PhiloMadrid - Pub Philosophy Meetings in Madrid

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Male - Female Archetypes

Male - Female Archetypes

One of the fascinating things about the human brain is its
ability to recognise patterns. The survival advantages of
this ability and skill are, as we know, quite enormous. For
example, being able to recognise the outline of a wild sabre
tooth tiger from a background of foliage and bushes can be
quite handy at times.

An even more sophisticated application of our pattern
recognition skills is in devising and developing a language.
Language either written or spoken is an intellectual
exercise in pattern recognition and memory recall. And one
of the most important causal consequences of this is
prediction. As a result of language we can, for example,
know what people are going to do, we know what people are
thinking, and we can even extrapolate behaviour by virtue of
being able to fit a single example to a given set of
behaviours. For example, if my friend John tells me that
Simon has a new guard dog, without any further information,
I can safely assume that the dog must have a good bark and
not very friendly to strangers. Of course, the reality might
be different, but until proven otherwise, it is a good
assumption to make about guard dogs. Being able to predict
behaviours and characteristics of things, including people,
is a real advantage for survival. For example, I can tell
friends from enemies and what to expect from each.

However, predictions as we all know, are not always
accurate. Sometimes we make mistakes, but in the medium
term, mistakes and errors can help us to make adjustments
and improve our classifications. Assuming of course that we
are still alive. Predictions are a sort of set theory using
modern marketing techniques; instead of try before you buy,
it's try before you set-tle in! In other words, we can
adjust our predictions depending on the facts as they
develop and behaviours of individuals.

By establishing archetypes for men and women we are doing
something that seems to be both programmed in us and
something we collectively do to help us deal with the people
around us. The meaning of the word archetype, already tells
us something about what type of men and women we're talking
about. Archetype is different from stereotype which tends to
focus on the negative or undesirable characteristics of
people. Archetype refers to perceived common characteristics
of people and if it carries any value judgements it is
because of or when we tend to approve or disapprove of these
common characteristics in people. Therefore, archetype has a
lot in common with the words 'classification' and
'paradigm,' some would say that these are just straight
forward synonyms. Maybe, but usually we don't use paradigm
or classification to influence our social behaviour nor to
make value judgements, not to mention that we tend to
restrict archetype to describe people.

Of course, my simple outline of the theory behind
archetypes, does not do justice to what is involved when we
archetype men and women. One of the questions worth looking
at is: how do we use this classification of people? For
example, how do we use the concept of an archetype father?
It is fair to think that a question like this is more
appropriate in anthropology or sociology than philosophy.
However, this question involves value judgements, meaning
and probability and these topics will always be legitimate
philosophical issues.

A second question we should consider is this: who is
actually responsible for, so to speak, setting up and
managing this body of classification? First of all, another
implied meaning of archetype, and paradigm or
classification, is that these are public classifications and
in circulation in the public domain. The fact that
archetypes are language labels which identify public
behaviour and characteristics is ample evidence that they
are public. In other words, I cannot just go around creating
my personal archetypes and expect to function in a society.
Of course, we can have our own private classifications and
archetypes, but these would be for our own personal use

Fonseca and Penna* suggest that the reason why more women
become nurses is because protecting, promoting and
preserving are characteristics usually associated with
women. And these characteristics are inherited in the
collective consciousness, so women are usually expected to
become nurses. CIO Today** report a study with monkeys which
showed that female infant monkeys tended to play with dolls
while male infant monkeys preferred toy motor cars. Both had
an equal preference for neutral things such as a book. The
researchers speculated that this is due to evolution, where
the female would naturally be interested in the doll and the
male in moving objects. These examples surely indicate that
at least some archetypical characteristics are due to nature
and certainly evolution.

From this it should follow that archetypes that satisfy a
natural function are predetermined in us. Of course, we can
ask how does the innate instinct for an archetype manifest
itself into an act of volition? For example, how does an
instinct to care manifest itself into volunteering to be a
nurse? But nursing, for example, must be contrasted with the
other instinct of motherhood. The desire to become a nurse,
however, seems not be as strong as becoming a mother. There
are many more mothers than there are female nurses. Could it
be that besides having natural archetypes there is also some
sort of hierarchal system amongst them; motherhood being
more pronounced than caring and therefore more prominent?
Could this explain why some mothers stop caring for their
children; their caring instinct is not as strong as their
maternal instinct?

