Kinkazzo Burning
~ reflections & disquisitions
It takes both sunshine and rain to make a rainbow...


Diogenes of Sinope, by Waterhouse

An engraving made in Paris at the time of the French Revolution shows a little man on a distant mountain observing through a telescope the activities of mankind. There could scarcely be a better image to represent the role and position of the modern intellectual as they differ from those of his counterparts in classical antiquity. He has no secure home, no well-defined purpose. His main occupation is observing and commenting on others. In contrast, ancient intellectuals were firmly integrated in their society, whether it be the poet performing in cults and festivals, the philosopher teaching in the gymnasium and agora, or the politician in the popular assembly. Their place in society was in the city, and this was true well into late antiquity. Even the countercultural way of life of a Diogenes is unthinkable without the public arena.

Walter Benjamin by G. FreundWe have come to know the poets and philosophers of antiquity as people who felt sure of themselves, and of their role and purpose in society. Of all the extant faces, there is not one that betrays even the faintest hint of a melancholy type suffering beneath the weight of his own intellectual gifts. There is no ancient equivalent, say, of the famous photograph of Gisèle Freund, with Walter Benjamin looking out at the viewer, his head propped on his hand, his face filled with loneliness and weltschmerz.

There have been few societies that celebrated their poets and thinkers as did the Greeks. Yet the votive and honorific statues of the Classical period celebrate them not as great intellects, but as exemplary citizens. Homer appears as the distinguished elderly man, Anacreon as the properly behaved symposiast, Sophocles as the decorous public speaker. Aeschylus' gravestone recorded only that he had fought the Persians at Marathon: not a word of his success as a writer. No matter how great a man's reputation for intellectual achievement, in democratic Athens at least, this was no reason to set him apart from the conventional appearance of his fellow citizens. But in contrast to the Classical statues of the model citizen, if we take the Weimar poets as an instance, their very gestures recall their individual characters as both poets and people. The encounter takes place not in public, but in some ideal "private" space. Goethe and Schiller are depicted as great minds with enviable human qualities, but not as model citizens with whom any of their fellows could identify. Once again there is no direct ancient parallel.

Goethe and Schiller, Weimar poets
The first genuine intellectual portrait in antiquity is the likeness of Socrates with the ugly face of Silenus. This affront to the aesthetic and ethical norms of kalokagathia was designed to provoke the statue's contemporaries and, in so doing, began a long tradition that continued in the "dog's life" of Diogenes, the dessicated old bodies of Hellenistic philosopher statues, all the way to Apuleius' filthy hair. In the figure of Socrates, the Silenus mask becomes an archetype of the philosopher who questions social convention and faulty thinking, claiming for himself the role of educator in how best to think and to live one's life.

Bust of SocratesIt was only about a century later, as the unifying structure of the polis was coming undone, that the Greek philosopher first acquired an image distinct from that of the average citizen and became a public figure with an authority of his own. From the early third century B.C. on, the philosopher defined himself as "the other." Interestingly, this consisted at first simply in adhering to the traditional citizen image. While their contemporaries quickly adopted the clean-shaven look initiated by Alexander the Great, the philosophers continued to let their beards grow. And while others favored more elaborate (and warmer) clothing, they clung to the simple citizen's cloak. In this sense the philosopher's image had from the start a "conservative" element. His criticism of the new mores invoked ancestral ways, that is, the age of the free and democratic polis.

But the ascetic quality is only one aspect of the philosopher's rejection of the undergarment. Exposing the naked bodies of these old philosophers gave the sculptors an opportunity to portray the aging process with ruthless honesty. The "revelation" of the aging male body took on an even more dramatic quality following on the tradition of flawless physiques in Classical statuary. Like the mask of Socrates, this too was a calculated violation of the standards of kalokagathia that still dominated the Greek citizen's self-image. In both cases the provocative statement contains a particular message: death is the fate of every individual, but the philosopher alone can teach us how, in the face of death, to live a life "in accordance with nature."

Statue of Socrates
Greek religion had no codified dogma, no set of moral teachings like the catechism, no established clergy who could minister to the pastoral needs of the faithful. Starting with Socrates, it was the philosophers who came increasingly to fill this role. Thus the philosopher's mantle designated the counselor and the in-house philosopher, who were expected by society to lead demonstrative and exemplary lives. The Christian priest and the monk are the true successors of the ancient philosopher, and it is no coincidence that they early on assumed both the beard and the cloak.

Voltaire by Houdon
The statue of Voltaire in old age is also characterized by physical frailty and spiritual passion. But Houdon was not trying to convey an exemplar of the philosophical way of life. Rather, by placing Voltaire on a throne, he broadcast the intellectuals' claim (here in the name of the philosophes) to a share in the running of the state. The statue embodies the excitement of the Enlightenment set in the political situation shortly before the French Revolution. No Greek philosopher ever sat on a throne, at most an academic "chair." Even Epicurus' "throne" turns out to be rather a seat of honor, used by his pupils to convey the unique intellectual and moral authority of their master. As much as Houdon may have relied on the antique for his vision of Voltaire, his is a kind of philosopher who never existed in antiquity.

Unlike the ancient philosopher, most modern intellectuals since the Enlightenment have been committed to the notion of progress, or at least of an improvement in social and political conditions. They may appear, however, as the spokesmen for a whole variety of forces and groups, ideologies and movements. They analyze, shape, and propagate the interests of the particular group, shaping the entire zeitgeist, or perhaps only a momentary circumstance. But the crucial difference is, they have no "teaching" and no specifically moral authority, except perhaps in the case of those who happen to have suffered under a recently discredited political system. But even in such instances, the aura of moral authority does not last for long, as we can observe in the fate of dissidents in the former Socialist states of Eastern Europe.

The real reason for this failure is the modern intellectual's lack of practical knowledge, as soon as a situation calls for some basic and generally applicable advice. Wherever he becomes involved, the specialists are better informed. In principle, of course, the intellectual is a specialist too, at least to the extent of his personal experience and his own field. Even freelance writers and critics move in a little literary world of their own. The ancient philosopher was rather a "generalist" and attempted both to understand and systematically to explain the world and human existence. Whatever school he may have belonged to, his ethical imperatives and the way of life implicit in them at least claimed to be rooted in all-embracing theoretical principles of physics and perception, mathematics and metaphysics.

Having said this, we need not wonder that the modern intellectual in the West has never developed a single coherent image. His functions in society are too varied, his identity too contradictory. Certain attributes, like the beret or rimless glasses, might enjoy a brief vogue but are nothing more than fashion accessories. The only somewhat consistent phenomenon that might recall the ancient philosophers is the ongoing attempt, in the form of more or less deliberate flouting of conventions of dress and manners, to set onself apart from the "proper" behavior of officialdom and the bourgeoisie. But in the present climate such attempts are usually doomed to failure, since anything that attracts attention for its "otherness" is quickly co-opted by the market into a trendy new look. The only category of intellectual that has attempted in modern times, at least on certain ceremonial occasions, to project a specific corporate image is the professoriate. Interestingly, when the traditions of this group were invented in the last century, it was by reaching back to the dress of Late Medieval clerics and guildsmen, in order to define the academics as a kind of secular order, the guardians and dispensers of knowledge and wisdom. But the student unrest of the late 1960s demonstrated just how insecure was the identity implied in this image. This leaves only the phenomenon of judicial robes, but these are not a symbol of any particular intellectual capacity. Rather, they are a relic of an absolute authority transcending the individual, something still indispensable to the modern secularized state.

One conclusion of this study has been that the philosopher turns out to be the only category of intellectual in antiquity that defined itself as such by means of a consistent and unmistakable image. At first the philosophers were clearly differentiated according to schools of thought and life-styles, but later the sharp contours were lost as they ceased to correspond to reality. This did not, however, imply a loss in the philosopher's prestige. Rather, over the course of centuries the philosopher's image steadily took on an added authority and mystique. It was for this reason that under the Empire, intellectuals in other fields assumed the philosopher's cloak and let their beards grow. This is particularly true of teachers of all kinds as well as doctors, who, in the Imperial period, saw themselves as physicians of the soul, not just the body. They realized that the "care of the self" involves body and soul in equal measure.

It was only with the poets that we have been able to detect indications of a self-contained iconographic tradition. But the sorry state of our evidence forbids any sweeping generalizations. In striking contrast to the philosophers, Menander [figure?] and Poseidippus in the Early Hellenistic age were visualized dressed in the latest fashions and enjoying an enviably comfortable, even luxurious style of life. We can readily understand why these comic poets felt themselves to be champions of the world of the private individual, since it was they who brought that world onto the stage. But does this apply to other writers as well? Certainly not to the official poets of Augustan Rome, who were naturally envisaged in their togas. Yet there are still some indications that the notion of poetic inspiration, in contrast to philosophical thought, as something associated with a pleasantly "soft" way of life survived well into late antiquity.

The Roman aristocrat who immersed himself in Greek literature while at his villa is related to this figure of the Hellenistic poet, not so much because he often dabbled in writing verse himself as because he experienced the life of the private intellectual, if only from time to time. During the Late Empire, this idea of withdrawal from public life to the pleasures of reading amid a bucolic setting takes on a deeper meaning. It comes to symbolize a happy existence freed from all external pressures. Yet even in these later images, the intellectual life of the villa is still linked with the notion of material comforts and enjoyments.

Starting with Aristotle, philosophers were always in addition scholars, historians, and philologists. In this guise they interpreted the texts of earlier poets and thinkers, mastered and transmitted the ancient wisdom. In the Hellenistic world, classical culture became for the first time an object of reverence, at times even in a religious sense. In this setting there arose a new kind of retrospective "literary" portrait that sought to render the great minds of the past as unique individuals on the basis of their works or their lives. In the context of hero cults, these literary portraits honoring the poets could take on the aspect of genuine cult images. For the Greek cities, whose world had been utterly changed by the coming of Rome, the preoccupation with paying homage to the intellectual heroes of the past became a way of reaffirming their own spiritual identity and solidarity as Greeks.

Victor Hugo by Rodin
The incorporation of these new heroes into well-established rituals and cult practices is the fundamental element lacking in the sculptural monuments of the late nineteenth century that celebrate the apotheosis of the intellectual hero. Rodin's statue of Victor Hugo and Max Klinger's Beethoven are entirely individual visions of the artist, divorced from society. As such they serve as much to glorify the sculptor, who dreams of his own apotheosis, as to honor the subject. Such creations are monuments that have no true place of their own, no certain function in the real world. We perceive them only as works of art, even when they stand in parks or gardens instead of in museums. Unlike the Hellenistic monuments that they may seem to evoke, and despite all their mighty pathos, they carry no weight as cultural artifacts and do not express any values with which the society around them could identify. The culture of learning in the High Empire, with its particular kind of retrospective rituals, belongs in the tradition of the cities and courts of the Hellenistic world that had likewise nourished their cultural heritage, and yet there is a fundamental difference. While the earlier period perceived an unbroken continuity and sought only to reactivate, embellish, and broadcast its cultural legacy, the Romans had to invent a tradition that in fact never existed in Classical Greece. The forging of a national identity that would help unify the imperium Romanum would not have been possible without an acknowledged set of shared values and life-styles. The cult of imperial power and its attendant myths were not sufficient to fill this need. The Romans needed a common language, a shared vocabulary of visual imagery.

Kingler's Beethoven
What began in Hadrianic Athens as a game of taking on Classical costumes and faces grew into a personal statement, a kind of religion of high culture whose rituals aimed at appropriating the classical tradition and turning it into a palpable entity throughout the Empire. The manifold range of activities and forms of participation in this cult—costumed performances, formal orations, learned dinner-table conversation, pictorial imagery—add up to an extraordinary collective effort to bring the past into the present. In essence these activities were nothing more than a selective restructuring of what had been standard cultural practice in the cities of Classical and Hellenistic Greece. But by a process of separating these off, multiplying them, and stressing certain elements, there arose a pure and depoliticized "classical" tradition that outdid the authentic Greek culture now long past. This and the imperial cult were the two forces that together laid the foundations for that sense of belonging and shared identity that united all the inhabitants of the Empire.

In this context the mask of Socrates, along with the other intellectual giants of old, once again takes on great importance. The initiates in this cult of learning recreated themselves as likenesses or versions of the classical icons. The "care of the self" transformed the amateur philosopher and initiate into a new kind of artist. Not only in his beard, hair, and expression did he model himself after the ancients, but in his entire self.

If Socrates' provocative Silenus mask stands at the beginning of our story, then we reach the end with the face of the enlightened Charismatic. The beard was no longer by itself sufficient to mark the otherness of these "divine men" and miracle workers. The spirituality and "holiness" of the Late Antique mystics required a mask of their own that would separate them from traditional images of the philosopher. Thus the shoulder-length hair becomes the defining element in this last intellectual portrait type of antiquity, an image that in many ways recalls a modern guru more than a classical thinker. When this final mask was adapted for likenesses of the bearded Christ, the Hellenistic image of the mighty thinker and dialectician had long been abandoned. The dogma of official teaching had taken the place of philosophical dialogue, and a strict hierarchy had established itself within intellectual circles. It seems to me, finally, not without significance that the portrait types and narrative images of Hellenistic origin have had little influence on the art of more recent times, while the mask of the Charismatics lives on, in the imagery of Christ, to the present day.

Statue of Christ

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Thinking and Imagining Descartes


Descartes was turned into a cultural icon already in the seventeenth century. In the twentieth century, he is still an icon, an icon of implicit or explicit cultural villainy, who is said to be responsible for, or at least to have provided a major impulse toward, a whole range of modern ills and putative ills: rationalism, subjectivism, egocentrism, dualism, agnosticism, atheism, scientism, reductionism, the mathematization of being and nature. A constellation of intellectual commonplaces and stereotypes has been gathered around him. As with most stereotypes, there are reasons for accepting their plausibility, but on closer examination many prove to be oversimplifications at best and sometimes downright falsifications.


