Is a person only as valuable as the good he/she produces for others?

Making the lives of others better certainly does add value to your own. But I believe it would be a bit extreme to say that making your own life better adds nothing to the value of your life. How might one argue for this belief?

Here is one way. There are wonderful writers and artists who create novels, paintings, movies, sculptures and performances that can greatly enrich our lives. The fact that these people enrich the lives of others makes them and their lives more valuable, as we said. But this enrichment will happen only if we go and expose ourselves to their creations. By doing so, we -- alongside them -- make a necessary contribution to the enrichment. It would be odd to celebrate their necessary contribution to the enrichment (by saying that it makes them more valuable) while ignoring our necessary contribution. Surely, just as they have a reason to produce their creations for us, so we have a reason to expose ourselves to these creations.

The richness of human lives matters, and an agent who adds to this richness (e.g. by creating good art or by making such art accessible to people) thereby adds value to her/his life -- even in the special case where the recipient of this effort is s/he her-/himself.

This response still leaves out something important that is hinted at in your question. It is not ethically irrelevant how the good one produces for people is distributed among them. In producing good for people, one should not exclude oneself or count oneself for naught. But one should also not prioritize oneself to the point where only a small portion of the good one produces for people goes to others. Nor should one produce good mainly for those in one's own (possibly privileged) circle: the picture of a bunch of millionaires producing lots of good for one another while ignoring all the rest is just as ugly as the picture of a single millionaire producing a lot of good for her-/himself while ignoring the rest. The story of the Good Samaritan nicely captures the more general point. It would have been good for this man to help a fellow-Samaritan. But what makes him memorable, and especially admirable, is the fact that he was willing to help someone outside his own community, that he was responsive, primarily, to human need.

This brings me to a final point. As the story shows, the Good Samaritan was willing to help a needy stranger. But he might not have encountered one on his journey. Without the opportunity to produce good for a robbery victim, he would have produced less good in his life. But would this have made him a less valuable person? Would this have reduced his value to that of another Samaritan traveller who would never have considered helping a Jew? No. Even here an important difference remains. While the second Samaritan is clearly not a Good Samaritan, the first one is a Good Samaritan thanks to his firm disposition to help needy strangers -- even if the occasion to act on this disposition does not present itself.

This point is especially important if we judge human lives from the outside. Perhaps a person who never had a chance to go to school and is struggling to make ends meet cannot do as much good for people in a lifetime as a fortunate millionaire can do in an afternoon (by donating money for building and running 15 primary schools in Africa, say). Here we should judge the first person not merely by the good she actually produces but also by her aims and dispositions -- as revealed to us in what good she does on her much smaller scale.

But this thought is problematic when employed in the first person. All too many people do very little good and yet think highly of themselves on account of their (supposed) pure heart and of all the good they (supposedly) would have done under different circumstances -- a phenomenon Sartre subsumed under the label of movais foi (bad faith). So, thinking in the first person, about oneself, one should aim for actual achievement of good, and one should aim not merely to increase the amount of good one produces for people but also aim to achieve a proper balance in its distribution: between oneself and others as well as between our close relations and distant strangers in need.

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