It is quite ironic of nature, or whoever is responsible for
these things, that whilst the female monkey prefers a doll,
the male monkey preferred the car. The irony being that
nature gives females a strong maternal and caring instinct,
whilst men have a strong killing, as a result of the hunting
instinct, and procreating instinct at the same time. This,
of course, is not to suggest that men cannot be caring or
women cannot kill. The report, however, does not say whether
the monkeys were presented with models of guns or spears;
one only hopes that political correctness did not get in the
way of science. Let us assume that it is true that males
preferred the car because of some innate instinct to moving
objects or to throwing things, as suggested in the report.
These preferences by implication represent the hunting
instinct and by default killing is a natural archetypical
characteristic for males. Presumably the bad hunter not only
did not catch dinner, but probably could not defend himself
against aggressors and thus did not progress much along the
conveyor belt of evolution. The question we have to ask
ourselves is this, at what level of intensity does the
killing instinct appear in the archetypical male hunter
today? We can assume that the instinct for reproduction is
still much higher than killing. But even still, what
happened to the instinct of killing in the male? If the
caring instinct in the female has channelled itself into say
nursing, where has the killing instinct gone in the male?

Some would justifiably point out that men still do a lot of
killing and some would go further and claim that the killing
instinct has manifested itself into armies, navies and air
forces. So the killing instinct has not gone away, it is
still there. I'm personally inclined not to accept this
argument as totally representing reality. First of all, self
defence is also a natural instinct and being able to protect
one's self, one's family, land and neighbours is no less a
positive archetype than caring for the same people.
Secondly, the proportion of men who commit murder is
insignificant when taken in the context of the whole
population. I would agree with the suggestion that the
killing instinct in males is no less strong today than when
it was possible for males to hunt mammoths for dinner.

Female oppression and discrimination by males are usually
given as reasons why there are very few women in top jobs
with real power and authority. First of all, there are also
very few men in top jobs with real power and authority
because there are few jobs in the world with real power and
authority. There is usually one chairman of the board of
directors, there is usually one prime minister or one head
of department; unless we are talking about some modern
navies where one is more likely to find more admirals than
ships. My point is that the killing instinct which is
present in the archetypical hunter has been transferred into
board rooms, civil service bureaucracy and the very top jobs
some women talk about. Today, instead of killing with arrows
and spears to survive we kill with profit margins, return on
investments, market share and share holder value. Our sixty
percent market share means that someone else has to hunt in
a different part of the valley. Our high profit margins and
return of investments mean that someone else has to hunt a
different beast for lunch; maybe smaller than ours, full of
bones and more difficult to kill. So our archetypical hunter
became our archetypical managing director or an expert
lawyer in company law.

The foregoing suggests that although some archetypes seem to
be very basic to the nature of human beings, they never the
less do keep up to date and adapt with the progress of
evolution. The caring woman need no longer use her caring
instinct in looking after the people in her tribe, but now
she can become a nurse, a doctor, a nun or whatever. And the
killing instinct need not necessarily result in dead bodies,
maybe today the killing instinct need only result is less
well off people than us. After all, increased resources do
reduce the pressures on survival.

Are there archetypical males and females that are not the
product of nature or evolution? First of all, what would an
artificial archetype look like, and I am not thinking of
train spotters as candidates here? Sure, train spotters are
doing nothing more than collecting patterns of train
movements, but we need something more consequential to
society. Maybe we can find these artificial archetypes by
looking at typical human activity which does not reflect
natural survival. Art and literature come straight to mind
immediately followed by religion and maybe even by
philosophy. Sure the actor or the artist are working for a
living, but for every multi millionaire actor there are
probably hundreds who might just about make ends meet not to
mention the thousand of amateur actors. Could these be the
archetypes that are not established by nature per se, but by
human activity?

How, then, do we judge a good archetypical artist or a good
archetypical monk or nun? Presumably we can judge a good
archetypical mother by the number of children she has or the
care she gives to her off springs. However, if motherhood is
innate in women can we also assume that judging what is an
ideal archetypical mother is also innate in us or at least
in women? Earlier I said that the subject of archetypes is a
legitimate subject for philosophy because it involves value
judgments. But if our judgement in what is an archetypical
mother is innate in us this seems to take away from us our
intentional and conscious instinct of making value
judgements. Therefore, are all value judgments innate in us
or only those relating to natural or evolutionary matters?
And if value judgements are not all in innate in us how do
we decide what is a good archetypical artist for example?

