Apparently the word 'should' is problematic, but I don't see why. To me it means: "You will be better off if you do this." And, this definition is part of the accepted usage of the word.

I was conversing here with someone who suggested that I ask. To me, the consequences of our actions now greatly exceed our ability to just bumble through as humans have in the past. If action is not taken soon, we know that there will be bad consequences.

What word other than 'should' precisely points this out? If I was attempting to inform someone that they should care about the current situation, how can I best do that?

[The question isn't about morality, it is about how to convince someone to take action so that they don't win a Dumbel Prize.]

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    Does this answer your question? Why should we care about anyone?
    – user14511
    Oct 14, 2022 at 12:29
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    IMO, this issue (related to some post that are currently "running" on these days in this site) must be viewed in the social nature of humans. We live in a complex interconnected environment and we are partly (a little part) free and partly (a big part) bound. Our decisions and actions concur to a global result that in turn involves us: if we today individually pollute, we tomorrow will suffer Oct 14, 2022 at 12:47
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    Thus, with ref to the "alluded" posts, IMO this approach is independent of every religious attitude: theist. atheist and so on. Oct 14, 2022 at 12:49
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    There are many reasons one should care for what happens in the world, summed up by that other post and it all boils down to being better off for everyone including oneself on average, since we live in an interconnected environment. That being said, I would point out that "should" implies there is a unique course of action to achieve this but in many cases this is not correct.
    – Nikos M.
    Oct 14, 2022 at 12:59
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    @ScottRowe I would propose another question instead "Does true argumentation create obligation to accept it?" In some sense it should create obligation if one wants to remain consistent, but we see people simply being inconsistent instead
    – Nikos M.
    Oct 14, 2022 at 13:29

4 Answers 4


If I was attempting to inform someone that they should care about the current situation, how can I best do that?

The facile answer is, "Via logic and evidence", for we know of no more reliable means by which to demonstrate the accuracy of a claim.

Unfortunately, logic and evidence are for some not only insufficient, but somehow misguided, or illusory.

Contrary to what I've long believed; ie. that we have no choice as to what we believe - that we are either convinced of something or we are not - some people do in fact choose what to believe, probably due at least in part to some manifestation of cognitive ease, cognitive bias and/or the Illusory Truth Effect.

Persuading people who want to believe in something other than that about which you are trying to persuade them can prove a very difficult and even counterproductive task.

The power of the cognitive ease effect can be so powerful as to render some people actively opposed to encountering contrary evidence. I sent my friend a link a to a website outlining logical fallacies, and he refuses to look at it, possibly because he senses that it might render his current beliefs far more difficult to justify.

So... how to go about persuading such people? Some methods are more likely to be effective than others, but as we have learnt from addiction, some people simply will not change until they have undergone some kind of change inside themselves which earnestly seeks new information or a new mode of living.

One thing is clear. Trying to force opinion and information onto others is unlikely to work, or is at least unreliable. Perhaps the best we can do in such situations is ask questions rather than to assert answers. By asking questions which promote critical thought, we can sometimes create the potential for change to arise from within.

EDIT: These issues are not relevant only to relatively uncritical thinkers. As the links describe, we all fall prey to these cognitive errors to some degree, even when we're relatively conscious of their influence.

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    Yes, I know someone who uses "Street Epistemology" when conversing with people. He says despite best efforts, it is rarely effective.
    – Scott Rowe
    Oct 14, 2022 at 15:00
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    Thanks for the idea of Cognitive Ease, it helps me understand things I have always wondered about.
    – Scott Rowe
    Oct 15, 2022 at 14:16
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    @ScottRowe. Haha. If you're anything like me, you'll start to recognise/identify it regularly, especially in your own behaviour. Oct 15, 2022 at 14:21

"You will be better off if you do this" is a statement of fact, not a statement about duty or obligation. It's just something that is true or false, without telling you that you should do anything.

A statement that means roughly the same, but instead relates to obligation, would be "If you want to be better off, you should do this".

This is to say: doing this promotes the goal of you being better off.

Strictly speaking, you can't just say "you should do this" without the "if", because not everyone necessarily wants to be "better off". And what does it even mean to be "better off"?

  • It might mean living a long, healthy life, in which case you should eat healthy food and exercise.
  • It might mean enjoying life to the greatest degree possible in the short or medium term, even if your life ends up being shorter or worse in the long term, in which case you should eat tasty food and only exercise to the degree that you enjoy doing so and/or it makes you feel good.

There is no universal goal for what people want in every, or possibly any, aspect of life, so there's no universal "should" that can be applied without an "if".

So, if you want to say someone should "care about what happens to the world", you should figure out a goal that this would promote, that they care about.

  • Maybe they care about their children living a good life.
  • Maybe they have enough empathy to oppose the suffering of others, whether now or in future.
  • Maybe they realise that helping others now would result in some of those people helping them in future, and they care about that.
  • Etc.

This is closely related to the is-ought problem, which says that you can't get an "ought"/"should" statement (statements of obligation) from only "is" statements (statements of fact).

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    This is great, very helpful. If I want to convince someone, give them a reason that they already care about. So we can kick that is-ought thing to the curb and move on.
    – Scott Rowe
    Oct 14, 2022 at 15:40
  • Someone I know pointed out to me that "I'm sorry" expresses how I feel, but "I apologize" is an apology, and they are different. (don't get me started on jealousy and envy)
    – Scott Rowe
    Oct 14, 2022 at 16:27
  • @ScottRowe "I'm sorry" is an apology, expressing that you're feeling regretful of what you did. "I apologize" is almost a non-apology, simply circularly referencing the fact that you ARE apologising as the apology itself. (One definition of "apology" is "a regretful acknowledgement of an offence or failure", which applies much more to the former.) "I apologize" can be a sincere apology, and I wouldn't hold it against someone if they use that, but there's a reason you see that much more often than "I'm sorry" in corporate and media personality apologies of doubtful sincerity.
    – NotThatGuy
    Oct 14, 2022 at 18:51
  • I would say that, like jealousy and envy, the usage has become confused. I'm sorry literally means "I am filled with sorrow", which could apply just as well when one hears of another's misfortune without having had anything to do with it. This confusion is part of the reason that hearers often snap back, "Why? It wasn't your fault!" turning an expression of empathy into further distress, for both. On the other hand, I might want to hear someone admit fault and move toward expressing regret, when I don't really care how they feel about it. "I apologize" is how this is done.
    – Scott Rowe
    Oct 15, 2022 at 13:06

The world is like a house that's inherited by future generations. The house will be affected by the wear and tear of each generation so the idea of making the world "better" for the next generation is pointless. The best that can be hoped for is that each generation use and care for the house responsibly so each future generation has a decent place to live.

I dont see any religious belief including atheism that is contrary to this simple idea.


This is not the answer I was looking for, but I wanted to put it out there:

In many cases, there is not a good collective solution in place for a problem and so the best and only course of action open to someone is to proceed selfishly. We bring this on ourselves by not improving things.

But in this case there is not a better 'should' that someone would be offering.

  • So people should work on developing collective solutions. The consequences don't just say, "Oh, well then..." and give up. The Should always wins, whether we address it or not. So, we must address it. And, we... Oh, you get the idea.
    – Scott Rowe
    Nov 3, 2022 at 10:13
  • Didn't there used to be this idea called "compelled by reason"? Where did that get off to? It would be mighty handy about now.
    – Scott Rowe
    Nov 6, 2022 at 0:19

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