Its value is that it is a means to attain something else of intrinsic value. (Note that intrinsic and instrumental value are not mutually exclusive; something can be both good or desirable as such as well as being valuable as a means to other intrinsically valuable things. Good health might fit in this category:...

Existence is filled with happiness and suffering, but the amount of happiness and suffering is not guaranteed. Non-existence, on the other hand, has no happiness or suffering. Non-existence isn't good or bad, yet existence is labeled either good or bad. Why is it that existence must be labeled good or bad (or fulfilled/not fulfilled) with no middle ground, yet non-existence must remain neutral?

Here's one reason to think that not existing is neither good nor bad (this reasoning is due, roughly, to Epicurus): Non-existence is not a state of us -- it's not a state that one can be in. Moreover, it's not a state a person can experience or undergo. And if everything is good or bad for us only because of our experiencing it, non-existence can't be good or bad for us. But not everyone thinks that 'non-existence' is neutral in this way. For one, many of us fear death, suggesting that we think it would be bad for us to be in a state of non-existence. Why that should be is somewhat mysterious -- indeed, Epicurus issued the argument above in order to persuade us we shouldn't fear death. Another route to questioning the neutrality of non-existence runs like this: Some people are harmed by being brought into existence. (Imagine a person born into the worst possible life circumstances you can think of -- persistent and painful medical condition, poverty, parental neglect, etc.) If so, then it follows...

Am i wrong in assuming the admiration of things, ideas, and/or people comes along with not only an unspoken, but definite predilection for them? - or is it possible to have that admiration, but dislike them entirely? i.e. Thinking something is the greatest thing ever, but all of its positive attributes are why you don't like it; maybe because of how the results of using said attributes makes you feel. Or would you say that the person doesnt truly admire it or even that they dont truly dislike the results?

Your questions raise intriguing issues regarding how various goods or values are related. As best I can tell, whatever our reasons for admiring something or someone, these reasons need not be accompanied by reasons to like that thing or person, and can even be accompanied by reasons to dislike that thing or person. I don't much care for golf, finding the game far too genteel and slow moving. But I can certainly admire the skill of a world class golfer or the skill shown by a particular player in a particular tournament. I certainly doubt I'd want to be present for that tournament or want to meet the golfer. Admiration seems, then, often disinterested in a way that 'liking' or 'having a predilection for' is not. You also ask about not liking something or someone because of its "positive attributes." That seems possible too. For instance, one might dislike someone you admire because the attributes you admire in them 'crowd out' other positive attributes. A person can be admirable for being very hard...

Is glory a worthy goal for a person? In an Astérix book, Abraracourcix, the chieftain, tells his wealthy brother in law that all of the latter's money is not a match for glory. The brother in law replies that Abraracourcix's glory could not pay the "oxen hooves pie" they were having at the time. This seems to be false in the times of "reality television": glory can be readily turned into money. Actually I suspect glory has always given people some access to material goods. But my question is rather whether glory is valuable for other reasons, specifically whether glory is valuable from an ethical point of view.

A nice place to start in thinking about this question is book I of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.1.i.html There Aristotle addresses the nature of happiness and consider the pros and cons of three sorts of lives: the life devoted to pleasure, the life devoted to money, and the 'political' life (or the life devoted to honor). You don't say in your question what you have in mind by 'glory,' but it seems similar to what Aristotle had in mind by honor, namely, others bestowing on us recognition or other goods as a mark of our merit or virtue. Aristotle argues that the best life is not devoted to honor. Here is the main passage where Aristotle argue for this: A consideration of the prominent types of life shows that people of superior refinement and of active disposition identify happiness with honour; for this is, roughly speaking, the end of the political life. But it seems too superficial to be what we are looking for, since it is thought to depend on...