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What should my ultimate goals be?

  • Feb 22, 2014 · 5:00 PM
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"Ultimately, what should my goals be" is a natural question.  It appears even outside of philosophic contexts, popping up in all sorts of hyper-deliberate occasions, e.g.: a government writing a constitution, a corporation laying out their strategy, or a  teenager trying to figure out what sort of person they're going to become.

Even though it's common, the question contains an inherent difficulty.  An ultimate goal is a bedrock goal, something that every action seeks to achieve.  That means that a standard approach like  "what you choose should depend on what you're trying to accomplish" is uselessly circular.  Since you're trying to decide what to accomplish in the first place, you can't use it to answer the question. Further, any ultimate goal you do  manage to come up with would be subject to the question "why did you choose that?", which brings its own set of problems.  If you give a reason, then the goal wasn't ultimate.  If you say "I didn't choose it for any reason" then you look like an idiot (though, ironically, you may have answered correctly).

The real puzzler here is how to choose what to value without presupposing a set of values. 

By now, a lot of people reading this will have already dismissed it as a problem with an easy solution.  What's interesting is that we'll all come up with different "easy solutions" and many of them won't immediately seem compatible.  Let's meet to discuss!  A few popular routes, as a warm up:

Hedonism -Ultimately, we should seek pleasure.  Really, we can't even help it.  After all, anything else that we decide we want is really just an attempt to be pleased with ourselves (for our generosity, work ethic, social standing etc.)

Deontology - Ultimately, there are things that are just right or wrong.  Regardless of what makes you happy or what you prefer, you should seek to do these things.

Influenced-by-Existentialism - Your life is yours to create.  Ultimately, you should make it the best life you can.  That doesn't mean that you'll always be happy, or that you'll never steal.  But it does mean that, looking back, you'll be proud of what you are/were.

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  • Brian

    Good discussion. But it started to drag when we hid behind Kant/Hume. The ability to articulate Kant's helpful position still leaves us standing fully clothed on the sidelines. My view is this: To *get* Kant's message we gotta hang up the phone. Even analytic/a priori positions cover up as much as they explain and so have a similar character to hypothesis, despite Kant's aspirations. The fact that Kantians admit that the categorical imperative has 'nothing to do with life' lends support for the point I'm trying to make.

    February 23, 2014

    • Derwin

      Oh, Kant is very relevant to life! He recommends dinner parties – http://www.jstor.org/...­

      They are "the highest ethicophysical good".

      February 25, 2014

    • Derwin

      "The aim of this paper is not only to explain Kant's account of the ideal proportions of ethicophysical good in dinner parties, but also, and more importantly, to argue that dinner parties are in fact the ultimate experience for us, human beings."

      February 25, 2014

  • renee

    Wow! You guys went really deep. Good thing I didn't come. I might have drowned. Is there CPR for the brain?

    February 24, 2014

  • jerryvp

    We discussed type B statements. Could these be related to not being direct? What is being left unsaid in making a near-type-B statement? In the following examples I highlight was is said vs. unsaid.

    "I've been there and paid the price. Believe me, you don't want to be doing Y; <<do X>> instead. I don't want to be direct as it would violate social convention to state that we simply are not peers in this matter."

    "<<You should do X.>> That will make you more like me and validate my own credulity in doing X based upon dubious consequences I have heard implied, coming from authority. My form of statement to you allows me to feel some power of authority."

    1 · February 23, 2014

    • Adam

      A and B imperatives were never really fleshed out very well. Also, Erik made some great points about B imperatives collapsing into A imperatives, points that went unaddressed. All that said, we have some time to flesh them out now. I think the strongest example of a B imperative was shouting "don't cut me off!" in traffic. This is a case where I think we're being pretty direct, we just don't have an "or else..." in mind at the time (though we might generate them post-hoc if asked later). The examples you gave are part if what imagined for A. Behind the statement, whether by implication or tradition, is an "or else".

