Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Abstaining from goods

There are many times when we refrain from pursuing an intrinsic good G. We can classify these cases into two types:

  1. we refrain despite G being good, and

  2. we refrain because G is good.

The “despite” cases are straightforward, such as when one refrains from from reading a novel for the sake of grading exams, despite the value of reading the novel.

The “because” cases are rather more interesting. St Augustine gives the example of celibacy for the sake of Christ: it is because marriage is good that giving it up for the sake of Christ is better. Cases of religious fasting are often like this, too. Or one might refrain from something of value in order to punish oneself, again precisely because the thing is of value. These are self-sacrificial cases.

One might think another type of example of a “because” case is where one refrains from pursuing G now in order to obtain it by a better means, or in better circumstances, in the future. For instance, one might refrain from eating a cake on one day in order to have the cake on the next day which is a special occasion. Here the value of the cake is part of the reason for refraining from pursuit. On reflection, however, I think this is a “because” case. For we should distinguish between the good G1 of having the cake now and the good G2 of having the cake tomorrow. Then in delaying one does so despite the good of G1 and because of the good of G2. The good of G1 is not relevant, unless this becomes sacrificial.

I don’t know if all the “because” cases are self-sacrificial in the way celibacy is. I suspect so, but I would not be surprised if a counterexample turned up.


ASBB said...

I assume that there's a tacit restriction on the class of "because" cases that you're interested in. As written, there is no such restriction, so there's going to be non-sacrificial examples, such as when those motivated by evil avoid good because it's good (darkness hates the light etc). No doubt some views on motivation and action rule out cases like this, but I think they make sense.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Maybe I should restrict to the cases where the agent is rational, or good, or the like.