One powerful option is to imagine that there is some
standard deviation aesthetic evaluation involved when
considering art or the holy life of a monk or a nun. So when
we look at a painting by Rembrandt, the majority of us enjoy
it with degrees of pleasure while a small proportion just go
into a trance with the sight of a Rembrandt and an equally
small proportion just don't see what the fuss is all about.
Maybe, but there is an equally alternative argument that
might explain how we reach value judgements on matters like
artificial archetypes. Could it be that only a few people
get to influence the opinion of the majority? Sure the work
by Rembrandt is very breath taking, but if the relatively
rich patrons didn't commission him, Rembrandt wouldn't have
painted anything in the first place. Later, factors such as
the advent of the professional art historian or art becoming
a status symbol followed by the funding of art museums
sealed the fate of a Rembrandt painting. In other words, the
majority might appreciate the aesthetic values of an artist,
but only because a few influential people in our society
said so or did so. Of course, this is not my original idea,
it is just that we do not see this sort of argument used
more forcefully. So judgments might also be the result of
convention as much as respect to some super law of value
judgements. The question is whether it matters and when does
it matter how we arrive to have value judgments?

We also imply value in the use of our language. For example,
we have terms such as a gossiping woman or a loving mother
and of course for men we have such labels as a caring father
or a cad. By just using these labels we are employing
language not only to describe people with similar
characteristics, but we use these labels for two very
important things. Firstly, to give us a ready made value
judgement about people without the need of really getting to
know that person or going through some form of verification
process. If John's boss describes him as a hard working
employee the promotions committee need not go through an
elaborate process to confirm that John is really a hard
working employee before offering him a promotion. The second
use of language relating to archetypes is to pre condition
our behaviour towards people. If Jane is a reliable
confidant I can talk to her about my problems without either
having first to verify that she is a real confidant or even
having to worry about it. The expression, "it is who you
know and not what you that counts in life'' is, I suggest,
the result of the fore going. People who know us have the
ability to archetype us, thus making it easier for others to
deal with us when told about us.

That archetype groupings are used to determine or influence
our judgements and behaviour is in no doubt. However, this
does not guarantee that archetypes are always used for good
or honourable causes. A talented artist can be employed to
paint family portraits of rich patrons, but can also be
occupied to paint propaganda posters for some regime.
Motherhood can be a quality celebrating life or a propaganda
rallying tool for women to have more children to be used for
the ends of evil dictators. What is clear about archetypes
is that for something so powerful in a society, they are
certainly available on a free for all basis. To be used and
abused as we wish, as long as we can influence people. To
balance this is there an archetype of a person who uses
archetypes judiciously? And are men or women more likely to
be more judicious with their judgements?

Take care


*The perspective of the female archetype in nursing by
Fonseca VS, Penna LH Rev Bras Enferm. 2000
Apr-Jun;53(2):223-32 ** Boy, Girl Monkeys
Pick Different Toys, December 12, 2005

Sunday, December 11, 2005



Lying is usually a straight forward moral issue. It is
wrong, an unacceptable behaviour and usually we try to avoid
people who persistently lie to us. The issue is then a
matter of how much are we prepared to tolerate.

We also assume, until proven otherwise, that people who lie
to us do so intentionally. In fact intentionality, seems to
be a necessary condition for something to be a lie. A second
condition for lying, is that someone who lies to us wants us
to believe something to be true knowing that is not the

Usually, when our tolerance runs out, we would take steps to
disassociate ourselves with the person who lies to us. In
many cases this wouldn't create a lot of problems, or at
least nothing that couldn't be dealt with in the normal
course of life. This way of doing things is well within the
principle of the victim. We usually accept that a victim has
a right to be protected or to protect themselves from
someone who does them harm. In the normal course of everyday
life, coping with lying can be easy and the morality
involved is quite straight forward.

A slightly more complex issue is whether 'thou shall not
lie' equates to 'thou shall tell the truth.' This is a
complex issue because as some philosophers have pointed out
one should always tell the truth, while there are cases when
lying is acceptable. I want to consider some aspects about
lying from three situations.

Imagine that the Gestapo knock at your door and simply ask
you if you ever heard people go in out from the flat next
door during the night. Assume that they were very polite
about it and of course did not threaten you or anything.
However, you have heard people next door and you also
believe they were members of a resistance group. What ought
a person in this situation do; tell the truth, lie or act
dumb and pretend that at the time you were asleep? The third
option, of course, is another form of lying.

