Friday, April 20, 2018

Non-instrumental pursuit

I pursue money instrumentally—for the sake of what it can buy—but I pursue fun non-instrumentally.

Here’s a tempting picture of the instrumental/non-instrumental difference as embodied in the money fun example:

  1. Non-instrumental pursuit is a negative concept: it is instrumental pursuit minus the instrumentality.

But (1) is mistaken for at least two reasons. The shallower reason is an observation we get from the ancients: it is possible to simultaneously pursue the same goal both instrumentally and non-instrumentally. You might have fun both non-instrumentally and in order to rest. But then lack of instrumentality is not necessary for non-instrumental pursuit.

The deeper reason is this. Suppose I am purely instrumentally pursuing money for the sake of what it can buy, but I then remove the instrumentality, either by ceasing to pursue things that can be bought or by ceasing to believe that money can buy things, without adding any new motivations to my will. Then clearly the pursuit of money rationally needs to disappear—if it remains, that is a clear case of irrationality. But if non-instrumental pursuit were simply an instrumental pursuit minus the instrumentality, then why wouldn’t the removal of the instrumentality from my pursuit of money leave me non-instrumentally and rationally pursuing money, just as I non-instrumentally and rationally pursue fun?

There is a positive element in my pursuit of fun, a positive element that would be lacking in my pursuit of money if I started with instrumental pursuit of money and took away the instrumentality and somehow (perhaps per impossibile) continued (but now irrationally) pursuing money. It is thus more accurate to talk of “pursuit of a goal for its own sake” than to talk of “non-instrumental pursuit”, as the latter suggests something negative.

The difference here is somewhat like the difference between the concepts of an uncaused being and a self-existent being. If you take away the cause of a brick and yet keep the brick (perhaps per impossibile), you have a mere uncaused being. That’s not a self-existent being like God is said to be.

1 comment:

Alexander R Pruss said...

I think the argument becomes stronger if one replaces money with something like fun that is worthy of both instrumental and non-instrumental pursuit. Suppose I am initially pursuing fun just because fun makes me rest which makes me more effective at other pursuits, and I don't recognize the value of fun in and of itself. I then read some article that tells me that a careful study has shown that having fun does not make one more effective at other pursuits. But I continue to pursue fun nonetheless. Even though fun *is* worth pursuing non-instrumentally, I am not doing so. I am pursuing it emptily.