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I am a scientist with very strong desire for personal growth.I acknowledge the

I am a scientist with very strong desire for personal growth.I acknowledge the undeniable practical values of science in making better world. However, I am wondering how being a scientist would contribute to my own growth and self-actualization.(regardless of financial or social gain of being a scientist). Also is it worthy to put my life on practicing science which mostly involve in a very narrow research area. I mean if putting so much time and energy on such tiny bit of knowledge is really good and in accordance with my ultimate goal of being self-actualized?

I think the best place to start is by asking yourself what "self-actualization" is supposed to be and why it's so important. The phrase "self-actualized" has a sort of aura about it, but I'm not sure it's a helpful one for thinking about how we should live. One of my problems with the phrase is that as it's often used, it seems to mean something that has to do with a rather narrow sense of bettering oneself.

Wanting to live a good life is a noble goal. Part of living a good life has to do with making good use of the gifts one has been given, to borrow language from the religious tradition. And I sense that that's part of your concern. One doesn't want one's life to be devoted to trivial things. But most of us have to make a living, and making a living by doing routine science doesn't seem ignoble—not least since one can never be sure what the larger consequences will be. So if you find satisfaction in doing science and do it well and conscientiously, I'd say you have nothing to be ashamed of.

But on the larger question that I think may concern you, I have a lot of sympathy with broadly Aristotelian ideas of what "self-actualization" might amount to: the cultivation of virtue. I don't mean this in some prim and proper sense. I mean that there really are traits of character that we think of as virtuous: kindness, courage, fairness, honesty, generosity, and a great many others. On this view, how well a person is living is measured by the extent to which they lead a virtuous life. This doesn't amount to living the life of a prig. The people we often admire have traits like humor, appropriate irony, adventurousness and various others that make them into what we often described as well-rounded people.

To return to your specific question, all of this is quite compatible with making science the center of your working life, if that's what you want to do. Of course, if you feel that being a scientist leaves you unsatisfied, it's obviously just fine to consider what else you might do. But if you like being a scientist, that leaves ample room for living a life worth emulating; no need to feel guilty.

I think the best place to start is by asking yourself what "self-actualization" is supposed to be and why it's so important. The phrase "self-actualized" has a sort of aura about it, but I'm not sure it's a helpful one for thinking about how we should live. One of my problems with the phrase is that as it's often used, it seems to mean something that has to do with a rather narrow sense of bettering oneself. Wanting to live a good life is a noble goal. Part of living a good life has to do with making good use of the gifts one has been given, to borrow language from the religious tradition. And I sense that that's part of your concern. One doesn't want one's life to be devoted to trivial things. But most of us have to make a living, and making a living by doing routine science doesn't seem ignoble—not least since one can never be sure what the larger consequences will be. So if you find satisfaction in doing science and do it well and conscientiously, I'd say you have nothing to be ashamed of. But...

Do you agree that hedonism (or some related ethical egoism) is the best life

Do you agree that hedonism (or some related ethical egoism) is the best life philosophy in this turbulent world? Eighty years is the average timespan of a human life on Earth in which dependency on parents during youth and dependency on others in feeble old age take almost half that time. Pain or sickness, dealing with problems of urban living, climbing the corporate ladder, and menial tasks take almost half of the rest. So what is life for but for enjoyment or pleasure? It is for this reason that I and many other people find the well-dressed gentlemanly self absorbed playboy to be much more worthy of admiration than the monk who tries to save starving children in a far away land that ordinary people would not want to set foot on. We are the helpless straw dogs of the natural forces that made us, that gave us our unchosen ancestry and inalienable character. We ought to embrace and accept this fate without complaint, and not be fooled by all the artificially constructed nonsense of Gods, religious dogma,...

I've been trying to find the argument here. It seems to be "Life can really suck. Therefore you should look out for Number One." Am I missing anything?

I think that's called a non sequitur.

Now it's true that self-expression and contentment are goods. (Not sure what the word "spiritual" adds here.) But there are lots of goods, many of which aren't self-centered. Or so most of us think, even though we all know that life can really suck. It's also true for some people that helping others doesn't fit with their "internal purpose." (I assume that means something like "their own predilections") But your conclusion only follows if we agree that a person's "internal purpose" is the only one that should get any weight. And since that's exactly what's at issue…

(Not to mention that it's not obvious that you yourself would be better off if most of us only gave a damn about ourselves.)

But all of this is pretty obvious, which is why I have the feeling that you're pulling our legs. ("well-dressed gentlemanly self-absorbed playboy" <giggle>.)

I've been trying to find the argument here. It seems to be "Life can really suck. Therefore you should look out for Number One." Am I missing anything? I think that's called a non sequitur . Now it's true that self-expression and contentment are goods. (Not sure what the word "spiritual" adds here.) But there are lots of goods, many of which aren't self-centered. Or so most of us think, even though we all know that life can really suck. It's also true for some people that helping others doesn't fit with their "internal purpose." (I assume that means something like "their own predilections") But your conclusion only follows if we agree that a person's "internal purpose" is the only one that should get any weight. And since that's exactly what's at issue… (Not to mention that it's not obvious that you yourself would be better off if most of us only gave a damn about ourselves.) But all of this is pretty obvious, which is why I have the feeling that you're pulling our legs. ("well...