Despite the recurrent tendency to view Descartes as a new beginning ("the father of modern philosophy")—a tendency evident even in his own writings—his thought was deeply enmeshed in what preceded him. By looking to a texture and pattern of Descartes’ philosophical psychology that has not been much attended to, one can also see the relevance of the contexture of the psychological thought of the late Middle Ages and the early modern period.

A conventional reading of Descartes’ psychology in relation to his predecessors would likely see impoverishment. The rich psychophysiology of the senses and internal senses and the understanding of the operations of ratio and intellectus in relation to phantasms he not so much profited from as simplified and oversimplified, to the point where they were replaced by the pineal gland system and the thinking thing—that is, by Cartesian mind-body dualism. This is itself a grand oversimplification, however. Here I shall try to emphasize the need for correcting this oversimplification by sketching a possible way of conceiving Descartes’ path into philosophy, the outlines of a new philosophical biography.

Imagine Descartes as a young man, having finished school and attained a law degree. He is rather perplexed about the state of the knowledge that has been transmitted to him. He can see that although much of what he studied is useful and edifying, his educators have not displayed a unified, much less persuasive, understanding of why and how what they claim to know is truly known—thus almost every such claim is in dispute—nor is their pedagogy informed by a clear notion of what it is for a human being to come to know something, to discover the truth for him- or herself. But he also knows some things, and he knows that he knows them: some in mathematics (though geometers tire the imagination with complicated figures, and algebraists use a cumbersome system of rules and unintelligible symbols), a few moral precepts, and discoveries he has made for himself (either spontaneously or spurred by hints of others). Most of all, he sees that he can recognize when one thing has some relation to another, especially when both can be compared directly with respect to some particular aspect. For example, he can see that his horse is larger than his dog, and he knows that when lost it is better to travel in a single arbitrarily selected direction than to turn at every whim. He begins to realize that his ability to discover things and recognize comparative truths operates in accordance with simply formulable precepts: don't leave anything out of account, proceed in an orderly way, don't depend too much on memory, simplify, look for analogies if you can't find direct solutions. Most of all, take the measure of one thing in comparison to another; look for equalities, inequalities, sequences, proportions.

Still, it takes an encounter with a somewhat more mature contemporary who has already discovered many of these things for himself to stir the young Descartes from a casualness toward knowledge. Isaac Beeckman, who believes that knowledge should be picturable and so is a proponent of diagrammatic and geometric approaches to physical and dynamic problems (physicomathematics), awakens in the young Frenchman a glimpse of what might be accomplished if he put greater effort and order into his studies. Descartes discovers that by isolating the relevant factors in a problem and representing them and their proportional relationships with plane and solid figures, many, many problems become easily solvable. Moreover, the new "algebra" and, most promising of all, new kinds of instruments (like his proportional compass) can be used to solve for proportions of any complexity, and, in particular, arithmetic/algebraic problems can be solved using curves and figures that are produced by means of the rigidly mechanical (and therefore in principle easily imaginable) motions of these proportionalizing instruments. These methods can be applied to any problem involving quantities and proportions of any kind, including physical problems of motion, tendency to motion, and force. But more important, this includes all questions concerning anything that stands in some order or proportion to other things. There is potentially no limit to what this class of questions embraces.

Descartes’ developing insight is that a great and unified method might be developed on these bases. It is an inkling at first, rather than an accomplishment, an inkling supported by his conviction that there is a deep cosmic harmony in accordance with which proportions and analogies unite superficially disparate things. As he works to flesh out the insight, he makes more progress in solving particular mathematical and physical problems than in conceiving a unified method, and the occasional inspirations do not immediately lead to a comprehensive art of discovery.

Occupied in travels, Descartes works in fits and starts. Over time he reveals bits and pieces of what he has done, which begins to win him a small following of admirers and great expectations from the learned. To his interests in music, in geometry and a geometric-mechanical algebra, and in mechanics he adds optics, or rather light. If there is a harmony in the cosmos, then it is governed by the principles of harmonic proportion; if we can know these harmonies, it must be because the material substrate of the physical universe allows for the accurate transmission of these harmonies to our sense organs. Light would seem to be the chief physical-mechanical power for revealing to us things and their proportions; if we could develop a simple theory of its operation to account for this revelatory capability, then we would have an important guarantee of the reliability of the human way of knowing the world. This optical work leads Descartes to recognize that his understanding of the senses, imagination, memory, and intellect has to be coordinated with this physical knowledge, and so around the late 1620s he begins to conceive of the anatomical and physiological prerequisites for the link between world and mind. This is likely the period in which the Regulae was composed and then left off as Descartes encountered ever more difficulties of fact and principle blocking his original project.

In this account Descartes is pursuing not the mathematization and physicalization of the universe but rather an explication of the fact that we do know and can learn, an explication consistent with the most accurate investigations and knowledge of his day. This included the philosophicomedical theory of the external and internal senses. He did not reject this psychological theory but tried to accommodate it to the proportionate cosmos that every day proves it can be known by dint of the ordinary processes of physiology and of the physical world, which reveal to us the sights, sounds, aromas, flavors, and feel of things. The traditional psychology in fact taught that sensation was based on proportion, argued that there was some natural means by which the forms in things came to inform the organs of sense, and contended that all knowledge required the presence of phantasms, which were understood as artifacts of a physiological psychology with functions specially located in brain cavities. Thus Descartes hoped that he would be able to make the traditional teaching more rigorous and more rigorously in accord with knowledge about physical nature and the human being. If a sensible species somehow entered the sense organ from an object by means of an intervening physical medium, then the transmission had to obey the principles of that medium and be received in the organ in accordance with its physical and physiological nature. In addition, whereas the psychological tradition claimed, in some of its versions, that a phantasm derived from objects in the real world was illuminated by intellect to produce an intelligible species through which we could understand the real-world object, Descartes became convinced by his "phenomenological" attention to his own awareness and his processes of discovery that we can reckon only with what is already in the possession of the mind. Intelligible species or essences are less useful for problem solving than is comparing things according to order and proportion by virtue of our capacity to identify relevant characteristics of their appearances: aspects, dimensions, natures.

It is not possible here to determine to what degree the sketch can receive additional confirmation or secure dating. But the sketch I have presented begin to suggest something very important about the history of philosophical psychology since Descartes. Descartes’ opening up of the "way of ideas" was the result of his attempt to make the older psychology more rigorous and less cumbersome, yet his understanding of different planes of awareness, his biplanar conception of thinking, remained in essential continuity with the older tradition. It was Cartesianism instead and the emergence of what we identify as the rationalist and empiricist poles of philosophy that turned awareness into consciousness, a theater with a single plane. Rationalism, on the one hand, began to conceive imagination chiefly as a source of error, and empiricism, on the other, brought a flattened and hypermechanical conception of imagination into play by reducing thought to a construction, manipulation, and sequencing of images or imagelike ideas. Descartes was a pioneer of the way of ideas; the irony is that in traversing it later philosophers reduced it to a simulacrum of the original.

A major source of this distortion was that those who came after understood Descartes as offering series of propositions and arguments that could be evaluated contextlessly as clear and distinct ideas. According to Descartes's usage, however, it is not ideas that are clear and distinct but rather our knowledge or awareness of them. It is our way to ideas and the activity of thinking them that must be made clear and distinct; it is the activity of thinking that produces the background against which the truth can appear clearly and distinctly, a context in which the texture of thinking makes its force truly felt. And so, for example, the question of whether the Meditations is really meditational is only the tip of the relevant iceberg. The deeper question is whether we can decide about the truth of Descartes in any sense without encountering for ourselves the articulated objects of his thought within the manifoldly textured activity of thinking.

It is no wonder that it was in the seventeenth century that imagination and intellect drifted apart, leading ultimately to their divorce. It is a more than Cartesian irony that Descartes never intended the divorce. At the beginning he even championed the effective primacy of the former, though he ultimately settled for a distinction rather than a divorce: the intellect exceeded the imagination, and the will, the source of imagination, exceeded the intellect. Moreover, he placed imagination at the very heart of the sciences of nature, he made it of their essence. After the divorce, however, someone like Isaac Newton believed that he could make no more savage attack against a natural philosophy like that of Le Monde than to call it a romance of nature, that is, a figment of the imagination, a mere fable. He did not, perhaps no longer could, realize that by extending the mathematization of nature he had expanded the uncanny power of imagination in science without maintaining the determinants and controls of necessity. Mathematics itself came to be seen as rational, indeed paradigmatically rational. Thus after Newton the sciences were no longer impelled by the insight that had been fundamental to Descartes: that mathematics itself is imaginative, that it is the exercise par excellence of imagination.

What difference does it make whether we think of mathematics as imaginative or rational? To answer this we would need a more careful delineation of intrinsic differences between imagination and rationality than we have performed hitherto. In a sense this study of imagination in Descartes has been a prolegomenon to that delineation. Lacking this careful delineation, any answer to the question about mathematics' place in the economy of the mind will be partial and hypothetical. Still, it is worthwhile to indicate from our current perspective the direction in which an answer that follows out Descartes’ insights might tend. The imagination is the formative mental power in which the corporeal world takes on nascent concreteness. By itself it is not able to recognize the boundaries of its validity; seeing beyond the limits of the imagination—both the limits of specific images and the limits of the mental power of forming them—is a chief function of intellect, which by its nature is a transcendental seeing, a seeing beyond the limits of what is present to consciousness. When the intellect does not carefully attend to what imagination has wrought, and if imagination is not guided by intellectual insight into its proper boundaries, we will tend to conceive things other than they are. For a similar reason, when intellect does not carefully attend to sense perception, we take the senses as more veridical than they can possibly be; this, according to Descartes, has been the fate of the majority of human beings, a fate that the Aristotelians enshrined in theory.

From Descartes’ perspective, the person whose imagination is not properly delimited is likely to experience, consciously or not, a hypertrophic growth in imagination's claims to truth. Unlike sense perception, however, imagination is productive, so that even where its claims are excessive, its ability to produce, in view of particular aspects, a simulacrum of what happens and what is, tends to mask what is false. The mathematical physics that arose in the last decades of the seventeenth century, misunderstood as rational rather than imaginative, was therefore a romantic science —understanding romanticism as a cultural phenomenon predicated on the superiority of imagination to rationality.

This suggestion need not be taken as having chiefly negative, much less solely negative, implications, especially when we recall that one of the issues raised here is whether we are under the spell of the modern judgment that imagination is cognitively neutral or even irrelevant. In the late twentieth century, much more generous in its appreciation of imagination's cognitive uses than the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the notion of early modern science as romanticizing can be taken in a more positive sense. In entertaining the notion one might very well want to reopen the question of Descartes’ role in the development of the modern sciences. One should enter into that examination with at least two points in mind: Descartes held distinct what those who came after fused (mathematics and rationality), and if he contributed to the subsequent romanticization, he is nevertheless in decisive respects situated on the remote side of the historical divide.


In this book it has not been my principal goal to answer the question whether Descartes’ theory or, rather, theories of imagination are true. Beginning with a few texts, some scarcely known, others not thoroughly enough explored, I have tried to present Descartes as philosophical psychologist, to place this Descartes in historical context, to show that imagination is the key to his earliest philosophy, and to suggest its continuing central importance for him. Now, in concluding, I want not so much to pronounce judgment—which, to be amply just, would require a wider investigation—as to point to themes and questions present in the imagining Descartes that are still germane to a philosophical investigation of imagination.

The first thing to say is that there are few philosophers who can match Descartes in his grasp and cultivation of imagination. When he told Franz Burman that he was "sufficiently imaginative, and exercised his ingenium in it for a long time" (AT V 163), it was something of an understatement. His experience with imagination qualifies him as an expert. Furthermore, Descartes stands very close to the historical divide separating imagination understood as intrinsically protocognitive or cognitive from an imagination that is fictionally creative but, when not harmful, largely irrelevant for purposes of knowledge. His own conception of imagination underwent an evolution that tended toward the modern dichotomy of intellect and imagination. His testimony can give us insight into why this evolution occurred as a larger cultural phenomenon and whether it was inevitable, and therefore also whether there is any point in trying to think our way back into a more cognitively productive imagination.

This qualification of Descartes as an expert witness to the power of imagination is related to another. Although under very different circumstances, Descartes, like us, was attempting to reconcile what he had experienced of imagination with what he knew from the science of his day; and he placed cognitive imagination under the aegis of mathesis universalis in a way that anticipates, and parallels at least in part, our own cultivation of physicomathematical imagination (mentioned at the end of the preceding section) in the hypotheses and abductions of the modern sciences of nature. Whatever the status of the hypothesis of the romanticization of physical science after Descartes, then, his example might give some clearer grasp of the issues of principle raised by the mathematization of physical science.

The biplanarity of active mind has been a central feature in the interpretation of Descartes I have presented. To some this biplanarity might appear to be just a multiplied form of the homunculus: the homunculus has not a single standpoint but has to bilocate or even trilocate! An awareness that is in and between planes and that can transcend any single plane into another seems fraught with problems. Yet if one is going to have any significant notion of awareness or consciousness, one has to locate it in some way, if not physiologically then at least phenomenologically, and it seems to me phenomenologically right to say that the power to shift attention and its point of focus is not accidental but essential to consciousness. The traditional doctrines of external and internal senses were predicated on the experience of an awareness at the level of the organs and on a unified, hierarchical community of the sensitive and cognitive functions in the living human being. What Descartes ultimately preserved of this doctrine was altered by the notion that the fundamental point of division of self from world resides in the process of sense reception. One could turn this around and say that it was precisely the emphasis on the putative fact of this division that created the disjunct spaces of the external and internal worlds. On the conscious side of the divide we seem to be autonomously in possession of impressions from the world; all further operations of and on them appear to take place within us, either in the body (unless the body itself is taken as part of the external world) or in the mind. This point of demarcation is not arbitrary per se, but it may well be so in its absoluteness, for in a significant sense my consciousness appears to be as much with and in the world as it is in and with my body. And even the mature Descartes concluded through the Meditations that our overwhelming inclination to take the world as real is not entirely wrong.