      February 23, 2014

    • Adam

      Admittedly, this is a messy distinction that I don't really think will hold up for long. Maybe better to think of a spectrum than a clear demarcation?

      February 23, 2014

  • jerryvp

    "<<Do X. I am your mother and I say so.>> X will be less wrong for you; in a different way it will be more convenient for me."

    "I want more of Y value for me from you. <<Please do X more.>> However, I am shy of naming my own need directly. I will not give you the full information to understand my need, as that will make me more vulnerable or assailable.

    February 23, 2014

  • Donna M.

    Arghh! I was on the wait list and would have loved to attend but I just now got the confirmation and it's too late!

    February 22, 2014

  • Jacob H.

    Can't make it either, sorry

    February 22, 2014

  • Matt

    I can't make it, sorry.

    February 22, 2014

  • Kenneth C.

    unable to meetup today;
    so there is an extra seat available and seems like there was no wait list for today

    February 22, 2014

  • Adam

    A lot of comments here are about knowing what one wants. That's interesting, but not quite the point. Even if we know what we ultimately want we're still capable of questioning it. If we ultimately want love, we can still think that we should ultimately want to praise God or something. In fact some sects of Christianity specifically say that we should deny our nature and seek something else. Even if we can't change what we want, but we can still believe that we should want something else. Or maybe we can't. But I think it's an interesting question.

    3 · February 8, 2014

    • Adam

      It would be weird to suppose we've already chosen subconsciously. A subconscious choice is hardly a choice at all.

      February 22, 2014

    • Brian

      Adam, I'm trying to say we can more honestly take up this topic by acknowledging that we live the lives we do because we already value it in an important way. We can move forward from there. Otherwise, without honesty this important question becomes just another Phil101 discussion.

      February 22, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    Is there parking at this place

    February 21, 2014

    • Brian

      Yeah you can find parking around there. It's in old town. Also off the brown line Sedgwick

      1 · February 21, 2014

    • Adam

      Street parking only, though, there isn't a lot. Still, you ought to be able to find something.

      1 · February 22, 2014

  • Jason T.

    It would seem realizing to the maximum one's inherent potential (e.g. through work or skills) is both satisfying and a goal in itself. Adding a moral component is an important, but separate component to a happy life.

    1 · February 21, 2014

  • renee

    I see maybe is not an option so I am relegated to a "no".

    February 21, 2014

  • renee

    I am only a maybe so I should forfeit my spot to a certain yes

    February 21, 2014

  • Alex

    You either define your goals or adjust your goals. Sorry, there is no compromise, like there is no compromise between understanding and explaining. They go opposite directions. You choose.

    1 · February 14, 2014

  • Derwin

    1 · February 5, 2014

    • Chad B.

      Likewise from "The Ethics of Ambiguity": "...the genuine man will not agree to recognize any foreign absolute.... Renouncing the thought of seeking the guarantee for his existence outside of himself, he will also refuse to believe in unconditioned values which would set themselves up athwart his freedom like things."

      I asked the same question as Adam and also connected it with love. (1) If being "genuine" is good, does this not presuppose an ethics of authenticity? But (2) if objectifying values gives us confidence in them, is this not genuine? (3) I interpret Beauvoir to be an advocate of rebound relationships. ;)

      February 12, 2014

    • Alex

      oh, gosh. Even review looks terrible. This guy doesn't have a slightest idea what the love is.

      February 14, 2014

  • Alex

    ugh... maybe because philosophy is purely practical discipline? More practical than basketball?

    February 8, 2014

  • jerryvp

    As a still-aspiring evil mad scientist, I frequently return to this very question.

    1 · February 7, 2014

  • renee

    Ah. There's the rub Why is it so hard to always know what one wants?

    February 7, 2014

  • Alex

    "Do as thou wilt" Simple. Some say it means know what you want.

    February 7, 2014

  • Peter R.

    My question is if we really choose what to value or just realize what we value. You may think you should value a way of life, but you need the kind of personality and skills to live it.

    1 · February 7, 2014

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