Chapter 11

Self and Person

[This topic is treated in Modes of the Finite, Part 3, Section 4, Chapter 6.]

11.1. Ideals, goals, and purposes

We have seen, then, that human choice implies that we set goals for ourselves, work to achieve these goals, and finally get total fulfillment of them (if they don't contradict our inherent possibilities--our nature) after we die.

Now a goal is an ideal; it is a concept of the self drawn, not from studying the facts about what we now are, but from relating ourselves to different conditions of body, mind, or circumstances of our life.

That is, an ideal is a concept of myself as still "me," but as different from the way I am now. And this ideal becomes a goal when I use this concept as the standard to which the facts about myself must agree and make myself unstable until the facts agree with it. Therefore, this standard defines what is "good for me."

Conclusion 1

What is good for a person is (by definition) his goal.

And a goal, of course, is a purpose. It is the usual sense of "purpose" in our language. Your purpose in doing something is the goal you want to achieve by doing it.

But if you go back to Chapter 2, we gave there a technical sense of "purpose": the end of a process, or the equilibrium implied in an unstable condition--the equilibrium which removed the instability and got the being out of its self-contradictory condition.

Hence, as said just above, when an ideal becomes a goal, what happens is that the choice creates an instability in the body, which has this goal as the purpose toward which the body's processes are now directed.

DEFINITION: A motive is a freely-chosen purpose; it is the "reason" for the action, in the sense of the chosen goal that is sought by the action.

Notice that a motive is not the same as "motivation" in the psychologists' sense of the term: what they mean is "whatever influences behavior (i.e. actions)"; and there may be emotions and habits, whether conscious or unconscious, which influence or even determine actions independently of choices. These emotions may be rejected by the choice as influences; and if so, are not motives for the choice, even though they motivate the act.

Be that as it may, the ideal, once chosen, now becomes in fact the end of a process; because what the choice does is make the body unstable in such a way that the goal is the end result of the process that is initiated. Thus, if you consider yourself as having a college degree, and finally make up your mind to get one, this choice means that your "good" is now (among other things) having this degree; and you are now in an unstable condition until you get the degree; you now have to act to get yourself out of the self-contradictory condition of not yet being your "real" self. It is in this way that the choice determines the body; by setting up an instability in the brain (a dissatisfaction with the present condition) which is resolved only when the goal is achieved.

It is really part of the fallenness of human nature that emotions and other motivators can also set up instabilities which may be at cross-purposes with the goals you freely chose. When this is severe, the person is emotionally unhealthy.

11.2. The self

But the goal you freely choose is yourself, but as different from the way you now are. It is your ideal self; but with this difference: it is to be the real self. You are a contradiction until you actually achieve this goal, which is why you are acting toward it and getting out of your present condition.

Hence, what this "to be real" self is is a creation of your own, using your self-determining mind and imagination. But it is more than a mental exercise, because it actually will be yourself, because you are going to change yourself until it is yourself (and if you don't succeed before you die, you will afterwards). Hence, either before or after death, it will in fact be yourself.

So what you are--your eternal reality, in fact--is created by you by your choices.

DEFINITION: A self is a being which causes itself to be what it is.

You might say that a "self" is a being who is in possession of himself as such, since a being which is a self creates the definition of what that being is and then makes that definition the reality. You will recall that we defined life as "existence as in control of itself." When life reaches the spiritual level, this control is an actual causality, where the living being makes itself be itself.

11.2.1. God and the self

To understand selfhood and self-creativity, it will first be necessary to say something about God and the finite self. This is not religion; I am now talking about the scientific conclusions that there is an Infinite Activity which accounts for limited activities, and what the nature of that Infinite Activity (God) is. Religion, remember, uses revelations by God as its evidence (and these revelations happen to come from the same Infinite Act that philosophy talks about--but that doesn't make philosophy religion).

A self creates itself. God, of course, is the Unlimited Self; the Absolute Creator. He not only is absolutely in control of his own reality, he creates (causes to exist) absolutely everything else.

But if God causes me to exist, then how do I freely create myself? The solution is in what you mean by "cause." God removes the contradiction in my existence's being nothing but existence while still not all there is to existence (in its being finite); but this does not mean he forces it to be this or that finite existence. God causes it, but I determine it. God's causality does not take away my freedom; this would be to make my choice self-contradictory, and God's causality (by definition) makes it not self-contradictory.

But if God causes me to exist, then He must have some purpose in doing so; and then don't I have to fulfill his purpose and not my own?

