Recently I have noticed that I am bothered anytime I hear/read something along the lines of:

  • one should leave the world better than we found it
  • one should try to improve the world
  • one should try to make the world a better place

I remember from The blank slate by Steven Pinker that there is such a term for the belief/view that humans can be improved, I believe it's called Human Improvability and it had something to do with whether or not "nature" is fixed or not.

I would like to know if there's a technical term that I can use to look up some bibliography and learn more about it.

End of the question

What follows is just context on how I got here, if the community feels it's not relevant to the question I will remove it.

The notion of changing the world has a similar flavor as the one about improving oneself, except that they refer not an individual but to a system external.

In any case, I believe the reason it bothers me not because I disagree with it but because I don't really have a strong logical argument to defend it.

In part it's also due to agreeing with Nassim Taleb when he argues against interventionism in his book Anti-fragile. Taleb says something like, trying to intervene to improve the state of any complex/big system will most likely result in making it worse and he explains how he uses hokus pokus --convexity analysis or something-- to evaluate whether a given system is more likely to benefit or suffer from intervention.

I don't think I can evaluate the validity of Taleb's claims but I have to admit that he started me thinking about non-intervention a lot. Of course there are plenty examples where intervention was very successful, e.g., vaccination, same for the other case.

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    I can suggest this book, "The way we are" by Allen Wheelis (Norton 2006). It's a short book. Your first reaction to it may be negative, but if you decide to finish it, it may begin to answer your question in an indirect way. – Gordon Sep 7 '17 at 14:32
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    This book may contribute in a more direct way: "The meaning of human existence" Edward O. Wilson (2014). Though over the long haul it is probably the indirect "proofs" which will decide the question for you, and your question is very good. – Gordon Sep 7 '17 at 14:39
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    Also, you only need to have to have an explanation if you're in doubt about it. Even if you tried to defend it with other reasons, eventually you'd have to stop. If you know you agree with the spirit of that perspective, then perhaps you don't need to have a reason? – Franz Sep 7 '17 at 14:42
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    You seem to have two separate issues, duty to improve the world is called principle of beneficence in ethics, but "improving human nature" is something else. – Conifold Sep 7 '17 at 18:00
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    I also wanted to add this study by sociologist Norbert Elias en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Civilizing_Process which you may want to read. it works well to read this while considering the Allen Wheelis's book. Your question is one of the best I've seen here, and I think you are approaching your investigation with a high degree of sophistication. I don't mean to directly answer your question. You might also want to read some of Edward O. Wilson's earlier books. No need to buy these books. Even smaller public libraries have interlibrary loan etc.; univ. libraries will have them too. – Gordon Sep 7 '17 at 20:31

The belief/view you are looking for might be found in "be your brother's keeper", "do no harm", "don't be egotistical"!

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