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Friend A believes Friend B should try something before deciding not to like it.

Friend A believes Friend B should try something before deciding not to like it. Friend B believes he shouldn't have to try something if he doesn't want to. Who is correct? Are they both correct? Who is more correct? Should Friend C help convince Friend B to try the thing or let him make his own choices?

I hope I don't come across as pedantic, but I think that your questions may contain what philosophers call "false alternatives."

First, there's a sense in which both A and B can be correct. It might be that B is well-advised to try a particular something before rejecting it because the risks associated with trying it are small compared to the possible benefits. Nevertheless, it could be true that B "shouldn't have to" try something before rejecting it: that is, B might well have the right to refuse to do X even if he would be well-advised to do X.

Second, C can help convince B to try the thing even while C lets B make his own choice. As I see it, giving B convincing reasons to make a particular choice needn't mean depriving B of a choice -- including a free choice -- in the matter.

I hope I don't come across as pedantic, but I think that your questions may contain what philosophers call "false alternatives." First, there's a sense in which both A and B can be correct. It might be that B is well-advised to try a particular something before rejecting it because the risks associated with trying it are small compared to the possible benefits. Nevertheless, it could be true that B "shouldn't have to " try something before rejecting it: that is, B might well have the right to refuse to do X even if he would be well-advised to do X. Second, C can help convince B to try the thing even while C lets B make his own choice. As I see it, giving B convincing reasons to make a particular choice needn't mean depriving B of a choice -- including a free choice -- in the matter.

What I am about to write is something I am very passionate about--it’s my career

What I am about to write is something I am very passionate about--it’s my career goal, my meaning of life. Basically, I really need to know what logical holes there are in my recurring thought process. I will set it up in an argument form, but I have no idea about the subtleties of premises, soundness, validity, or conclusions, so please overlook that! I am hoping I can get some criticism on this view that I hold. Please, pick this apart for me! I really need to know if I am mistaken before deciding to undertake studying and preparing for such a career. I'd like to get as many opinions from different backgrounds/life experiences as I can! Everyone, please chime in! 1.) The Earth is religiously ambiguous (rationally capable of being interpreted in theist, agnostic, and atheist views). 2.) There are horrible afflictions (such as sex and labor trafficking, solitary confinement, torture, locked-in syndrome, etc) that people go through while on Earth. 3.) If certain afflictions affect someone for a...

I hope others will chime in, but for starters I'd question step (4) of the argument.

First, from our failure know whether earthly life is the only life we get, it doesn't follow that earthly life is the only life we get. That inference would commit the fallacy of appealing to ignorance.

Second, even if earthly life is the only life we get, it doesn't follow that nothing is worse than death. Indeed, some of the kinds of suffering you listed (such as torture or locked-in syndrome) might be worse than death in some cases.

Third, even if death were the worst evil of all, your argument would support death-prevention of any sort, not just suicide-prevention.

I hope others will chime in, but for starters I'd question step (4) of the argument. First, from our failure know whether earthly life is the only life we get, it doesn't follow that earthly life is the only life we get. That inference would commit the fallacy of appealing to ignorance. Second, even if earthly life is the only life we get, it doesn't follow that nothing is worse than death. Indeed, some of the kinds of suffering you listed (such as torture or locked-in syndrome) might be worse than death in some cases. Third, even if death were the worst evil of all, your argument would support death-prevention of any sort, not just suicide-prevention.

Since the theory of evolution presents a kind of meaning to existence or at

Since the theory of evolution presents a kind of meaning to existence or at least, a logical structural pattern to it, is Camus' Absurdism necessarily in conflict with it?

I don't think that the theory of evolution (which I accept) provides anything like the kind of meaning that existentialists such as Camus have in mind. What is the meaning of existence according to evolutionary theory? The only remotely plausible answer I can think of is this: "To pass on one's genes to posterity, since that's what counts as success from the perspective of natural selection." But, of course, natural selection has no perspective, point of view, intentions, or goals. It's a mindless process. So that answer depends on a false presupposition.

Even if that weren't true, it's highly implausible anyway that passing on one's genes could really be the meaning (or purpose) of existence. If it were, then anyone would be missing the point of existence who didn't make it his/her top priority to reproduce as often as possible, to clone his/her genome again and again, etc. But, on the contrary, someone who tried to live such a life would be pathetic.

