When is enough enough? Oh my friend, what a hard, hardquestion - a question that when being raised says a lot about life itself. Though I worry about a person being in decent fettle trying to resolve such a question --for me it would be when the pain got so relentless and all consumingthat it devoured my ability to love others – to care about anything outsidemyself – when the pain permanently nailed me to my self.
Manufacturing adds value by configuring materials in certain ways; and this value can be lost even if the object's mass is preserved. Thus, destruction of the bicycle cancels the value of manufacturing it, even if the metal and other materials survive the destruction. Conversely, a service can continue producing value for a very long time: a medical treatment administered today can add decades to a person's life, and good education can convey knowledge, wisdom or a skill which can be useful for the student's lifetime and beyond (if she passes it on to others). So the reasons you consider do not show that manufacturing something is always more valuable than performing a service.
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.
Your rent-free lifestyle does not wrong your parents who can easily afford you and are apparently willing to do so. And there's also nothing wrong with refusing to live like everyone else does -- some of the most admirable people in human history did just that.
If everyone in this world were as well-off as you are, then there would be nothing immoral about your way of life. It would merely be lackluster, irrelevant, and boring for everyone but yourself. Pretty much everything worthwhile and interesting in this world is there thanks to human beings living with more than your level of ambition.
But then not everyone in this world is as well-off as you are. And in this case, I think, your lifestyle does qualify as immoral. There are lots of people in this country and even more so abroad who are vastly worse off than you are, and you have a moral responsibility to do your share to fight these deprivations -- as many others are doing, through volunteer work, donations, and so on. If you had a job, you could spend a little of your income to help people who have lost their homes in the recent financial crisis, to help children abroad suffering from malaria or unable to obtain even a minimal education. Even if you were really unable to find a job (how hard are you looking?), you could do some volunteer work in your community or by writing letters in behalf of political prisoners.
Now you may say in response that it might be good for you to do such things but that it would not be wrong not to. Many people are very badly off, but you have not contributed to their problems and so you have no responsibility to help fix them.
Let me make two points in reply. First, even if you didn't directly contribute to the burdens others are bearing, as a citizen you share responsibility for what we together do through our government. As citizens, we empowered the government that led us into the financial crisis, and as citizens we should work to ensure that those families hit hardest by it (domestically and abroad) can get through the crisis without too much hardship and lasting damage.
Second, it is not through merit -- even your parents' -- that you are as well off as you are. Income is very unequally distributed in this country and in the world. Your parents have "plenty of money" -- others are desperately poor, especially abroad where many families live on a few hundred dollars a year. Such huge disparities did not arise historically through differential work habits or even through luck. Rather, there were severe injustices -- such as slavery, colonialism, and genocide -- involved in the evolution of the existing distribution. As it happens, you are a beneficiary of these historical wrongs. To be sure, you bear no responsibility for these wrongs. Even if your ancestors were deeply involved in them, you cannot inherit their sins. But you should ask yourself whether it's right for you to claim the fruits of these crimes: the vastly superior start in life you and your parents have enjoyed while others grew up without adequate food, water, shelter, sanitation, education, medical care, and electric power. You should not simply take advantage of this extremely uneven and unjust distribution of starting places, but should use some of your privileges to protect others who had so much worse a start in life.
I suspect that your suspicion is partially correct: there is the intuition that someone who is doing worse than average and worse than most is unfortunate. But two other factors come in as well.
There is the fact that only a very small percentage of those who reach age 15 fail to reach 16 -- whereas a rather substantial percentage of those who reach age 95 fail to reach age 96. And people perceive it as more unfortunate to be among a very small fraction who suffer harm than to be one in a larger fraction. (If you're among 20 people worldwide to catch some infectious disease, you'll feel very unfortunate, much more so than if you got a cold along with 3 billion other people.)
And there is the further fact that life beyond the 95th birthday tends not to be all that good -- the person who dies at 15 is losing many probably very good years of life whereas the person who dies at 95 is losing just a few bad ones. (If you lose $5000 you'll probably feel a lot more unfortunate than if you lose just $1.)
Now you ask whether the first factor should matter. To test this, let's recreate the world so that the other two factors are absent. So imagine the world modified as follows. Once human beings reach adulthood, they do not age and remain in full possession of their faculties. However, people do die, as they do now, from various diseases and accidents. Let's say that persons have a 1.5% chance of dying each year. In this case life expectancy would be 67 years, just about what it is now. The big difference would be that people's life expectancy would be entirely independent of their age: even those who have already lived 100 years, or 1000 years, still have a life expectancy of 67. (About one third of all people would live to 100, and about 4 in a million would live to 1000 - just in case you're curious.)
Now in this imaginary world the other two factors do not come into play. The person dying at 15 and also the person dying at 95, they both had the same 98.5% chance of reaching their next birthday. And both had, just before their death, a life expectancy of 67 good years ahead of them.
In this imaginary world, then, the only difference is that one ended up with more of a good thing (95 good years of life) than most while the other ended up with much less (15 years of good life). And I don't see a good reason to deny that this matters. Suppose Bill Gates decided to give his money away, running a lottery over US citizens with a similar distribution of dollars as the distribution of life years in my imaginary world. So US citizens are receiving $67 on average, and most are receiving over $45. Would you not feel unfortunate if the lottery assigned you only $15 (and fortunate, maybe, if it assigned you $95) under these circumstances? Most would.
