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Why do we desire authenticity? Why do we want to be the cause of our own happiness rather than, say, medication? Why do we want to know that the jazz musician is truly improvising her solo rather than playing some pre-composed part crafted to sound improvised? Why is it so important to us that we experience the real world, and not a utopian virtual reality fed to us by machines?

Like Lisa, I also enjoyed your question and have been mulling it over for several weeks -- without making a lot of headway. But here is a thought. It's true that we do value various sorts of authenticity (real creativity, "real" as opposed to "surrogate" experiences, etc.), but there are different ways we could go about asking why. One way would be to ask a sort of scientific/psychological/biological question: what is it about the way we're wired or raised that leads us to put a high value on the things you've labeled as authentic? Not being a scientist, I can't say, but it's reasonable to think that as the world actually works, authenticity and genuine effort are more likely overall to produce beneficial results. If we didn't care about real creativity, for example, then the kinds of innovations that make life better from just about any point of view might never come about. On that way of looking at things, we might say that authenticity has an instrumental value, and that this rubs off on...

Can a philosopher please help us understand why it is so painful when someone you acknowledge disregards you in turn? Thanks, from South Africa.

Sorry you've been having this sort of experience. And the amount of time it took for any of us to reply may give you the same sort of feeling you were asking about. But let me at least start with a possibly lame excuse. It sounds like what you want to know may be something more in the realm of psychology: what is it about how our minds work that can make snubs, rejection and the like psychologically painful? Why don't we just shrug it off?And insofar as the question deals with how minds actually work, philosophers aren't necessarily the best experts. That said, we're in a domain where ordinary experience and insight may be able to shed some light, so let's give it a try. Part of the answer is that we sometimes do shrug such things off. If I nod to a stranger on the street and he doesn't nod back, I might experience a momentary sense of annoyance, but I'll probably have forgotten about it literally within seconds. Whether this stranger takes account of me isn't something that matters to me. But for...

Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." Would my life be less valuable if I chose not to examine it? If I simply did everything according to the conventions and mores of my society, would my life be less valuable than someone who questioned these things deeply?

A good question! In the most important sense, the answer is no. But theterritory is a bit complicated. Start with the famous quote from Socrates. If we think about it, we'rebound to say that many unexamined lives are unquestionably worth living.Socrates' comment is hyperbole at best and perhaps something much worse. Somepeople just don't have the temperament for reflection. But that doesn't meanthey can't be kind, generous and decent, it doesn't mean that they can't leadsatisfying lives, it doesn't mean that the world would have been better withoutthem, and it certainly doesn't mean that they might as well not have lived atall. Of course, we're all obliged -- insofar as we're able -- to do some localthinking. At the least, we're sometimes obliged to think about the consequencesof our actions for others. We're sometimes obliged to ask whether our motiveswould stand up to scrutiny. More generally, we're obliged to do what's right,and that sometimes calls for a certain amount of self...

I am an Atheist, and a teacher of mine, got me to meditate on a paper-clip, his point being, that if you don't believe in an upper power, then unlike the paper-clip, which has a purpose, the human race is ultimately pointless. You live to die basically. What I want to know is, how would I combat such an argument? Thanks. Mark S.

Your teacher seems to have some argument such as the following in mind: 1) Things have a purpose only if some being gives them that purpose. 2) Therefore, humanity ("the human race") has a purpose only if someone gave it that purpose. 3) Only an "upper power" could give humanity a purpose. 4) Therefore, if there is no upper power, humanity has no purpose. 1) isn't as obvious as it seems, but let that pass for now. It would be odd to think that the human race has some purpose quite apart from anyone's intentions, and so 2) may be alright on its own. Even at that, 3) isn't altogether obvious. Groups can adopt purposes without someone imposing them, and so it could be that humanity -- the human race -- sets its own purpose, though there are some puzzles here. But of course, even if we grant the whole argument, all that follows is a hypothetical: if there is no higher power, then humanity as such doesn't have a purpose. If not, it's not clear that believing otherwise is a good thing. ...

Space and time are measured in hours and metres, value is measured in utility. In these three fundamental scales, I have read that zero and the unit are arbitrary. I can see that there is no beginning of time, and no bottom to the universe and no absolutely valueless state of affairs, but it seems perfectly sensible to talk of two states of affairs being of equal value, in which case the difference in value would be zero. Two durations could be of equal length, as could two bodies. So is there a non-arbitrary zero in space, time and value that corresponds to the difference in length, duration or utility between the equally long, enduring or valuable?

It may be that there are two questions hidden here. You're right: if we can compare things in terms of length or duration or utility, then we'll sometimes be able to say that they're the same on this scale -- that if we subtract one value from the other, we get zero. But there's another question: is there such a thing as a thing's having zero length, taking zero time or possessing zero utility? Length and duration are not quite the same sorts of scales as utility. Length and duration are ratio scales. It makes sense to say that this stick of wood is twice as long as that one. Turns out that this goes with the fact that there is such a thing as having no length or lasting for no time. In these cases, we have a natural zero. However, it may not make sense to say that one thing has twice as much utility as another. Utility scales are interval scales. All that matters are the ratios of the differences. Let's make this a bit more concrete. I might rate the utility of a cup of coffee at 1,...

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