The first problem we face when dealing with this example, is
this, what is it like to have the Gestapo knock at one's
door? Today, very few people are still alive to know what it
is like to have the Gestapo knock at the door. This is not a
question about the Gestapo or evil regimes nor is it a
question asking what I will do in these circumstances.
Rather, it is a question about what would a person feel and
experience should the Gestapo knock at the door. What would
I do in these circumstances is both meaningless and
irrelevant because the Gestapo have long since disappeared
from society and therefore not likely to be faced with this
situation. And what we would do should an evil secret police
knock at our door today is equally meaningless because there
is no way of knowing until this happens. This is not the
same as finding out what people did when the Gestapo knocked
at the door. The explains why it is true when people tell us
that you don't what it is like to have the Gestapo knocking
at the door.

The question what is it like to have the Gestapo knock at
your front door, is similar to what we ask in every day
language, putting ourselves in someone else's shoes. Is this
question, therefore, some form of empathy? Let's take a
working definition of empathy to mean understanding another
person's state of mind without projecting our feelings or
our state of mind. I personally doubt that if someone has
not gone through the experience of having had the Gestapo
knock at one's door we can have any meaningful empathy or
even metaphorically putting ourselves in their shoes. Apart
from the reasons I will give below, what we seem to be doing
here is: first, because we have experience of fear we are
indeed projecting that experience and secondly, words like
Gestapo, torture, war, have an intrinsic psychological
negative effect on us. If we know what Gestapo means than
one of the effects of knowing the meaning is to create a
state of mind in us that is uncomfortable. Of course, if you
support an organisation like the Gestapo then you'd have
different feelings; but we are not talking about that.

Indeed, the next issue is this, what is the state of mind of
someone having to answer a question asked by the Gestapo? I
do not mean what are they feeling, fear, terror, concern and
so on. I mean what kind of rationalisation would take place
in the mind of someone having to decide: shall I lie, shall
I answer truthfully or shall I act dumb and say nothing. Not
only do we take into account the feelings mentioned earlier,
but more importantly, what are they thinking given their
experiences, knowledge, information about the situation and

The Gestapo dilemma is usually discussed in terms of whether
we should always tell the truth or are we sometimes
justified in lying. We now recognise as a result of the
Gestapo dilemma to lie when faced with situations like the
Gestapo dilemma. However, there is a serious problem with
this dilemma. The dilemma is spelled out with hindsight. We
know what happened to the infrastructure that supported the
Gestapo, we also know what tended to happen to people who
were caught lying to the Gestapo and also know of the
courage it took to lie to the Gestapo. However, we are not
concerned with a history lesson, but with our power of
foresight. Given that foresight is such an unpredictable
power we possess, organisations like the Gestapo try to
minimise this unpredictability by creating an atmosphere of
terror and fear in society. Thus, when they do ask questions
they are more likely to get the answers they want because
they have already prepared the ground for the desired
outcome. In reality we are not sure whether someone would
tell the truth to the Gestapo because of some moral
principles about lying or because of being in a state of
fear and terror.

We can also regard the Gestapo type of dilemmas as lying in
self defence. Few would seriously object to lying in self
defence. Saying to the Gestapo that we did not hear anything
from next door, would technically be a lie, but few
reasonable people would condemn anyone for lying this way.
Although we might accept the principle of lying in self
defence, we still have to define self defence. The
conclusion we can draw from the Gestapo dilemma is that
lying is more complex than just condemnation or not telling
the truth.

Another complex issue about lying is found in the medical
profession. Fatal conditions of a patient can give rise to
opportunities for lying or not telling the patient the whole
truth. One of the reasons we do not like people to lie to us
is because they might end up with some material advantage
over us. There is no question about the integrity of medical
professionals when faced with what I shall call the fatal
condition dilemma. We can assume that when a medical
professional decides to lie in a case of a fatal condition
dilemma, there is no material gain for that professional.

The fatal condition dilemma is usually discussed in terms of
what benefit does a patient derive from being told the whole
truth or just part of it. For example, what's the point of
telling a patient that they can still have extra treatment
when it is clear to medical staff that there is no hope for
the patient. The defence of being economical with the truth
is that there is no need to stress the patient more than
what they are experiencing already. This is a legitimate
point, causing unnecessary anguish might not always be the
best course of action. This position still applies even
after considering the needs of today's life where we have to
organise our affairs, and therefore making the patient aware
of their predicament.

One issue that the medical professional has to consider is
whether the patient can understand the information given by
the carers, in other words, does the patient have the kind
of background to understand the situation. For example, what
does the patient think informed consent means; what does it
mean to the medical carer? Furthermore, is the patient in
the right frame of mind to know what is being said to them?
It is of course hoped that there are always safeguards to
protect the patient, including professional ethics, the
rights of the next of kin and judicial intervention. The
main issue here is the balance between what information to
make available and the ability to interpret that information
correctly. I am not suggesting that professionals should
withhold information or practice some form of professional
chauvinism. As I said earlier it is a matter of, given the
circumstance, how much information can a person process and
what kind of information can the person process. The point
is not about the medical profession or dying patients, but
about information.

