Entire industries have grown up advocating that when it comes to a job, we should "do what we love." But should we? This article by St. Olaf College professor of philosophy Gordon Marino considers the virtues of doing a job not because we love it but because we have a duty to others or because we have a natural talent for it.
"My father didn't do what he loved. He labored at a job he detested so that he could send his kids to college. Was he just unenlightened and mistaken to put the well-being of others above his own personal interests? ... You may know the tale of Dr. John Kitchin, a.k.a. Slomo, who quit his medical practice for his true passion -- skating along the boardwalk of San Diego’s Pacific Beach. But is it ethical for the doctor to put away his stethoscope and lace up his skates? Thinkers as profound as Kant have grappled with this question. In the old days, before the death of God, the faithful believed that their talents were gifts from on high, which they were duty-bound to use in service to others. In his treatise on ethics, “The Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals,” Kant ponders: Suppose a man “finds in himself a talent which might make him a useful man in many respects. But he finds himself in comfortable circumstances and prefers to indulge in pleasure rather than take pains in enlarging his happy natural capacities.” Should he? Kant huffs, no -- one cannot possibly will that letting one’s talents rust for the sake of pleasure should be a universal law of nature. ... The faith that my likes and dislikes or our sense of meaning alone should decide what I do is part and parcel with the gospel of self-fulfillment. Philosophy has always been right to instruct that we can be as mistaken about our views on happiness as anything else. The same holds for the related notion of self-fulfillment. Suppose that true self-fulfillment comes in the form of developing into 'a mature human being.' This is of course not to claim that we ought to avoid work that we love doing just because we love doing it. That would be absurd. For some, a happy harmony exists or develops in which they find pleasure in using their talents in a responsible, other-oriented way."
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