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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

An End-in-Itself

One of the most important things I got from reading Immanuel Kant was the notion of the end-in-itself. Actually I already knew about this concept, we all do, we just forget.

In his Metaphysics of Morals Kant tells us that to be moral we must treat all human beings, including ourselves, not merely as a means to an end but as the end-in-itself.

This got me thinking about the interactions I have with people in my life. So often I walk into a store and forget that I am dealing with a human being not a vending machine. Certainly my intent is to buy something in the store but Kant is pointing out it is just not “right” to see the clerk as merely a means to my getting something I want to purchase any more than it is "right" for the clerk to see me merely as a means to make money. Kant grants that we need to use ourselves and others as means to ends, but he points out it is "wrong" to not at the same, time treat eachother as an end.
I innately understand what Kant means because I know that, as human beings, we are ends in ourselves and to act otherwise leaves everyone feeling used and incomplete.

I began to think more about all the things I do in my day that I treat as merely a means to an end. I realized that I would feel a lot more fulfilled if I did more things because I enjoy them, in other words, as ends in themselves.

It is easy to forget to treat others and ourselves as ends. We do jobs to make money to buy stuff. We take showers to get clean rather than have a restful bath. When we forget to do things we enjoy for their own sake, everything becomes a chore instead of a pleasure. No wonder we feel tired and unfulfilled a lot of the time. When we neglect ourselves in this way we tend to neglect others too and create habits that affect our world.

Kant goes on to describe a world where everyone always treats their self and others as ends-in-themselves. He calls this world “A Kingdom of Ends”. That sounds like a world I would like to live in.


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