Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Way And The End

The way is unimportant, everything is in the right choice of end.
The end is unimportant, everything is in the way it is sought.

There is no contradiction. The end to be sought is general, and tells us to be concerned with how we do things: to make life good, beautiful, true. This way we do things also cannot be determined in particular statements of specific actions. Both the way, and the end, share this quality of resisting general definition.

One proverb is about the openness of the way, the other about the openness of the end. We pay attention to how we do things when we are told that ends, particular achievements, possessions, cannot tell us what to do. We pay attention to ends, when we are told that particular paths, careers and ambitions, have no meaning in themselves.

We should do things in a good way, and that way leads to being good, speaking truly, and acting fairly.

But this statement of combined clarification is too open. When we are told the ends are not essential, look closely at the means, we can imagine for a moment we will find in the means a replacement for the essence we have been disappointed in finding in the ends.

The same is true when we are told that the means, our ambitions, are inessential, not good in themselves; we hope to find in the goal the lost essence.

The proverbs deceive us. And the general statement that both ends and means must be left open, controlled by a general good that cannot be defined, leaves us restless and dissatisfied. Which is as it should be, because it tells us nothing, gives us nothing we can hold onto to change our lives. The imperatives, “change direction”, “give up on particular ends", "give up on particular means", we understand. But what can we do with “do it right” when we are told we can't define what is right and we are not told how to do it? It is a bad way of instruction. So: proverbs.