Any mention of politicians, more often than not elicits a
reaction to the effect that all politicians are liars. It is
generally accepted that politicians are very good at, to put
it politely, being economical with the truth. Indeed,
politics is a fertile source for lies, half truths and

If we take an average politician in an average democracy,
why would such a politician want to lie or say half truth.
For our purposes we can exclude a desire for material gain
or abject incompetence. In a common political situation it
would be pertinent to ask, given that we know that
politicians lie why do we vote for them? Why don't we vote
in politicians who don't lie to us? In this case, either we
don't mind politicians lying to us or enough people believe
that politicians are doing a reasonable job. From this
situation, we can extract the question, how much are we
responsible for people lying to us? If we find no problem
with people lying to us, then what's going to stop them from
trying to get away with it. We can then go a step further
and ask, if people believe that we think they are liars,
then why not just lie any way?

One of the fears we have about politicians lying is that we
might again end up in a Gestapo state. For this reason, some
states and governments go to extreme lengths to prevent any
lapse from democracy. These internal measures might protect
the state from internal threats, but as we know threats also
come from outside the state. Given this scenario most states
feel justified in conduct a strategy of misinformation and
deception. In a way, the game of politics is involved in the
management of information in the public domain. How much
information to give and what type of information to offer.

In medicine, the information is usually on a one to one
basis. That is, the information given to the patient is
relevant to the patient and for the use of the patient.
However, in politics the situation is more complex.
Information made available in the public domain is freely
available for use and for interpretation by anyone, friend
or foe. The way we look at information and interpret
information determines whether we believe what we are told
or not. Usually, this determines our reaction, political
behaviour and allegiance. But lying in politics can be a
powerful tool, it can be used to safe guard the integrity of
the state or to undermine that very same integrity.

The political scenario, in a way, shifts the onus from the
politician to the populace to interpret any information
given to us. It is not enough to say that politicians lie,
but irrespective of whether politicians do lie or not we
seem to have a duty to intelligently interpret any
information made available. But this raises the same
questions as the medical dilemma above. In that case, the
question is what information to give the patient given the
circumstances and the state of mind of the patient. The
political dilemma then becomes, given the information made
available to us, and given the organisation making that
information available to us how should we interpret that
information. But how can we interpret anything if we do not
have the necessary background. For example, how do we go
about interpreting the niceties of international diplomacy
if we have no idea of what that means. It's as if a doctor
describes the situation to a patient using medical language
found in text books or medical papers. Does lying by others
impose any sort of duty on us to be cautious about what we
are told.

The main theme of the above examples is that there are
instances where lying creates complex issues. When we take
certain backgrounds we are faced with the dilemma of
accepting lying as a strategy. In a way it is not the lying
itself that creates the moral issue, but the circumstances
for lying. Could it be that lying instead of being a moral
problem is a problem of strategy?

Take care


Sunday, December 04, 2005

Luck vs Talent

Luck vs Talent

A good proportion of the people we know would either claim
not to believe in luck or that they were not lucky. A few
might confess to a unique moment in their life to being
lucky, and if you're lucky, you might meet someone who
claims to be lucky.

Now, talent is different. Although not always outwardly
manifested, most of us would like to think they had some
talent. The modest among us would, of course, down play such
a gift and put any successes down to good fortune. Anyway,
we don't want to attract undue attention from busy bodies or
envious folk.

However, the elusive nature of luck means that we are more
likely to be preoccupied with luck than by lack of talent.
After all, we do not need to invest anything for luck,
unlike talent. A gift of talent takes hard work, expensive
maintenance and a lot of time. But everyone around us tells
us that we should really be concerned about talent, and
leave luck to its own fate. No one would advice their
children not to study and to rely on luck in life.

How, then, should we react to this mysterious thing called
luck? What is this luck thing we keep talking about? Let us
start by looking at four situations where we are likely to
ascribe the element of luck. One caveat, though, I'm
thinking of luck in the positive sense and not bad luck.
Winning the lottery and not slipping on a Euro coin and
braking an arm! Furthermore, because luck features so widely
in life I'll restrict myself to these four examples where
both luck and talent can be operating at the same time. Or
at least believed to be the case.

