Useless is better than useful since knowledge which is desirable for its own sake is better than knowledge which is desirable for the sake of something else.
This points out the appropriate goal, but in practice the actual content of this blog will be determined by the whim of its author, as is customary in this genre. Of course it is even more customary to start a blog and then stop forever after a post or two. It is perfectly possible that this will be the case here as well.
6 thoughts on “Why Useless?”
[…] as stated in the last post, held that the highest knowledge is for its own sake, not for the sake of other things. Francis Bacon, on the other hand, is famous for saying that knowledge is power (Novum Organum, Bk. […]
[…] truth, other motives will tend to predominate. Now there are two reasons why people desire truth: for its own sake, and for the sake of other things, as in Robin’s case when he desires the truth for the sake […]
[…] is that the most human of all activities is the activity of knowing, and among kinds of knowing, the best is the entirely useless kind. So the truest human happiness consists in this kind of […]
[…] I will be taking a break from blogging from today until at least December 15th, and possibly until January. I do however intend to get back to it, subject to the usual caveats. […]
I’ve been thinking about useless things lately, and if you’ll forgive me for inquiring into topics you haven’t written about in a long time, I wonder if you could help me with some questions.
Useless things are things done for their own sake. But we have a habit of comparing and contrasting useless things, and saying that some are better than others (say, styles of music). But to say that something is better than another seems to imply that there is an end that both are directed toward, the better being the one that more readily attains that end. But if both things are useless, there is no such end by definition, as their ends are in themselves,
So, can useless things not be compared, i.e. all have the “same” goodness? Or, is there really only one -truly- useless thing (happiness, or God, or the Good and Best), and all other things are partly good-in-themselves, and partly means-to-an-end (and are compared by reference to that end)? Or is there a genuine way to compare goodness between two distinct, actually useless things?
The way to think about this not that useless things (in our present sense) have no final cause, but that the final cause is internal. Nonetheless, it is not the same as the thing in every respect, otherwise it could not be a cause at all. So it is typically some aspect of that thing. This could be an aspect that it has in common with something else, so if one of them has it to a greater degree than the other, it will be “better,” by having more of the final cause, that is, more reason to do it.
St. Augustine holds the “only one truly useless thing” and this amounts approximately to the same thing, namely that “goodness itself” is the aspect that is ultimately intrinsic and that you compare between things.