Alienation from one’s ends

Often I have come across the thought that being alienated from one’s ends is absurd, or rather, in some way incomprehensible.

What would this phrase possibly mean? Here are some interpretations:

1. To be alienated from your ends is to not act in accordance with your prima facies motivational states, those being desires, beliefs, and other such attitudes and epistemic states which form our preferential set.

Response: our percieved ends do not necessarily need to be our actual ends. There are many cases of self-deception, or simply not being aware of one’s ends. Nussbaum gives an example in Flawed Crystals (or is it The Golden Bowl?), where the Henry James character kept his feelings of love hidden from himself, only by discovering it, is it instantiated. But it was, however, hitherto unawares to the agent.

2. To be alienated from your ends is not to act in accordance with things in your preferential set?

Response: This requires clarification, what exactly does this mean? Surely there is always a case where there is an ellipsis to one’s own ends?

Response*: Consider the case of carrying out posthumous tasks. Perhaps for instance, you have a friend who tended to a garden, or campaigned against noise pollution; perhaps you, the agent, have no interest in these activities. You might even hate gardents or enjoy the late night party with loud music; such that pursuit of these ends are contrary to your own motivational set. If this is the case, does it look like there is an alienation of one’s ends? Perhaps.

But there is still an ellipsis. Conflicting desires are not a sufficient condition of alienation, nor are they necessary. Most preferences we have may have conflicting desires. I may desire to lie in bed for a few minutes, this may lie against the desire to get to work early, or get more work done, or curb one’s own laziness. The desire to have a lie-in for a bit longer may also be strong, so strong to overwhelm one’s pre-existent motivations. A conflict is not a sign of alienation.


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