Is there any point to attempting to better society, or is it better to live in

Is there any point to attempting to better society, or is it better to live in self interest?

There is a point in trying to make society better: if you succeed, society will be better.

Is it better to live purely self-interestedly? It might be better for you. But that doesn't mean it would be better.

However, I assume that the point behind your question is why anyone should ever bother doing things that aren't just for their own benefit. If you're looking for an answer that appeals only to your self-interest, then the books are pretty well cooked. It could be that if we all do things for other people, we'll be better off ourselves, and sometimes it actually is true. But it's not guaranteed.

Ayn Rand argued (I've forgotten where exactly) that if we act altruistically by "sacrificing" our own interest for the interests of others, we've acted against what should be our own highest value. But either this is just a tautology (if I'm doing things that aren't for my own benefit, then I'm doing things that aren't for my own benefit) or else it's something there's no good reason to believe. (I would have said "bullshit," but that would have been unprofessional.)

Now there's a reason for doing things for others that might sound at first as though it's selfish at bottom: if I were in need of help, I'd hope that someone would help me. If I recognize that (how could I not?) and if I make the imaginative effort of putting myself in other people's shoes, that's at least sometimes enough to motivate me to do something that's not for my own benefit. But notice: even though thinking about how I'd like to be treated is part of what enters into my motivation, it's not a matter of doing things to make it more likely that other people will treat me kindly. It's a matter of taking seriously the idea that I'm not the only person that matters.

There is a point in trying to make society better: if you succeed, society will be better. Is it better to live purely self-interestedly? It might be better for you . But that doesn't mean it would be better. However, I assume that the point behind your question is why anyone should ever bother doing things that aren't just for their own benefit. If you're looking for an answer that appeals only to your self-interest, then the books are pretty well cooked. It could be that if we all do things for other people, we'll be better off ourselves, and sometimes it actually is true. But it's not guaranteed. Ayn Rand argued (I've forgotten where exactly) that if we act altruistically by "sacrificing" our own interest for the interests of others, we've acted against what should be our own highest value. But either this is just a tautology (if I'm doing things that aren't for my own benefit, then I'm doing things that aren't for my own benefit) or else it's something there's no good reason to...

Is it possible for anything to matter? My teacher always tells me if I do bad in

Is it possible for anything to matter? My teacher always tells me if I do bad in a drama scene, I shouldn't worry about it because no one will remember or care in a few weeks. Doesn't that apply to everything? If I cure cancer, surely that will affect almost everyone on the planet, but will anyone even appreciate it a million years after the fact? A billion? Humans can't last forever, and eventually our species will die - meaning no one will be alive to remember cancer even existed. Even Earth will die eventually. Even the Galaxy!! So how can anything I do be important in the grand scheme of things?

Good question? I have wrestled with this one a lot. Of course, it depends what we mean by "matters" -- if it is an issue of being remembered then there is a good chance that when the earth slips into the sun or whatever, all will be forgotten and in the end nothing will have mattered.

When we say that something matters to us I think we mean to say it has value. But just because an event has impact at one time but not at another -- like the play -- does it follow that it never mattered? I don't think so. I can remember playing football in college. Sad to say, it was the most important thing in the world to me. Now, I can barely remember the outcome of some games. But it doesn't mean that those games were meaningless. There is no reason to think that in order for an event to matter it has to have eternal consequences.

Obviously, your drama teacher was just trying to help you fit things into perspective. Events that can feel world consuming to us at one time will look differently in the rear-view mirror - but again that doesn't mean that they were insignificant at the time.

We might also ask if it is even possible to believe that the events of our life don't matter. I have seldom seen anyone act on the belief - which tells me something. Often it is a dodge or the symptom of depression.

The Nagel article cited by Professor Stairs is perfect for a meditation on this issue - as is Camus's Myth of Sisyphus - which is the target of the Nagel offering. Thanks for your question and for listening.

There's a classic paper by Thomas Nagel that addresses your question. It's called The Absurd . It appeared the Journal of Philosophy , v. 68 no. 20, 1971. A bit of googling just might find you the full text, though of course <*cough*> I could never actually suggest that you look for a copy produced without regard for copyright. Nagel thinks there's no getting around the absurdity of life. In fact he thinks there's no conceivable way that life could not be absurd. I can't say I'm completely convinced, but be that as it may; you might find something useful in this, from the end of Nagel's paper:         If sub species aeternitatis there is no reason to believe that anything matters, then that doesn't matter either... Nagel adds that once we see this, we can live our absurd lives with irony rather than heroism or despair. Your mileage may vary. Here's a slightly different take. In my more sanguine moments, I'm inclined to say that it doesn't matter if things don't matter...

In his response to an earlier question about physical beauty, Nicholas D. Smith

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 situation where the correlation becomes a full-blown law. That wouldn't be easy, but it might be possible.

