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Is there such thing as a "selfish need"? Often in different contexts sexual

Is there such thing as a "selfish need"? Often in different contexts sexual desires are referred to as "selfish needs". The word "selfish" implies a desire that is excessive and self-indulgent or opposed to the interest of others but the word "need" implies a desire which is natural and important and therefor not excessive.

Good point. But the word "need" is also used in the sense of "strong craving". And strong cravings can be selfish both in regard to what is craved and in regard to how the craving originated. For example, someone starts going to expensive designer shops and comes to need the attention and flattery of the sales people there. Similarly, gamblers may need the next thrill, drug addicts the next fix, and so on. In such cases the word "need" does not imply a desire that is natural and important.

Good point. But the word "need" is also used in the sense of "strong craving". And strong cravings can be selfish both in regard to what is craved and in regard to how the craving originated. For example, someone starts going to expensive designer shops and comes to need the attention and flattery of the sales people there. Similarly, gamblers may need the next thrill, drug addicts the next fix, and so on. In such cases the word "need" does not imply a desire that is natural and important.

if you have an unethical position or emotion towards a person or issue, but

if you have an unethical position or emotion towards a person or issue, but never act on it, is it still unethical?

Because you take a position to be something one can act on, I interpret this in the sense of "commitment" or "disposition". So suppose a person has the deliberate disposition to "fix" student grades whenever he is offered $100 or more to do so. (This might be a professor or an administrator or a person with access to the university's computer system.) Surely this is an unethical disposition, that is, a disposition that one ought not to have, and the person so disposed is typically unethical on account of this disposition even if he never engages in any unethical conduct (e.g., because he is never offered a sufficiently large amount).

It's different with emotions because these cannot be simply willed away. It is problematic, then, to characterize a person as unethical on account of an emotion that she just finds herself having, without choice. Still, we do have ways of influencing our future emotions, and there are surely emotions that we ought to try to diminish or eradicate (e.g. disgust for people of certain skin color or sexual orientation, which can be overcome by seeking friendships with some such people). And one can then say in a temporally more extended sense that certain emotions and those who have the are unethical: in cases where one could and ought to have rid oneself of them.

Still, the basic response is the same for positions and emotions. There are three different entities up for moral assessment here. First, there are the positions and emotions themselves, which were the subject of your query. Whether they are unethical is entirely unaffected by whether the person who has them acts on them or not. Second, there are the actions motivated by the position or emotion. These are typically unethical; but if the person having the position or emotion in question never acts on it, then there are no actions to assess. Third, there are the persons themselves. Consider two persons who, otherwise equal, are disposed to fix grades for bribes of $100 or more (as described above), with one of them receiving and accepting several offers while the other receives none. Should we say that the former is more unethical than the latter because he had the "bad" luck of being offered sufficiently large bribes? This is the position Bernard Williams takes (in Moral Luck) and it is also the position implicit in the law (if the assassin's bullet is miraculously stopped by the intended victim's cell phone, then the assassin will receive the lesser punishment for attempted murder). On the other side, Immanuel Kant holds that luck can make no difference: that persons should be morally judged by their dispositions alone. Thus, the person less reluctant to be bribed is (other things equal) the more unethical person even if his counterpart accepts many bribes while he himself (for lack of opportunity) never accepts a single one.

Because you take a position to be something one can act on, I interpret this in the sense of "commitment" or "disposition". So suppose a person has the deliberate disposition to "fix" student grades whenever he is offered $100 or more to do so. (This might be a professor or an administrator or a person with access to the university's computer system.) Surely this is an unethical disposition, that is, a disposition that one ought not to have, and the person so disposed is typically unethical on account of this disposition even if he never engages in any unethical conduct (e.g., because he is never offered a sufficiently large amount). It's different with emotions because these cannot be simply willed away. It is problematic, then, to characterize a person as unethical on account of an emotion that she just finds herself having, without choice. Still, we do have ways of influencing our future emotions, and there are surely emotions that we ought to try to diminish or eradicate (e.g. disgust for...

Are there any philosophers that address emotional apathy? Are there any that

Are there any philosophers that address emotional apathy? Are there any that warn against it? I know Plato, Kant, and presumably Aquinas would argue against apathetic sentiment for political and religious reasons, but I was wondering if there are any that stress the importance of emotional zest or passion?

Nietzsche and Camus come to mind. They don't exactly address emotional apathy as a philosophical problem. But they both develop philosophical positions that, in quite different ways, combine intellectual argument with emotional engagement. You might have a look at Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Camus' The Rebel.

Nietzsche and Camus come to mind. They don't exactly address emotional apathy as a philosophical problem. But they both develop philosophical positions that, in quite different ways, combine intellectual argument with emotional engagement. You might have a look at Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Camus' The Rebel .

Today I had a big fight with my sister. We were both sulking, upset and angry. I

Today I had a big fight with my sister. We were both sulking, upset and angry. I told my father that I was really hurt and he said that it is not worth being hurt when there are people right now in Israel, Lebanon, Sudan, the Congo and elsewhere who have lost their homes, family members and futures in the blink of an eye. And that if you told those people that there were two girls in New Jersey who got to go to school every day, who had a comfortable house, an intact family and never had to worry about food or money or safety, they would think it was ridiculous how sad and hurt and angry we were being. I understand my dad's point. He is saying firstly that we should be grateful for what we have and not bitter about the small things that are not going well. And secondly that we should think of our problems in perspective in terms of what the rest of humanity may suffer. But can the above idea ever really act as consolation, or should it? It seems that you can't put emotions in perspective - does the...

What is it to keep one's emotional reactions in proportion? There is a philosophical issue here that seems worth raising: emotional reactions are not simply sensational reactions to the world, they can be cognitive reactions too. Emotions can sometimes tell you things about the world that one's beliefs aren't registering. Perhaps your upset about the argument with your sister contained a cognitive response that was appropriate to the scale of the argument with your sister, in which case the emotional content in itself should not be changed by the thought that there are many situations in this world that would be infinitely more upsetting and difficult to bear. The advice that one should keep one's emotional responses in proportion - making sure the cognitive content is correct, if you like - might sometimes require one to let it go, but equally it might require one to stand by the upset and conclude that the argument one had this morning was indeed really upsetting. If so, one needs some other way forward than remembering how much worse things could be - talking it over with one's sister or whatever, explaining why one was so hurt, asking if she felt the same, and so on. Keeping emotions proportionate to the facts cuts both ways.

That something much worse exists does not make a bad thing less bad. But it may well make you feel much less bad about it. And that's what a consolation is, really: something that makes you feel less bad. In this case, this can be achieved by gaining a broader perspective: by seeing the wrong you suffered in comparison to other wrongs (and, I might add, also in comparison to all the good times you have had, and will have again, with your sister). However big and irreparable the hurt felt at the time, it's really just a blip on a larger canvas.

What does philosophy have to say about the role of emotion relative to ethics?

What does philosophy have to say about the role of emotion relative to ethics? It seems clear that emotion cannot be relied upon to produce consistently accurate ethical judgments, yet it also seems that emotion is a motivator for people's actions (which must be considered in the context of ethics). Further, emotion seems to be used as an "acid test" of sorts for ethical judgments (i.e. things that are ethical should "feel" or "seem" right). These are three examples of the way emotion and ethics interact, but I'm interested in perspectives on what their relationship should be, in the interest of making optimal ethical choices.

A very nice classic essay on this question is "The Conscience of Huck Finn" by Jonathan Bennett. I think you'll find it congenial and responsive to your second and third questions especially. I found a version on the internet: http://www.earlymoderntexts.com/jfb/huckfinn.pdf