Evolutionary theory explains how species arise and how they vanish. I'm not sure that counts as providing "a logical structural pattern" to existence. But even if it does, I think the existentialists are concerned about the particular problems that arise for reflective, self-conscious beings such as us, problems that would remain even if existence, as such, had a logical pattern.

I don't think that the theory of evolution (which I accept) provides anything like the kind of meaning that existentialists such as Camus have in mind. What is the meaning of existence according to evolutionary theory? The only remotely plausible answer I can think of is this: "To pass on one's genes to posterity, since that's what counts as success from the perspective of natural selection." But, of course, natural selection has no perspective, point of view, intentions, or goals. It's a mindless process. So that answer depends on a false presupposition. Even if that weren't true, it's highly implausible anyway that passing on one's genes could really be the meaning (or purpose) of existence. If it were, then anyone would be missing the point of existence who didn't make it his/her top priority to reproduce as often as possible, to clone his/her genome again and again, etc. But, on the contrary, someone who tried to live such a life would be pathetic. Evolutionary theory explains how species arise...

It seems that in order to claim anything is intrinsically wrong, one must assert

It seems that in order to claim anything is intrinsically wrong, one must assert that some specific thing, be it happiness, duty, eudaimonia or something else, has intrinsic value. I cannot see, however, what logical process can lead one to this conclusion from a materialist perspective. If all that exists is matter, then what kind of property would 'value' be? If happiness, for example, is simply a mental state, no different from sadness or pain, then how can it have the property of 'value', and what kind of property might this be?

If all that exists is matter, then what kind of property would 'value' be?

If all that exists is matter, then what kind of property would any property be? I have trouble seeing how any property could itself be a material thing. A red apple is a material thing, but is its property of being red itself a material thing? Fortunately for me, not even the physicists say that literally everything is matter: there are also fields of force, states of matter, quantum vacuum states, etc. In any case, the claim that everything is matter seems to threaten not just the property of being valuable but every other property as well.

If happiness, for example, is simply a mental state, no different from sadness or pain, then how can it have the property of 'value'...

If happiness, sadness, and pain are all mental states, then they don't differ from each other in respect of being mental states. But that still allows them to differ in terms of whether they have the property of (positive) value. Not all mental states must have all the same properties, just as not all material objects must have all the same properties. In sum, "no different from in one respect" doesn't imply "no different from in any respect."

I'd also caution against the use of reductive language such as "simply" (or "only," "merely," "just," "nothing more than," etc.). It can sometimes obscure important differences. See my second reply to Question 5626.

If all that exists is matter, then what kind of property would 'value' be? If all that exists is matter, then what kind of property would any property be? I have trouble seeing how any property could itself be a material thing. A red apple is a material thing, but is its property of being red itself a material thing? Fortunately for me, not even the physicists say that literally everything is matter: there are also fields of force, states of matter, quantum vacuum states, etc. In any case, the claim that everything is matter seems to threaten not just the property of being valuable but every other property as well. If happiness, for example, is simply a mental state, no different from sadness or pain, then how can it have the property of 'value'... If happiness, sadness, and pain are all mental states, then they don't differ from each other in respect of being mental states . But that still allows them to differ in terms of whether they have the property of (positive) value....

A there any compelling engagements one can deploy to counter existential

A there any compelling engagements one can deploy to counter existential nihilism -- i.e. the view that life (both in terms of individuals or in terms of the totality of humankind) has no intrinsic meaning or value, and that any value/meaning we attribute to our lives and those of others is wholly subjective and will evaporate with our passing? A few pointers on how to counter this -- I think fairly commonly held -- view, as well as where I could find out more, would be really helpful!

The view you'd like to counter seems to have two parts:

(1) Life, both in terms of individuals and in terms of the totality of humankind, has no intrinsic meaning or value.

(2) Any value or meaning we attribute to our lives and those of others is wholly subjective and will evaporate with our deaths.