The mobility of biplanar consciousness that was typical of Descartes’ early philosophy can take us some distance toward understanding how images serve cognitive purposes. The key notions are the systematicity of each plane and the human ability to grasp one thing in terms of another, whether that connection is conventional or natural, arbitrary or based on resemblance. The most constant feature of mind in Descartes’ philosophy, however, is that it can compare things, that is, recognize them as the same or different, as equal, greater, or less. If there is any certainty at all in knowing, it must exist at least at this level, and it must be based on some minimal human ability to grasp resemblance in some respect (grasping non-resemblance itself operates within the supposition of resemblance). For this kind of comparison to be true (i.e., more than just correct ad hoc, for this time and place only) there must be in addition not so much a constancy of objects of attention as a constant network of relationships, a context of systematicity—in other words, a plane. It is, for example, because we have a relatively constant grasp on relationships between hues (e.g., in a way that allows us to array them on a chromaticity diagram), relationships we can evoke at will, and also a relatively constant grasp on the simple mechanics of elastic collisions (e.g., on a billiard table) that it could occur to someone to correlate the qualities of colors with certain mechanical processes (e.g., a theory that has particles of different sizes differentially reflected by matter and setting off different vibrations on the retina—which is a very simplified version of Newton's theory).

Descartes ultimately settled on the spatial geometry produced by phantasia, regulated by intellectually discovered principles, as the fundamental substrate for cognitively relevant imagination. The systematic relationships within it, governed especially by the rules of motion, constituted the ultimate constraints for the cognitive use of images. With all the other internal senses collapsed into imagination, the possibilities for biplanar awareness were considerably reduced (vision, common sense, and memory, for instance, are all functions of just one organ). The space of phantasia, it is true, had become a replica of external space, a model and symbol of the external world; its in principle infinite divisibility and its mobility established the basis for a strict isomorphism between imagination and world, so that it could still serve as an instrument of cognition. But biplanar awareness had shifted more deeply inward, because now there were just two places for consciousness to be: either in phantasia (the pineal gland) or on its own.

The ability of awareness to shift planes was in the Regulae named vis cognoscens, knowing force. It is this power and its transformations that I have emphasized in this book, more generally under the rubric 'cogitation', the activity of thinking. It is the power of autonomously considering, varying, and forming images and ideas, and of moving between and seeing beyond them. In the very late Descartes (of the Principles and the Passions), the thinking part was divided conceptually (but not in reality) into the nobler, active side, will, and the indispensable but passive side called perception. Perception is, as it were, the last remnant of ancient theoria, or contemplation, in Descartes. The restlessness of human attention made it impossible to remain within contemplation for more than a brief time, even when the object of it was God (as at the end of the Third Meditation). That had been a problem even in Aristotle and in Christian contemplation: human beings are inevitably drawn back from theoria by the demands of the body and community life. But Descartes derived from this restlessness of attention the evidence of the self, which is visible as such only in the activity of thinking, and also evidence of the finitude of the self, a finitude that in turn pointed to the positive infinity of God. These are issues of more than imagination, of course, but they still show traces of Descartes’ early psychology.

Our imaginations function within this framework in a twofold way. Imagination allows us, when guided by intellect, to replicate the structure and activity of extension. But it does this in only an approximate way. Our minds are incapable of filling out the infinitely divisible detail that is conceivable in the actual behavior of extension. God can (and does) know this detail, whereas human beings can know what happens only in principle. We can improve the specificity and exactness of our understanding of extension (thus of nature) in many cases and therefore also increase our possibilities for control, but we can never master it fully.

This leads to the second function of imagination. It helps guide and direct us in the enjoyment of our powers as a human being, that is, as a unified body and soul. The passions, which are due to this union, are themselves imaginations or imaginings, passive ones induced by physiological causes beyond our control. The imaginations that we will, however, are under our control, and although we cannot directly will changes in our physiology and the associated passions, we can will images that can produce physiological effects capable of changing the passions. Active imaginations thus help us to gain a certain mastery over ourselves. Since these two categories comprise the vast majority of human psychic activity, the character, sweetness, and purpose of human life depend more on this constellation of imaginative passions and powers than on anything else. Even if as thinking beings we perceive ourselves precisely as thinking and not extended, in our daily life we deal with the body and the soul together. This means that our fate is to be neither metaphysicians nor physicists but people concerned chiefly with the ordinary affairs of life. If Descartes aims at the mastery of nature, it is primarily the mastery of our own, ordinary nature, and only derivatively that of the external world. And, ultimately, the passional life (in the Passions of the Soul) culminates not in self-satisfaction but in generosity, a spilling over of the passion of admiration that exceeds the self and makes one well disposed toward others.


One psychological power that the early imaginative approach to knowing was supposed to eliminate made an enigmatic return in the late philosophy. That power is memory. The Regulae had tried to overcome it by the instantaneous grasp of intuitus and the progressive reduction of deductio to an intuituslike status. All knowledge was therefore on essentially the same basis, and anything truly known was known as well as anything else that was known. In the later philosophy Descartes introduced a hierarchy of certainties. God, whom we do not comprehend, is nevertheless more certain than our selves. What is perceived by the senses is least certain of all, especially since sense was instituted for preservation of the mind-body union rather than for truth.

There is something paradoxical about the Meditations' reevocation of memory, the specific location of which is the Fifth Meditation. It provides us, after the fact of experiencing fundamental truths, with the warrant of that experience. By recalling, for example, that we have clearly and distinctly conceived God (and therefore his existence and his goodness), we can be sure that other things we have clearly and distinctly known have been truly known and can in their turn be recalled and used in confidence. We do not have to recall the proof of the Pythagorean theorem to use it, only that we have proved it previously. This power of memory yields the equivalent of a (modern) proposition with a propositional attitude attached. But the substrate of this intellectual memory is that we know that we have actively thought the truth of the proposition in its texture and contexture: thus we remember not just the fact of truth, we remember that we have experienced it as true against a background that permitted it to emerge. Presumably this means that having an approximate idea of God roughly based on a rather vague memory that we once proved his infinity, existence, and goodness would not be enough. The idea would need to be focused, and we would need some memory of the background of active thought that evidenced God as God and not just as a word or conceptual possibility. By contrast, the Regulae would have us as much as possible rehearse once again the full experience of truth in all its evidence, without recourse to memory. All that memory would do for the life of the mind is provide it with the stock of all the natures that ingenium has experienced; combined with the habit of thinking those natures according to order and proportion, it would provide to active, imaginative mind everything relevant to perfect knowledge.

The late philosophy, following the traces of imagination, returned to memory. Descartes did not think through the questions of memory—if he did, the evidence is not preserved for us—and therefore he cannot be a guide here in as positive a way as in the case of imagination. He distinguishes intellectual from corporeal memory and also aligns intellectual memory with ideas in their potentiality. In the Regulae, imagination is meant to overcome memory; in the Meditations, imagination and thought are supported by remembering the knowledge we have had. At the level of the body, the physiological traces of memory in the brain are produced by the actual experiences we have had, and they largely govern our particular associations of images, so that the memory of corporeal images is a key to the reliable functioning of the unified mind and body.

But the fact is that Descartes wrote very little about memory, and that little is more enigmatic than clarifying. Descartes thus leaves us in more than one sense on the threshold of memory. That threshold is the place where we are most fallible and most human, where we can least think of ourselves as autonomous, self-perceiving, serf-certifying beings because we are bound by a past history. From the little we have seen, however, it seems likely that he thought imagination away from memory, until, as he worked out the consequences of transcending the limits of imagination, he was compelled to readmit the fact of remembering, at least in the form of a memory of intellectual events. Memory is important because it weaves the fabric of our everyday, contingent lives, but also because it reinforces our experience and understanding of essential truths. One might then expect further thought and investigation to reveal some parallels between the status of imagination and the status of memory in Descartes. If we are attentive, we might find traces of memory all along the path of imagination, throughout Descartes’ psychological philosophy.

Modernity as a concept is predicated on a contrast with the old, in particular on comparing the present with what is past. In the early modern age the standard for comparison was the ancient Greeks and Romans (and those reputed wise from every remote time and place, whether they were named Moses or Hermes Trismegistus), who inspired admiration but also ambition. The young Descartes thought that the ancients (most of all the ancient mathematicians) surpassed the moderns in knowing because they possessed the secret of how to acquire knowledge, a secret they had concealed. It was being rediscovered in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, however; and all that it required was attention to the possibilities inborn in each human being, possibilities that if developed would yield wisdom. He believed that imagination was the key to acquiring this wisdom, in both theory and practice. The later philosophy did not reject the goal, it only modified the conception of how to get there.

If in the course of the seventeenth century, if in the writings of Descartes himself, imagination underwent an eclipse, this does not mean that it became irrelevant or that the project Descartes had initially envisioned lapsed. The impulse of that project carried over through the later writings and ultimately passed, in unanalyzed form, to the Cartesians and post-Cartesians. The scientific and truth-discovering powers of imagination that Descartes had conceived did not vanish; they were simply reassigned in the psychophysiology and the thinking activity of human beings. We cannot say that this reassignment occurred in a perspicuous way, however, and not even that it was done for good reasons. The past three hundred years have given us many theories of imagination but no consensus, nor have they given us much agreement about what the basic facts of imagination are. We have difficulty articulating a coherent understanding of imagination yet make frequent appeals to it. Is this a sign that we are so deeply entwined in it that we can experience it no more clearly than we do our ears or eyes?

Descartes recommenced thought about the relevance of imagination, recommenced it after the long continuation of Aristotle had blossomed in Avicenna, was raised to a higher pitch in the Renaissance, and ultimately succumbed to erosion by formulaic repetition. Both this ancient tradition and Descartes’ thought of imagination have been for the most part hidden from us. For centuries neither has been a part of our experience; much less have they been the object of thought. The task of reacquiring the experience and thinking it through stands before us. If this task is carried out genuinely in thought, it will be not simply a surrender to the past but a reevocation of a heritage.

Whether we are moderns or postmoderns, it is unlikely that we can get a proper estimation of imagination and its value without Descartes. Perhaps we have no choice but to think with Descartes, and to imagine with him, until we reach the point of thinking and imagining for ourselves. The paradox is that most people learn how to really think from the example of others, but it is only when we have begun thinking ourselves that we can truly think with another. Perhaps the same is true of imagining, especially if it is thoughtful and not just willful. If that is so, and if following in Descartes’ traces helps us to act accordingly, then there is truly some hope that this work will have served a larger purpose than merely imagining Descartes.

Rene Descartes

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The General Features of Love

Elephant Love
Although the contours of personal love differ with its various forms, there are some features that seem common to them all. As understood here, they all take persons or groups of persons as their intentional objects; they all express some core interests in their objects; they differ somewhat in their evaluations of their objects; and they all involve beliefs about the identities of their objects in a way that is crucial to activating the dispositions inherent in them. The aim of this essay is to provide a general understanding of these features as a preliminary to possible future in-depth discussions of personal love and its regulative functions. Section I discusses the various interests the loving person takes in those who are loved; sections II and III, some evaluative beliefs involved in personal love; and section IV, the role of the loved one's identity in activating love's dispositions. All these features are fundamental to understanding how a loved one appears within the deliberative field of the agent of integrity in the thick sense.


If you are a loving person, you will have at least five important interests in your loved ones as the intentional objects of your love. You will be interested (i) in their mutual affections, (ii) in a shared relationship with them, (iii) in their welfare, and (iv) in being their benefactor. The fifth interest, which I will argue for in the next section, is (v) in their being good persons. All these interests factor into how your loved ones appear as ends within your deliberative field as a loving person.

Consider the first of these interests. How do we make sense of you as a loving person where your dispositions toward your loved ones are completely devoid of any interests in their mutual affections. What would it be to be romantically in love with someone and have no interest in being the object of that person's sexual interests? What would it be to love someone as a friend and be altogether indifferent to your place in his or her affections and loyalties? And what would it be to love a child and not care at all about its feelings for you?

It is similarly difficult to make sense of not having an interest in a shared relationship with loved ones. The romantic lover has not only an interest in mutual sexual attraction, but also in sharing that interest in sexual activity. The interests mutually held between friends also find their satisfaction in the activities of a shared relationship, which is behind Aristotle's claim that friendship involves living together. And though the mutuality requirement is different for the parent /child relationship, it is puzzling how you could love your children and be indifferently disposed to any shared relationship with them.

Still there might be arguments that mutuality and sharedness are not requirements of the concept of love. The first might involve showing that sometimes as a lover you might have reasons for deciding to keep your love a secret from a loved one. The reasons I have in mind are not because you lack the character to reveal the vulnerability that love involves but because you think it best for the loved one that he or she not know of your affections. A teacher who falls in love with a student might feel this, as might a biological parent who loves a child given up for adoption. The second argument might involve showing that as a lover you might sometimes love someone despite the fact that the love is not reciprocated. No doubt, romantic love provides many examples. The third argument might try to show that sometimes external circumstances prevent you from sharing a relationship with a loved one. Physical distance might cause this in any form of love, and with romantic love the condition of AIDS sufferers certainly comes to mind. The claim behind all three arguments is that despite the undeniable presence of such phenomena it is still obvious in some cases that you truly love the loved one.

