The highest end of man?

Reason at the top 

For Kant, there was a certain cognitive hierarchy. We begin with messy perceptual intuition, then we understand said intuitions by means of concepts, that is, the application of the understanding, and then, at the top; we have reason. For Kant, nothing was higher than reason.

Plato believed similarly, so did Spinoza. Reason as this high ideal of attainment, But what do we mean here? I think this is where my intuition, and Kant’s view comes apart.

What exactly is reason? That’s a pretty difficult question in itself, I don’t think I’ll venture to answer that. I will make this point, though. My intuitive view was that the rational ideal, the adherence to reason was in the contemplation of things, the highest ideal of human conduct is to engage in intellectual matters. Would Plato have agreed? Spinoza? Prima facie answer: Yes. So why isn’t it actually yes?

Well, it’s more complicated than that. Plato himself believed there was a heavenly realm beyond that of our medium sized dry goods world of experience and ‘stuff’, in this heavenly realm there were a (somewhat unspecified) multitude of entities known as ‘forms’, representing ideals of that which is instantiated albeit imperfectly in our empirical realm. This is a neat little idea because it kind of is still used today. The highest form was the form of the good. What is the form of the good? I think I need to read more Plato to remember…

It seems that a moral ideal comes at the highest. We start with mere experience, then the collection and apprehension of experience (knowledge), and then, conduct, or actions in accord with the rational will.

To be moral is the highest aim?

The Socratic Question revisited

I’m very serious when I think about Kant. If he’s wrong, and very often he is, I take it with great difficulty and sadness to admit of his error. This, I think is the most curious claim of the entire Transcendental system. Let us consider the old Socratic question. How do I live? Seems to be the most perennial question of them all, yet one hardly anyone asks. Everyone seems to have an answer they are satisfied with. I don’t.

Is that because they have some kind of inner resolve that I don’t? Is it because they have some kind of dogmatism about their own goals that I choose not to overlook? What are very common answers to this question?

The fulfillment of our desires? Our projects, goals? The pursual of ends seems to be an inadequate answer. There must be something ultimate, or, long-lasting. Even, everlasting, perhaps, if it is to count as anything but a conditional goal. Why get up in the morning? Why continue? Why face the world and maintain that face that we have conditioned onto us?

What kind of answers do we have to the Socratic question?

Love? – lets consider that a bit more perhaps
Accumulation? – of wealth, credibility, power
Development? – of ourselves, our friends, our world,

Prima Facie, they seem interdefined, interconnected. To accumulate wealth and credibility can be instrumental towards the development of ourselves as persons, to the fostering and deepening of relationships, and in doing so, an act of love. There could be many ways these answers could be intertwined.

Love as a goal? Well, what do we mean? The monogamous Romantic (and usually consequent sexual and emotional) attachments that we may have? The friendships we have with colleagues, connections from the past, family, and those of our same grouping whom which we identify with most? What about investing into the young?

These seem all kinds of interesting goals, but why do we do it; why is it that we love another? Why is it that we look out for our friends? Why is it that we are mentors and carers to the young?

Accumulation; say we are psychologically disposed not to care about people in such ways above described, money is the way to go, credibility, reputation, and maybe some moderate mix of the two; like having a good activity among friends, while being consuming of resources as the core of the activity. Enjoying time with others, engaging in actions to increase reputation, status. Why?

Second-order reasons

We are seemingly posed with the question how do I live?, we give an answer, X, and we can then ask; why?

This comes to a question about not what reasons we should give, but what kind of reasons direct our actions?

So, now we are at the second-order. What kind of reasons count as answers to the Socratic question? I only have prima facie reasons here:

1. Coercion

2. Inclination of the preset dispositions of our appetative desiderative set

3. Somthing that isn’t 2., not based on dispositions of our appetative desiderative set, but perhaps from some duty, or obligation, or condition of being rational?

Well, we know 1, 2, obtain. What about 3?

The highest good

Kant believed that our purpose in life is to be perfect moral agents. This includes the self-legislation (freewill) that obeys the maxims that are self-imposedThe reason to live is to pursue our moral perfection; be the best we can be, and to seek our own greatest potential virtue. While it is not a goal to seek our own happiness outright; the consequence of the pursual of perfect virtue, and our other goal of seeking the communal wellbeing (happiness) of all rational beings will bring us happiness. Aristotle has a similar view; the excercise of the virtues of character will lead to a state of mind of flourishing.

They are wrong.

Happiness is not from the excercise of our good character. Our feelings, our sentiments are subject to the whims of nature; we are slaves to the passions, and nature, nature imposes fundamental primitives into our beliefs, such that we cannot but believe in certain propositions.

We are forced into, by way of habit and by way of coercion, certain ways of being, of thinking, of reasoning. To feel is what drives us, to desire is what moves us. It is NOT the duty of reason, nor is it the excercise of the virtues that brings happiness. Not that happiness was important for Kant anyway; but certainly the incapacity to be moral is iff the desparation of our temperament affected our character to the point of being more animative than rational.

I am truly disturbed by the suggestion that the excercise of courage, concern, chastity, humility and other such virtues one may advocate will bring us happiness, not because I don’t want to believe it is true, but because, by matter of intuition, it isn’t.

It truly disturbs me to the core. How do we answer the Socratic question? I feel in some ways in a bind; to not be fixed in a dogmatic belief about one’s happiness so as to be blinded by the finitude and contingencies of our own projects and their lasting effects, and the other contrasting tendency to be completely lost in motivation.

Better to be amazing and despairing, than happy, but mediocre…



2 thoughts on “The highest end of man?

  1. This is a rambler, pulling together two separate topics in something of a collision… I don’t know whether to tease them apart, or focus on the emerging point rather than the foundational…

    I don’t think I have time for more than stream of consciousness comments, so forgive the ragged edges…

    How do I live?
    I live with other people, and with other species.
    Like Taoist beliefs, to fight this is to bring destruction; to embrace it is to find a road towards contentment.

    “nature imposes fundamental primitives into our beliefs”

    I liked this line, it made me mull… Is truth one such primitive? Is our neural architecture geared to certainty such that truth is a biological consequence? What else constitutes such a primitive? No time to explore, but this is surely a stub for future musings.

    “I am truly disturbed by the suggestion that the exercise of courage, concern, chastity, humility and other such virtues one may advocate will bring us happiness, not because I don’t want to believe it is true, but because, by matter of intuition, it isn’t.”

    There’s the whiff of Hume in this sentence, although Hume wouldn’t wish it true. 😉 But honestly, the selfless virtues can bring happiness – what they are not is an absolute path to happiness. Perhaps the greatest ethical challenge we face is to understand the values that we need to find for ourselves – which may or may not include the above, and many others besides. I believe there are people who have found happiness from each of the virtues you mention here; the mistake is perhaps in assuming that what has worked for a minority in one context is knowably applicable to other contexts. Perhaps this is one of the chief failings of reason.

    And without I am out of time. I liked what was being explored here – it could be taken further.

    Best wishes!

  2. Happliness is temporal and conditional upon a constant flow of input. Realistly resulting in unhappliness as the constant flow of stimulus is bound to change from satifactory to unsatisfactory.
    JOY, an innerpeace of contentment with understanding that you are completely in line with the flow of the design of existance can establish the rootball that one needs for true peace first, joys, then happiness.

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