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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.

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 just watched the movie "Interstellar," in which the heroes try to begin a

I just watched the movie "Interstellar," in which the heroes try to begin a colony on another planet in order that the human race survive. Is there any compelling reason to do something like this? To be clear, as far as the heroes know, everyone who is currently alive on earth will die. The point is not to save those people, but only to see that there are future generations of humans that live after them. I can see that we have reasons to save actual, living people--they're capable of suffering, they have various interests, and so on--but those reasons don't apply to the hypothetical inhabitants of a future colony. Why should we care that humanity survive this larger sense?

great question! What I might say is ask your genes (a la "selfish gene", by Richard Dawkins). our DNA seems to have built into us this force for survival, if only for the sake of our DNA ... But that of course doesn't answer your question, b/c that perhaps descriptive account of where our 'instinct' for survival/continuation might come from doesn't address the normative question of why we should care or whether we should pursue that end. Those who attempt to collapse normatively via evolution might say that's all the answer we need -- but those who don't won't be satisfied. From my perspective I agree with what seems to be your own intuition -- no good reason why we should care. Indeed, the same question can be raised more immediately: why should we care about having our own children? Of course for many having/raising children helps give their lives a sense of meaning, but that's a very selfish reason -- you have children b/c it makes your life better, but that is not looking out for the children themselves! and of course that doesn't help explain why anyone should care if a few humans escape to colonize another world ....

great question! --


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.

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.

If philosophers were paid to answer questions on sites like this one, I think we

If philosophers were paid to answer questions on sites like this one, I think we'd agree that there would be more responses. But do you think the quality of responses would decrease? Is something that one is willing to do for free intrinsically more virtuous than if it is done with a promised reward?

Fascinating question! Perhaps you are right that if we were paid for our responses, there would probably be more responses, but this might not mean that the responses would be better in quality. I have not seen a response yet keeping in mind I have not read all the responses that seemed to me to be done in a cursory manner, or in a way that would be less in quality if the question - response format was conducted professionally. I suggest that there may be no greater value as a rule for the superiority of value when persons act voluntarily or for free or for a promised reward money. Someone might volunteer to help the poor and do so because they have inherited great wealth, whereas another person who does not have such wealth and wants to help the poor may need to be paid if she is going to afford to do the work. Both persons might be equally compassionate and courageous Still, there are cases when it seems that a voluntary act may have greater merit: if someone refuses to be nice unless they are paid, that would seem to pale against almost any voluntary nice / generous action. Also, on speculating about how philosophers might respond on this site if they were paid, a number of factors might come into play. Imagine that for every response that a philosopher makes, the payment would go directly to assist refugees in Africa. Of course, the amount might matter too. In the case of what would seem a trivial amount among reasonably well off persons say, middle class in USA or Europe being paid 25 cents USD might seem absurd, but then again it is sobering to realize that in some parts of the world that 25 cents would be both needed and put to good use.

If you are willing to pay me to write more in the way of donating the equivalent of $100 to Oxfam I doubt that it is in my power to respond with a better reply, but I would be willing to put two or three hours more in seeking out different aspects of your excellent question.

What does it mean to be healthy? Is healthiness intrinsically good and ill

What does it mean to be healthy? Is healthiness intrinsically good and ill health intrinsically bad? When we consider ourselves to be in good health, it seems like we are referring to a linked but disparate set of qualities such as 1) absence of pain generally and normal levels of environmentally-caused pain, 2) ability to experience normal range of pleasures, 3) lack of any bodily impediment to a full range of behaviour, and 4) absence of indication of impending issues which may lead to 1, 2, 3 or death in the future. Those are, at any rate, the qualities that I link with healthiness (though maybe it doesn't capture some issues, such as discomfort, as distinct from pain). Pain seems to be more basic and primitive than illness or health but why is it bad to be in pain? Pain is not a reliable indicator of damage to the body; it is just a feature of consciousness that has its own qualitative characteristics. Buddhism-as-therapy encourages detachment from the experience of pain in order to observe it as a...

Certainly, since even if drinking excessively is bad for us, we may choose to enjoy the sensations associated with it at the risk of future damage. She may decide that she will forego prudence for the sake of present pleasures. We do not have to want to be healthy, there are experiences associated with sickness that some people value. Some philosophers are said to have welcomed the onset of blindness since this may enhance their ability to think without distractions.

It has to be admitted that there is something rather tedious about being healthy. Yes, everything is working properly but why should we find that interesting? When one asks someone how they are and the reply is that all is well, it is difficult to know how to continue, whereas if they have a variety of interesting conditions afflicting their body a whole range of conversation then can emerge. Where would Job have been without his family disasters and his boils, what would he and his "comforters" have had to discuss? Would God have responded to him without the ill health he had earlier inflicted on him? Good health is banal, and illness full of possibilities, perhaps.

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.

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.

The ancient Greek philosophical schools taught comprehensive philosophies of

The ancient Greek philosophical schools taught comprehensive philosophies of life. For them, the whole point of doing philosophy was to determine how to live well. Why do contemporary philosophers not publish philosophies of life? Has the point of doing philosophy changed? If so, why?

or for another kind of response, you might still ask why many/most philosophers don't publish philosophies of life. You'd have to do an empirical survey there, but i'm guessing that for many, a philosophy of life is too big and hard to construct. Much easier to focus on some relatively narrow problem and work out a sophisticated view on it ... And I bet that professionally the incentive is to do the same. A "philosophy of life" is something that aims to the wider market, the general public, but the professional incentive is to impress the professional philosophers rather than the public. (Alternatively, perhaps many professional philosophers feel pretty confident that the main value in life, at least for them, is the very professing of philosophy -- so they are acting out their philosophy of life even without publishing their philosophy of life ....)

great question!