This is another common misunderstanding. Since God is Absolute, Infinite Activity, He can have no purpose, in the strict sense, for anything He does. Why? Because a purpose is a goal toward which one works--implying that one is (a) in an unstable condition (and God is in absolute equilibrium) and (b) one lacks the reality one will have when at the goal (but God is already infinite activity). No, God's infinite Act can affect me; but, since He can't change, nothing can affect Him. Hence, there is no sense in which He can "want" anything from my existence.

God creates me because He can do it. That is, He is aware that His Infinite Act is capable of causing finite beings to exist (and to act in various ways). He freely chooses His act to have this effect (even though it makes no difference to the Act itself). Thus, the creature (the finite being) "speaks," by its existence and every act it performs, of God, its Creator, just as perception, as the effect of some outside thing, "speaks" of the reality perceived. The creature is the "glory" of the Creator: His "extrinsic glory."

If you wanted to say so, you could then say that the "motive" or "purpose" God had in creating is His "extrinsic glory." That is, it is the creature as caused by His Infinite act. To put this another way, why God created us is, as I said, because He can, which makes Himself the "reason" why He does so, and our existence the effect of this act.

But this is "purpose" in an extremely loose sense. It does not imply (a) a goal for God in creating, nor does it imply (b) that "seeking God" or "doing something special to glorify God" is a goal for the creature. Whatever the creature does is, ipso facto, the "extrinsic glory" of God, because it was caused by God. Even when the creature blasphemes, and calls God disgusting names, this act is God's extrinsic glory, because the creature couldn't do this (finite) act if God didn't cause the finite act to be done as the creature wanted it done.

Now this sounds all very technical and abstruse--and it is--but I had to go into it, because it is necessary in order to make sense out of finite selfhood. Christian philosophy has been burdened with something that was thought to be an implication of Christianity, but which was not in fact held (as it is commonly understood) by the great Christian Theologians. What I said above is not "Blairian" doctrine, but something that the philosophers of God (including the Catholic ones) have held for centuries, and is a legitimate interpretation of the dogmas of the Church.

And the reason I had to mention it is this:

Conclusion 2

There need not be any built-in goal given to finite selves by God, their Creator.

That is, the Catechism's answer to the question, "Why did God create you?": "God created me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this life and to be happy with Him forever in the next" is simply not true, as it is usually understood. In that case, those who are damned and are eternally frustrated have made God fail in achieving His purpose--and hence God Himself is also eternally frustrated; because He had a goal for them which He cannot achieve (because they won't let Him). This makes God finite.

It is time to grow up. If we want to understand life, we can't understand it in the naive sense we had when we were children.

Conclusion 3

God has no goal or purpose for our lives except the goals we freely choose, even if those goals are self-frustrating.

That is, God's "purpose" (in that complicated analogous sense above) in creating us as selves is that we be selves, which means that we be self-creative, which means that we make up the purpose of our lives: the set of goals we freely choose. And that set of goals, whatever it is, is ipso facto God's purpose for us.

In other words, God's "plan" for my life is not something I have to discover and follow. God's plan is my actual life, as made by me.

This is what is meant by being a self. To be a self is to make one's purpose in life, not to have one. To put this another way:

Conclusion 4

the only "meaning" your life is to have is the definition you give it. Beyond that, your life has no meaning; your life is its own meaning. But for you, "to live" means "to be what I choose to be."

11.2.2. Limits on self-creativity

But only God is an absolute self. Finite selves are free to determine themselves, but only within limits.

Pure spirits, for instance, can (I speculate by extrapolation) choose what form of activity they want to be; but they have to be some form of activity; they can't be infinite activity. Now of course, since they determine which form of activity they are, then in themselves they are greater than the form which they choose to be (because they could have chosen to be a different one); but they can't act without determining themselves to be some form of activity, because they are finite spirits, not God.

Human beings, however, are embodied spirits; we can't make choices without having judgments and concepts, which imply sensations and energy. Our spirituality is tied up with our bodies. Hence, we have a further limitation on our choices.

And, in fact, since human choices determine the whole body by putting it into an unstable condition, the human choice is to be limited to the possibilities inherent in the body.

That is, if you try to set up an instability in your body that implies a goal of being able to fly by flapping your arms, that act is beyond the intrinsic possibilities of your body; you aren't a bird. Hence, you can choose to do the act, but because human choices are realized in a body, you can't carry out your choice.

Conclusion 5

The genetic potential of a person's body limits the number of goals that the person can actually in principle achieve--and so limits his realistic choices.

For instance, a man simply cannot bear a child, because this is beyond the limits imposed on his activity by his genetic makeup. A woman can, however; but she cannot impregnate anyone. For a man to choose to become pregnant, or for a woman to choose to get someone pregnant, is for that person to make a choice that simply cannot be carried out.

