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One gets the impression that the term "escapism" is used pejoratively to

One gets the impression that the term "escapism" is used pejoratively to describe literature or other forms of fiction that have no perceived value. Is escapism really something to be looked down upon, however? In the same way that a back massage or a half an hour of meditation might help one unwind and put the stress of a hectic day behind oneself, isn't escapist fiction something valuable and useful to us all, in some form or another? Why is the notion so often pejorative?

An interesting question, thank you. I am certainly not averse to taking a spy thriller, say, on holiday with me! It seems to me that the pejorative sense of the term 'escapism' has to do less with the escape part than what is escaped from. If all that were at stake were the general tension of life – and thus in that sense akin to the massage – then fair enough. However, surely things are different when the fiction in question is inviting us to escape from having concern for serious moral, social or political issues. So, for example, when the setting of the escapist fiction is a war zone, inner city life, or some such, one could plausibly claim that this is unjustly diverting attention from a real problem, or pretending that solutions are easier than they really are. Similarly, if escapist literature is not just a pleasant diversion now and again, but the readership engages with nothing else, then one begins to suspect that the escapism is less a helpful therapy than an unhealthy mode of life that consists primarily of avoidance.

Are values nothing more than priorities and preferences, or is there something

Are values nothing more than priorities and preferences, or is there something deeper at work?

Some philosophers do think that moral and aesthetic values (right, wrong, good, evil, beauty, ugliness) are reflections of proper or correct priorities and preferences. It is proper to prefer compassion, for example, over cruelty. Some seek to articulate the best values in terms of those things (acts, events, properties) that would be approved of by an ideal observer. There are, however, more skeptical philosophers who think values are neither (in some objective sense) proper or improper except in terms reflecting what individuals or communities happen to prefer. This is sometimes a part of what has been called "error theory" because it claims that most people who are committed to moral (aesthetic / religious) values are in error when they take such values to be objectively binding. J.L. Mackie takes up such a stance in the book Ethics; Inventing Right and Wrong. I personally suggest Mackie's position is deeply problematic and the same reasons he offers to be skeptical about the objective validity of ethics could be applied about the objective validity of evidence relationships (or epistemology) and the latter would be (again, in my view) highly implausable.

How can one determine whether anything has intrinsic or innate value? Would we

How can one determine whether anything has intrinsic or innate value? Would we not, in all cases, be forced to concede that a person could theoretically say that they hold the object in question to have no value at all?

I don't work on this sort of thing, so I won't comment upon the question how one might actually decide whether something has intrinsic value. But I will comment on the overall orientation of the question. It seems to be assumed that, if someone could deny that the object has any value, then that would someone call into question whether it had intrinsic value. But why? People can be wrong about all kinds of things. The fact that something is of intrinsic value does not imply that any particular person will recognize that value. It does not even imply that anyone at all will recognize that value. We might all be completely ignorant of it.

So let me ask a question back: What's the significance of the restriction to "intrinsic or innate" value here? Does this worry seem more pressing when those words are included than if they are not? If so, why?

If someone died at age 95, we wouldn't think him unfortunate--it isn't a bad

If someone died at age 95, we wouldn't think him unfortunate--it isn't a bad thing, for him, not to have lived much longer. However, if someone died at age 15, we would thing him unfortunate. Why? I suspect that our intuition here has to do with the fact that 95 is well above the average life expectancy for humans, while 15 is well below average. But why should that matter here?

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.

Can you in detail explain the diffrences between intrinsic value and

Can you in detail explain the diffrences between intrinsic value and instrumentally value?

"Instrumental value" is the easiest to begin with. It is the value that something has because it helps you get something that you really ("instrinsically") value. So money is valuable because you can buy things that you really like/want with it. Money would not be valuable if you could not use it in that way.

Intrinsic value is "value for its own sake" or "value independent of the consequences." Kant thought that goodness is instrinsically valuable. (Others, for example Bentham, thought that goodness is valuable only in so far as it increases the total happiness of a community.)

I have a question about whether individual lives are innately valuable. Say for

I have a question about whether individual lives are innately valuable. Say for example that genetic engineering reaches the point where all human beings could be engineered to be born without any disabilities. I know that this would be beneficial because it would alleviate the suffering of the person who would have otherwise been disabled and those who would have been responsible for him or her. However, does being free from a physical or mental disability make a human being more worthy than a person who is disabled? Or compare a multi-lingual person to a monolingual person. Is the value of a life dependent on the person's productivity and skills or is life innately valuable?

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.

Dear philosophers,

Dear philosophers, I am a 23-year-old boy living in a developed country (in my opinion, it is an important detail to underline) and I very often find myself reflecting on this question, never being quite pleased about the answer. Why is it widely accepted by the overculture that the technological progress applied to everyday life helps to live better than the past and feel happier, when as a matter of fact our existences become much more complex and unpleasant, especially for the young people? My remark about complexity in particular refers to the new educational system, the labour skills more and more oriented to few qualified jobs, the social and interpersonal relations, the welfare state, the financial and technological world and so on...Is the contemporary the best of all possible worlds? I don't think so. Francesco from Bari, Apulia Region, South Italy

I appreciate your question and identify two major subquestions in your comments:

1) Why is it widely accepted that technological progress helps us live better and increase happiness?

Well for one thing, technology is literally a matter of life and death for some of us. As someone who survived cancer in my mid-20's, I'm very aware of the fact that technology makes all sorts of things possible. It increases our life expectancy, it increases our leisure time, it broadens the options concerning how we can spend our leisure time, etc. So, I have to go with the mainstream view that technology does help us live a happier life.