Regarding (1). First, the notion of intrinsic meaning seems to me highly doubtful to begin with: it would be meaning that doesn't derive from or depend on anything else, including any intentional agents. I can't see how that could possibly work. If waves scatter pebbles along the beach so as to form the inscription "Love," that inscription has no meaning: it wasn't produced intentionally. It might perhaps acquire meaning when some intentional agent interprets it as a message. But in either case it has no meaning in and of itself.

Second, one might doubt that anything could have intrinsic value, i.e., value that doesn't derive from or depend on anything else (such as being valued or leading to good consequences). Not even value conferred on my life by a perfect God would be intrinsic, because it would derive from a source other than me, namely God. Now, the classical utilitarians say that pleasure has intrinsic value. (a) If they're right, then a life is valuable insofar as it achieves pleasure: maybe the life itself wouldn't be intrinsically valuable, but it would be valuable insofar as it achieved the intrinsic value of pleasure. (b) If they're wrong, then maybe nothing could be intrinsically valuable, since it seems plausible that pleasure has intrinsic value if anything has intrinsic value. If nothing could have intrinsic value -- if the very notion of intrinsic value is incoherent -- then it would be foolish to complain that our lives lack intrinsic value. It would be like bemoaning the lack of colorless red objects.

Regarding (2). I take it that "subjective" is being used to mean "extrinsic," i.e., not intrinsic. If so, then I'd reply as I did above. As for "evaporate," it sounds as if the view assumes that only what lasts forever has any value, a highly questionable assumption that I discuss in this short article. For much more detailed discussions, I recommend The Meaning of Life: A Reader, edited by Klemke and Cahn.

The view you'd like to counter seems to have two parts: (1) Life, both in terms of individuals and in terms of the totality of humankind, has no intrinsic meaning or value. (2) Any value or meaning we attribute to our lives and those of others is wholly subjective and will evaporate with our deaths. Regarding (1). First, the notion of intrinsic meaning seems to me highly doubtful to begin with: it would be meaning that doesn't derive from or depend on anything else, including any intentional agents. I can't see how that could possibly work. If waves scatter pebbles along the beach so as to form the inscription "Love," that inscription has no meaning: it wasn't produced intentionally. It might perhaps acquire meaning when some intentional agent interprets it as a message. But in either case it has no meaning in and of itself. Second, one might doubt that anything could have intrinsic value , i.e., value that doesn't derive from or depend on anything else (such as being valued or ...

Atheists argue that some things are intrinsically good or evil. Pain, for

Atheists argue that some things are intrinsically good or evil. Pain, for example, seems to be an intrinsic evil. It is evil in and of itself; its badness is part of its intrinsic nature and is not bestowed upon it from some external source. Is there an argument for the claim that some things are intrinsically good or evil or are atheists simply begging the question against someone who maintains instead that pain is bad only because God made it so.

Those who assert that pain is intrinsically bad are disagreeing with those who assert that pain is bad only because God made it so (i.e., only because God gave pain the property of badness). But I don't see how the former are begging the question against the latter, even if the former lack an argument for their assertion.

Now consider the claim that pain is bad only because God made it so. The claim might mean either of these:

(1) Pain is unpleasant or affectively negative only because God gave pain that property.

(2) Pain has moral disvalue only because God gave pain moral disvalue.

It's hard to see how (1) could be true, given that pain is typically defined as (or in terms of) suffering, discomfort, and physical or psychological unpleasantness. (1) is like the claim that all squares are four-sided only because God made them so: God seems totally superfluous to the four-sidedness of squares, because they're four-sided by definition.

I don't think (2) is much more plausible than (1). Maybe the moral nihilists are right: maybe nothing, including pain, has moral disvalue. But if pain does have moral disvalue, it's hard to see how its moral disvalue could come from God's will or God's decree. To assert otherwise is to assert that nothing in the nature of pain accounts for its moral disvalue and that pleasure would have had the moral disvalue that pain has if God had made it so. I see no reason at all to believe that assertion.

Those who assert that pain is intrinsically bad are disagreeing with those who assert that pain is bad only because God made it so (i.e., only because God gave pain the property of badness). But I don't see how the former are begging the question against the latter, even if the former lack an argument for their assertion. Now consider the claim that pain is bad only because God made it so. The claim might mean either of these: (1) Pain is unpleasant or affectively negative only because God gave pain that property. (2) Pain has moral disvalue only because God gave pain moral disvalue. It's hard to see how (1) could be true, given that pain is typically defined as (or in terms of) suffering, discomfort, and physical or psychological unpleasantness. (1) is like the claim that all squares are four-sided only because God made them so: God seems totally superfluous to the four-sidedness of squares, because they're four-sided by definition. I don't think (2) is much more...

