A thought inspired by Monday’s Daf (page) in the Talmud, Nazir 35
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Value without a price.
This post presents a philosophical idea inspired by the text of today’s Daf. The Daf is one page in the Talmud that tens of thousands of people study each day. I explain the connection to the text in a comment below. My purpose is to show that there are underlying philosophical assumptions in the Talmud that can have great significance for anybody today trying to understand our complex reality.
In our society, it appears that almost everything has a monetary value. If you want a better car, clothing, or home, you must pay more to obtain it, which seems reasonable. However, there are certain things that we have assigned a price to, but perhaps they should be exempt. For example, if someone pays more money, they can skip the line when boarding a plane, leaving others waiting. Are we valuing equality and our shared humanity based on one’s ability to pay? Furthermore, with more money, one can afford a better lawyer, resulting in a higher chance of achieving justice. But should justice have a price tag? Additionally, the wealthiest individuals can access the best doctors in the world, potentially saving their lives. But is the right to life something that should be available only to those who can afford it?
Similarly, the opposite appears to hold true. If one is compensated for their services, it is expected that they deliver their best effort. However, what if an individual volunteers their services without receiving any compensation? Some may argue that there is no obligation to provide a service without pay, and that the recipient should merely express gratitude for whatever is given. However, is it reasonable to tie giving to a monetary value? Perhaps acts of generosity should not be measured by a price tag.
Our society has been built on the premise that individual freedom necessitates the ability to make diverse decisions regarding what one deems valuable. By choosing to pay more for items or experiences that hold significance, individuals can demonstrate their personal priorities. Money serves as the grease that facilitates this freedom of choice. However, the disadvantage of this system is that everything appears to come with a price tag, including those values that may be immeasurable.
It is possible that we have gone too far with this system. It appears as though we have come to the belief that if an activity is not compensated, it lacks value. This line of thinking, taken to its extreme, insinuates that an individual who is not receiving payment for their services has no inherent worth as a human being.
We could be on the verge of a new economic era. The rapid progress of technology has the potential to cause substantial disruption, with computers becoming capable of replacing a multitude of jobs. As a result, individuals may need a significant amount of time to acquire new skills and become productive in different areas, and some may be unable to do so. It may become necessary to provide essential services to everyone, regardless of productivity. We also want to avoid detrimental consequences for individuals’ self-esteem. Furthermore, we may need to explore expanding the role of volunteering in our economy.
Employing money as a means of prioritizing services could be beneficial, but we may need to moderate this approach. The notion that something must have a price to be valuable and that it only holds worth if it is priced can become hazardous if taken to an extreme. Voluntary services should also be valued and come with their own set of responsibilities. Ultimately, an individual’s worth is not determined by financial compensation, and money should, at most, serve as a tool to achieve our goals as a society.