|The discussion seems to have tapered off, so now is a good time for some wrap-up replies and comments (though additional comments are always welcome!)...|
Ed Thompson wrote:
Regarding generativity, my first take was: Well, I'm SURE that generativity is subsumed under flourishing (because the standard for flourishing, already encompasses everything -- ie. a whole life, well lived). After reading your essay however, I am not so sure about what seemed to me to be so obvious. You make a good argument for distinction (between generativity and flourishing), but I will have to refrain from judgment for now, until I achieve a position on the matter where I "know how it is that I can know" that my achieved position is the right one. and David Bertelsen wrote:
I enjoyed your article and it made me think. But I get the feeling I don't quite "get it". Maybe I am missing something, but I cannot find a philosophically acceptable explanation for raising "generativity" to such a level of importance. You seem to be simply endorsing the ideas of Aristotle, and Aristotle through Aquinas, without explaining "why" generativity is philosophically central as a guide to establishing a purpose in life. I say this reluctantly because I instinctively "feel" that "generativity" as you explain it is a virtuous activity - I say that purely derived from the selfish feelings of happiness I feel when I see my child aquiring good values, or when I create something worthy of leaving behind for others to enjoy. What I mean is that I just don't see how you justify this on foundations of reason. I don't understand how creating an image of oneself ... presumably for the ultimate benefit of others more than oneself ... can be considered an ultimate life purpose.In a certain sense, one is flourishing if one is living well, but I tend to use the term more narrowly. Here's a simple example to argue for this: consider the lilies. (Har-har.) Lilies grow and develop -- and, in time, they also create new lilies. We generally only use the term "flourish" to describe the former activity, while for the latter we instead use the term "reproduce" or (if they create many new lilies) "proliferate" Both terms refer to an increase of fullness, a burgeoning outward, of the life process of the lilies -- in the former, expanding themselves, in the latter, spilling outward into the environment.
So, and to generalize, within the broad concept of "living well," I see the need for a distinction between flourishing (including physical growth and development, learning, character development, etc.), which is creating or producing value within oneself -- and generativity (including child-bearing and supporting, art, commerce, earning a living, etc.), which is creating or producing value outside of oneself. And since one's values are an aspect of oneself, then by creating or producing them outside of oneself, one is reproducing an aspect of oneself in the world.
There are important existential and psychological reasons for regarding both flourishing and generativity as rational virtues and, particularly, as means to happiness (which is one's ultimate moral purpose). It is good to learn (an aspect of flourishing) and to produce material goods (an aspect of generativity), because educating and supporting oneself are ways one exercises one's rational faculty so that it functions as one's means of survival (and happiness). It is also good to build one's moral character by virtuous actions (an aspect of flourishing), because this is how one enhances one's self-esteem, which is one's sense that one is worthy and capable of living, another precondition of one's happiness. It is also good to inject one's values into the world (an aspect of generativity), because this is how one makes ones values real and open to one's direct observation, as a reminder that the universe is benevolent, that man is capable of achieving his values (and being happy) if he acknowledges and adapts to the nature of reality.
As Lance Moore wrote:
To see something of ourselves in the world. That's the thing. Be it a bit of music that you've written, the laughter of a close friend who actually gets your crazy jokes, or a quick self-congratulation over the freshly-cut lawn. We all need to see something of ourselves out there.Mark Humphrey also touched on this last point when he wrote:
Often successful businessmen in the later years of their lives strive to share their ideas and wealth with other people. They may turn to writing, or politics, or leading philosophical crusades, forming foundations, and so on. I think this may be an expression of self esteem: the need to project onto the world one's achievements, so that one may see those achievements objectively, sometimes through the lives of others. It is true that people, especially those who have not had children, often explore other avenues for generativity in their later years. This phenomenon is sometimes called the "legacy" urge or motive. It is because one's achievements during one's earlier years may not have left much of a discernable trace in the world that some yearn for a more visible, concrete representation of their presence on earth. However, it should be acknowledged that anyone who has led a productive life has already projected much into the world. For further details, see "Mr. Holland's Opus."
Mark also wrote:
My only quibble is with your idea that a country is a sort of biological entity, with desires and the need to grow and project itself. Only individuals think, choose, and act.A correction here: I referred to a nation not as some "sort of biological entity," but as a "group of biological entities" (viz., people). My referring to things that the nation did was just shorthand for what the people comprising it did.
Casey Brown wrote:
This issue is probably more important to the future of Objectivism than any other.Amen to that!
I've never quite understood the passionate opposition to children displayed by some Objectivists (as well as some Feminists). I personally would rather build a house, share it with a wife, and fill it with children, than build a skyscraper, write a novel, start a company, etc. I'll just make sure it's the best damn house I can build - then I'll watch my children build houses and skyscrapers, write novels... and spoil my grandkids....I think most people, certainly not all, are probably making a mistake if they actively decide not to have children, given a "reasonable" opportunity to do so.I think most childfree-by-choice are not particularly opposed to children -- as long as they're someone else's children! Seriously, I do think that there is something important missing from the lives of those who eschew all dealings with children. There is plenty of opportunity for the childfree-by-choice to teach, mentor, or otherwise help children, if that is how they would prefer to interact with children. Uncles and aunts, "Big Brothers" (and Sisters), etc., have a welcome role to play, too.
There is a flip side to the including of children in one's life, whether in one's household or in one's schedule. That leaves less time for other things. Just to name two areas of my own values: I know I could have read and written more essays and books, and I could have played and recorded more jazz music, had I chosen to remain childless. But I wouldn't trade the quality of life I have had, and the very special pattern of generativity (kids and career and hobbies) I have had, for a more one-track and prominent stack of achievement. My legacy will be a patchwork quilt, it seems.
And Michael Stuart Kelly wrote:
"Generativity" hits the mark much squarer in the middle [than "biological love"]. The term is a bit cumbersome, however. I would like to see a more attractive term that is easier to communicate. If you say "generativity" is one of the meanings of life to a normal factory worker, for instance, his eyes will glaze over.Sometimes a single word, however accurate, is just too wordy for some people. Okay, how about, "give value for value to the world"? Or maybe simply "give" or "share"? (I can hear the anti-altruists sharpening their knives now! :-)
In conclusion, I would summarize my perspective with three injunctions:
1. Be all that you can rationally be (flourish).
2. Make all that you can rationally make (be generative).
Thanks, everyone, for your good comments and questions!