The first case is the lottery. Usually, people play the
lottery or they don't. Those who play the lottery argue that
if they did win big it would make all the money they spent
on lottery tickets pale into insignificance. Those who do
not play argue that the odds are so stacked against winning
that it's worse than throwing the money away. Both are right
of course, but only because they argue from the point of
view that people play the lottery to win.

Lottery organisers know very well that a lottery is a good
way to make money. And that is why they make sure that they
employ a win/win strategy for lotteries: the organiser wins
and the punter wins. Before you think I've lost my head,
just hear me out.

If the organisers didn't make money they wouldn't organise
the lottery, we can assume this as given. The reason why you
though I was crazy is because you thought I said that anyone
who plays the lottery wins. What I said was the punter wins.
You see, it does not matter for the organizers whether half
the punters win two Euros or one punter wins seven million
Euros. However, winning two Euros is not exactly going to
set the adrenaline racing through our body, now, is it? But
seven million is no mean sum of money, now is it? And if you
are not sure, try this test, would get out of bed at six
o'clock in the morning to collect two Euros? Now, how about
seven big ones?

The objective logic of a lottery is not that one plays the
lottery to win, but that the chances of winning the lottery
are zero if one does not play. The rest then becomes a
matter of value judgment and not of luck or rationality.
It's a question of whether one thinks it is worth spending
any money on something that has a probability of
0.00000007151 to win. No luck is involved, it's all
probability no different from the chances of being born the
king of France or finding the sixpence in the Christmas

Of course, some might object by pointing out that this does
not explain why some people win and some don't, which is the
real issue about luck. However, those who object will
discover, after an exhaustive research exercise, that those
who won a fair lottery tended to have the winning ticket and
those who did not win the lottery either tended not to have
the winning ticket or did not have a ticket at all.
Furthermore, no talent was involved in all cases, just value
judgment measured in terms of money spent. The probabilities
were the same for everyone. And those who bought more
tickets did not increase their chances, but simply bought
more probabilities. We might say that a lottery ticket
represents, in money terms, the value of a very small
probability. If a series of on/off switches can have a
monetary value, why not a probability?

I had a friend who was very good at getting money playing
slot machines; I mean getting, not winning. She was very
popular with bar staff because she seemed to win big on a
regular basis and this encouraged the other punters to have
a go. Without going into details, she once explained her
strategy. It all boils down to the simple fact that slot
machines also exploits the win/win/win strategy to maximum
effect. In other words, the slot machine operator wins, the
bar owner wins and the punter also wins. A slot machine
system works because, like the lottery, it exploits the WOW!
factor to the full.

Slot machines, therefore, adopt the same strategy as the
lottery, instead of paying small sums of money they
accumulate all the intake and at a certain threshold pay a
big sum to the punter who happens to be playing the machine
at the time. So, instead of giving value for money to
everyone, which is fair but boring, they give a few punters
a very big win of say thirty or forty Euros. Now that gets
everyone's adrenaline flowing, hence the win/win strategy.
My friend, of course, had the talent of knowing, more or
less, when the machine was going to pay up. In her case more
talent than luck was involved. And just in case you are
wondering, I don't play the machines!

We'd all like to have the dream job of our lives; and I
don't mean the quality controller for a bed manufacturer. I
mean working with job satisfaction no end, get paid serious
money, and management are reverently grateful. We all agree
that this scenario has more to do with talent than with
luck, although we would also think of the person with such a
job as being lucky.

I know someone who, for our purposes, has a dream job and
yes management do sometimes express their gratitude. We
would say that he was lucky, lucky to get the job and lucky
how he got the job. He answered an ad in a newspaper for a
job that was definitely two or three levels below his
general work history, but at the time he was between jobs,
as modern jargon would say. He went for an interview and
heard nothing from the company, a few weeks later he got a
call from the company for another interview. He left the
second interview with an offer for a job two levels above
his work history and with perks he didn't knew existed in
the labour market. There was no question about talent, he's
more than qualified for his job.

Luck, if you like, came into the picture because the company
started looking for a national manager at the same time as
the original job ad. But is that luck or just the way things
turned out? I would say it's the way huge companies tend to
operate, they change policies and requirements at short
notice. There was nothing lucky about this person seeing the
original job ad either. He knew about all the jobs going in
his industry over a period of six months; he was meticulous,
he was professional and he had talent.

Like the lottery, and in a way my friend playing slot
machines, it was a question of judgement. This person
thought it was worth applying for a job that was two or
three levels below his work history; even if he was prepared
to turn it down if the company offered him the job. His
talent played its part, and not the luck factor, when he
recognised that the job being advertised was on the direct
career path of his profession. From the job being advertised
to the job he got, he can go on to an Europe wide management
level position. Further more, the company was the kind of
company which appreciates talent.