Now, however, we have a different problem. Let's suppose that in this world, being beautiful raises the probability of not being virtuous. The question of why this is so (if it is) isn't one that philosophers have any special competence to answer. It's an empirical question and answering it would call the right sort of social science and/or biological investigation.

It may sound like I'm ducking your question, and in one sense I am. But the real point is to make clear why the question isn't likely to yield to speculation.

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

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 that a good life seems to be the sort of thing that's valuable for its own sake.

In any case, if "usefulness" means what most people mean, it's hard to see why we'd agree that all value is a matter of usefulness. Most of us don't need to look far to find things that seem valuable for reasons that don't have anything to do with their usefulness. In fact, the contrary thesis has a better shot at being true: we care about usefulness because ultimately it gets us to things that are valuable for their own sake.

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

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...

I am impressed that you were willing to ask the question in this forum - I don't know how many 17 year old readers we have here, but I suspect you are in a minority. This demonstrates your willingness to look for answers in unexpected places, so good for you! I am afraid, however, I agree with Prof. Stairs and want to urge caution before embarking on such a journey, which might sound to your ears so conventional and unenlightened it may be hard to hear.

While you are right that it is still possible to find a path less traveled and do well in life, it seems to be increasingly rare. There are many social/economic reasons for this and over which you have little control. While the human spirit of adventure and the lure of a life lived well and fully will never die, the historical moment in which you find yourself is remarkably different than it was for your predecessors. For example, my father did very well with only one year of post high-school education, and he earned far more than I will with my PhD. Please understand that I am not speaking of "earning-power" as a goal because we all need to find the life that suits us, and one need not have much material wealth to satisfy a worthy life.

So what leads us forward toward a worthwhile existence? That is hard to know of course, but as my colleague suggests, we can generalize a bit about development of good judgment as being, in part, a function of age. I am sure you have observed poor and good judgement in individuals of all ages - but as a rule we improve with age and learn from experiences of poor judgment. Now I recognize this creates something of a vicious circle, a bit like looking for your first job when the ads all say "experience needed." How in heaven's name do I get that experience if no one will hire me? This is a lot like the problem you face: everyone says you need more experience of life before you embark on an experience of life! But while similar, it is a flawed analogy. The flaw is that it depends a lot on the job or life experience you seek and how high the stakes are. Any wise employer will prefer to hire someone with "experience," but it depends on the job. If not a lot of training is required, it is possible that the employer meets a young person like yourself and says "what the heck, I'll give him a shot at it...worse case scenario, it won't work out, but I can take that risk." But if the job is really beyond your skill level, the employer would be not just a fool to hire an inexperienced worker, she would be irresponsible, setting the new employee up for failure and possible harm.

Perhaps this is part of why, as Prof. Stairs says, there is no need to hurry on this particular life-changing experience. The stakes are simply too high and there are so many unknowns to feel it would be wise to support such a venture at this time. It is a little like buying a $5 lottery ticket - even though the odds are hugely against you - because you might win! But then you get folks who (literally) bet their whole fortunes on the hopes of winning and lose it all. That is what is at stake here and why you are hearing another voice of caution from me. You are not playing with a five dollar bill - you are playing a high stakes game with far more to lose than you might win.

I hope you will take to heart that there is a lot more time ahead to support your dreams and surprises in store for you in life!

I wish you all the best.

-bjm

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

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 one kind of value) even if no one ever encountered it; beauty unnoticed is beauty all the same. This doesn't mean that there's no connection between value and experience; it just means that a counterfactual connection can be enough. Crudely, we might say that something is beautiful if it would evoke the right sort of reaction in a sentient being, given the right circumstances -- whether or not it ever does.

All that is background to addressing your main question: is the appearance of life in the world a good thing? Here are a couple of thoughts. Some things are valuable because they have the capacity to produce certain kinds of experience. But some of those experiences are valuable for their own sake. And so the appearance of sentient creatures in the universe brings two things with it: the possibility for value to be "realized" and as part of that, appearance of a kind of value that a universe without life would lack.

Does that mean that the appearance of sentient life is an unmitigated good thing? Obviously not. Before sentient life arrived, there was no pain and no cruelty. We like to think that on balance, life is a good thing, but there's no necessity in that and it might not even be true.

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

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 it either. Being tolerant doesn't mean putting up with hateful things.

That said, I can imagine a point in trying to talk to people I deeply disagree with. Sometimes when we do that, we find that we've been overlooking something worth worrying about, even if we still end up disagreeing about details and means. And it's a little harder for each side to demonize the other when people make an honest stab at mutual understanding. But whatever value this sort of exercise might have, it doesn't extend to dictating the people I spend my intimate time with.

As for asking people their views before even considering them as friends, that does seem off, whether or not "narcissistic" is the right word. I've come to have real affection and respect for people I would have dismissed if I'd used that sort of test before having anything to do with them.

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

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 like this? Is it something hard-wired? Does it differ from culture to culture? Good questions. But alas, not questions that philosophers qua philosophers are in a position to answer

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...

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