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What defines Important?

  1. Jan 25, 2006 #1
    Importance is hard to define when you take "survival' or "keeping up appearances" out of the equation.

    What makes something important beyond the fear of losing it or beyond the fact the the ego has made it important?

    What makes some things more important than others?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 26, 2006 #2
    Taking a utilitarian approach (whether utilitarianism is a valid ethical theory or not), it would seem that one thing is more important than another if the first brings about more happiness for more people. So, what brings happiness to only a single person could be construed as less important than something that brings happiness to a large segment of the population. Of course, to that person, it may not necessarily be less important, meaning that importance is a relative term. If something were to have absolute importance over another, I would thing this implies some kind of ethical and moral absolutism.
  4. Jan 26, 2006 #3
    If the number of people who derive happiness from a certain thing is what determines its importance then can a person be more important because they have the ability to maintain the happiness of a larger number of people?... (eg.... Brintney Spears, for example... being more important than someone who does not supply as much happiness to a large number of people.)

    This model doesn't fit the democratic model of ethics where each and every individual is important... or is seen to hold the potential of providing a useful function for all of society.

    In utilitarian terms the sun would be the most important thing to all the people on earth since without it, we'd be less than happy.
  5. Jan 26, 2006 #4
    If you asked Britney's fans if she is more important than someone they don't know (e.g., a random person in some foreign land), some may say yes (but also some will say no one is more important than any other one person). She is certainly more important for their happiness. Again, importance is a very relative term. I don't think you can find something universally accepted as important unless you include survival, etc. in the equation.
  6. Jan 26, 2006 #5


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    Presumably a persons values from which on establishes some criteria and with which one evaluates the importance of something.

    'Importance' is in the mind of the perceiver. :biggrin:
  7. Jan 27, 2006 #6
    True enough... but how did it get there?

    For instance did we derive the idea of importance from the mechanisms of our environment (ie: existence as opposed to non-existence)? The mechanisms of our environment seem to point to maintaining existence rather than letting it all go to H E double toothpicks.

    Does our sense of importance, whether its self-importance or a sense of importance in others/other things come from observing the importance of gravity to a properly functioning solar sysem or the many other systems that support existence?
  8. Jan 27, 2006 #7


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    That is one of those fundamental meaning/purpose of life questions! :biggrin:

    I suppose it depends on one's mind (and the initial conditions, ICs), one one's life experiences (boundary conditions, BCs), and on what one has learned from one's life experiences.

    Each of us is unique and different, our IC's and BC's are different, and what each of use learns is unique and different.

    So what is important to me may be very different than what is important to anyone else.

    It is both as simple and complex as that.
  9. Jan 27, 2006 #8
    Life is a PDE?!?!?:rofl: :rofl:
  10. Jan 27, 2006 #9
    This the the superficial part of importance... that it varies from individual to individual.

    But, there are basic needs that every person experiences. Just like there is the basic need for a sun to be a the centre of a solar system.

    Each and every person needs to breath... and so air is of the utmost importance to them... whether they realize it or not. This would exclude those people with suicidal tendencies who find nothing important.... or.... too much of life to be so much more important than themselves that they give up and die... one way or another.

    So the question remains... what has instilled the concept or the mechanism that we know, today, as IMPORTANCE?

    (It is important(!) to note that fire was not important until it was discovered... people got along fine with raw vegis and uncooked meat... if that's what they ate.... does a simple discovery of a convenience make the convenience important?)
  11. Jan 30, 2006 #10
    I think its beginning to be clear that the word and concept "important" can really only be applied with any reasoning or "import" by a human from a human POV. A human's POV will be the only one that sees "importance" in the fact that their solar system is intact.

    We think of the sun as being important to the integrity of a solar system but the importance is "imported" by us into the situation found therein.

    What I'd hoped was that we could establish importance as external to our awareness and that importance was a universal feature. An example being the importance of darkness in defining light and the importance of basic conditions that support other conditions... regardless of the existence of humans.

    But it seems to boil down to what is important to our survival. This seems to be the root of the word and the concept of "importance".

    People attach importance to their ideas and if their ideas are challenged there ensues a struggle to maintain the importance they derive from their ideas. This is the playground of politics, soap-operas and intrigue.

    I still wonder, however, if we can remove ourselves and our survival needs from the thought-experiment and imagine if importance remains intact, regardless of our absence and with regard to the various manifestations of energy that do not involve ourselves but do, in fact exist and influence one another.
  12. Jan 30, 2006 #11
    What is important outside of an alternative and the ability to choose?
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