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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...

Why is it that people talk such awful things about each other, but still seem worried about what others think? Why is this self-image we are trying to uphold so important to us?

I'm afraid that I don't know the answer, and whatever credentials I have as a philosopher won't help much. It's a question about human psychology/behavior and really good answers will have to come from the social and biological sciences. Philosophers might offer plausible speculations, but those speculations might be wrong. That said, you've certainly put your finger on something real. In fact, psychologists have a name for at least a part of it: the Fundamental Attribution Error. It amounts to this: when we see other people acting badly or foolishly or inappropriately, we tend to put it down to character traits. But when it comes to our own bad or foolish or inappropriate behavior, we tend to excuse it as the result of some passing circumstances. Put another way: my mistakes are simply a result of a passing state; yours are products of some unfortunate but more-or-less permanent trait. We make excuses for ourselves even in cases where we aren't inclined to do so for others. Why are we...

I used to love my work and see it as a path to a virtuous happiness and sense of self-fulfillment. But working for someone else had changed all that; amidst the petty slights, status contests, and probably just far too many hours in the office working for people who don't treat me well (with no choice about when or what I work on), my work has lost all its meaning. I feel like I built up a false belief system about achievement, and it worked for 27 years, but it's now come crashing down. I know I listed some probable causes, but I'm sure it could be explained more philosphically and eloquently. I need to better understand in abstract terms - what causes meaning to erode? And what have philosophers suggested as cures for such existential crises?

Sorry to hear of your distress. And I'm also sorry that I don't have a lot of insight to offer, except but of negative advice. When you wonder what causes meaning to erode, there are two rather different sorts of things you might be asking. One is what sorts of reasons and arguments might persuade us that things don't have the cosmic significance we thought they did. Some philosophers have had things to say about that, and you might find Thomas Nagel's classic article "The Absurd" (Journal of Philosophy, 1971 pp. 716-727) interesting as an example. But Nagel cautions that even if his diagnosis of the absurdity of things is correct, it doesn't give us a reason to worry about it. Put in a different way, perhaps, a philosophical account of how things mean less than they seem needn't get in the way of a rich and enjoyable existence. And that brings me to what I suspect is the real point. Many of us have gone through periods when things seem meaningless to us not just in some abstract philosophical...

Is a child's life more valuable than that of an adults? Let's say you are about to be in a terrible accident (completely figurative) and you only have two options of ways to go. First, you could run into a construction area where there are five construction workers who are oblivious to the situation. Unfortunately, if you go this way all five will die. OR you could turn the wheel, but there is one single child playing which will be in the way and unfortunately die. Do you value the one child's life more than all five workers? Is it morally right to save the child because of its potential life?

Although I can imagine cases where comparing the value of lives might be the way to go, it's not obvious that this is one of them. Heading down a path where we value lives by discounting on the basis of the likely number of remaining years (which is all I see at work here) seems a very dubious idea, fraught with all sorts of moral peril. Although there is something particularly poignant about the death of a child, this doesn't simply translate into a case for saying that the best solution to the dilemma you pose is to give the child's life a weight greater than that of the five adults who would otherwise die. All this said, there are some hard issues in the general neighborhood. Deciding how to use resources in end-of-life situations, for example, is a serious problem where some sort of discounting doesn't simply seem out of place. But the issues here are tricky, and it's hard to see how any simple rule will work.

Working as a scientist one encounters very similar pressures to those encountered by members of religious groups or political parties (pressure to conform, interpersonal relationships being used as leverage etc.), as well as somewhat similar reasoning (appeals to authority, ad hominem attacks etc.). What advice would you give to a junior scientist who wishes to pursue the 'truth', but finds that doing so can lead to personal criticism, isolation and ultimately loneliness (which is not good for his health)? Is it better to be accepted by one's peers or is personal integrity of important when the two clash? Are charges of naivety and quixoticism relevant here? I know these are all somewhat different questions, but an answer to any or just one of them would be most helpful. Thank you in advance.

The best piece of advice I ever heard on this issue came in a talk I heard years ago about Darwin. Darwin wanted to convince us of something that wasn't at all obvious when he introduced it. But more to the point, he wanted to be taken seriously by the scientific community. How did he do it? By spending the early part of his career demonstrating that he could do what his fellow scientists did -- that he could do credible, solid research that his colleagues would recognize as such. That made it possible for him to be taken seriously when he introduced his novel ideas. If someone is going to invest the time and energy needed to explore and evaluate ideas that are far from the mainstream, they need good reason to think that the effort might pay off. For every brilliant maverick in any field, there are at least 10 cranks. We might put it this way: if you want to persuade your peers, you need to be accepted by them as an able worker in your field. And doing that has an advantage from your own...

No art exists but what man calls art, and man is partial. If this is true, and if it means that art is only valuable to men, and is thus immaterial outside of that context (the Human Context), then what is the true value of art-—the objective value? I would presume that it is valueless. Further, if an artist knows this, how can he still appreciate art, knowing it to be esoterically meaningful? …*Why* should he continue to appreciate art? --Darwin K.

Suppose I happen to get great pleasure from something that more or less no one else cares about. Maybe I really enjoy writing poems that avoid using the letter "p." I know that there's no cosmic importance to poems of this sort, and I know that it's just a quirk of my psychology that I enjoy writing them so much. This activity has no "objective" value if that means value from some point of view that doesn't take me into account. But it still has value for me , and as long as I don't spend all my time doing it, there's nothing irrational about my using this odd little hobby as a pleasant pastime. I don't need to be worried about the fact that in the larger scheme of things, "p"-less poems don't count. The point is more or less obvious, I hope: if I dont' need to be bothered by the fact that some things have value for me alone, artists don't need to be bothered by the fact that some things have value only for a wider circle of creatures: creatures with the sorts of cognitive and perceptual...

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