Every now and then I get a class that is just frustrating (I teach university classes by the way). Most of my classes are good. There are always a few students who are frustrating, arrogant, or just don’t get it, but by and large classes are filled with students who actually want to learn and have some capacity to do so. However, there are those rare classes where the highest grade in the class is a 76 and the average grade is a 52. For some students this is because they’re just too lazy to try. For some it’s because they actually are in over their heads and can’t tell up from down–its like I’m speaking to them in Greek, even when I’m not. For some it’s because their lives have just gone completely haywire and they just can handle work that would normally be challenging, but doable. These classes drive me crazy. I find myself frustrated, and generally struggling with a desire to just fail the entire class outright and not even look at the rest of their assignments. I don’t do this, of course, but sometimes the struggle is real. So, what does this have to do with philosophy or writing? Well, I have a question for you: when should we do something that seems pointless? We’re not talking about a ‘choose the lesser of two evils’ decision, but instead a decision that just seems to have no purpose whatsoever. Teaching a class of students that you know will fail. Picking a fight you know you can’t win. Staying in a race in which you can win last place (at best)–John Kasich is a good example at the moment. When do the pointless things actually have a point, and how can we tell?
Here are a few ethical perspectives to prime you’re pump. Consequentialist reasoning (i.e. utilitarianism, ethical egoism, pragmatism, etc) says you don’t. If there’s no point in doing something then you shouldn’t waste the time and effort to do it. If everyone is going to fail, then don’t teach the class. If you can’t win the fight, then give up. If you’ll finish last, then quit.
However, deontological reasoning (i.e. kantianism, divine command theory, etc) argues that you should do your duty, regardless of the outcome. You teach the class because it’s you’re job. You pick the fight because your cause is just. You stay in the race because its your duty to finish.
A third perspectives comes from character reasoning (i.e. aristotelianism, humeanism, etc), and this argues that you should do what leads you to becoming a better person. You teach the class because you are a teacher, and you aren’t the kind of teacher who gives up on students. You pick the fight because you’re the kind of person who stands up for the little guy, even against Goliath. You stay in the race because you’re not a quitter. However, in each of these there is a limit. You don’t give up on students, but you also keep encouraging them to be better students. You stand up for the little guy, but you ask for help from a bunch of other little guys also. You stay in the race, but you pace yourself instead of killing yourself.
So, this is your question: when do pointless things actually have a point and how can we tell? As always, write me a story of 1000 words that presents your response to the question.