Friday, September 11, 2020

Non-instrumental pursuits and uncaused causes

Here’s a curious fact: It is one thing to pursue something because it is a non-instrumental good and another to pursue it as a non-instrumental good, or to pursue it non-instrumentally. A rich eccentric might offer me $100 for pursuing some non-instrumental good. I might then do a Google Image search for “great art”, and spend a few seconds contemplating some painting. I would then be pursuing the good of contemplation because it is a non-instrumental good, but not as a non-instrumental good. (What if the eccentric offered to double the payment if I pursued the good non-instrumentally? My best bet would then be to just forget all about the offer and hope I end up pursuing some good non-instrumentally anyway.)

Thinking about the above suggests an important thesis: To pursue a good non-instrumentally is something positive, not merely the denial of instrumentality. Simply cutting out of the world the story about the rich eccentric and keeping my contemplation in place does not make the contemplation be pursued as a non-instrumental good. Rather, such world surgery makes the contemplation non-rational. To make the contemplation a non-instrumental pursuit of a good requires that I add something—a focus on that good in itself. We don’t get non-instrumental pursuit by simply scratching out the instrumentality, just as we don’t get an uncaused cause by just deleting its cause—rather, an uncaused cause is a cause of a different sort, and a non-instrumental pursuit is a pursuit of a different sort.

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