Does the acceptance of scientific naturalism commit one to the view that the

Does the acceptance of scientific naturalism commit one to the view that the universe is devoid of all meaning?

There are at least two ways to interpret your question:

(1) Does scientific naturalism imply that no meaning at all exists anywhere in the universe?

(2) Does scientific naturalism imply that the universe itself has no meaning?

I think the answer to (1) is pretty clearly no. By "scientific naturalism," I presume you mean the denial of supernaturalism, i.e., the denial that any nonphysical minds or causes exist. On that reading, scientific naturalism is compatible with the fact that you meant something by your question (your question isn't meaningless) and the fact that I mean something by this answer to it. Nor does scientific naturalism imply that nothing is ever non-linguistically meaningful: it allows that an experience (say, of great music) can be meaningful to someone. What holds for the concept of meaning holds, I'd say, for the concept of purpose as well.

I think the answer to (2) is pretty clearly yes. But what could it mean, anyway, to say that the universe itself has some meaning? The universe isn't literally a linguistic item that could be linguistically meaningful, nor is it literally an experience that could be meaningful to one of its inhabitants. What's probably meant, instead, is that the universe as a whole has some purpose. My sense is that people who want the universe as a whole to have some purpose think that a "cosmic purpose" would put an end to questions of the form "Why bother?" or "What's so great about that?" -- questions whose persistence troubles them. In this short magazine article, I argue that they're mistaken.

There are at least two ways to interpret your question: (1) Does scientific naturalism imply that no meaning at all exists anywhere in the universe? (2) Does scientific naturalism imply that the universe itself has no meaning? I think the answer to (1) is pretty clearly no . By "scientific naturalism," I presume you mean the denial of supernaturalism , i.e., the denial that any nonphysical minds or causes exist. On that reading, scientific naturalism is compatible with the fact that you meant something by your question (your question isn't meaningless) and the fact that I mean something by this answer to it. Nor does scientific naturalism imply that nothing is ever non-linguistically meaningful: it allows that an experience (say, of great music) can be meaningful to someone. What holds for the concept of meaning holds, I'd say, for the concept of purpose as well. I think the answer to (2) is pretty clearly yes . But what could it mean, anyway, to say that the universe itself has...

Do people have intrinsic value?

Do people have intrinsic value? For several years now I've worked with people with disabilities of all sorts and degrees of severity. It has made me question a lot of things and think about why people matter. There are so many external elements, positive and negative, of these peoples lives I've given consideration: the things that impact our community and others in it but is there something else underneath all these things that gives value to people? I believe they do although I cannot express why. Just by asking these questions I feel uneasy like I'm being disrespectful by discussing peoples existence like a math equation. So my question regards that weightiness I experience and where it comes from. (Could you recommend further reading?)

Where the weightiness you experience comes from is a psychological, psychobiological, or anthropological question and therefore not a question that philosophers, as such, are competent to answer. Having said that, I'll speculate anyway! It wouldn't surprise me to learn that natural selection has favored a tendency in human beings to treat all, and only, human beings as belonging to a morally special category. But, of course, a tendency favored by natural selection might nevertheless be hard to defend with argument.

About the weightiness itself: Speaking as a philosopher, I'd urge us to distinguish between persons (i.e., people) and human beings. I regard person as a psychological category: members of the category possess distinctive (if broadly and vaguely defined) psychological traits and dispositions, such self-consciousness and rationality. I think those traits and dispositions make any person morally significant in a way in which any non-person isn't (even a non-person that's morally significant to some degree). I don't think this distinction gives persons the right to treat non-persons any which way they like -- I don't have the right to torture a cat just for fun even if I'm a person and the cat isn't -- but the distinction does carry some moral weight. By contrast, human being is a biological category -- a species -- and I can't see how species membership, all by itself, carries any moral weight. So I think it's possible to hold that people (i.e., persons) as such matter but that human beings as such don't. A member of our species might fail to be a person and therefore lack the moral significance that comes with personhood; a member of some non-human species might be a person and therefore have the moral significance that persons have.