We can admit these observations, however, without undermining the thesis. In all these cases, it remains true that as a loving person you retain an interest in the mutual affections of and a shared relationship with your loved one. It is just that in these special circumstances it is rational for you not to pursue these interests. This is clear in our conception of what a person's dispositions must be like to be those of a loving person. If from the very start you are indifferent to the fact that the feelings of another are not reciprocated or that no shared relationship with another is possible, then surely this shows, if anything does, that you do not love the other person. Absent, then, a belief that stress occurs, at least initially, in these special circumstances, it is simply contrary to our conception of the dispositional state of love to think of someone with such indifference as a loving person. As was true with shared affection, loved ones appear within the deliberative field of the loving agent as someone with whom to share a relationship.

Another important interest you will have in your loved ones is an intrinsic interest in their welfare. Even where nothing can be done, indifference to the plight of another is not a disposition we attribute to a loving person of whatever variety. Of course, this interest does not always take priority over other interests you might have, but it is nonetheless there.

Moreover, this concern for the welfare of loved ones is by its very nature a stronger concern than that for other persons who appear within the loving person's deliberative field. One can be interested in the welfare of another in ways that are independent of personal love. Respect is one such way, as we have seen, but so are pity, sympathy, and generosity. As a loving person you might even be moved in some contexts by respect or pity to give priority to the welfare of someone other than your loved one, especially for someone whose plight you perceive as severe in a way that your loved one's is not. Nevertheless, where everything else is equal, two conditions are sufficient for saying that you do not love another person, B. They are that you know that you do not love C and you care about the welfare of B and C to the same degree, regardless of context. This is a fundamental fact about how loved ones appear within the loving person's deliberative field, and it is true even where C appears within your field as someone worthy of respect. Remember that we are concerned with an agent who is not only loving but respectful of self and others as well.

Equally important is the fact that your interest in the welfare of loved ones sometimes expresses itself in your subordinating some of your own interests to those you love. Without some disposition to put the interests of loved ones above your own, you are simply unrecognizable as a loving person. What would it be to love another and yet hesitate to make even the slightest sacrifice for the sake of some central concern of that person? Thus, if you are a loving person, it is another fact about how loved ones appear within your deliberative field that they are taken to be goods that are more important than the good of satisfying some of your other interests. Indeed, we hesitate to say that you love another unless we are willing to say that you are disposed in some contexts to subordinate some significant interests for the sake of that person. Among these significant interests are some that belong to you and some that belong to others. If you were disposed to subordinate only minor interests of yours and others for the sake of another's interests, we might be inclined to say that you liked the other person but never that you loved that person. This is especially true if the interests at stake for the other person are very important ones.

Of special significance to a loving person are the categorical interests of loved ones. First, they are among the loved ones' welfare interests, since they are what life is most about from their own point of view. Thus we can apply our previous point in the present context: If you know that you do not love C and you care about the categorical interests of B and C to the same degree, then, everything else being equal, you do not love B. Therefore, and this is the second point, the categorical interests of loved ones are more important to a loving person than the categorical interests of others, which is a fundamental fact about how loved ones appear within the loving person's deliberative field.

Finally, there is the loving person's interest in being the benefactor of his or her loved ones. Here I do not have in mind the truth that as a loving person you desire to give your affections and loyalties to your loved ones. Clearly you do want to bestow these goods on your loved ones in a way that is inconsistent with your being content with the fact that they already have the affections and loyalties of others. Rather, what I have in mind is another truth connected with the concept of the welfare of loved ones. There are some benefits that could be conferred on a person by a lover or a nonlover, and there are others that only a lover could confer. Some of the former are welfare benefits. The clearest case involves a parent's love for a child. Anyone can provide the welfare benefit of adequate shelter for a child, but only a parent can provide a child the benefit of parental affection. Also, the parent's love includes not only the interest in the child's welfare needs being met but also the interest in meeting at least some of these needs. This does not mean that the parent would oppose these needs being met by someone else when it is not possible for the parent to do so. After all, the primary interest the parent has in this regard is that the child's needs are met. However, it does mean that when the parent is unable to meet any of the child's welfare needs, the dispositions of parental love result in a sense of loss for the parent. The lack of any sense of loss where the child's needs are always met by someone other than the parent signifies a lack of love. Such indifference is simply inconsistent with the dispositions of a parent who loves her child, although a nonloving parent might have some other concern for the child's welfare.

Personal love includes an interest in being the benefactor of loved ones in this sense because personal love includes nurturing. This is true not only of parental love but of the other kinds of personal love as well. The romantic lover is not only concerned with the sexual interests and the welfare of her partner, she is also concerned with playing a nurturing role in his life. Absent such an interest, she is merely sexually attracted to him and has some impersonal concern for his welfare. Nor is there love for friends or neighborly love without nurturing, though it need not play the same role as in parental love.

To nurture is to be concerned with and to desire to contribute to the growth and development of another. In parental love, at least for the immature child, nurturing is not a part of the mutual affections of lover and loved one. But in friendship and other forms of peer love, it is. To love another as a friend is to be concerned with and to desire to contribute to the friend's growth and development. But here, unlike the case of parental love, the nurturing of love is mutual. It is the nurturing of peers. To see oneself as the friend of another, then, involves seeing oneself as both the beneficiary and the benefactor of the friend in terms of personal growth and development. It is, of course, many other things as well. The same can be said for other types of peer love. In this regard, it is one sign that patriotic talk is mere talk when there is no evidence of a nurturing disposition toward the welfare needs of fellow citizens. This is true, of course, unless the patriot is thought of as the staunch adherent of an ideology, who need not love his or her fellow citizens at all. In any event, if you are a loving person, loved ones appear within your deliberative field as others on whom you are to confer benefits of various sorts.

I conclude, then, that the intentional object of personal love is a person or persons and that, if you are a loving person, embedded in your loving dispositions toward your loved ones are the interests in their mutual affections, in a shared relationship with them, in their welfare, and in being their benefactor. Moreover, loved ones will appear within your deliberative field as persons whose welfare and categorical interests are significantly more important to you than the welfare and categorical interests of others, even those you respect but do not love. And as a loving person it will be especially important to you that some of the benefits that accrue to your loved ones come from you rather than from someone else.


The evaluative element of personal love is problematic, as is the role of beliefs in love. It is even unclear that there is an evaluative component to some kinds of love. One important issue, then, is this: Are there any kinds of evaluative beliefs that you must have regarding another person in order to make sense of our saying that you love that person?

It is certainly doubtful that you must, qua loving person, believe that the loved one is in some sense good. Romantic and parental love, especially, seem vulnerable to having intentional objects accompanied with negative evaluative beliefs regarding their goodness. It seems mere linguistic legislation to say that a romantic lover does not really love the person he or she clearly believes is despicable. This seems even more obvious in a parent's love for a wayward child. The love of friends and the love of fellow citizens seem less tolerant in this regard. Yet even here, the love for the friend or fellow citizen is certainly not proportionate to the belief that the friend or fellow citizen is good.

A more plausible candidate for such a belief is the evaluation of the loved one as capable of being good, on values reflected in the dispositions of a loving person. Embedded in this conception of love is a denial that anyone can love that which he or she evaluates as hopelessly without value. An argument in favor of this is the fact that those who obviously love despicable persons often must resort to self-deception concerning their loved ones' goodness to maintain the love. Such self-deception does not always yield the belief that loved ones are good. Rather, it sometimes yields the unfounded belief, despite ample contrary evidence, that loved ones are capable of being good as the grounds for false hope of their reform.

Still having an intrinsic concern for your loved ones does not entail that you believe that they are good or even capable of being good. The conclusion that it does needs an argument, and I do not see that the observations concerning self-deception are conclusive. Some seem to love their children, friends, and lovers, while clearly believing that their loved ones are hopelessly without merit and unworthy of even simple respect.

Two factors might motivate the intuition, for some, that love requires a positive evaluation of the loved one as good or as capable of being good. The first involves the fact that as a loving person you are concerned with your loved one's welfare. It is difficult to see how you could care about the welfare of a loved one and not care whether he has the good of self-respect. Yet if your loved one truly has the good of self-respect on values that you endorse, you see your loved one as at least minimally good. Also, it seems plausible that the good of self-respect is good for a person only if the person is capable of recognizing, appreciating, or having that good. Thus it seems that your concern for your loved one's welfare includes your having the evaluative belief that he is at least capable of being good. Here the sense of goodness is the minimally tolerable sense of being capable of being worthy of respect. It is also difficult to see how you could care about your loved one's welfare and not care whether he has the good of selfesteem. And by parity of reasoning, the same argument would apply to the relationships between welfare, the good of self-esteem, and your loved one's being good. Thus your evaluative belief that self-respect and self-esteem are goods for your loved one allegedly shows that as a loving person you have other implicit beliefs about your loved one. They are that your loved one is capable of the relevant respect-and esteem-conferring qualities and therefore capable of having good-making qualities.

Despite the apparent strength of this argument, it is only partially successful. The degree of both its success and its failure is reflected in the fact that it succeeds regarding some but not all kinds of personal love. It succeeds, in part, regarding love among persons who must be in some sense peers. The love of friends and the love of fellow community members require the notion of love among peers as a basis for mutual affections and shared relationships. As a part of this, peer love requires not just the ability to tolerate loved ones but the ability to hold them in esteem as well. Yet even here, the success is only partial. All that is required is that somewhere in the history of the love for the friend, say, was the implicit belief that he was worthy or capable of being worthy of respect and esteem. For you can meaningfully love a friend for whom you have lost respect. In these cases, the friend for whom one has lost respect appears within one's deliberative field as someone who was once good, which, of course, is one of life's saddest experiences.

That the argument does not work at all for some kinds of personal love reflects the degree of the argument's failure. It seems entirely clear that a parent could love a child, be concerned with the child's welfare, believe that the child would have a better life if it had and thus was capable of having the good of self-respect, and yet believe that the child was incapable of selfrespect. A parent's love for a severely retarded child is a good example. Another is the love for an elderly person in the advanced stages of Alzheimer's disease.

One response is that the objects of love in these cases are not really persons and thus the examples do not involve "personal" love. But this seems mere linguistic fiat that dictates that all personal love must be peer love to some degree. What we have in these cases is not love that includes the belief that the loved one is good or capable of being good. Rather, it is love that includes the desire that the loved one have these qualities. So we can add to the interests that loving persons have in their loved ones a fifth interest: the interest that they are of good character. But this is different from having the belief that they are good. It is one thing for your loved ones to appear within your deliberative field as good and quite another for you to desire this.

Now consider the second source that might motivate the intuition that loving persons must believe that their loved ones are good or at least capable of being good. It is the failure to distinguish, on the one hand, the evaluation of the lover's love and the loved one's goodness and, on the other, the belief that a person's loving another is always a good thing. It is very difficult for some people to say that love is ever a bad thing. One reason for this is that most people who disparage love are clearly either bitter or lack the character traits to face the risks that love involves. Combine this with some belief or hope that being loved will bring out the good in someone apparently devoid of any goodness, and this might lead some to assert that the lover must believe, however subconsciously, that the loved one is at least capable of being good.

Often appeals to subconsciously held beliefs are the last grasps of a view in trouble. It is one thing to have an implicit belief and quite another for the belief to be subconscious. An implicit belief can be made explicit to the believer by showing that his or her other beliefs logically require the "implicit" belief. But this cannot be what a subconscious belief is. For the claim is still unproven that there is anything contradictory about the beliefs of the lover, qua personal lover, who claims that the loved one is hopelessly without merit.

Rather than insist on a tight conceptual link between love and a positive evaluation of the loved one, we should simply deny that love is always a human good. In would-be peer love, it is not a human good, either for the lover or the loved one, when the lover correctly believes that the loved one is hopelessly without good qualities. Loving in such a case is not a good for the lover due to the recognition that the mutuality and sharedness of love are impossible with a contemptible loved one. Being loved is not good for the loved one, since it would be a sign of some goodness in him if he recognized love as a good. Thus it is not a part of the dispositional state of all forms of personal love that the lover believes that the loved one is either good or capable of being good. Later, we will see that a positive evaluation of loved ones is crucial to peer love in its central form, and this will prove crucial to an understanding of the normative thoughts generated by the various forms of personal love.


So far in the analysis of the intentionality of love and evaluative beliefs, we have been considering this: Does the proposition "A loves B" entail some proposition of the sort "A believes______about B" within an adequate account of personal love? Specifically, we have been considering whether "A loves B" entails "A believes that B is either good or capable of being good." Now, I want to focus on a different possibility regarding the beliefs that A must have if we are to say that A loves B. It is this: Does the proposition "A loves B" entail the proposition "A loves B because she believes______about B"? I confine myself to cases of peer love. These require that at some point in the history of the lover's dispositions the lover must believe that the loved one is good regarding the qualities of respect and esteem. I also will assume cases where such love is a human good, where the non-self-deceived and adequately informed lover unmistakenly finds that love for the loved one is a good thing.

In these cases, analysis requires that "A loves B" entails "A believes that B has the good-making qualities of being worthy of respect and esteem." But it seems mistaken to say that "A loves B" entails "A loves B because she believes that he has the good-making qualities of being worthy of respect and esteem." For it is clearly sensible to say that "A believes that B is worthy of respect and esteem and A does not love B."

Someone might maintain that it is not in terms of good-making qualities that A must be said to love B but some other qualities. These might be beloved-making qualities—B-qualities, let us call them—in terms of which A evaluates B as being "lovable." On this view, love is like respect in one regard. Beliefs about what qualities are the relevant B-qualities are evaluative beliefs, but beliefs about whether a person has the relevant B-qualities are factual beliefs. Whether these beliefs are true is discernible by those who do not share the evaluative beliefs.

The most plausible kind of peer love to which this analysis might apply is romantic love. It might indeed be true that A romantically loves B, only if A believes that B is lovable, where A has some conscious or subconscious evaluative beliefs about B-qualities. For the sake of argument, let us assume so. It is entirely unclear that this means that A loves B because A believes that B has these qualities. For it might be true that A finds that certain qualities are lovable in B, that C has the same qualities, that all other factors are equal, but that A does not love C. It is difficult to see, then, that there is some set of qualities that A believes B to possess that causes her to love him. In this regard, the dispositions of love and respect are quite different. For the belief that B has the relevant R-qualities will, under normal circumstances, cause A to respect him, if she is a respectful person.