Yet, I also appreciate your point that technology is not unqualifiedly positive. Your comment about the complications it introduces into life reminds me of a line from the classic movie 'The Gods Must Be Crazy' where the narrator mentions that in 'advanced' societies children are 'sentenced' to over a decade of school. Furthermore, lots of technology can be misused. 'Web' relationships can become a substitute for 'real' personal relationships. Nuclear weapons or environmental destruction from our technological life style may ultimately devastate civilization.

Therefore, I agree with your answer to your second question: Is the contemporary world the best of all possible worlds? Of course, not. But, at least in many ways it is preferable to previous ways of life.

Duty, engagement, rules, living a life "conditioned" vs. one free, maybe

Duty, engagement, rules, living a life "conditioned" vs. one free, maybe unconventional, following our own inspiration even if it doesn't seem supported by what we call "common sense". Many of us live a life that often is the result of choices influenced by many different conditionings, sometimes unhappily. It is not easy for everybody to understand what one really wants for himself in this life, and strong moral conditioning prevents radical choices. Where I should find more about this topic ? Thank you.

There are a number of classic works that treat the sorts of issues that you raise. (Interestingly, for what it's worth, relatively few contemporary 'analytic' philosophers have engaged these issues.) Chief among them, perhaps--at least in the Western tradition--are Plato's Republic and the New Testament, both of which, I think, are concerned with the kinds of issues that you mention. More relatively recent works that engage the topics that you mention include Henry David Thoreau's Walden, Martin Heidegger's Being and Time, and Jean-Paul Sartre's Being and Nothingness. (Sartre, of course, is the popularizer of the notion of 'radical choice'.) A very recent book by a living philosopher that treats the issues to which you refer is Susan Wolf's Meaning in Life and What Matters.

Why do we, psychologically/philosophically speaking, put such an emphasis on

Why do we, psychologically/philosophically speaking, put such an emphasis on things being "real"? What got me thinking about this question is the nature of our memories - while I can certainly recall some "half-memories" which probably never actually happened or even simply fabricate some, why do we place less value on these memories than "true" ones, even though they could theoretically have the effect on us?

great question ... we might make some useful distinctions -- whether memories, beliefs, etc. are 'true' does NOT make an immediate difference to the individual, psychologically: we act on what we think, believe, remember etc., and in that sense the false thoughts/memories are just as 'valuable' or 'real' or important as the true ones .... however in many ways we like to orient ourselves towards the truth, to get our beliefs to be true, etc.; and thus when we discover some belief/memory is false we want to correct it .... (why we do or should care about truth in general is a separate issue; but most people simply do) -- so from that perspective, there's a large difference between the true ones and the false ones, as we seek to overcome the latter ....

the "idealist' tradition in philosophy -- esp figures such as George Berkeley -- would ultimately deny the difference between the true ones/false ones (or at least reconstrue it very differently from the way I've implicitly done here) -- so if you want to pursue your idea in more detail, I'd recommend exploring the work of Berkeley ...

hope that's useful --


What does philosophy say about the repetitive nature of experience? For

What does philosophy say about the repetitive nature of experience? For instance, say I have five grapes that I could eat but they are not necessary for my nutrition. I would be eating them purely for pleasure. I have three choices: 1) do not eat them, 2) eat some of them, or 3) eat all of them. I have memories of eating grapes, so I could just rely on the memories to experience the pleasure of eating a grape (a pale substitute for the real thing). Or, I could eat one of them, which would allow me to experience the taste and texture of a grape in the present. Or, I could eat more than one grape which would prolong the experience but not really add more taste or texture to the experience of eating just one. However, after eating one or more grapes, I would only have another (fading) memory of eating grapes which would not really add to my previous stock of memories of eating grapes. If much of life has this repetitive nature to it, is there any value to doing anything more than once (assuming that...

The reason we do things more than once is that we value doing them more than once, either because we find the things pleasurable or otherwise valuable in and of themselves or because doing them advances other values of ours. (Here, I am using "value" pretty loosely; I simply mean that we perceive ourselves to be gaining something from the relevant things.) So take your grape example. If I like grapes, and if I have an opportunity to eat them on numerous occasions, then, when I'm hungry and feel like eating grapes and grapes are available, I'll want to eat them. The memory of eating a grape is not going to satisfy my hunger, either for filling my stomach or for experiencing the eating of a grape. Of course, we sometimes have vivid memories of eating things -- Proust's madeleines are perhaps the quintessential example -- but a memory of something is very different (in numerous ways) from experiencing the thing itself.

When you think about it, it's not surprising that we do the same things over and over again, especially when it comes to what gives us pleasure. When it's something as simple as food, the pleasure is more or less constant from repetition to repetition, although certain factors -- such as not having had a food we love for a long time -- may increase or decrease the pleasure in various instances. In other cases -- I'm a fanatical knitter, so knitting comes to mind here -- when we repeat things we often get better at them, and there's value in this trajectory of improvement. There are also things that we have to do over and over again in order to survive: we organize our lives, both personally and socially, according to certain patterns (getting up at roughly the same time each day, transporting ourselves to work via the same route, checking our e-mail, holding election days on the second Tuesday of November, and so on). Finally, most of us value familiarity: we want to see people we like or work with or need things from on a regular basis.

In some cases, the value of doing something over and over again produces diminishing returns. After playing that Xbox game for the 1,000th time, you might get tired of it. And if you eat 50 grapes, you might feel sick. But this isn't because the 50th grape-eating-repetition is inherently worse, or no better, than the first one. It's because, when we're full, eating more grapes has no value for us.