Of means and ends

Immanuel_Kant_(painted_portrait)I often use the terms “means” and “ends” in my writing, this is a concept that I borrowed from a formulation of the categorical imperative by Immanuel Kant, which is as follows:

Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.” Immanuel Kant (Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals)

In Kant’s formulation, he is stating that in order to treat people in a humane and ethical manner, you must view the interaction with their person as a goal in itself, not merely as a method to achieve a goal. I touched on this in my post on means, motive and opportunity, which is a breakdown of the three different concepts and these are complimentary and overlapping principles. Means is the equivalent in both cases, and the result of the combination of means, motive and opportunity results in the end. You can never have an end without a method to achieve that end, a motivation for achieving that end and the opportunity to pursue that end. However, a major stumbling block many people face is that they become preoccupied with creating means, without taking the opportunity when it presents itself.

“I will go for that promotion once I have another year of experience and finish my night classes”

“I will go after this women I’m lusting after once I read another 4 books on game”

“I will renew my wardrobe once I lose another 15 lbs”

In all the above scenarios the person is putting off action, and taking risks under the guise of “not being ready” in essence they are creating creating a situation whereby failing to achieve one goal, will result in failing another goal as well. Put in another way, they are telling themselves “I will neglect to take opportunities presented to me until I have achieved another end“. I’m a major proponent of sequential-tasking and parallel tasking, however, if you line up your life as a series of milestones, with hard dependencies, you will not be capable of achieving maximum results in a time-frame.

An example of appearance improvement

Let’s say that Tim is sick of being a fat fucker who spends all his time eating cheetos, drinking Mountain dew and playing Halo with his buddies. He wants to get laid more and improve his health. He decides that he wants to gain 20lbs of muscle and lose 50 lbs of fat. He goes online and finds one of the many great sites that outlines how to lose fat, how to build muscle, how to change a diet, and so on. Building muscle and burning fat are opposing goals. To build muscle you theoretically have to be in calorie surplus, to lose fat you need to have a calorie deficit. This leaves Tim with a few options:

A) Build muscle first, then do a cut. In this scenario, Tim decides to eat at a slight caloric surplus so he will be able to build muscle, his reasoning being that a higher amount of muscle will help him burn calories faster once it is time to cut.

B) Do a cut first and then build muscle. In this scenario, Tim decides to eat at a slight caloric deficit so he will be able to cut much of the excess fat, thus improving nutrient sensitivive, insulin levels and various other functions that help him build muscle later.

Regardless of what he picks, Tim now puts all his effort into this one goal. Reasoning that by focusing and putting all his effort towards this one crucible, he will magically improve all the other aspects of his life as well. As long as he gets that six-pack he will be laid like a king. So over the next year he dedicates himself to cleaning up his diet and working out 4 times every week, then after a year he steps on the scale and he has achieved his goal, so he hits the town. However, he still doesn’t get laid, and slips back into his old habits of halo night, cheetos and mountain dew.

Tim had a plan, he took an opportunity, he made sure he had the means and he was clearly motivated to achieve his goal. So, why did it fail? Tim failed for the same reason many people fail, by breaking everything down to a single variable, in Tim’s case his excess of body fat and his deficit in muscle. In research terms, this would be neglecting other variables that affect an outcome. There are other variables that affect the total sum of Tim’s physical appearance, his wardrobe, his grooming habits, his haircut, and so on. So, while his body improvement through a solid diet and workout program did in fact increase his appearance score, it may not have improved the total by much.

Summary and Conclusions

What Tim did was a simple neglect of variables, he figured that there was a single issue he could dedicate himself to and once he achieved that, all his problems would magically be fixed. This is an attractive prospect, if solving a single issue could fix everything that is wrong with your life then life would suddenly be less chaotic and less troublesome. This is male deductive logic in its most raw form, Problem – > Action – > Solution.

In Tim’s case he viewed appearance improvement as a means to an end, the whole purpose behind it was to improve his body so that he would get laid more often. As the end does not immediately materialize Tim becomes disheartened and loses faith (his motive is now dead) thus he slips back into his old habits. He feels like the massive improvement to his health, longevity and life by adopting healthy habits has not materialized the perceived end, therefore the motive vaporizes. If Tim had treated improving his appearance and health as an end in itself, he would not have lost faith, as the value of his effort would be clear every time he looked in a mirror.

He made the mistake of making his end dependent on others, rather than dependent on himself. Furthermore, by neglecting a range of variables, he set himself up for failure and created a convenient out when the end did not magically materialize. Thus, rather than being happy that he accomplished his weight loss and muscle building, and viewing that as accomplishing a significant milestone, he views it as pointless effort.

Tim’s thinking is very typical of humans, we tend to identify one issue as our major problem, and work to fix that one issue, then when we have fixed it and notice that it did not fix everything wrong with our lives, we get discouraged and slip back into an existence of convenience. To avoid this, a person needs to build a system of thinking that is self-reinforcing in the positive direction. The best way to accomplish this is to actually make each goal an end in itself, conditional only on you.

More on means and ends

Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals – Immanuel Kant

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5 comments on “Of means and ends

  1. […] speak of means and ends in another post and this has become one of my first principles. If a goal is an end in itself, then achieving it is […]

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  2. […] of the above are not cardinal though. Both your perspective and your horizon are means to an end, not ends in themselves, they enable your vision. The end will always by the vision you picture for your […]

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  3. […] time ago, I wrote a post entitled “Of means and Ends“, this post was inspired by reading Immanuel Kant’s view of morality, where one of the […]

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  4. […] “Of Means and Ends” I talk about confusing the means to an end as an end and vice versa,  and this has causal […]

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  5. […] need game. However, once one has the product, game becomes needed, because game as a product is a means to an end. Game is the means by which you present your value proposition in order to realize the maximum […]

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