The objection is not that the concept of B-qualities is mysterious, or vacuous, or lacks meaning. Such objections are mistaken, I believe. To have peer love for another, under normal circumstances, is to love another in some sense as an equal. This includes—however implicitly—the judgment that the loved one is a peer. Thus, in peer love, there are B-qualities in a limited sense. If you are a peer-loving person, there are some qualities you must, at some point in the history of your love for your loved one, believe him to possess. But there are no B-qualities in the stronger sense that your believing them to be present will cause you to love him. For you could have the evaluative belief that he is a peer and believe that he has all the relevant peer love interests in you, yet you could lack peer love for him.

Nor is love dispositionally sensitive to beliefs about the loved one's qualities in the same way that respect is. Where love need not include the peer evaluation, it is difficult to see that such love is necessarily sensitive to beliefs about the qualities of the loved one at all. The parent's love for the severely retarded child is a good example. Even in peer love, the love is not only disproportionate to the beliefs about some set of qualities of the loved one but also flexible regarding beliefs about the qualities of the intentional object in a way that simple respect is not. One can go on loving a friend long after coming to believe that he has undergone extensive changes in personal qualities. Sometimes this is long after coming to believe that he is no longer worthy of respect and esteem. This contrasts with the comparative rigidity of simple respect, which vanishes the moment one becomes convinced that the intentional object of respect no longer has the relevant R-qualities. These are fundamental differences in how the objects of love and respect appear within a loving and respectful agent's deliberative field.


There is one belief, however, that plays an essential role in your loving another, namely, your belief that the other is numerically identical to your loved one. The idea is that your dispositional state uniquely has your loved one as its object and not someone you perceive to be qualitatively similar but numerically distinct from him. In this way, personal love as a dispositional state is sensitive to identity beliefs regarding its intentional object. Thus you love another only if you are sensitive to the belief that the person perceived as your loved one is indeed your loved one. Your love for a third party, on the other hand, involves a different disposition toward that person, although it might be the same type of disposition. Rather, it is another disposition that is sensitive to the belief that the numerically distinct third party is its intentional object. Not only, then, does love differ from simple respect in terms of the dispositional sensitivity to beliefs about the qualities of the intentional object; it also differs from simple respect in terms of the dispositional sensitivity to beliefs about the identity of the intentional object.

If you believe that another person has the relevant R-qualities and discover that you are mistaken about the person's identity, then, under normal circumstances, you will still respect that person. But suppose you love another and mistake another person for your loved one. If you discover your mistaken identity belief and that this person is not your loved one, you will not have the same disposition toward the person you mistook for your loved one. This is true even if this person's set of qualities is indiscernible from your loved one's. You might in fact be indifferent or even hostile toward the person on such a discovery. In this way, beliefs about the identity of the intentional object of love play a causal role in love that they do not play in simple respect, and this is very crucial to understanding how others appear within the deliberative field of a respectful and loving agent. If I could magically produce multiple identical duplicates (including memory or quasi-memory experiences) of the person you love most, I would not have multiplied your benefits in life. Rather, I would have robbed you of one of life's most precious goods. I would have done this by rendering it impossible for you to identify your loved one within your deliberative field. Without an identity belief, there would be no way for your dispositions to find their expression, and thus a precious relationship would be lost.

We also must consider another causal role beliefs might play in love that they do not play in simple respect. It concerns the issue of whether beliefs about the identity of the lover play a causal role in the lover's love. Previous analysis shows that simple respect involves a disposition indifferent to identity beliefs regarding the agent of an action where concern for action arises from respect. But where there is indifference in simple respect, there is sensitivity in personal love. Your interests in the mutual affections of and a shared relationship with your loved ones establish this. So, too, does the interest in being their benefactor.

The romantic lover, for example, has an interest not only in the loved one having romantic interests but also in the focus of those interests. They must focus on the lover rather than someone else. Parental love for a child includes not only the interest in the child's welfare needs being met but also the interest in the parent being the one who meets these needs as the parental benefactor of the child. All this is made clear in the fact that the loved one appears within the deliberative field as "my lover," "my child," "my friend," and "my neighbor." There is no analogue with respect. We do not think of someone we respect as "my respectable one," even where we can think of another as "my respectable friend."

The goods of personal love, then, are agent-centered goods and objects of agent-centered interests. Because they involve identity beliefs in the way they do, they generate partial reasons for action. Because they involve an intrinsic interest in the interests of others, they are social rather than individual interests. Because they involve a desire for intimacy not found in impartial relationships, they are communal interests. When accompanied in our lives with the commitment of an agent of integrity, they generate many of our partial norms. Since it is clear that we relate to others differently through the partial norms of love and the impartial norms of simple respect, it remains to be seen how they are related in their regulative functions.

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Solitary Man

An activity is solitary if it is either done alone or if done with others, the sharing of the activity (as opposed to its results) has only instrumental significance to them. An activity is an individual one if the agent's interest in it is satisfiable apart from any intrinsic interest in the satisfaction of anyone else's interests. Thus not all solitary activities are individual activities, though some very important ones are. Some solitary activities, for example, do not have independent beneficiaries. In normal circumstances, playing chess with a computer is a good of this sort, because the benefit of the activity accrues only to the agent and the playing of the game is itself the benefit. Such activities we can call solitary individual activities. Other solitary activities do have independent beneficiaries and can appropriately be called solitary benevolent activities. Gift giving is often a good example, though there are others, as we will see. Personally benevolent solitary activities have intended beneficiaries who are personally related in an agent-centered way to the agent engaging in the activity. A mother nursing her infant is (under appropriate circumstances) an excellent example, as is a father building a playhouse for his children. Impartially benevolent solitary activities have intended beneficiaries who are not personally related to the agent. Providing Christmas gifts for disadvantaged children might take this form. In all these cases, I have in mind nondeontic activities, activities that if left undone would not result in the agent's self-reproach on reflection. We can summarize, then, as follows:

I. Solitary individual activities without independent beneficiaries

II. Solitary benevolent activities with independent beneficiaries

A. Personally benevolent activities with loved ones (family, friends, neighbors) as independent beneficiaries

B. Impartially benevolent activities with familiar and unfamiliar strangers as independent beneficiaries

The purpose of this essay is to provide an (incomplete) analysis of these activities with an eye to a better understanding of how they find their place within the structure of the psychology of those we admire most. In section 1, I will begin with some comments on our capacities for boredom and how this fact about us is telling in regard to how these activities appear to us as good within our deliberative field. They appear to us, I argue, as worthy of choice in the Aristotelian sense that they, among other things, make life worthy of choice from our point of view. Without some threshold level of these goods, our own agency would not even matter to us. Hence an adequate phenomenology of these values reveals that an ontology of value that starts with the value of rational agency distorts the value of these goods as they appear within our deliberative field. Section II discusses solitary individual activities; sections III and IV, personally benevolent solitary activities; and section V, impartially benevolent solitary activities.


In a delightful essay on boredom, Robert Nisbet has said that humans are apparently unique in the capacity for boredom:

We share with all forms of life periodic apathy, but apathy and boredom are different. Apathy is a depressed immobility that can come upon the organism, whether amoeba or man, when the environment can no longer be adequately assimilated by the nervous system, when the normal signals are either too faint or too conflicting. It is a kind of withdrawal from consciousness. Once sunk in apathy, the organism is inert and remains so until external stimulus jars it loose or else death ensues.

Boredom is much farther up the scale of afflictions than is apathy, and it is probable that only a nervous system as highly developed as man's is even capable of boredom. And within the human species, a level of mentality at least "normal" appears to be a requirement. The moron may know apathy but not boredom. Work of the mindlessly repetitive kind, which is perfectly acceptable to the moron, all else being equal, quickly induces boredom in the normally intelligent worker.

Both apathy and boredom are states of an organism in which the organism cannot take an interest in activity. In the case of apathy, the indifference to activity is because the stimuli within the organism's environment are either too faint or too demanding for the organism to assimilate. Ironically, too much stimuli can shut the organism down. Boredom, however, is not like this. Boredom is not due to faint stimuli or to the bombardment of stimuli but to the lack of anything in the organism's environment that is stimulating even when assimilated. It involves a lack of anything interesting to do.

There is another difference between apathy and boredom that Nisbet does not mention, though it is implied in other things he says. Apathy is not a state of discontentment, but boredom is. Cats, for example, often seem apathetic but seldom bored. There is a limited range of activities that interest a cat. If these are not available, the cat simply goes to sleep. For the normal human this is not true. When a normal human has had a certain amount of sleep and there are no activities available of interest, eventually the normal human experiences a profound state of discontentment. This discontentment, of course, is the state of boredom, which involves an intense desire for meaningful activity where there is a lack of anything interesting to do.

Some have speculated that our capacity for boredom is in some sense an evolutionary function of the fact that, as a species, we had to develop a highly sophisticated nervous system in order to survive in our natural environment. The capacity for a state of highly pitched attentiveness together with highly developed cognitive powers, so the speculation goes, not only were adaptive to the environment but also rendered us vulnerable to boredom. In fact, boredom itself might be an adaptive mechanism, one that forces human organisms to develop their cognitive and perceptual capacities in a way that ensures creative adaptability. Without the restlessness that comes with inactivity, our cognitive and cultural development would have been much different. But be this speculation as it may, we are, in fact, extremely vulnerable to boredom. Left to boredom long and intense enough, we do not simply go to sleep; we go insane.

This fundamental fact about our psychology should play a central role in any conception of the human good and practical reason in at least two ways. The first has to do with the way in which the goods of activity are phenomenologically present within an agent's deliberative field. They must be present as intrinsic goods rather than mere instrumental goods, and they must fall under relevant value categories. Just as our capacities for self-assessment lead to ourselves appearing as ends within our deliberative field, and just as our loving capacities lead to our loved ones appearing there as beloved ends, our capacity for boredom and the capacities that underwrite it lead to some activities appearing within our deliberative field as ends, as activities to pursue for their own sake. Moreover, the goods of activity appear within an agent's deliberative field under relevant value categories. As goods that answer to our capacities for self-assessment, we appear within our deliberative field not only as ends but as ends worthy of respect. As goods that answer to our loving capacities, our loved ones appear within our deliberative field not only as ends but as beloved ends. These are, respectively, the relevant kinds of value categories for these goods. The goods of activity, however, appear within our deliberative field under other value categories. Among them are "interesting," "satisfying," "fascinating," "delightful," "amusing," and "captivating." That is, the nondeontic goods of activity appear within our deliberative field as activities that are good in that they are interesting, satisfying, fascinating, delightful, amusing, or captivating.

For now, the most important thing to notice about the value categories relevant to nondeontic activities is that they are all, in a broad sense, aesthetic categories. To be sure, these categories need not involve the kind of aesthetic appreciation involved in high art; nevertheless, to find something fascinating or delightful, for example, is often (though not always) far closer to involving the category of beauty or some other aesthetic category than the categories of respectable, loving, or morally good. Thus this fact about the value categories relevant to the goods of activity raises the important and largely neglected issue of the role of the aesthetic within practical reason. I will have much more to say about this as we go along.

The second way in which the fundamental facts about boredom and our psychology should play a central role in any conception of the human good and practical reason is that some threshold level of these goods is of categorical value to any remotely normal human agent. It is the fact that boredom is a threat to our very survival that makes the goods of activity categorical goods, and it is this fact that explains the phenomenology of the appearance of the goods of activity within our deliberative field as, in a broad sense, aesthetic goods. But if this is true, then our agency is a value to us, that is, it appears within our deliberative field as good to us, only if we do not find life utterly boring. And, in order for this to be true, we must have some activities that are available to us because they are in one way or another aesthetically appealing. If we do not find some activities available to us that are interesting, satisfying, fascinating, delightful, captivating, or the like, we will eventually either fall prey to apathy toward our existence or be driven insane by the effects of boredom. This, I believe, should lead us to reject the notion that value comes into the world only as the result of rational agency, as Korsgaard and Kant seem to have it. Rather, it seems that rational agency is valuable only if other things are valuable. And this is a comment on how things appear within our deliberative field: Our agency does not appear to us as good within our deliberative field when all the activities that appear there are cloaked in utter tedium and devoid of aesthetic appeal. In Aristotelian terms, the life of agency without the goods of activity is unworthy of choice when the activities of that life are utterly tedious and boring.

I do not see how either Kant or Korsgaard can account for this fact about our valuing our lives and ourselves. Kant has it that respect for our rational agency prohibits our taking our own lives, regardless of how dreary life might be. Kantian internalists must give an account of this, and doing so is difficult. On the internalist view, just the thought that we are rational agents is enough to give us reasons for living, even if everything else about our lives is meaningless. Of course, this is just false. If everything else is meaningless, then our lives and our agency are meaningless from our own points of view. Nor will it do to say, as Korsgaard does, that the value of life is the foundation of all value. One can value one's life only when one can value a way of living. Were the value of life fundamental in Korsgaard's sense, then any way of life would be minimally worth living. She also says, "The price of denying that humanity is of value is complete normative scepticism." No. The consequence of complete normative skepticism is the denial of the value of humanity, and were it the case that the only ways of life open to humans were utterly tedious and boring we would be complete normative skeptics. We would judge that human life and agency are not of much value because there would be no way of life open to humans that would make human life worthy of choice.

An understanding of boredom, then, is helpful in understanding the phenomenology of how the goods of activity appear within an agent's deliberative field. But it is also helpful in understanding the natural ontology of these values as the explanation for the phenomenology. The goods of activity, like the goods of respect and love, have their foundation in the psychological capacities of the agent.