Don't forget that I'm considering here situations that can
be attributed for their positive outcome to what might be
luck or talent. From the three cases I gave so far two of
them would probably be attributed to luck by outsiders, but
to talent by those who know the real details. The other case
is just a matter of value judgment and how much we think our
judgements are worth. Let's move on to the fourth case.

Economists, and facts tend to bare them out, say that long
term investments in the stock market can be very profitable.
Of course, this is not an advice to invest on the stock
market, but that money invested in the stock market tends to
make a profit in the long term, other things being equal.
This is not rejected by pointing out that some people have
lost a fortune on the stock market when the companies or
industry they invested in went bust. This is the same
argument as buying a lottery ticket that does not win, a
slot machine that is not due to pay up or a job application
that is rejected. It's all part of the game.

However, we can safely say that under a capitalist system,
the stock market is one of the best games of chance where
luck and talent are set against each other. The stock market
also works on a win/win strategy and the WOW! factor. We
already know the arguments for the win/win strategy, so
where does the WOW! factor come in? I would argue that
unlike the lottery or the slot machine models, the WOW!
factor in the stock market is not built into the system. Or
at least it is not its unique selling point, but rather a
consequence of employing talent to the system. For every
broker who makes a seven figure salary on the stock market
there are hundreds of other people just making a normal
living. This is a place where having talent can really pay
dividends. So how is it that companies go bust and brokers
lose fortunes if not literally break the bank?

Of course, there are always economic down turns and
competition, but usually these mega big disasters are not
due to natural causes. In some cases it might be that the
talent of a broker has reached its limit and in others greed
took over. In other words, what we usually have here is a
case of bad judgement instead of some form of bad luck.

So far, what I hope to have shown is that in situations
where we would expect luck to be the deciding factor we find
judgement playing an equally important part. And in cases
where we expect talent to be the deciding factor we discover
that judgement also plays an important part.

So what is luck? The word luck is very susceptible to some
kind of naturalistic fallacy. Originally, the fallacy was to
describe or reduce an ethical concept, like good, into
something that's not ethics, but, for example, natural.
Likewise, with luck we are tempted to think that it is
something metaphysical that gets mixed up in a state of
affairs, which turns an event in our favour. Metaphysical
ingredients cannot be mixed up with physical one's to make a
wonderful pudding that out of this world.

We also usually describe people as being lucky. As if these
people had some quality which they enjoyed and not us. For
example, we say that a person is lucky in the same manner of
speech and frame of mind as, that person is six feet tall.
We can confirm that a person is six feet tall by measuring
them, and we can, supposedly, tell if someone is lucky by
seeing how much money they win on the lottery. But the
lottery is designed to enable someone make a lot of money,
whereas one's height is a causal factor of evolution and
family genetics. Tall parents tend to have tall children,
blue eyed parents tend to have blue eyed children; but,
buyers of lottery tickets tend to win prizes does not make

On the other hand, we can say that someone is talented and
look at the kind of things they do or the kind of enterprise
they bring about. There is no mystery with talent, but
compared with luck talent has two very important features.
Firstly, we know that most people are capable of showing
some talent in something, even if they have to try harder or
practice more. Secondly, there is nothing to stop us or bar
our way from being talented. All we need is to have the
desire or the motivation to try. However, there is
fundamental and basic distinction between luck and talent.
In the case of the lottery, only one person can win the top
prize; there can only be one person employed in a dream
position. These things are designed to favour one against
the rest, but not talent; it is not exclusive. Everyone can
be talented and no one need be worse off for it. Of course,
there are always those who are more talented than others,
but that's a different matter.

Another reason why we give such importance to luck is
because we really believe in the principle of causality. No
one believes that things just happen out of the blue.
However, when things turn out to be different from what we
expected, some tend to resort to such concepts as; luck, bad
luck, fate, miracle, good or bad fortune and maybe some
supernatural force. The causality principle prevents us from
accepting things can happen at random or that there is no
understandable explanation of how and why things happen. But
in nature there are things that happen at random, one of
which is the tunnelling effect in atomic particles. In
nature there are limits to what we can know.

Could it be that we use the word luck to explain part of a
causal chain that we just don't understand? What is sure, at
least in the four cases above, is that the epistemic state
of mind of each person involved was as decisive as any hint
of luck.

