Monday, April 12, 2010

Makers and Integrity

Making Monday

In the charter statement for this blog, I wrote:
In order to focus on the quality and integrity of a thing it needs to have some intrinsic worth. In philosophic terms, it must, in some sense, be an end in and of itself. Quality becomes accidental, or at best conditional, when the thing is merely an means to some other end.

Integrity? Means? Ends?

Let's be clear on these ideas.

Integrity

Many people think integrity means being honest. Good sailors and science fiction fans know the term, "hull integrity." While a sailor might say that, "She's an honest ship, good and true," they're not really talking about the moral character of the boat. They're referring to the soundness of the design and construction.

Integrity really means wholeness or completeness. So, a person who is morally complete would be honest, but that's only a facet of their integrity.

Ends

The object or goal of one's efforts. The purpose for which something in undertaken. What you're trying to do.

Means

The methods by which one can pursue or achieve their ends. How you're trying to do it.

Ethical Issues

It's probably clear that not all possible goals are good. That's why, for example, it's hard to believe the over-the-top villain who wants to destroy his own world (and presumably himself in the process).

Many people, however, get hung up on the problem that even when we have an end we all agree is good, not all means of achieving that end are good. Hence the aphorism that the ends don't justify the means.

Utilitarianism presents a related but more subtle trap: attributing no worth to a thing that doesn't serve a purpose.

Makers, of course, are keenly aware of utility: if a thing doesn't function as intended its making isn't finished. But makers also comprehend the beauty of a thing in itself, apart from any particular utility. That is how they come to know and understand its integrity.

Image: Bill Longshaw / FreeDigitalPhotos.net