And this, of course, is what I was talking about when I talked about the "violation of our nature." We can choose to do things which contradict the limits inherent in our genes (as when a man chooses to have a "sex change" and then pretends that because he has a hole where he had a penis, he is now a woman), but we can't achieve the goal we set up by that choice.

So we are selves, but our self-creativity is to be restricted to the limits imposed by our genes, which are simply "given," and which we must accept. This is what it means to be a finite, embodied self. Only God is in absolute control over himself and can choose anything at all; we can choose whatever we want within certain limits. If we go beyond them, we choose nothing but our own frustration.

Obviously, it behooves each of us to discover what this range within which we can choose is, and where our limits are. Not to do so is to court frustration, which, unfortunately, is eternal frustration.

11.3. Racial and sexual differences

Now the human being is a unit, and the genes are what the unifying energy uses to build the body into a definite unified whole.

It follows, then, that genetic differences make a difference in the whole body as a whole. Thus, the black human being is not "the same as the while human being except that his skin is black." He has different sort of hair, different features, different musculature, differences in the skeleton, different reactions to sunlight, etc., etc.--and these differences are not "cultural"; they are genetic.

The point is that black people are different as a whole from white people, but not wholly different. The genes of a black person affect the whole body, not just some superficial "aspect" of it. Blacks don't appear different from whites, they are different; and anyone who says that they aren't is a fool who doesn't understand that the human being is a unit.

Now this does not imply that blacks are unequal to whites. There are some obvious limitations, however, that the genes impose on each race. Blacks can stand more sun than whites, and whites can get vitamin D from the sun with less exposure than blacks.

So the racial genes do impose limitations on the "basic humanity" both blacks and whites have. These limitations, however, as can be seen from experience, are insignificant, and really do not restrict activity in any meaningful way.

One of the reasons for thinking that "different in humanity" implies "inequality in humanity" is that it was assumed that there are only two "levels" of limitation in any being or act: that of the form, and that of the quantity; hence, any difference within a given form of existence has been taken as automatically a quantitative difference.

But that is clearly an oversimplification, especially in living beings; there are sub-forms in between the basic humanity we all have and individual differences: each of us is a certain race, with definite racial characteristics in common, and each of us is one sex or the other, with definite sexual characteristics in common with other members of the same sex. It is folly not to acknowledge these, or not to recognize them as common and therefore in some sense formal rather than quantitative characteristics. Quantitative limitation (as you can see from numbers, sets the individual apart from all others); what is common to many is qualitative, not quantitative.

There is no law that says there have to be only two levels of limitation; in fact, experience confirms that there are more than two. And since each human being is limited to being some race of human being and some sex of human being, no one has any advantage over any other individual in this respect. No race (like the white race, for instance) is "humanity" and other races are "limited cases of humanity." Neither sex is what "humanity really is," making the other sex is "a limited version of humanity." Each race and each sex is a limited version of humanity, but limited in a different way, not to a different degree. Limitations in degree are below or within these limits; and individual humans of whatever race differ in degree of ability to act irrespective of what race or sex they belong to.

Conclusion 6

Racial and sexual differences are real, but they are qualitative, and do not imply "greater" or "less."

And experience with people of different races shows that the range of activities genetically permitted for different races is for practical purposes the same. There is nothing inherently impossible in there being different talents in different races, such that practically all members of one race could do with ease what only the exceptional members of the other race could do. But we have tried to put this into practice, and in fact it has not worked with any race we have tried it on.

That is, the fact that there is a real difference in the races does not imply that blacks "can't do" what whites can do. They have demonstrated that there is no activity that white people can do that they are incapable of doing.

Conclusion 7

Racial and sexual difference must not be used to prevent people of one race from doing what in fact they can do.

I would think that Blacks and Whites could find their activities unrestricted and still express their racial differences (supposing they wanted to--we are selves, after all) if they adopted a "style" of acting that each was most comfortable with, whether this "style" was genetic or cultural.

This way, difference would not imply "inequality" or role-difference, which is false; but at the same time, "equality" would not imply "sameness," which is also false.

I think the same sort of thing goes even more strongly for men and women. Men and women are different as a whole, but these differences (except in the obvious sexual aspects) do not of themselves imply any inability to act.

Here a qualification must be introduced, however. Men are, as a group, physically stronger than women; and so if there is something that takes exceptional physical strength to perform (meaning that only the strongest of the men would qualify to perform it), then it would follow that extremely few women would meet these qualifications. Those who do should probably be allowed to perform the task. But if in the name of "equality of opportunity" standards are lowered so that the women who want to perform the task can do so, this is an unrealistic view of the reality of men and women.