For further reading, you might start with this SEP entry.

Where the weightiness you experience comes from is a psychological, psychobiological, or anthropological question and therefore not a question that philosophers, as such, are competent to answer. Having said that, I'll speculate anyway! It wouldn't surprise me to learn that natural selection has favored a tendency in human beings to treat all, and only, human beings as belonging to a morally special category. But, of course, a tendency favored by natural selection might nevertheless be hard to defend with argument. About the weightiness itself: Speaking as a philosopher, I'd urge us to distinguish between persons (i.e., people) and human beings. I regard person as a psychological category: members of the category possess distinctive (if broadly and vaguely defined) psychological traits and dispositions, such self-consciousness and rationality. I think those traits and dispositions make any person morally significant in a way in which any non-person isn't (even a non-person that's morally...

I hope this isn't too general, but here's a question I've been wondering about:

I hope this isn't too general, but here's a question I've been wondering about: What is it that one has or does that, if one has or does it, one's life was not a waste?

Something seems wrong about the question. At any rate, it's too general a question for me to venture a non-trivial answer to it. It seems to me like asking "What is it that one does such that, if one does it, one has succeeded?" I don't see how to give a non-trivial, general answer to that question. Succeeded at what? Some actions count as successes and some don't, just as (I would presume) some lives are wasted and some aren't, but I don't know how to give an informative, general explanation of the difference.

Something seems wrong about the question. At any rate, it's too general a question for me to venture a non-trivial answer to it. It seems to me like asking "What is it that one does such that, if one does it, one has succeeded?" I don't see how to give a non-trivial, general answer to that question. Succeeded at what? Some actions count as successes and some don't, just as (I would presume) some lives are wasted and some aren't, but I don't know how to give an informative, general explanation of the difference.

Why do we do anything if nothing lasts forever? Every action we make is but a

Why do we do anything if nothing lasts forever? Every action we make is but a blip on the finite timeline of the universe, ending with the heat death. All our actions fade into insignificance as they become the past. Similarly, on a smaller scale, why do we do things if life is finite too? What difference would it make to the individual who is unable to witness the effect of his actions?

I presume you're asking a philosophical question about the rational justification of our actions rather than simply a psychological question about our actual motivations for doing them. The first thing to emphasize is that your question isn't rhetorical (and I'm not saying that you meant it to be). In other words, the burden of proof rests with anyone who says "You're right: there really isn't a good reason to do anything if nothing lasts forever, if our every action is but a blip in the overall history of the universe." Whoever asserts the claim I just quoted owes us an argument for it, because it's very far from obviously true. I've seen arguments -- or at least what loosely resemble arguments -- for the quoted claim, but I've never found them persuasive, as I explain in this short magazine piece. A classic discussion of this issue appears in Thomas Nagel's 1971 article "The Absurd," available here.

So the reasons we typically give for our actions can't be dismissed in advance, and they'll depend on the specific action in question. Why listen to a splendid performance of a piece of great music? Because it's ennobling and deeply satisfying, even though the performance ends and even if the composition itself won't last forever. Why stop a small child from grabbing a pot on the stove and drenching himself with the boiling contents? The answer is too obvious to need saying. I've never seen a good reason to think that the answers to such questions automatically become inadequate on the assumption that nothing lasts forever.

I presume you're asking a philosophical question about the rational justification of our actions rather than simply a psychological question about our actual motivations for doing them. The first thing to emphasize is that your question isn't rhetorical (and I'm not saying that you meant it to be). In other words, the burden of proof rests with anyone who says "You're right: there really isn't a good reason to do anything if nothing lasts forever, if our every action is but a blip in the overall history of the universe." Whoever asserts the claim I just quoted owes us an argument for it, because it's very far from obviously true. I've seen arguments -- or at least what loosely resemble arguments -- for the quoted claim, but I've never found them persuasive, as I explain in this short magazine piece . A classic discussion of this issue appears in Thomas Nagel's 1971 article "The Absurd," available here . So the reasons we typically give for our actions can't be dismissed in advance...

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