In this regard, it is important to distinguish a capacity from the capacities that underwrite it, as it is equally important to understand the similarities between the accounts of the goods of love and respect and the goods of activity and their roles in practical reason. Loneliness is one psychological state for which most humans have the capacity. Those who have this capacity, however, have it as a result of other capacities they have, among which are the capacities for love and intimacy. But there are others; for instance, the capacities for memory and desire. Indeed, loneliness involves the desire for love and intimacy, often with some particular person. The remembering of a loved one who is absent with a desire for the loved one's company triggers the loneliness. Thus a being devoid of the capacities for love and intimacy and the desire for them would be immune to loneliness: If you are not a person who values others as ends of a certain sort, you are simply not capable of loneliness.

It is the fact that the capacity for loneliness is a function of the capacities of love and intimacy that loved ones cannot be taken as mere means to the amelioration of loneliness. Rather, loneliness is a function of the fact that a person's affective capacities include love, the valuing of specific others as ends of a certain sort. Hence the naturalized ontology of value explains the phenomenology of both how the goods of love appear within an agent's deliberative field and ultimately why the agent has the normative thoughts of love, why the agent justifies things in the way that he or she does. In other terms: An understanding of loneliness and the capacities that underwrite it explain the place of the goods of love within practical reason.

Something similar regarding the capacity for boredom and the capacities that underwrite it explains the role of the goods of activity within practical reason. Among the capacities that underwrite the capacity for boredom are the capacities to find things interesting, satisfying, amusing, fascinating, or captivating. These latter capacities explain why activities appear within an agent's deliberative field as good under the relevant value categories and as ends of a certain sort. What is crucial to note is that these capacities are aesthetic capacities. Observations about the effects of boredom, then, show that aesthetic capacities are fundamental to the structure of our psychology, which explains why the goods associated with the capacities that underwrite the capacity for boredom are, at some threshold, categorical goods. This means that not only are some aesthetic goods categorical, but that any acceptable theory of practical reason must afford them this status. Otherwise, the theory is contrary to the natural ontology of value. But I will argue not only that the aesthetic goods of activity at some threshold level are categorical goods but also that the norms associated with these goods are symmetrical in their regulative functions regarding the goods of respect and love. If this is true, then, if we think of moral norms as those associated with respect, sympathy, and love for others, then aesthetic norms and moral norms are symmetrical in their regulative effects. Hence an understanding of the capacity for boredom and the capacities that underwrite it explain why the goods of activity play the role they do within practical reason. As such, the account here provides a naturalistic ontology of value.

In what follows, I want to see how these thoughts gain credibility as we take a closer look at the goods of solitary activity.


The first kind of activities to consider are solitary individual activities. These are activities that do not have independent beneficiaries and are either done alone or if done with others, the sharing of the activity has only instrumental value to the other participants. Consider work activities. Again, Nisbet is interesting. He says:

Work, more or less attuned to the worker's aptitudes, is undoubtedly the best defense against boredom. As Denis Gabor emphasized, work is the only visible activity to which man may be safely left.

And later:

There have been workless strata before in the history of society. Think only of the half-million in imperial Rome on the dole… out of a total of two million people. The results were unsalutary, to say the least, and Toynbee gave this "internal proletariat," with its bored restlessness, its unproductivity, and its rising resentment of the government that fed it, credit for being, along with the "external proletariat" or invading barbarians, one of the two key causes of the eventual collapse of the Western Roman Empire. In the modern day, chronic joblessness, especially among youth but in other strata as well, not overlooking the retired elderly, produces its baneful results, ranging from the mindless violence of youth on the streets to the millions of elderly who, jobless and also functionless, lapse into boredom which all too often becomes apathy and depression.

Though these observations are hardly the product of hard, systematic social science, they do suggest as fact that where humans are not involved in meaningful work destructive restlessness is the result. The point is not simply that if people have to busy themselves with work they will have no time for mischief. Rather, it is that there are no other kinds of activities that engage humans deeply enough over time in a way that prevents the kind of restlessness that results in such destructiveness.

Though there is much to be said for these general comments on work, we need here to be more fine grained in our specification of work activities. Are there significant domains of work activity—activity that involves labor—that are both solitary individual activities and of central importance in many persons' lives as independent goods, as good independent of the esteem they confer? If so, are they productive activities, contribution activities, or accomplishment activities, or all of these? Must at least some be creative, or can they all be routine? These are some of the questions that must be addressed here. But remember that the emphasis in this context is on the issue of survival, not the issue of flourishing. It is one thing to say that someone's life is less flourishing than it could be if it lacks all opportunity for meaningful work. It is quite another to say that such a life would not be worth living for many, regardless of what else life includes.

It is plausible that over time creative activities of both work and play are essential to avoid the debilitating effects of boredom for any normal human. For a person of average intelligence, the lightheartedness of play loses its appeal eventually and probably very quickly. This is likely true of children as well. It is only from the perspective of an adult that most of the activities that appear meaningful to a child are play activities. Most probably involve the same kind of effort that goes into adult labor. Indeed, boredom sets in for an average child when its activities cease to challenge, to demand effort, to tax to some significant degree. Play actually seems to have its place in human psychology as a temporary leave from other types of activities. This explains why leisure soon becomes excruciatingly boring for the average person. That some of the activities of both play and work would not need to be solitary and individual in the relevant senses is implausible. Cognitive development alone would suggest that a significant portion of learning activities for both children and adults is solitary in this sense. That it is gives our lives much of its meaning when we are not engaged more socially. Learning activities of either work or play are often solitary in the relevant sense.

Also, a life full of every good thing except meaningful creative labor would no doubt soon become terribly burdensome for most. Play alone cannot relieve the weight of merely instrumental effort, of deontic activities, and of what can become humdrum routine. If not offset by the excitement of discovery and creativity that demands labor, it is simply insufficient as a panacea regarding boredom. Not even the knowledge that one is loved and that one loves others is sufficient over a protracted period. Love must become active, more than playful, and have some degree of discovery in it to be sustaining for very long. For it is a fact about personal love that if it does not remain dynamic it dies, and sometimes probably from boredom.

Regarding the aesthetic categories relevant to work activities: It is plausible to think that categories such as "fascinating" and "captivating" are the most relevant. To involve labor, the activities must be challenging, and, to avoid the dreaded kind, the labor must be to some degree fascinating and captivating. Without some threshold level of work activity that is both captivating and challenging, any reasonably intelligent person is vulnerable to the devastating effects of boredom; mere play will not suffice. Indeed, it is plausible that the more intelligent the creature, the larger the role aesthetic goods, especially aesthetic activities that are captivating and challenging, play in its psychology.

However, to argue that play is not sufficient to displace boredom is not to argue that it does not have an essential place in human experience. Just as play can become tiresome, so can work, even meaningful work. Periods of intense creative activity are very rewarding, but they are also draining. So are routine, uncreative work activities. This is because they involve labor, and protracted labor of any sort is exhausting. It leaves a person not only in need of rest—periods of inactivity—but in need of lightness of activity, in need of play. Imagine what life would be like if there were only the options of labor or inactivity. Not only would such a life exact a heavy toll on each person's individual interests; it would wreak havoc with personal relationships. For the only active associations with others a person would have would always have some taxing dimension to them. Over time, this would be more than an inconvenience; it would be unbearable. Yet this is only one thing that makes a life of mere work and rest so debilitating to those who find themselves forced into it. The children of the poor probably get more rest than they do play, and it is perhaps as much the lack of play as anything else that takes the sparkle from their eyes.

Recognition of the importance of creative activities, however, should not lead us to underestimate the value of routine activities. The inability to sustain creative engagement itself makes it imperative that if the human organism is to survive it must find much of routine activity inherently rewarding. That humans do find much of this activity rewarding goes a long way in explaining why humans have survived the vicissitudes of evolution. It explains why they have retained enough interest in themselves and their environment to find the struggle worthwhile. Thus the fact that an activity is routine should not in itself lead us to think that it is of mere instrumental significance in an agent's life. Rather, it is a life confined to the routine, without periods of creative work and leisure, that is debilitating. Otherwise, the routine itself contains much activity that is intrinsically indispensable. Though meaningful routine might not be fascinating, some level of it is very satisfying, a less intense level of aesthetic experience. Were routine activities not at all satisfying, we would be hard-pressed to cope with life.

It is plausible then that the integration of routine work activities with creative work and play is not only necessary for a life of flourishing. Some degree of this seems necessary for the very survival of human integrity. The lack of it threatens the human ability to maintain an interest in life over time.

But why think that any of these activities must be solitary individual activities? The argument that some of them must be centers on two features of these kinds of activities. One involves creative activities; the other, routine contribution activities regarding one's own welfare.

There is a sphere of creative activity that is independent of the contribution feature of work activity. It exemplifies itself in the pursuit of art for art's sake and sport where the emphasis is not on winning but on how one plays the game. In both, the emphasis is not on contribution but on authenticity. In fact, the authenticity of creative activity with the concern for purity of pursuit is a mark of an agent's valuing creativity for its own sake. This is true whether it is in art, sport, the pursuit of knowledge, or wherever. Thus to engage in an activity to display for others one's cleverness at novelty may indeed be very creative, but it is not thereby valued for its creative dimension. Rather, the thought that there is a connection between the purity of one's activity and its being one's own is central to its being valued for its creative aspect. Therefore, the satisfaction of exercising one's own skill or insight is irreducibly individual in this aspect of the value of creativity, even when other more social dimensions are present.

On the other end of the spectrum are individual interests connected with the activities of routine everyday experience. These are basic welfare interests related to food, shelter, and health maintenance. The desire to contribute to one's own welfare and development is a normal desire for most of us. The valuing of such activity is not always reducible to the thought that it results in an acceptable state of welfare or personal development. For one might be disappointed that one's welfare has not resulted from an activity that is one's own. In fact, it is a feature of any plausible view of human welfare that an agent makes some contribution, however small or indirect, to his or her own welfare. Another feature is that the agent values some activities of this sort for their own sake. What clearer sign could there be that a person is deeply self-alienated than that he or she finds none of the routine activities of self-care intrinsically rewarding?

There are, of course, many cases in which some such contributions are not possible for any particular agent. Still it is hard to conceive of human welfare where it is not a loss for the agent that the agent could make no contribution of this sort. If this is true, then at least some (I suspect many) activities of contribution to one's own welfare are those an agent values intrinsically as individual goods. Some such activities would be pursued where possible by most people, even where they were completely and easily eliminable without loss of their other contributory ends. Being a mere patient, then, regarding one's welfare needs is a fantasy only for the overworked. Just as dreams of freedom from welfare needs and activities is one kind of nightmare, a world scarce in work activity is another. I also suspect that most people would pursue some work activities involving their own welfare needs, even at a significant cost to themselves.

Yet it might be objected that some people, due to extreme physical handicaps, cannot engage in contribution activities regarding their own welfare. Though their disabilities are a loss to them in just this regard, still they are among the most admirable and well adjusted people. They are certainly not people who have lost the basic elements of human integrity.

There are several things that must be said in response to this, none of which denies that there are indeed such people. The first is this: To argue that individual contribution activities are categorical goods is not to argue that they are universally so, however close they come to being so. It is to argue that they can and do function in a manner that often involves a person's identifying thoughts in important ways. The second thing to note is that we recognize as truly exceptional those who are well adjusted and admirable despite these handicaps. We stand in wonder of how they could survive, given their losses. Also, our attitude toward their integrity is admiration rather than pity, and our identifying thoughts reveal doubts that we could survive such misfortune. Finally, we must understand the options of those who do survive with such handicaps regarding the ability to engage in these welfare contribution activities. If such a person is a talented person who has opportunity to develop that talent, his or her chances for survival increase tremendously. Why? Because an extremely physically handicapped person with significant intelligence but without opportunity for development must suffer through hours and hours of inactivity. But even where there is talent and opportunity for creative activity, the adjustment to the passivity in the routine regarding the agent's welfare needs will be most difficult. Those of us not physically handicapped can hardly appreciate the difficulties of adjusting to a routine filled with someone else's activities rather than our own. Our routines are active and interestingly so, even when they are uncreative, and this is a great blessing.

I conclude then that there are many intrinsically valued solitary activities of the individual sort. Many are in all probability of categorical importance to most of us as independent goods of activity. Writing a book is most valuable to its author (at least to an author of a certain sort) in that it is both challenging and fascinating. That it might make a contribution is, of course, a reason to think it worthy of publication, but writing a book and publishing a book are different activities. Any real writer, or artist, or musician, or scientist will tell you that what drives his or her work activity most is that it is fascinating and challenging. That some will take this claim with either dull surprise or disbelief only reflects their lack of understanding of what life is sometimes like for others. And though it is difficult for any of us to say what it is like to be a bat, some of us know what it is like to be a writer, an artist, a musician, or a scientist. It is to be taken with one's work, to be fascinated by it, to be captivated by it, to be lost in it. To be stripped of it is to be left in a world without color. The same, of course, can be said of many other workers and for many other kinds of work from carpentry to dentistry and from teaching to designing.


In contrast with individual solitary activities is another group of activities that are done alone in the relevant sense and are of intrinsic value to the agent. But, unlike solitary individual activities, they have beneficiaries other than the agent. The agent is still an intrinsic beneficiary of the activity in the sense that these activities have intrinsic as well as (perhaps) instrumental value to the agent. But there are others who are independent beneficiaries of these activities in the sense that they either do not participate in the activities themselves or if they do, the activities themselves have only instrumental value to them. For this reason, these activities are solitary but are other-as well as self-regarding. The idea is that some activities are intrinsically valuable to an agent because they are intrinsically related to the satisfaction of someone else's interests. It is because these activities are both solitary and other-regarding that I call them solitary benevolent activities, remembering that they are nondeontic activities. Thus the issue for the remainder of this essay is this: What role does the intrinsic interest in solitary benevolent activities play in the integrity of the agent of integrity in the thick sense?