What I am saying is that we must not fall into the trap of interpreting Conclusion 7 to mean that because a person is a member of a certain group he is as qualified as a member of another group. If a person can meet the qualifications for the job, he can meet them; if he can't, he can't. If the qualifications go with the job (in the sense of actually contributing to its good performance), and this means that some (or even all) people in a certain group can't meet them, then that's part of our human limitation, and it must be accepted. If only a very few in the group can do it, then only those few should be permitted to.

I also think the "unisex" movement is dangerous, metaphysically and psychologically. There is a profound difference between men and women, pervasive of their whole being; and to pretend that the differences are "cultural," "superficial," or "external" is to fly in the face of the facts; and it is important for a person to know which sex he is, and not to try to be the other sex. Sexual identity is not lightly to be done away with.

The solution, I think, is, instead of insisting on role-differences, to work out a difference in approach to things; where the feminine way of doing things can be distinguished from the masculine. That is, instead of saying, "This is what women do," what should be taught little girls is, "This is the way women do this."

...And I don't mean here that little girls are to be "submissive," or whatever, and little boys taught aggression. I don't know what it would finally work itself out as; but it should be a "style" that women in general are comfortable with: a style that will be identifiably feminine.

Then, when one grows up, one can choose how much of that style to adopt, consciously expressing the femininity one has to the degree to which one chooses. That would be to be a feminine human self.

And the same, of course, goes for the masculine human self. Self-creativity is not to be sacrificed to genetic "limitations" which in fact aren't there; but genetic restrictions are to be recognized when they do exist.

11.4. Natural vocation

Our genes not only impose definite limits which we can choose to contradict, they also give our bodies individual characteristics which make certain acts easier and more pleasant than others.

A person five feet two inches tall can play basketball, and, if he works hard at it, can even play very well--perhaps better than even the average pro. (In fact, I believe Muggsy Bogues, a basketball pro, was five feet three.) But a person seven feet two, who is coordinated, has a much better chance at it, and finds the whole thing much easier.

Some people can hold vast numbers of images in consciousness at once, and so can understand very complicated concepts, which need, for their discovery, many images associated. Obviously, for such people, thinking is easier and more pleasant than for those who cannot raise more than two or three sensations above the conscious level at once.

What I am driving at here is that individual genetic differences do not make certain acts impossible in principle, but they make them difficult; and they make others easy. Thus, these individual limitations do not impose an obligation on us the way the human limitation itself does; it is in principle possible to overcome these limits to a great extent.

But the individual characteristics form a "call" or a "vocation" of our nature. Our nature is indicating a direction which, if we choose it, we will be most satisfied as a whole. There is nothing wrong with not listening to this call. If a short person chooses to make a career of basketball, more power to him. But if a short person chooses to do what "comes easy" to him, then (a) he will--other things being equal--do better at it, and (b) he will find life more pleasant.

Life, in other words, even for the ambitious, doesn't have to be a struggle. Still less is it a good thing (in itself) to "struggle against your own nature," as some of the medievals would have it. No, each person's nature is calling him to a certain fulfillment; and a person is most integrated if he makes that call his goal in life.


Each person has also a Christian vocation: basically, to forget about himself as the center of the universe and be interested in things the way God is interested in them: to take over God's attitude (because God's "attitude" is God's life, which is the Infinite Thought).

But God's attitude toward things is infinite respect for things. He has no purpose of his own for them: he acts purely and simply for their sake. This infinite respect is absolute love.

The Christian, then, is the human expression of the love of God in the world; and it always involves lack of self-fulfillment as the goal of one's acts.

But the "human expression of the love of God in the world" has three senses, which define three "states" of life (any life will of course mix these to some extent).

First, the human expression of the love of God by the world. Here, the wonder of God the creator is seen, and the attitude is one of praising and glorifying Him for what he has done. This attitude defines the "Religious" life (that of the contemplative, the monk), who then becomes the representative of the world in its worship of God. Here, God is the "Omega."

Secondly, the human expression of the love God has for his chosen (actual or potential chosen) in the world. This attitude defines the clergy. These people see Christianity as such a treasure, they would like others to see it and benefit from it. God is here Alpha, and the potential Christian the Omega.

Thirdly, the human expression of the creative love God has for the universe he has caused to exist. This sense defines the laity, who have a contribution to make in building some little corner of the world--in recreating it, Divinely, because of their activity. God is the Alpha, and the material world the Omega.

