Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press
本文发表于时报观点与评论版面，作者TODD MAY是克莱姆森大学(Clemson University)的教授。
Have you ever looked at someone else’s life with envy, just enough envy that you wish for a moment or two (or longer) that you could be them? Michelle Obama with her combination of grace and passion; George Clooney with his stylish attractiveness and ironic humor; Usain Bolt or Lionel Messi or some other icon of sport.
Or maybe somebody not famous, just someone you know who seems to have a charmed life: a challenging and gratifying job, a warm and attractive spouse, a spacious apartment with a nice view (and yes, a habit of getting pre-check when they travel). Are there moments when, if the opportunity to be them were on offer, you might be tempted by it?
Would we really want this? And what might we learn about ourselves or how we see our lives if we seriously considered it?
To be sure, there are complications here. If you had someone else’s life, who would raise your children or love your spouse or take care of your parents in their old age? In fact, if you were someone else your own children would not have come into existence in the first place. That’s not a happy thought. To address this, perhaps the best way to cast this is in terms of a trade: If you had their life then they would have yours, and live it exactly as you would have. Your responsibilities would be covered, so there would be nothing to feel guilty about.
If we think of it this way, then the question of wanting to be someone else is a question of what we might call experience: Is there anybody else whose experience of life you would prefer, assuming everything else would be equal?
One immediate reservation about wanting someone else’s experience is that my desire to be someone else (i.e., have his experience) is grounded in values and desires that I have, and so I have to be me in order to want to be him. However, it’s not clear that that presents any real hurdle to such a desire. I could say that it is precisely by my own lights that the experience of being them would be better, and that there would be at least enough overlap with them that they are instantiating my values and desires but have a better experience than I do. So I can still prefer to be them.
Alternatively, it might be said that I don’t really know anyone else well enough to know whether they really have those values and desires. The idea would be that I don’t know enough about others to know whether I would trade experiences with them. But one could still argue that inasmuch as I have a familiarity with another person I would want to be them.
I think that, on reflection, most of us would not want to trade with another person, no matter how successful or enticing their lives seem — or even are in reality. To see why, though, we’ll need to switch our angle of vision. We will have to look at our own experiences rather than at theirs, or perhaps look at our experiences first. What would I be willing to give up to be another? My relationships with everyone — children, spouse, friends — and my whole history. I wouldn’t have undergone it. My loss would be that of the whole of my own experience.
To be sure, there are people who have had extraordinarily difficult lives. For them a trade of their experience for another’s might well be worth it. But how many of us find ourselves there, at that extreme?
I have a particular history with people that I care about. Of course, the person I’ve traded with would also have cared about them, and in the same way, so what I would have done for their sake will be done. But that history of my own experience is gone. Instead I’ve had a history with another set of people that I don’t know as well as the people I’ve had relationships with. What would that have been like? I can’t really tell. Perhaps the person has a job they enjoy and is comfortable financially and is popular or beautiful. But are those differences from me deep enough for me to want to trade?
At that level it’s like asking whether I would trade the experiences of my deepest attachments for some goods that don’t seem as important as the relationships. The exact trade would instead be the experience of my attachments for their surface amenities plus the important stuff — stuff I’m not so familiar with in their case.
Looked at this way, such a trade begins to seem a lot less promising.
One objection, though, might be that as long as their relationships are good ones — ones that they have enjoyed experiencing — I don’t need to know exactly what they are like. But this objection has a difficulty: Even if those experiences are good ones, would they be the ones I would want to trade for? Here is where my own values and desires, the ones I have developed over the course of my life, really begin to show their force. The experiences that I value in my life stem not simply from the fact of enjoyment but from the fact that those were the experiences I value. And I value them because of who I am.
So the issue is not just that the experiences of the other person are good ones, but above and beyond that, that they are the kind of good experiences that I would want to have, and want to have enough that I would trade in my own for them. The experiences of the other would have to be a lot like my experiences — i.e., the ones that are most important to me — in order to be candidates for a trade.
And that seems not only something I can’t know but also something that may not be very likely.
Moreover, we go through many experiences that are difficult with people we care about and do not regret having done so. For instance, when one’s child has social difficulties or a friend loses a job, it is not only arduous for them to go through, but we also experience sympathetic pain as we accompany them through their struggles. We would rather they hadn’t had to deal with those problems. Given that they did have to, though, we want to have been there to support them. We don’t want someone else to have been there. We want to have been there ourselves, even though it was not a joyous experience for us.
Of course we would prefer that they hadn’t had those experiences in the first place. But that is more for their sake than for ours. Given that they did have those experiences, we would have chosen to undergo our own unpleasant experiences alongside them. Moreover, to the extent that such experiences were burdensome to us, we might have also preferred for our own sake that they had not occurred, but that is a more trivial issue. It is an issue of how our lives have gone in particular unpleasant moments and not an argument for trading lives. The argument for trading lives would have to be based on a willingness not to have had the relationship at all, with whatever adversities it entailed.
When I ask about trading my life for that of another, I’m looking from my perspective and asking whether I would want to have the particular quality of relationships that the other has. And, whatever that quality is, it is likely to differ from the quality of my own relationships, relationships that are deeply meaningful to me. I’m comparing what I value in my own experience with what I value in an experience the most significant features of which lie outside my grasp. Once we see this, for most of us a trade, even if we could have one, would not likely be in the offing.
We live in world in which the lives of those with more wealth or fame or recognition or influence or beauty are constantly placed before us as though they were something to aspire to. And, of course, there is nothing wrong with aspiration in itself. But to the extent these lives are presented to us as something to be hankered after, as lives we would certainly want if only we could have them, we are presented with an image that asks us to forget what is important to us. In an age of acquisitiveness, and one moreover in which the normative constraints on acquisitiveness have largely fallen away, it is comforting — and perhaps even imperative — to recognize that of all the personal histories that we might choose from, it is our own that would be our likely choice.
Todd May是克莱姆森大学(Clemson University)的教授，他最近的一本书是《脆弱的生命：接受我们的软弱》(A Fragile Life: Accepting Our Vulnerability)。