Take the lottery for example, we assume that just because
the probability is so low we can just as well dismiss the
concept of probability and replace it by this mysterious
thing called luck. Sure, having a probability of
0.00000007151 is not exactly sexy, but its much better than
zero. It is, however, irrelevant how big or how small the
probability is for something to happen, what matters is
whether there is or there isn't a calculable probability.
But just because we know what probability is involved in
some matter it doesn't mean: a) we can know precisely what
is going to happen, b) that we can somehow always manipulate
the causal process or the causal outcome and c) that someone
else won't get there before us.

Take anther example from the world of employment or
business. What are the chances that a company, which is
planning a reorganisation and an ambitious investment
programme, won't be recruiting new people? And what if they
operate in a stable growth market? Of course, we can
understand this scenario and need not rely on luck if a good
job comes someone's way. Fair enough, let's look at the real
world. Take Bill Gates, if ever there was someone who won
big on the jackpot of work and business it is him. Who
wouldn't describe Gates as being lucky? But of course, there
are some who would say that in reality, it was IBM'
stupidity by selling Gates the DOS operating system for PCs
that made Bill Gates what he is today. Lucky? Or Bad
judgement? It's not even clear whether it was a case of good
judgement on Gate's part to by the DOS OS or a dare and do
to spend some cash on a piece of interesting software. Don't
forget, Gates was a computer geek before he was a multi

So, just because we don't understand a process we cannot
just assume that some extra-natural or metaphysical force is
at play. Our lack of knowledge is not a reason to assume
that something mysterious is going on. Nor our inability to
know is a reason for such mystery. From our four examples it
is clear that our state of knowledge and the amount of
information we have play an important part on how we
understand events, how we manage events and how to apply our
talent and judgement.

The value of luck for some people is not only related to the
causative effects of luck, but that we use luck to explain
why things happen the way they happen. Luck can explain
things even if we don't know why or cannot know why. And in
support of this chain of thought I want to refer to a
precedent, from science no less, as an analogy. Take the
concept of the square root of minus one (i). As far as
ordinary mathematics is concerned this (i) does not exist,
but in the world of high level mathematics it an important
number. It is so important that without it our modern world
would not exist because it features everywhere that involves
quantum physics, nuclear physics and the atomic world. There
is, however, one important difference here. With (i) ,
scientist can still use it to bring about the desired
outcomes, irrespective of whether they know what it is or
not. They can build power stations, manufacture computers,
design medicines and so on. Luck, however, is not only
mysterious, but we cannot even use it to bring about
anything. How do we add luck to the equation of life?

I earlier said that luck is exclusive; for example, only one
person can win the lottery. But as I explained above the
exclusivity of luck is brought about, at least in our four
cases, by the design of the situation. The organisers of the
lottery want that only one person wins the lottery.
Companies want that only one person is the national manager.
However, as with (i), winning a prize is in the nature of
the event. Atomic particles have this relationship of (i),
lotteries have prizes, it's the nature of the thing. If we
contrast this with social benefits, getting unemployment
benefit is part of the system and if we are entitled, but
don't get any we can legitimately complain. It is the same
with lottery, if we have the winning ticket, but are not
given the prize wan can legitimately complain.

Our prejudices about luck lead to some serious ethical
issues. In Britain there was an infamous case of a convicted
rapist winning a seven figure jackpot on the lottery. When
he was out on temporary release he bought a lottery ticket
and won. One of the issues was whether the government should
continue spending tax payers' money in protecting his
identity, he can afford it now. Should he keep the money
since he bought the ticket when he was technically a
prisoner? And of course, some people even asked whether he
should pay any compensation to his victim.

However, the big question no one was asking, but everyone
wanted an answer for is this: is it just that a rapist
should win the lottery? Not, whether a rapist should receive
the prize money, but whether a rapist should be lucky enough
to win the lottery? This question goes to the heart of what
is justice or whether there is natural justice, if not legal
justice. It might even go further and question the whole
notion of morality; a rapist winning the lottery or a drop
out becoming the richest person on Earth. Where is the
morality in this, it's as absence as hardcore pornography
Why wasn't it the victim who won the jackpot. Why wasn't it
the PhD graduate who never missed a class or a lecture who
became the richest man on Earth by selling software?

After all is said and done, we know that in general our
lives would be better if we were talented, however, what
will our lives be like without luck?

Take care



© of the respective authors,
™ of the respective owners,
® of the respective registered owners.

Philosophy, Social Issues, Classical Philosophy, Citizen Philosophy, Applied Philosophy, Non-Political Meeting, Non-Religious Meeting,