The question of which Christian vocation one has is the question of which of these different ways of loving-as-God-loves (or which combination of them, and how stressed) most easily "takes one out of oneself," and makes one interested in what he is doing rather than himself as doing it.

There is nothing wrong with not "answering" this call, and remaining a layman, for instance, when one's spontaneous nature would suit one better to the clergy or Religious life. It is just that the whole thing is easier and more enjoyable if one "answers."

[This topic is treated at great length in Preface to the Lay Life]

11.5. Goals and values

We are, then, creators of ourselves within the limits imposed on us by our genes; and we create ourselves by setting up goals by our choices.

Once we have chosen a goal, however, the job is not done. We now have to get there. If we just "choose" a goal and don't try to achieve it, then the "choice" wasn't a choice, but a daydream, and the "goal" isn't a goal, but an ideal.

We have to act, in other words. Now actions occur in the world, and our acts have effects; and these effects are based on the nature of our bodies and the laws of energy, and are not open to our choice.

That is, you can't saw wood with a wet noodle, because, even though you have as your goal getting through the wood, the noodle won't cut it. Thinking that a given means will achieve a certain goal doesn't make that means achieve the goal.

Conclusion 8

Goals are open to our arbitrary choice, but the means by which the goals can be achieved are not: a given route will in fact either lead to the goal or not, independently of what we think.

In other words, while goals are subjective, we have to find out the facts about what means will lead us to the goal. The means are "subjective" only in that they relate to a subjectively chosen goal, not in that you can make something be a means when it isn't. It either leads there or not; and this is a fact that you have to understand and submit to; means are, in this sense, objective.

DEFINITION: Values are means toward freely-chosen goals.

Note well

This is not the sense of "values" that deals with "right and wrong" (morals). This is the sense by which some object is valuable.

Acts that are morally wrong, as I said when discussing goodness and badness, are objectively inconsistent with your genetically given reality and have nothing to do with your goals or what you consider "good" and "bad." Hence, they should not be called "values," because they are to be respected, not "used for our well-being" (as is implied when you talk of the "value" of being honest). It is wrong to be dishonest even if you gain the world by it. Honesty is not a value; being honest is an obligation. To put it another way: being honest doesn't get you where you want to go; being honest prevents you from bringing eternal frustration on yourself. There's a big difference.

So values are to be taken, not in the sense of morals, but in a more economic sense (what something "valuable to you" has); they lead you where you want to go. The point above is that they either in fact lead to your goal or they don't; and if they don't, no amount of wishful thinking will make them lead there. In that sense, they are objective, but personal, since the goal they lead to is subjectively chosen by the person.

Thus, the set of goals you have implies a set of values: the means available for achieving the goals. So, if you have as a goal having a college degree, obviously a college is a value for you. You can't get a degree without going to college. If you have as a goal being somewhere else, then a car would be a value--or maybe an airplane, or a bus. Which is more valuable depends on which is the better means of achieving the goal.

Since values are means toward freely-chosen goals, it follows that

Conclusion 9

Each person's set of values is different from every other person's.

Each person has chosen his own unique set of goals which, taken together, form the purpose of his life. Each of these goals implies a set of values (the means to get there); hence each person has his own set of values. If your goal is to know a lot about music, then a season ticket to the symphony is a value for you. If my goals have nothing to do with appreciating complicated music, then the ticket is not valuable to me at all.

I stress, however, that even though each person's set of values is personal, the values are objective, not subjective. It is the goals that are subjective; the values have to be discovered. To pursue this subject further would lead to a whole treatise in itself (on axiology, the science of values); and so let me just drop the subject with the little mention above.

[The subject of axiology is treated in Modes of the Finite, Part 4, Section 7.]

11.6. The person

We are, then, as I have been stressing so often in this chapter, self-creating selves, which selves, as human, have genetic limits placed on them; and we also set goals for ourselves and have to find the values which lead to these goals.

But we are not alone. It is quite possible for my self-determining and goal-seeking activity to interfere with your self-determining activity. After all, I have to pursue my goals by acting and following the laws of energy--and the things I do can set up blocks for you in achieving your goals.

DEFINITION: A person is a self in relation to other selves.

For finite persons, this means that other selves can act on the self and change what the self would otherwise be. This is the only reality a relation has: the difference it makes in the one related.

Essentially, what the definition means, then, is that a self is a person when his own pursuit of his goals can be interfered with by other selves, and when he in turn can interfere with others' pursuit of their goals.


The Theological concept of "person," as traditionally defined, at least, comes pretty close to what I have defined as a "self." The term, as I mentioned in an earlier Note, had to do with the fact that Jesus used three names for the God: the Father, the Son ("The Father and I are one and the same") and the Spirit.

