The measures of activities

When discussing self-perfective immanent activities we gave the following analysis of activities, with which we were able to delineate three kinds:

… an activity is the measured exercise of powers for the sake of some end, where the end for which the activity is done determines the appropriate measure. A thing’s powers are what determine what it can and can’t do, and whenever that thing engages in an activity it does so by exercising its powers. The end for which the activity is done determines how and when those powers are to be used, which is what we refer to as their measured exercise. Thus, we can distinguish between three things: the activity, its end, and its powers.

Transient activities are when the activity and its end are distinct from one another, while immanent activities are where these are unified. But this unity can happen in two ways, giving us two different kinds of immanent activities: if only the exercise of the powers is unified with the end then we have a non-self-perfective immanent activity, whereas if the exercise and the powers are unified with the end then we have a self-perfective immanent activity.

The question we aim to answer here is how we determine the measure for each kind of activity.

For transient activities the answer seems clear enough: the measure of the activity is the measure of the end for which it is done. The measure of the end will be independently-specifiable from the activity because the end and the activity are distinct from one another. For example, when a carpenter is making a chair this chair will have various specifications to meet, including structural and aesthetic features the customer desires. These specifications of the final product will “propagate backwards” to how the chair is to be made, restricting what options are open to the carpenter during this activity. To the extent that the powers of the carpenter are exercised so as to build a chair that meets the given specifications, they will be in accordance with the measure of the activity.

For immanent activities things are less clear, since in this case we do not have a distinct end from which to derive a measure for the activity. In an orchestra performance — which is an example of a non-self-perfective immanent activity — the end is something given by a conscious choice: when they choose to play a piece of music, the measure corresponding to this end is determined by this choice, since the sheet music of the piece specifies how the piece is to be played. Of course, the orchestra is free to modify the piece for their particular performance, but even in this case the end (and measure) is given by what is consciously chosen. While I don’t have an argument for this, I’m inclined to think that all non-self-perfective immanent activities are the result of conscious choice, and if this is the case then what we’ve said here should apply generally.

Notice that in both these cases, there is a degree of strictness that might apply to the resulting measures. A measure is strict, let’s say, to the extent that it restricts the variety of ways the relevant powers can be exercised. A customer who gave a complete specification for a chair would result in a stricter measure of the activity of building it than a customer who simply wanted something to hold them up. And choosing to play a classical piece of music would result in a stricter measure for your performance than choosing to play a piece of jazz music.

Finally, we have self-perfective immanent activities. Now, at least some of these activities are not consciously taken on by those engaged in them. For instance, the activity of my life is not something I consciously chose to engage in prior to doing so, since it is by the activity of my life that I make any decisions in the first place. In these cases, then, what is it that determines the end and measure of the activity? It seems to me that the end is already given by the fact that it is unified with the underlying powers of the activity. That is, because the end is unified with the powers and their exercise, we know that the activity must just be the exercise, the sustenance, and the development of the powers. And since all of this is unified together with one end, the activity must also involve the proportioning of the powers such that each is expressed without unduly frustrating the others. This will surely be the minimally strict unified exercise of all the powers that sustains and develops them together.

The way to approach the measures of self-perfective immanent activities, then, is to do so bit by bit, conceptually isolating the individual powers in order to understand the requirements each has, as well as the unique contributions it makes to the whole. An important point here is that we should avoid the word “balance” when comparing the contributions of different powers, since some powers will be more suited to particular tasks than others. For instance, it would be absurd to try and “balance” the task of walking between our legs and our hearts. Or again, since our intellects enable us to understand the world as it really is while our passions can overreact to mere appearances, it is right that we temper our passions in accordance with what is appropriate, and this without extinguishing them, lest we turn ourselves into mere robots. Or again, since our intellects and wills are not disconnected from our bodies, it is right to make decisions that contribute to our health. And so on.

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