Recall from earlier discussion that there are two types of these solitary activities, personally benevolent solitary activities and impartially benevolent solitary activities. Personally benevolent activities have independent beneficiaries personally related to the agent through some form of personal love or close personal attachment. Impartially benevolent activities have independent beneficiaries not specially related to the agent. I will say more about the latter activities later, but first I must address the former.

Personally benevolent solitary activities are done for the sake of one's loved ones, that is, for one's friends, family, neighbors, or community in some larger sense. As beneficiaries, loved ones are independent by virtue of not sharing the activity with the agent as an intrinsic good. Thus they are independently related to the activity as a good but personally related to the agent. Consequently, there are at least as many types of personally benevolent activities as there are personal relationships. Since my aim here has its limits in the structural significance of these goods to human integrity, I will restrict discussion to contribution activities of the personally benevolent sort. I will not attempt anything like a complete account.

Remember that contribution activities aim at enhancing the good of someone or some thing. Personally benevolent solitary activities of this sort, then, are those that aim at enhancing the good of someone with whom the agent has a loving relationship—a family member, a friend, or a member of the community. Of special importance are the agent's interest in the welfare of loved ones and the interest in being their benefactor.

Consider the nurturing activities of a parent toward a beloved child. Earlier we saw that any loving parent feels obligated to engage in some activities regarding the welfare interests of the child by virtue of parental love. Without such a feeling, we are at a loss to make sense of the parent's love. We are at a similar loss if we find the parent averse to all nondeontic activities regarding the child's welfare interests. Imagine a parent who looks with dread on any and all welfare-related activities regarding its child. Within the agent's deliberative field, all such activities are viewed as cloaked in tedium. All are done either out of some sense of obligation or simply as instrumentally important to the child's well-being. It is not that the parent does not want the child to prosper. Indeed, this parent wants benefits to accrue to the child in excess of what he or she feels an obligation to provide. But there remains an aversion to the activities that are the means that provide these benefits, an aversion that is outweighed by the concern for the child's welfare. Is this parental love?

Whatever else the concern such a person might have for the child, it is difficult to make sense of it as parental love. Personal love—of whatever type—takes delight in caring for loved ones. Some threshold level of these activities appears within the loving parent's deliberative field as delightful, which marks these activities as the kind of nondeontic activities in question. To force them into deontic or moral categories is to distort the kinds of goods they are. Thus, for example, never taking delight in providing the welfare benefit of emotional security for one's child through nurturing activities is simply incompatible with parental love.

To appreciate the kind of value these activities have, we need to pay careful attention to their phenomenology. What we need is a better understanding of when a delightful experience is aesthetic in the broad sense? Contrast three different cases of finding something delightful: (i) finding it delightful that a state of affairs obtains, for example, that your children are happy; (ii) taking delight in the results of your actions, for example, that your actions bring joy to your children; and (iii) taking delight in activities themselves, for example, taking delight in playing with and nurturing your children. In the first case, one could take delight in a state of affairs that is entirely unrelated to one's actions. Think, for example, of being away from home and learning that your children are doing well. The feeling that comes from such good news does not seem to me particularly aesthetic, even in a broad sense. Nor would the feeling that comes from knowing that your children are pleased that you had prepared their favorite meal for them while they were away all day at school, which would be an instance of (ii). You might find preparing the meal onerous except for the fact that it has the payoff of bringing joy to your children. But consider the person who would take delight not only in the fact of the payoff but also in preparing the meal itself. One of two things might be true. First, such a parent might take delight in cooking independent of the other delight in the payoff. Suppose this is true. There remains the question of whether the two delights are simply two instantiations of one kind of experience or whether they are two different kinds of experience. I believe there are good reasons for thinking that it is the latter and that this is important for practical reason.

One very important reason for thinking that the delights in this case are of different kinds is that approximate synonymous expressions for one experience cannot be substituted for the other. For example, instead of describing the experience of finding the cooking itself valuable, we might say that it is interesting, fascinating, or captivating. But to substitute these descriptions for the delight taken in the state of affairs of your children being pleased at having their favorite meal seems odd, to say the least. Imagine thinking that it is interesting that your child is pleased or finding such a fact fascinating or being captivated by it. None of these seems to capture the relevant sense of delight, yet they seem to apply rather straightforwardly to finding the cooking itself delightful.

The second possibility is that it is not cooking alone that you find delightful but cooking for your children, where the cooking is not valued merely instrumentally. In this kind of case, it seems that the activity of cooking also falls under another description. For instance, you might intrinsically value cooking as an instance of another kind of activity that you intrinsically value. If you see your cooking as a nurturing activity and if you intrinsically value nurturing activities, then you might intrinsically value your cooking for your children in a way that you might not value cooking per se. This would be to place intrinsic rather than mere instrumental value on your activity; hence you would not value your activity merely for its results. Now suppose that you take delight in cooking for your children and you take delight in the fact that your children are pleased with their favorite meal. Are these two different delights, and are they of different kinds? Are they phenomenologically distinct? I believe that they are, though their distinctness is easily overlooked.

One might find it interesting, fascinating, and captivating to cook for one's children in a way that one does not find it interesting, fascinating, or captivating to cook per se. To do so is to find the nurturing of one's children interesting, fascinating, and captivating. If you are a parent of this sort, then you take aesthetic delight in some of your nurturing activities in that you find them interesting, satisfying, fascinating, or captivating, but you also take nonaesthetic delight in the results of these activities. If this is true, then for some people the capacity for boredom is underwritten not only by the capacities to find some activities interesting, fascinating, captivating, and the like but also by social capacities, among which are loving capacities. The loving parent is not only one who can take loving delight in the results of her nurturing activities but also one who can take aesthetic delight in and be fascinated and captivated by nurturing activities. Any adequate conception of practical reason that applies to loving parents must therefore recognize the role of aesthetic reasons in their normative thoughts. Later, I will argue that these observations have previously unnoticed implications for a normative conceptual scheme, namely, that not only do various goods that give rise to deontic beliefs symmetrically regulate each other, but also the deontic and the nondeontic, the moral and the nonmoral, are symmetrical in their regulative functions.

There are, of course, moments when the delight subsides in the case of deontic activities, and the sense of obligation internal to personal love must take over. But the dispositions of a person who anticipates with dread any thought of welfare-related activities regarding loved ones are not those of love. Nor are those of the person who does not find intrinsic value in some such activities that are independent of what the lover feels is owed to loved ones. Thus the loving parent takes delight in some activities that contribute to the child's good independent of any sense of obligation he or she has toward the child. As a source of personal delight, the loving parent sees these activities not only as beneficial to the child but also as a part of the parent's own good. Without this conception of parental good as including contribution activities of this sort, we are unable to understand a person as a loving parent. If this is true, then our intrinsic interest in many loving activities underwrites our capacity not only for loneliness but for boredom as well. Without loving activities, we are vulnerable to the loneliness that fills the space where nonaesthetic delight should be, and without some loving activities being interesting, fascinating, and captivating, we are without the aesthetic delight that wards off boredom. That there should be a confluence of these interests and capacities should not be surprising on reflection. It is nature's way of getting us to enjoy what is good not only for us but also for the species.

One might admit this, however, and question whether any of these activities must include labor. Is it not enough simply to want to play with one's child and leave the labor to others, if one can? The problem with this suggestion is that it involves an impoverished conception of nurturing. If we confine the concept of nurturing to play activities, it is difficult to distinguish loving a child in a parental way from some lesser form of attachment. Suppose I enjoy playing with my neighbor's children, and I care for their welfare in that I am committed to their welfare needs being met. Being less affluent than myself, my neighbors need assistance that I am willing to provide in meeting the welfare needs of their children. The parents do the nurturing, enjoying a good bit of it; I pay the bills, without a trace of resentment; and I play with the children, aversive to any of the activities that constitute the nurturing. Perhaps I love the children, but there would be a clear distinction between the love I have for them and the love their parents have for them. Moreover, this judgment seems confirmed by the increasing difficulties we have with a conception of fatherhood confined exclusively to the role of secondary care: Too many secondary care responsibilities dull the capacity for primary care and thereby dull the capacity for parental love.

Furthermore, the degree of caring about the child's welfare and the delight in activities that secure it will not only exceed the feelings of obligation to the child. They will also exceed the feelings of obligation to others for whom the parent has impartial respect and esteem. We may see in another essay how this works out regarding the priorities problem and the goods of activity. For now it is sufficient to point out that some commitments involving personal benevolence take priority over some impartial commitments. Here this is true of the intentional dispositional states of someone whose integrity involves parental love and the ground project of parenthood but who also has simple respect and esteem for others. But, in this case, the activities are nondeontic, solitary activities. Thus the integration problem is to be understood as the deontic having to make a place for the nondeontic. This is not an insignificant fact about a normative conceptual scheme, and could be expanded on in another occasion.

For the moment, however, consider, a loving parent making a lifeaffecting choice that makes possible some significant degree of these contribution activities regarding a beloved child. Would this show a lack of respect for others, even if it diminished to some degree the capacity or opportunity to assist others with their rights? If so, the integration of parental affection and impartial respect can only take the form of subservience of the personal to the impersonal and the nondeontic to the deontic. But this is simply not our understanding of these concepts.

If we assume that you are a loving parent to your daughter, say, and a respectful person, it is not a sign that you do not respect others if in some contexts you give priority to personally benevolent activities regarding your daughter over some of the interests of respectable people. This is true even where these activities are not required by what you feel you ought to do for your daughter. We would have serious questions about the depth of your love for your daughter if you did not have such priorities, if you did not do some things for her simply because you find them delightful. Indeed, such priorities are a part of a loving parent's humanity and integrity. If this is true, then in some contexts you would have, as a function of having parental love for your child, the normative belief that you ought to do y for the sake of some respectable person or persons were it not for the delightfulness of doing x for your child, even where you do not view doing x for your child as an obligation. This is a new kind of normative belief, one as yet unanalyzed in terms of the priorities problem. If such beliefs are rational for us, then our conceptual scheme will reflect the fact that for us the deontic and the nondeontic, the aesthetic and the moral, are symmetrical in their regulative functions. This kind of norm is a component in a loving parent's dispositions and that this is compatible with simple respect for others. Also, since all personal love includes the interests in the welfare of loved ones and in being their benefactor and in taking delight in loving activities, the analysis extends to all forms of loving relationships.

Of course, if your dispositional set includes both personal love for your child and respect for others, there are contexts in which you will believe that others' interests take priority over your nondeontic interest in the delightful activities of benefiting your child. You will believe in some contexts that it would be wrong for you to do x for the sake of your child, despite its delightfulness, because you will believe that you have an obligation to do y for other respectable people. This, of course, shows the regulative influence of impartial respect on the place of the goods of activity in our lives.


Thus far the concern has been with the loved one as an extrinsic though independent beneficiary of the lover's activities. The loved one is an extrinsic beneficiary when the benefit is simply the result of the activity. Think of a baby benefiting from having its diaper changed. There are, however, other activities in which the loved one is intended as an intrinsic yet independent beneficiary. In these cases, the loved one is an intrinsic beneficiary because the activity itself is of intrinsic value to her. In both cases, however, she is an independent beneficiary in the sense that she is not an agent in the activities themselves.

Activities having an intrinsic independent beneficiary I call activities of recognition. I am not sure whether to say that such activities are a type of contribution activity or a separate category. The most important point is that the good of the activity is not entirely independent of the activity itself, yet the loved one is not an agent in the activity. I have in mind the lover's activities that express the importance of the loved one to the lover.

Some ways of expressing the importance of the loved one to the lover involve expressions of affection, but these are usually shared activities. Thus solitary activities of recognition involve either unilateral expressions of affection or some other expression of importance of the loved one to the lover. Sometimes these expressions involve "honoring" the loved one. Thus there are two types of unilateral activities of recognition: unilateral activities of affection and unilateral honoring activities.

We can summarize the distinctions regarding personally benevolent solitary activities as follows:

I. Unilateral activities with extrinsic beneficiaries

II. Unilateral activities of affection with intrinsic beneficiaries

III. Unilateral honoring activities with intrinsic beneficiaries

An example of a unilateral activity of affection might be one involving friendship, say, giving a gift to a friend. Your friend is not a participant in the activity but an intrinsic beneficiary of it. The giving expresses the affection, for the object that is the gift would not have the same meaning apart from the giving. Of course, some gifts have extrinsic benefits, but many of them either do not or they have dual benefits. Perhaps your gift to your friend involves the activity of preparing her favorite meal. In fact, it seems that the giving of gifts in some form—though not necessarily of material goods—is most certainly an essential element in human flourishing. The reason I say this is that it allows humans to express their graciousness to those they love. A gift well given is one that not only expresses love and thoughtfulness for what is given but also expresses grace in how it is given. Part of the way, then, in which gift giving appears within the loving agent's deliberative field as good is in terms of it graciousness, clearly an aesthetic category. Could a life totally without opportunities for graciousness to loved ones and delightfulness in it possibly be the best life for a communal being to live? The answer seems obvious to anyone not in the throes of a highly individualistic conception of the human good. Yet what might not be so obvious is that some level of the goods of unilateral activities of affection is necessary for the survival of human integrity.

One misleading argument for the categorical value of such activities is that if social beings are never the intrinsic beneficiaries of such activities, they will lose their sense of self-worth. The problem with such an argument is not its premises but its conclusion. The fact that such benefits are essential to the survival of a sense of self-worth does not show that the activities are the sorts of goods in question. What we are evaluating here is not whether your solitary activity of engaging in x is an intrinsic, extrinsic, or dual benefit to your friend. Rather, it is whether your engaging in doing x as an element in your way of life is a categorical good for you as a nondeontic activity. If the loss to you of never engaging in x for a friend is explained entirely in terms of her interests, then the activity is not the relevant sort. Nor are activities the absence of which from your life would result in your having a sense of guilt but no sense of personal loss. The reason in each case is that the activities must be intrinsic goods for you and they must be nondeontic activities.