The interpretation of this used the Roman concept of "person"; and as Theology developed, the "person" was taken to be a "subsisting being" (i.e. independent thing) that was "rational" (or intellectual). That implies self-possession and self-control; and so, as I say, this was close to what I mean by a "self."

Nevertheless, I think that my notion of a person fits the Persons of the Trinity, because "they," even though "they" are one and the same reality, are distinct from and related to each other. Hence, they are three persons, and not just three selves.

It is also true that God "relates" himself to this world in three distinct ways: as Creator (Father), as Redeemer (Son) and as Preserver (Spirit). Now, while these are not, strictly speaking, real relations, since He is not affected by His different activity, still we are affected by His three different "styles" of loving us, and so have three different personal relationships with the one God.

If you put this together with the self-reduplication I spoke of in the earlier Note, then I think the concepts of spirituality, self, and person as I have developed them are not inconsistent with the Christian mystery of the Trinity, and can perhaps even make it somewhat less dark.

But to resume the philosophical discussion, it turns out that human beings who have no conscious awareness of other human beings (as, for example, those children brought up in locked rooms or by animals) cannot, when discovered after a number of years of this, act like human beings. Apparently, to discover what our genetic potential is, we need to see other people acting and recognize the similarity we have with them; then we see what we are capable of.


Conclusion 10

A human being cannot exercise his self-creativity except as a person. He needs others in order to be able to develop himself.

So we not only are not alone, we cannot be alone and be meaningfully human (i.e. be able to act according to the potential we actually have). And this is why Aristotle was right when he said that "man is by nature a social animal."

11.6.1. Rights

[This topic is treated in Modes of the Finite, Part 6, Section 1.]

With that said, we can go on to mention that there are two basic relationships we can have with other persons: (a) non-interference (and its positive counterpart of compensating someone for services he renders you), or (b) cooperation with others for a common goal (one we work as a team for).

Conclusion 11

It violates the nature of a person to determine himself in such a way that his action prevents another person from determining himself.

This seems obvious, but it is based on the fact that the self is basically self-determined, not determined from outside. Even the basic limits to human self-determination are genetic, not circumstantial. For one person, then, to determine himself in such a way that he prevents another person from doing so is for the first person to exercise control over the other's life, which contradicts the self-determining nature of the human person--and so of the agent also.

DEFINITION: Rights are the "powers" a person has as a person: that is, no one is to interfere with the acts he has a right to perform.

Once again, a whole theory of rights would be a treatise in itself; we have just sketched the basis of them in the personhood of human selves.

Note that a person may use the acts of another for his own self-development, but only if the other freely allows him to do this. Then, the first person is not taking over control over the other's life, because the other is willing to let himself be used (perhaps for compensation, for example), and so still has basic control over his life.

Obviously, there are ways in which a person can be "willing" to be used only in a meaningless sense. When a robber aims a gun at me and "asks" me to hand over my wallet, I choose to do it, because the alternative is death. Or if a person says, "Give me ten thousand dollars for this glass of water, if you want to drink it," and I am dying of thirst and he has the only water around, I choose to give it to him, but I am not really willing to do so.

But to pursue this further would take us into the whole field of business ethics.

I will only say a word about the relation of cooperation also. This is different from the rights-relation, because in this case, the goal is not necessarily a purely individual one; it is a shared goal.

DEFINITION: A society is many persons related by cooperation toward some common goal.

Obviously, to pursue this topic would lead us into the area of social philosophy, which is another vast subject. so let us drop this matter here too.

11.7. Love

I do want to say something about love, however, to finish out this book.

Since the human being is free, and since he can understand relationships and abstract concepts. As such, he can recognize that someone else has a given goal. But since choices are based on judgments a person makes, and not on emotions, then it follows that a person can act for a goal in someone else's life.

That is, a person can make the goal of his own actions the benefit of someone else, without any benefit to himself.

DEFINITION: An act is an act of love when it is chosen because of the good of another person than the agent.

There are some who hold that acting for someone else is impossible, because there can't be any motive for my action except what benefits me. But this supposes that the motives for my acts are not facts I know, but interests I have, (which would essentially be drives toward some "objective good" for my organism). I think that this does not square with an objective analysis of goodness. Some, like Ayn Rand, even go so far as to say that to act for someone else rather than oneself is immoral.(1)

The definition I gave above is obviously not "love" in the sense of "sex" or even in the sense of "affection." What is called "love" in the sexual sense is often self-gratification, and sometimes even self-gratification at the expense of the sex partner. In the extreme of this kind of "love" (rape), it is the very opposite of love. "Love" as "affection" is also a form of self-gratification, because you feel good when around the beloved, and are indulging your own feelings.

