We thought about creating a department called “Negative Thoughts of the Day” for this unusual look into human potential, hidden and otherwise, but then we realized that the more we addressed the situation, the more we were demonstrating our lack of understanding of the issues addressed here.
So this one’s for y’all to figure out. When you do, please let us know what it means because not knowing is driving us crazy. But remember, we’re only asking. No pressure, y’hear?
Ignore the pressure to ‘make the most of’ your talents
by Brian O’Connor
At some point in your life, you were almost certainly told to “make the most of” your talents. Perhaps it was your mother or father, or a teacher or wise elder — or an actor who played one on TV. And at some point in your life, you almost certainly judged someone who, in your estimation, was not “making the most of” her talents, and was therefore “wasting” her time.
This conventional wisdom chimes with the grander visions of human perfection offered by some philosophers. They tell us that we have a moral duty to realize our talents. We owe it to ourselves to maximize our capacities for doing things. We also have a duty to bring those capacities to wider society. Given these duties to ourselves and to others, we cannot — according to the moralists — stay idle. Doing little with our lives and simply getting by with as little effort as possible is an offense against our humanity.
The philosopher Immanuel Kant, for instance, famously argued that any intelligent pleasure-seeking wastrel can be convinced that he has a duty to improve his “fortunate natural predispositions.” Think about how strong that claim is: It means the call of duty to self-improvement can grab us in ways that the prospect of pleasure cannot.
Kant insists that we simply can’t defend idleness to ourselves. Even if we could live well in idleness, we are rational enough to accept it would be beneath us. And we cannot morally recommend it to others. We want our capacities to be developed “since they serve” us and are given to us “for all sorts of possible purposes.”
This argument wraps conventional wisdom within a fancy-sounding moral defense. But it doesn’t add up….