There has always been an unending debate among politicians, military leaders, philosophers, and other thinkers revolving around the often conflicting concepts of means versus ends. This interplay seemingly forms the very core of what most refer to as “morality’. Although a detailed discourse that explores completely this basic part of human nature is beyond the scope of the present writings, (not to mention the writer’s mental capacity), it is an interesting point of discussion.
I suppose that I have fancied myself a follower of Kant most of my life. Immanuel Kant , a Prussian born philosopher, felt that it was not enough to merely do the right and good thing, but it was the motive of the actor that determines the true morality of an action. Kant held the position that despite the fact that an action might have a favorable effect on a person or group, if that action is undertaken for dubious or underhanded reasons, it would be immoral.
The opposing view of this ethical dilemma might be a methodology of thinking common in the modern world, Utilitarianism. The Utilitarian would argue that as long as a positive benefit was achieved by the action, it was, by definition, moral and just. This philosophy allows that only the end result matters, not the motive or the means. This concept seeks to disassociate actor from action, emphasizing the greater good over that of the individual.
A commonly used scenario to highlight the basic differences in these ideas is that of the borrower and lender. If a person borrows a sum of money from a friend, and then repays that friend because he understands that repayment of a debt is the right thing to do, Kant would approve. If, instead, the borrower repays the loan in order to make it easier to get a second loan, or even simply to retain his friendship, Kant would be very disappointed. The Utilitarian would respond that both parties were pleased with the outcome, no matter the motives of the borrower. The Utilitarian might say that anything we do is acceptable, so long as no one is injured in the process.
Which argument is correct? Who am I, your humble writer, to say? I suppose that philosophy, like politics or religion, ultimately lies outside the power of even the most craftily worded arguments. After all, how can a person be persuaded that his or her favorite color is actually blue, instead of the green that they have adored since childhood? Such changes in deeply held attitudes and ideas must, of necessity, be internal. This is not to say that alterations of such precepts cannot occur. Clearly, people do make fundamental transformations quite often, but generally not by force of argument.
What has all this heady theorizing to do with the simple act of casting a hook disguised with feathers and tinsel before a fish? Here I am tempted to move closer to that slippery slope of exploring the morality of fishing. But, that broad and controversial topic is best left for another day and another post. I actually began to think a bit about means and ends a week ago when my eighteen foot flats boat took it upon itself to act out during a local fishing trip. I had invited two friends, Ross and Woody, to join me on my boat for a morning of redfishing. I had spent a goodly portion of the preceding day making preparations for the trip. I had gathered and sorted the tackle, arrayed checklist ready, on my work top. Of course, I had inspected the boat and motor, both of 1998 vintage, ahead of deployment. Attaching the cleverly designed garden hose connector on the 130 hP Yamaha permits starting the engine in my driveway, sometimes to the consternation of my neighbors. I will decline entering a discussion of that particular morality for now. Suffice it to say that despite an initial reluctance to easily begin the combustion process, the Yammie fired up and ran quite smoothly. I repeated this process several times over the course of the day, each subsequent start being accomplished without fanfare or distress.
I launched the boat with a fool’s confidence, assured that my detailed preparations had left nothing to chance. Falsely bolstering my confidence, the Yamaha came to life readily. We motored away from the dock and came up on plane easily once past the no wake zone. Life was now wonderful. The motor propelled us along at some forty mph, and would have easily reached greater velocity had I so commanded. Thoughts of lovely redfish, tails invitingly swaying in the salty air, filled our heads as the Hewes’ hull sliced the water.
Our reverie was rudely interrupted by the buzzing of the overheat warning on the motor. Almost before I could react, silence. The engine had entered auto-shutdown mode to protect itself from the damaging effects of excessive heat. I waited a few seconds and cautiously turned the key. The Yammie cranked immediately. I saw a steady stream of water emanating from the tell tale, indicating that at least the water pump was functioning. I made the command decision to continue to the flat, not far away by now. Better to be stranded where we could fish, I reasoned.
We reached our destination flat with no further incident,taking care to maintain a low rpm setting. We had an enjoyable morning, and after a few hours, reboarded and headed for the ramp. About half way there, we were treated to a repeat performance by the motor. It restarted quickly and we limped back to port.
My engine behaved badly that morning, like a naughty child who embarrasses his parents in front of guests. I was, in fact, quite embarrassed to have to deal with engine difficulties with my friends Ross and Woody aboard.The decision to take it in for an examination was straightforward and it currently resides at the maintenance facility. I hope to once more take charge of it in the very near future. Hopefully, some behavior modification has taken place and I will find my engine significantly better mannered on my next adventure. My wallet will, unfortunately, be some $1100 lighter when I reattach the trailer to my SUV.
I find myself a bit of a reluctant mariner. Many people find immense pleasure and enjoyment by simply spending a day on a boat, cruising about, often without specific purpose other than finding some fun, and truth be told, a few adult beverages along the way. I do enjoy the sensation of speed and power my boat provides, as well as the simple joy of being in the natural world despite performing the unnatural act of boating. Nonetheless I occasionally question the entire affair. In the final analysis, the boat is merely a means to an end for me. Flats boats, designed and manufactured specifically for use the the shallow marine environments where I typically fish, commonly come with price tags in the $30,000 range. Are the large sums required for acquiring and maintaining a fishing vessel justifiable? Is all the annoyance associated with boating in and of itself truly worthwhile? Perhaps the most insightful observer might be the wag who noted that the only thing better than having a boat is having a friend who has a boat.
Would Kant find my motives pure and approve? Or am I just another Utilitarian fly fisherman? You decide.