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Philosophy 302: Ethics
The Ethics of Self-Realization 

Abstract:  The naturalistic extension of "developing your potential" for realization of self is outlined as an ethical philosophy.

  1. The theory of self-realization is that a life of excellence is based on the actualization of human potentialities. In psychology, this is called "self-development."

    1. Self-realization, here, is not meant to connote the active awareness of the Stoics, as the word might suggest (i.e., "becoming aware").

    2. We ought to actualize our potentialities-the theory, then, rests to some degree on naturalism, the biological and psychological capacities of what it is to be a human being. The idea is that every great person in history has set up guidelines for his life.

      1. But obviously life is not long enough to actualize all our potential, or as the advertisements for the Army say, "Be all that you can be." The challenge is to live significantly and meaningfully in the here and now.

        E.g., you have the capacity to give everyone in the state of South Carolina a yellow ribbon, but it is doubtful that this capacity is one which ought be developed.

        More appropriately, every year, some people hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail or bike across the United States or attempt to achieve a feat for the Guinness Book of World Records.

      2. The essential question to be answered by self-realization philosophy is "Which capacities should be developed?"

        Often it is said that "we must become intimately, passionately, subjectively aware of everything about our existence. One has to take the leap of faith that full living requires-to make yourself vulnerable to all that can happen." But can this really be done?

  2. Essentially, there are three different views on which capacities should be developed.

    1. Variety pattern of self-realization: becoming a well-rounded person, learning and doing a little of everything.

      1. The ideal of a Liberal Arts education or of being a so-called Renaissance person.

      2. The assumption is that nothing is intrinsically boring to anyone: there are no boring subjects, only people who are boring because they have not developed the capacity to interest themselves in the fascinating variety of things.

      3. Problem: Life is too short to develop a mastery of many things.

        1. Dissatisfaction results later in life because one becomes "a jack of all trades and a master of none."

        2. Activities have an opportunity cost: to do one thing means that you will have to give up the opportunity of doing other things at that time. (The opportunity cost is that which is forgone by taking a particular action. E.g., if you have only $5, by buying lunch, you cannot buy something else with that money.)

    2. Dominant theme pattern: concentrate on one major interest and build other interests around it.

      1. The idea here is to choose that which you have the most talent and interest and develop that to a high degree. Other activities are meant to enhance the primary interest.

      2. Problems which could arise include:

        1. Many persons can do many things well, and they spent much of their lives trying to figure out what it is that they do best.

          Consider the people who do not know what major to choose in college. Many hang on, hoping that something will come along and seize their interest, almost as though they are waiting for a lightening bolt to strike them and change their life.

          They do not realize that there are many things they can do well, and they must impose their own value on activities, rather than waiting around for someone to convince them that this major is just for them.

        2. The dominant theme pattern is vulnerable to economics and the change of societal value. The theme that you choose might not earn you a living.

    3. Maximum fulfillment of desires: (naturalism) people are born with innate purposes, ends, and goals, and excellence is achieved by fulfilling these natural human wants.

      1. The desires are identified by looking specifically at what your peculiar desires are, from a biological and sociological view.

      2. What do you want? One makes a list and then sets out to achieve it.

      3. Problem: We are not always the best judge of what is good for us. (Re., the Socratic Paradox).

        1. Sometimes what we desire is actually harmful to us: Fairy tales in childhood often are structured around three wishes. The last wish is used to put things back the way they were.

        2. Sometimes people are much happier when they avoid fulfilling their natural desires which have harmful consequences. A disciplined life is often preferable to being a couch-potato.

  3. What kind of capacities ought be desired? Certainly, only those which are cooperative.

    1. Cooperative capacities: those which harmonize or enhance others.

      1. E.g., in general, friendship, health, knowledge, and courtesy.

      2. Specifically, if one is interested in physics, one should develop math skills.

        If one is interested in music, one should develop listening skills.

        If one is interested in business, one should develop skills in marketing, accounting, and customer relations.

        If one is learning karate, one should do stretching, weight training, and speed drill.

    2. Obstructive capacities: traits or abilities which hinder or inhibit others.

      1. E.g., seeking to have fun all of the time, avoiding commitments, or shirking responsibilities often lead to ennui and boredom.

      2. Piano playing and being a football player. Even being a lawyer and maintaining a high personal ethics often leads to conflict while defending a known criminal.

      3. The belief in intellectual power alone and the ignoring of emotion, joy, fellowship, creates an imbalance in social attitudes which is detrimental to the individual’s sense of significance.

  4. Ideal of self-realization: the maximally coherent system of mutually harmonious fulfillment-either of the Variety or Dominant Theme Pattern, depending upon one’s personality and abilities.

    1. Two assumed requirements: the activities are consistent with society and the activities do you no personal harm.

      1. Carl Rogers definition of a full-functioning person: "any experience, emotional, perceptual, or rational, should be consistent and congruent with the person’s concept of who he is."

      2. In sum, self-actualization is a process of discovering important needs and goals, both personal and social, finding creative and enjoyable ways of meeting these goals-this is the way the individual attains significance.

      3. Yet self-actualization cannot be achieved by just anyone. As Abraham Maslow pointed out, if certain needs are not previously met, self- actualization is not possible. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:

        1. aesthetic
        2. cognitive
        3. self-actualization
        4. ego or esteem needs
        5. love or belongingness
        6. security or safety
        7. physiological

    2. As we shall see in the objections to ethical egoism, these requirements can only be met when we extend the definitions of egoism to be a complete ethical theory.

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