BTW, Bill Gates actually has enough money to fund this give-away, twice over.
It is of value for someone to be free of suffering or disease. But in order for this to be valuable period, the being in question must have a certain intrinsic value. And this intrinsic value of persons, in virtue of which it is valuable that they be free of suffering or disease, is a value that they have independently of whether they are healthy or disabled. This intrinsic value of persons is presupposed as what gives value to what they value and also gives value to their developing their moral and other capacities along with a stable disposition to add value to the lives of others. This disposition to be productive, again, is valuable in virtue of the intrinsic value of the people whose lives are enriched by this productivity. In short, the word "value" is a bit tricky here as it's used both for the intrinsic value of persons and for the contingent and variable value that their health, feelings, capacities, and conduct may have in enriching (adding value to) their own lives and the lives of others.
In terms of income, the panelists on this site by and large belong to humanity's top ventile (5%) -- where the average income is 9 times the global average. This is roughly 300 times more than what is available to people in the bottom quarter, where average income is about 1/32 of the global average. (The difference is still about 100:1 if one adjusts for purchasing power parities.) Moreover, people in the bottom quarter typically work longer hours in more exhausting jobs, and have about 20 to 30 fewer years of life. So, yes, those among whom you live do not enjoy anything like our opportunities to live a full human life, anything like our freedom to learn, think, enjoy, and be creative.
These huge discrepancies are profoundly unjust, and it would be good if many people in the more affluent countries used their much greater powers to change the world toward overcoming such injustice. Unfortunately, this is not happening, though some are trying. Those who have most power to contribute to change also have the least vivid sense of how urgently such change is needed.
So I think your friend is wrong, and wrong on both counts. Being affluent does not mean changing the world -- most affluent people make no effort to promote justice or any other greatly needed or otherwise important changes. And being poor does not mean not changing the world. Think of the Manchester dock workers who helped end slavery. Think of the millions who marched with Gandhi or Martin Luther King. Think of those who denied the US victory in Vietnam. Think of the garment workers in Bangladesh who just won an 80% raise in the minimum wage (from $25 to $45 per month), thereby lifting the spirits and in due time the wages of millions of grievously exploited workers in other poor countries. Ideally, of course, rich and poor should change the world together, toward reducing poverty and injustice, and toward preserving the health and beauty of our planet and its many species. Realistically, I would expect at least as much of a contribution to needed changes form the world's poor as from the world's affluent who, despite their much greater freedoms and capacities, typically find the status quo morally quite tolerable. I won't pass judgment on those who feel they are too poor to help change the world. But I do think it wrong, both empirically and morally, to count out the poor as important agents in human history.
The answer is NO.
Whatever incoherence there might be in wishing that *I* were just like David Beckham, this does not render it incoherent or irrational to desire or view as beneficial things which would, in effect, make one a different person.
Thus suppose that I wish that the person sitting in this chair one minute from now (and from then on) shall not be subject to any of the worries and temptations that distract me from what's important and that he shall otherwise be committed to the same ends as I am. Now would this person be me? That's an irrelevant question, because nothing about this topic was contained or implied in my wish. So my wish is perfectly coherent -- and also rational, I think, for my ends would be better promoted if my wish came true.
Now, of course, if your real end is that *you* should experience the positive reactions that many visit upon Beckham, then you better not wish for the person sitting in your chair a minute from now to be just like Beckham. For suppose you get what you wish for. Then whatever adulation would be bestowed upon that just-like-Beckham creature sitting in your chair would not be experienced by *you*, and so you sadly would not attain your real end.
Morale. A desire for a change that would make you a radically different person is incoherent only if (necessary condition) it also contains or implies the desire that this different person be you.
Even if this necessary condition is fulfilled, there may still be nothing incoherent about the desire -- for that different person may be you! Your wife's husband may be a different person a year from now not only by you being replaced by someone else, but also by your changing. For example, a year ago today, I resolved to lose my bad temper. More precisely, I desired that *I* would not get angry at people any more. I managed to live up to my resolution. So I've become a different person as far as my temper is concerned. But, on any non-eccentric account of personal identity, the person I am now is the person who made that resolution a year ago. I changed over the course of this past year -- I wasn't replaced by someone else. Since what actually happened is exactly what I desired, my desire wasn't incoherent. I desired that *I* should become a different (non-angry) person. I achieved what I desired, because the different (non-angry) person I've become is not so radically different as to be someone other than the person who made the resolution.
About both, I would think: about their relation. Your quoted sentence says something about tastes (that they respond positively to strawberries) and also something about strawberries (that they evoke a positive taste response). Still, there is something to your deflationary "just": What you are saying about strawberries is not true of them apart from (human) tastes. So your sentence is shorthand for a longer sentence that specifies a subject ("... to me", or "... to human beings"). This is similar to how the sentence "elephants are big" is shorthand for "elephants are big animals" (or "... big relative to other animals").
Well, if THE objective in life really is to make money without too much effort, then indeed there isn't much use for philosophical inquiries -- there are better ways of earning money than by being a philosopher.
But is earning a living in the best way really the (one and only) objective in life? I think most people would say that there are other important objectives as well: love, religion, friendship, music, sports, and so on -- but of course people have different views about what matters and how much. So here philosophy comes in, helping us to think clearly and wisely about what matters in life. Perhaps earning an easy living is really the best way to live. But wouldn't you want to think about this, and the alternatives, a bit before you commit yourself to such a life?