There is nothing wrong with this, any more than there is anything wrong with sexual gratification (when it is done consistently with one's nature); but neither in itself has the other as the reason for acting, and so neither is real love.

Each can be turned into love when either the sexual attraction or the affection makes us choose the happiness of the other as the goal of our actions. Then affection or sex becomes love.

Notice that, since each person is self-determining, then

Conclusion 12

Love does not impose its own idea of "what is good" on the other person.

That is, love finds out what the other person's goals in fact are (by asking, perhaps), and works to achieve those goals; love does not do "what is good for" the other person, in the sense of "what I think is good for her, in spite of what she wants." This would be not to respect the other's personhood, and be a violation of her reality.

Conclusion 13

The effect of love, since it makes the other person's goals the goals of one's own act, is to bring the other "into" one's own life, or to be with the other eternally.

That is, by love, we "possess" the other, not as an adjunct to ourselves, but because we are interested in her as she is in her independent self; and her life becomes--as separate and distinct--a "part" of our conscious life. We know her eternally, after we die, and are happy because she is happy.

This must be the case, because her happiness as different from mine is precisely the goal I have in the loving act; hence, that goal cannot be fulfilled unless she achieves happiness, and I know it.

Thus, the way to be with people is to love them. And if you love them, you are with them forever.

Note that I have used the feminine pronoun as the one referring to the object loved, but that is because I am a man, and the most natural first object loved (for a man) is a definite woman--hence, it is the pronoun that comes most comfortably to my mind. Obviously, the masculine pronoun would normally be the one used by a woman in this context. But of course, one can love in the sense I am talking about here, people of any sex (and should love people of all sexes); and in fact, one can even love inanimate objects and "help" them achieve "goals" that are consistent with their greatness (though here one has to do what is "good for them," because they cannot choose purposes). In that sense, one imitates the Creator of All, because that Creator loves (respects) everything infinitely, and helps everything achieve its purpose.

Insofar, I think, as we love our material surroundings, it too will be with us forever as fulfilled by our ambitions for it. This is what I think St. Paul was referring to when he said (in Romans) that "all of creation is suffering labor pains"; the world as our eternal environment will also be eternal, insofar as we have goals for it that are part of our goal for ourselves.


The ancient Greeks had no explicit concept of a self or person. For them, a human being was an individual member of the species, just like an individual animal. The notion that a human being creates himself would have been laughed at by them. This is implied in Aristotle's (350 B. C.) notion that we do not deliberate about goals (they are given) but only about the means to get there. They also had no concept of rights. Society existed to "make people good" by forcing them by law to do what was "objectively good" for them.

Rights came into existence in Rome, when the Empire had to hold itself together somehow. The people of outlying areas were made "honorary citizens" (much like our "naturalized citizen" nowadays) and were treated like Romans, though they weren't really Romans.

To do this, the Romans invented the concept of "person," taking the word from the mask actors wore. When you bought citizenship, this was a kind of legal "mask" you put on which made you eligible for treatment like a Roman. We do the same thing nowadays when we treat corporations like legal persons. And the rights were the privileges one had because of citizenship (whether you were born to them or bought them). This concept of "person" was then taken over to describe what was behind the three names used for God in Christianity.

The concept of rights was developed in the Middle Ages by, for example, St. Thomas (1250) as following from the relation of cooperation (society), rather than from "independent" self-development. At the time (in fact, up until the present), it was not recognized that there are two distinct ways people had of relating to each other. There was still the notion that God had a "plan" that each of us was to discover and follow, and that the ultimate purpose of our lives was to contemplate God. Hence, self-creativity was not something that came into people's consciousness.

After the Reformation, when Christianity was no longer just one social entity (there were many Christian churches), the concept of rights as deriving from the social relationship took a new turn.

Thomas Hobbes (1625) tried to establish rights and society on human nature rather than the other way round, and so he speculated about a "state of nature" in which there was no society and everyone owned everything--and so there was a fight to the death to get possession of what you owned and everyone else owned too. He then said that society was based on a "contract" people made with each other, by which they gave their rights to the ruler, in return for having him keep them from killing each other. The king then had absolute rights--even to killing or torturing his subjects--because they had handed over to him all rights.

This didn't set well with people, and in 1670 John Locke proposed a different "state of nature," in which people were independent of each other and possessed of the "natural rights" of life, liberty, and property. They weren't fighting with each other, but to secure their rights against accidental violation, they banded together to choose a ruler, whose task was to preserve their rights.

