Sunday, December 18, 2005

Subjective Sweethearts

Immanuel Kant is known for his moral imperative against utilitarianism - holding that a person should always be an end in himself and never a means to an end. Utilitarianism cries, "Seek the maximum amount of pleasure for the greatest number of people." If the ultimate aim of man is pleasure, if pleasure is "the whole basis of moral norms" (37), then everything we do must be aimed at gaining pleasure, the ultimate good. JPII writes, "If I accept the utilitarian premise I must see myself as . . . an object which may be called upon to provide [pleasurable] experiences for others" (37).

JPII continues:

"If, while regarding pleasure as the only good, I also try to obtain the maximum pleasure for someone else - and not just for myself, which would be blatant egoism - then I put a value on the pleasure of this other person only in so far as it gives pleasure to me: it gives me pleasure, that someone else is experiencing pleasure. If, however, I cease to experience pleasure, or it does not tally with my 'calculus of happiness' - (a term often used by utilitarians) then the pleasure of the other person ceases to be my obligation, a good for me, and may even become something positively bad. I shall then - true to the principles of utilitarianism - seek to eliminate the other person's pleasure because no pleasure for me is any longer bound up with it - or at any rate the other person's pleasure will become a matter of indifference to me, and I shall not concern myself with it" ( 38).

Viewing pleasure, a subjective and ephemeral experience, as one's greatest good leads to egoism. Well, yeah, we all want to feel good. We are all largely looking out for our own desires, right? So what's the problem with that?

Glad you asked. ;-D According to JPII, if you ever want to experience a true and lasting love, it must be built on an objective common good, not a subjective good such as pleasure. Although it is possible to harmonize two egoisms, the relationship still remains based on egoism. The only difference is "that these two egoisms, the man's and the woman's, will match each other and be mutually advantageous. The moment they cease to match and to be of advantage to each other, nothing at all is left of the harmony. Love will be no more, in either of the persons or between them, it will not be an objective reality, for there is no objective good to ensure its existence. 'Love' in its utilitarian conception is a union of egoisms, which can hold together only on condition that they confront each other with nothing unpleasant, nothing to conflict with their mutual pleasure. Therefore love so understood is self-evidently merely a pretence which has to be carefully cultivated to keep the underlying reality hidden: the reality of egoism, and the greediest kind of egoism at that, exploiting another person to obtain for itself its own 'maximum pleasure'. In such circumstances the other person is and remains only a means to an end, as Kant rightly observed in his critique of utilitarianism" (39).

A utilitarian relationship has "a paradoxical pattern: each of the persons is mainly concerned with gratifying his or her own egoism, but at the same time consents to serve someone else's egoism, because this can provide the opportunity for such gratification - and just as long as it does so. This paradoxical pattern . . . means that the person . . . sinks to the level of a means, a tool. . . . If I treat someone else as a tool in relation to myself I cannot help regarding myself in the same light. We have here something like the opposite of the commandment to love" (39).

JPII observes that the only way to escape from utiliarianism and egoism in relationships if to recognize "beyond any purely subjective good, i.e. beyond pleasure, an objective good, which can also unite persons - and thereby acquire the characteristics of a common good" (38). He continues, "Such an objective common good is the foundation of love, and individual persons, who jointly choose a common good, in doing so subject themselves to it. Thanks to it they are united by a true, objective bond of love which enables them to liberate themselves from subjectivism and from the egoism which it inevitably conceals. Love is the unification of persons" (38).

1 comment:

Mattias A. Caro said...

And just to take JP the Great one step further, because you are involved in a common good you are necessarily bringing in two other elements:

a) if you have common good involved, then you must have a common end involved as well, but the good is necessarily directed towards that which fulfills our nature. So he's opening you up to a quick manuver to equate the life of love with the life of grace. What a mind!

b) a common good also implies a societal relationship, thus putting the male-female relationship at the core and foundation of human society. That's important.

Nice blog!