Relative, then, to the class of agents of integrity in the thick sense, we can conclude that all such persons intrinsically value such activities of recognition. All such agents would unmistakenly find these activities an intrinsic part of the life most worth living. The issue here, though, concerns not that of human flourishing but that of human survival in the relevant sense. The question then is this: Could all such loving beings survive the complete loss of such activities in their lives with their integrity intact? Or could at least some of them survive by taking a categorically consoling interest in some other human good?

It does not seem plausible that there is any impartial interest that in itself could console for a complete loss of such goods in a person's life. Think what it would be like to sacrifice permanently any gracious communication of your affection to your children, your parents, your spouse or romantic lover, your friends, or your neighbors on the grounds of simple respect, sympathy, or esteem for others. It is difficult to see how such a sacrifice could be anything other than the sacrifice of one's life and one's reasons for living. As such, it would be the sacrifice of oneself as an ongoing agent, and this might occur only were there no way to be both a loving person and a person with self-respect. Our previous discussion of the role of the goods of love as nondeliberative goods is relevant here. The goods of love, where they exist, simply impose a deliberative limit on the concept of personal sacrifice in the name of impartial concerns. The goods of personally benevolent activities of the sort involving graciousness are another example of this. But what I am arguing here is that some threshold level of these goods is necessary in the lives of most for survival of the basic elements of integrity in the thin sense. I am not arguing that all conflicts between such goods and impartial concerns must give priority to these activities. Beyond a threshold level, these goods are nondeliberative goods in relationship to impartial concerns. It is in this sense that these activities are categorical goods for at least most of us.

More plausible as a consoling factor for the complete loss of unilateral activities of affection are shared activities of affection. Perhaps some persons could survive and even flourish without engaging in these unilateral activities, as long as there was some abundance of shared activities in their lives.

Although we should not underestimate the value of unilateral expressions of affection, let us suppose that they can be significantly consoled for by shared expressions of affection. But what if the only consoling interest sufficient to console for the loss of these solitary goods is the interest in personally shared goods? The same structural points regarding the place of agent-centered goods of activity in relationship to impartial concerns remain intact. My major concern here is to show that agent-centered goods of activity limit the demands of impartiality in the integrity of a normal human agent. Therefore, a concession to the relative categorical value of solitary activities to shared activities of the sort in question would not undermine the core of my analysis.

Yet there is reason to think that the unilateral aspect of these activities is more crucial than the previous paragraph suggests. The intrinsic benefits of such activities serve to convey not only that the loved one is important to the lover but also, because these activities are unilateral, that the loved one is important as a separate and numerically distinct person. Moreover, the interest in expressing this is to be found internal to the phenomenon of personal love itself. Thus such activities not only confer benefits on the loved one but are the objects of an intrinsic interest of the lover. To love another includes the interest in expressing not only how important the other is to oneself but also, quite simply, how important she is period.

A similar analysis applies to activities of recognition that "honor" loved ones. This is true, despite the fact that it is often difficult to draw a hard line between expressions of affection and honoring expressions in personal relationships. To honor a person is to hold that person in esteem, to value that person in some significant degree beyond the point of mere respect. It takes little to express toleration, but it takes greater attention to detail to honor a loved one. In the former case, one needs only to avoid actions that show contempt. But in the latter, there must be overt behavioral manifestation of the lover's recognition of the loved one's esteem-conferring qualities. In cases of peer love, honoring activities are no less important in the lover's love for the loved one than are the activities of affection. Thus unilateral honoring activities are no less important in the integrity of a loving person than are unilateral activities of affection.

Still an argument can be made that as unilateral activities there is a somewhat larger role for personal honoring activities than for activities of affection. The argument concerns the desire to confer the benefit of the lover's expression of the loved one's importance as a separate and numerically distinct person. E-qualities, like R-qualities, are in themselves the objects of impartial attitudes, as we have seen. But, for reasons already given, personal affection is not transferable across persons of similar qualities in the way that esteem is. Thus unilateral honoring activities serve to point out more specifically what it is about the loved one that makes the person worthy of honor as a separate and distinct person. These qualities are independent of the relationship to the lover, and conferring the benefit of such recognition on the loved one is as intrinsic to friendship as is the conferring of affection to romantic love. And in the case of both affection and honor, graciousness is central to the value of the activities from the agent's point of view.

Therefore, whether as welfare activities or as activities of recognition, personally benevolent solitary activities play a crucial and irreplaceable role in integrity on the thick conception. But what of impartially benevolent solitary activities?


It is of first importance to understand the sense in which these solitary activities are impartial and the sense in which they are not. They are not impartial in the sense that agent-neutral activities are. The reason for this is that the agent is dispositionally sensitive to beliefs regarding the identity of the agent of the activity. That is, if you engage in an activity of this sort, you are sensitive to the fact that it is you and not someone else doing it, but you are dispositionally indifferent to beliefs regarding the identity of the independent beneficiary of the activity, as long as the beneficiary falls under a certain description. It is in this latter sense that these activities are impartial. Some persons, for example, take delight in helping other persons who are in need apart from any thought that such assistance is obligatory. Mother Teresa seemed to be an excellent case in point. Crucial to her disposition toward those she served was the belief that they were needy. The belief that a person was significantly needy seemed sufficient to evoke her dedication, subject only to the limitations of time and energy. Yet Mother Teresa's attitude seemed to be that it was not only important that the needy receive help but that it was she who played a large role in helping them.

When such activities are truly impartial, personal affection plays no role in their value to the agent. My point here is not that Mother Teresa had no personal affection for those she helped. Rather, it is that insofar as she appreciated persons as in need of help and she valued her activities in this regard, personal affection was an external factor. To the extent that personal affection was not an external factor, her welfare activities on behalf of the needy were personally rather than impartially benevolent. This is because personal affection for another brings with it sensitivity to the identity of the object of affection. Thus unilateral activities of affection are not among impartially benevolent activities. We are left, then, with impartially benevolent welfare activities and impartial honoring activities of the unilateral sort.

For many people impartial welfare activities are a part of their profession or life's work, which they value intrinsically. Dedicated social workers, teachers, lawyers, physicians, and the like are all persons who find intrinsic value in helping others who are in some sense needy. There are, of course, those who enter these professions merely for the external rewards associated with them. This is especially true of those professions that carry with them access to great wealth or prestige. But these are not persons who are dedicated professionals or who are dedicated to their work, for to be dedicated in this context is to be dedicated to persons in need. A dedicated social worker is dedicated to those with welfare needs; a dedicated teacher, to students with a need to learn; a dedicated lawyer, to clients in need of legal remedy; and a dedicated physician, to those in need of medical attention. Yet in a very important sense, to be dedicated in this context is to be dedicated to helping with the needs of strangers.

That there are those who are dedicated to the needs of strangers in a way that renders their activities a ground project suitably called their life's work is certain. That there are those who could not find life worth living without such work is also certain. Thus there are those for whom the loss of their work as a ground project would be inconsolable. Also, it is doubtful that most of these people feel that their taking on such a project as their life's work is obligatory, though some of them might. Those who do not, see their activities as not only beneficial to the needy but also as intrinsically rewarding work that is not obligatory, which raises the issue of the role of the aesthetic in an account of these goods. When these nondeontic activities have categorical value to an agent, can their value be adequately understood in nonaesthetic terms? I will argue that they cannot.

It should not be overlooked in this regard that these activities are not agent-neutral activities. Rather, they are agent-centered goods that are not, for these persons, replaceable by impartial concerns as consoling interests, should these goods be lost to them. In fact, some of these agents simply could not survive in a world free of needy people. What does this say about the kind of value at stake for these agents?

One kind of person who might seem to fit the description is the person who excessively "needs to be needed." For some, being needed is at the center of their lives because they have a fragile sense of self. Often, such people are very possessive of those under their care, for without these needy dependents these people have no secure sense of their place in the world. In this sense, these people are more dependent on those in need than the needy are on them. Clearly, when the value of activities involving others is accounted for in this way, neither aesthetic nor moral value seems to be the most prominent.

There are others, however, for whom activities of the sort in question seem to be categorical without this kind of pathological dimension. Instead of being pathological in this sense, the vulnerability to the loss of these activities in their lives seems to reflect a curious blend of what we think are healthy values. On the one hand are the values of respect and sympathy for others, and on the other is finding working with people interesting, fascinating; and captivating, even challenging. To reduce the value of these activities to the social values of respect and sympathy is to distort them, as is to reduce their value to the fascination they bring to the agent.

A certain (mistaken) way of reading Nietzsche derides any notion of "service to humanity." Students sometimes take this tack, espousing the belief that most of humanity is simply contemptible and unworthy of being helped or "served." Failure to recognize this is, on their view, a failure of both judgment and character. Of course, if they are right that strangers are worthy only of contempt, then it does seem rather perverse of people to dedicate their life's work to them. But surely it would be odd that only members of one's communal circle were minimally respectable or estimable in a way that allows sympathy for their needs. These beliefs about the R-qualities and E-qualities of strangers that smother sympathetic response are often just false. The failure to see that they are false is brought about by the absence of the dispositions of respect and esteem in the first place. Since a communal being does have these dispositions and is capable of recognizing the R-qualities and E-qualities of others, the false beliefs are probably not attributable to communal commitments. Rather, they are likely attributable to dispositions that are antithetical not only to impartial sympathy but to communal love as well. After all, it is one thing to be indifferent to strangers about whom one knows nothing; it is another to be averse to helping them because they are held in contempt. To do the latter, one has to know something about them and that something must reveal that they are beneath sympathy. But to be unsympathetic in general to the plight of strangers and to find burdensome all activities intended to benefit them is decidedly not required by empirical evidence. This is especially true of a communal being who is a person of integrity. For this is someone who realizes the importance of being considered a separate and distinct person whose sense of self-worth should be considered on the evidence of character. So it is easy enough to see why a respectful and sympathetic person would take an interest in activities that benefit respectable but needy people.

It is, however, one thing to take an interest in these activities and to pursue them and quite another to find the activities interesting, fascinating, captivating, and intrinsically challenging. For most people who have these activities as a central part of their life's work, this aesthetic dimension is almost always a central part of their value. Were it utterly dull and uninteresting to do this work, it is entirely implausible that the activities could play the role they do within the person's psychology. To be sure, finding it fascinating and interesting to help others is to care about others, but there is an aesthetic dimension to this caring that is lost if we are not careful to pay attention to the fact that these are nondeontic activities. Overly moralized conceptual schemes ride roughshod over these phenomenological distinctions. That they do leads to distortions of practical reason, as we will see. For now, we need to note the difference between taking delight in the fact that the needy have their needs met and taking delight in the activities of meeting these needs. Though delight of the second sort expresses respect and sympathy for others, it also reveals another dimension of value, one that is aesthetic. It says something about the kind of aesthetic experience for which people of a certain character have the capacity.

It is easy enough to see that the activity involved in solving a mathematical problem could have an aesthetic dimension independent of its payoff. In fact, those who are incapable of finding mathematics alluring in this sense tend to dread math. But mathematicians—those whose life's work is very much centered on doing math—tend to be those people who experience the aesthetic allure of mathematics. Not only do they find it interesting and fascinating; they are captivated by it. I am claiming that the same thing is true of many of those who make working with the needy the center of their life's work. Thus a full understanding of the value of such work includes both a social and an aesthetic dimension. For people of this sort, their capacity for boredom is underwritten both by their impartial social capacities and by their aesthetic capacities for finding their social work interesting, fascinating, and captivating.

Of course, not all people organize their lives around these kinds of work activities, but the structural significance of a general lack of aesthetic delight in unilateral welfare activities for strangers is gauged by what is both present and absent in the lives of those who are characterized as lacking it. In a world like ours, much of life is spent dealing with strangers. If it were largely spent with contemptible strangers, this would itself be a serious threat to a healthy integration of personality. Of course, this does not mean that one can fabricate beliefs about the character of others in order to survive. But it does mean that those with integrity are disposed to maintain some hope for the intrinsic value in others, rather than to extinguish it by some general belief about strangers. On the other hand, a general resentment of strangers reveals a disposition aversive to the elements of integrity in others. To be filled with such resentment is an evil to be avoided, and if of sufficient magnitude it can be a categorical evil. So much then for what will be present for the person who has a general attitude of contempt toward strangers to a degree to smother all sympathy for them.

Absent will be a sense of graciousness toward strangers. This is a great loss measured by the resentment that rushes to fill the void. Not all of us feel the call to dedicate our work to the needs of strangers. But it is hard to imagine someone with communal sensibilities who would not also find the complete loss of graciousness to strangers affective of his or her identifying thoughts. Indeed, it seems more plausible that the resentment is a response to a loss than that the value of graciousness is the remedy for resentment. If this is true, then impartial welfare activities of the sort in question are intrinsic human goods structurally crucial to the integrity of any fully developed social being. This is true because severe resentment of strangers is not only a form of alienation from others but also a form of self-alienation for a social being.

Nowhere is this alienation more evident than where impartial honoring activities are viewed with resentment. When a person resents rather than takes delight, both aesthetic and moral, in the legitimate accomplishments of others, there is deep self-alienation as well as alienation from others. A person of integrity in the thick sense is not given to such resentment. The reason is not that the person of integrity is indifferent to the E-qualities of strangers. Rather, it is because the person of integrity in the thick sense is very sensitive to such qualities and takes delight in them. It is only the person with a strong sense of self coupled with a positive disposition toward others who can experience such delight. Those burdened with resentment in these matters lack a very important human good, perhaps one that cannot be replaced by any other. To lack the capacity for graciousness in this regard, then, is to lack a capacity that not only wards off resentment but boredom as well.


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