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The Problem of Self-Esteem: Comparison and Competition

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Most of us want to feel good about ourselves. We want to think that what we do is worthwhile. We want others think well of our efforts. Some people claim to be indifferent to the opinions of others, but I think we should be sceptical of their claims. Their indifference is often an act — something they do, paradoxically, to attract attention and good will. They want other people to look at them and say ‘I envy their lofty indifference.’ Even if it is true that some people are genuinely indifferent to the opinions of others, I suspect they still want to feel good about what they do themselves, i.e. even if they don’t care about gaining the esteem of others, they care about gaining their own self-esteem.But self-esteem can be a tricky thing to cultivate, particularly in a world of competitive endeavours. The philosopher Robert Nozick once argued that self-esteem was necessarily competitive and comparative: one person could gain self-esteem only if another person lost out. He also argued that the best way to overcome the injustice this might entail was to create a society in which there are many different ways to win self-esteem.In what follows, I want to look at Nozick’s arguments in a bit more detail. I do so through the lens of Andrew Mason’s short article “Nozick on Self-Esteem”. As we shall see, Mason challenges some of Nozick’s foundational assumptions about the nature of self-esteem.1. Is Self-Esteem Necessarily Comparative and Competitive?To understand where Nozick is coming from, we need to understand self-esteem. Self-esteem is a positive self-assessment. It is a belief that you score highly on some valuable attribute. For example, you might attach your self-worth to skill in writing or artistic expression. In that case, you will have high self-esteem if you believe that you score highly on those skills.But how do you know that you score highly on those skills? This is the critical question. Nozick’s claim is that the only way you can tell whether you score. . .

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News source: Philosophical Disquisitions

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