It was Locke, therefore, who saw the "independent" relationship of people to each other (and whose ideas form the basis of modern theories of society and rights, as well as capitalism as an economic system). But once this relationship was discovered, it more or less overwhelmed the "cooperative" relationship, which was now reduced to some form of "preserving self-determination."

The existentialists of this century were the ones who did most with human self-creativity. Jean-Paul Sartre, who died not too long ago, held that "we are condemned to be free," and that freedom involves making yourself and your world. He refused to admit any intrinsic limit to self-creativity, however; the only bad thing, for him, was to choose not to choose (i.e. to let someone else make your choices for you). In that case, you became an object, and not a subject. But since other people try to make me an object, then he held that "hell is everyone else."

Gabriel Marcel also around the middle of this century, held a philosophy of self-creativity, but with "participation" with others, and "engagement" with them in love; his brand of existentialism was a Christian one.

Martin Heidegger, who lived more or less at the same time, held that "authentic" activity was the act of Dasein (which for practical purposes means what I mean by "self"); and it consisted in "being for death," which boils down to realizing that each moment (which can be your last) has to be lived as it is, and not because you got into the habit of doing things.

Existentialism tends to emphasize absurdity. Rational behavior, for this type of philosophy, is a cop-out, a retreat into abstraction, away from individual self-creativity. But this refusal to accept generalizations about human nature meant that for the existentialists generally, there were no restrictions on what you chose to make of yourself. They didn't seem to notice that no matter how much you choose, you can't make yourself a crocodile.

They were right, I think, in what they said positively about self-creativity, as long as you add the restrictions on our activity that our genes impose on us.


Since goals are freely chosen, they become a person's own definition of what is good for him; the choice creates an instability in the person until the goal is reached; and therefore, the goal is the motive for one's choices and rationally chosen actions.

Since the goal is the "real self," then what a self is is a being which causes itself to be what it is. The fact that we create ourselves by our choices means that God has no preconceived plan for our lives which we must discover and live up to.

We do, however, have limits on our self-creativity; we cannot be what our genetic limits do not permit. If we choose to be something outside these limits, we choose our own eternal frustration.

Not only does each of us have genetic human limitations, but each is limited to being only one race of human being and only one sex of human being. These limitations are qualitative, not quantitative, and so imply no superiority or inferiority. Racial and sexual differences should express themselves in the manner one does things, and should not lead to restrictions on what one may do.

Each of us also has certain individual abilities and interests based on our genetic makeup. These produce a natural "vocation" indicating the kind of life we would be best at and would enjoy most. They do not, however, like the basic human limitation, imply a command to follow them.

Goals are freely created, but values, the means to these goals, must be discovered, since we can't make something lead where we want it to go just by wanting it to lead there.

If a self's self-development can be interfered with, then the self is a person and has rights, which are powers to do certain acts without interference by other persons. Since humans cannot recognize their potential, much less fulfill it, without interacting with others, all human beings are persons.

Love is the deliberate choice to act for someone else's goal; it supposes that one uses the other's definition of "good" in doing so, and does not try to impose one's own idea of "what is good for" the other on that persons. When one makes another's goal the goal of one's own choices, then one is with the other for eternity.

Exercises and questions for discussion

1. If I define what is good by choosing my goals, does this mean that I can never know what is good for any other person? It would seem to imply that what is good for him depends on his choice, not any objective fact.

2. So all I have to do is obey God's law and I will become after death whatever I would like to be. Right?

3. Suppose what I want to do in life is God's will. How would I find out his special plan for me?

4. If women are really different from men, doesn't that mean that women have a role in life that's different from men's; and doesn't that get us back to "barefoot and pregnant"?

5. If I can make of myself whatever I choose (within the limits imposed by my genes), then why am I inclined in one direction rather than another?

Exegi monumentum aere perennius.--Horace

ouk ego de alla he charis tou theou syn emoi.--St. Paul


1. To be fair to Rand, she is castigating the notion that sacrificing yourself for another (i.e. doing harm to yourself for someone else's benefit) is what is really immoral. She accepts acting for others as equals as long as you aren't a simple means toward the other's good. In that sense, I could go along with her. But the thrust of her writings seems to be that the self comes first, which I would deny is objective (though she calls her philosophy "objectivism"). There is no objective reason why I am more important than anyone else. There is a great deal that is worth while in what Rand says; but I think she reacted so strongly to the abuse of love that goes by the name of "altruism" (especially in socialistic countries) that she went too far in the other direction.