Julian Baggini: Why do we think Amy let us down?

The burden of the exceptionally talented is that what they leave undone, no others can do

Amid the mourning and sympathy, it is not difficult to discern a hint of condemnation for Amy Winehouse because of the talent she squandered. The world is a worse place as a result. But does that mean that she deserves to be blamed for our loss?

It's not generally the case that simply being the recipient of a gift places you under an obligation to use it. An unused present need not reflect ingratitude but poor selection by the giver.

Nevertheless, we often have to take into account circumstances that are not of our choosing. You do not choose your parents, for example, but no visit from a stranger can replace one from you. In a similar way, the burden of the exceptionally talented is that what they leave undone, no others can do. In neither case does that mean we must do what we alone can do, but it does oblige us to give due weight to the interests of others who depend on us.

This way of thinking does not fit the classical liberal model, where the only obligations we are under are ones we consent to, tacitly or explicitly. It is rather a deeply conservative notion, rooted in the idea that we are the products of a society and culture and that simply in virtue of this, we have duties to others. If the conservative mistake is to overstate the claims of this inheritance, the liberal mistake is to deny it altogether.

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