ETHICS: generalizable extrinsicity

Eric Watt Forste (
Wed, 15 Oct 1997 13:07:42 -0700

A year or two ago I was puzzling over Aristotle's Nichomachean
Ethics, specifically his assumption about the existence of a summum
bonum. A simplified interpretation of his argument is that to pursue
a goal extrinsically, that is, seeking to acquire a means to a
further goal (rather than seeking something desired for its own
sake) partakes of drudgery.

I cannot agree with this. If the notion of a summum bonum is not
inherently incoherent (and it may be), then for me the summum bonum
is the generalizably extrinsic. Skill, money, beauty, wit,
attentiveness, and the other virtues of power are distinguished in
that they can all be used in the pursuit of nearly any other
desirable goals; and it is the generalizable extrinsicity of the
virtues of power that make them so desirable to me. I seek knowledge
for its own sake in part because I've adopted (or was born with?
I don't know) the scholar's trick of flooding my brain with
extropiates whenever I have an "Aha!" experience. But I've developed
that aspect of my experience because although I may not know now
what it is that I will want to do in the future, I do know that
seeking knowledge and developing my skills and guarding my health
will aid me at that later time. Although biologically and
psychologically I am wired so as (to some extent) to seek knowledge
for its own sake, to value it intrinsically, from my high internal
philosophical throne I suspect that if there is anything "rational"
about my valuing the extropic virtues it is not something mystical
and "intrinsic" to them, but their extrinsic value in being the
skills that I need to acquire simply to live and continue to fluorish
as a human being and animal and physical computational system with
transhumanist aspirations.

I have been trying to unravel this knot in my thoughts for a while
now, and as you can see, I'm still not capable of explaining it
very clearly. But now seemed the time to try to mention it, since
there has been a big flurry of posts dealing with moral philosophy

Eric Watt Forste ++ ++ expectation foils perception -pcd