A Life Lesson from Kant – The Beauty of Unproductiveness

Recently I’ve been taking courses of Justice by Michael Sandel on edX. I was curious about justice in society, but I have learned (unexpectedly) a life lesson by studying about Kant’s idea of freedom.

Enjoy each moment in itself
“Enjoy each moment in itself” Nice, France 2016

Kant believes that we are free only when we act autonomously, which means deciding what to do on your own will, not by external forces. When you feel hungry and you eat a piece of chocolate, you’re not acting autonomously because your action was caused by your hunger (external force), not your own will. Kant calls it heteronomous action, since you are governed by some other external forces.

In a book Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?, professor Sandel gives an example of heteronomous determination. It basically shows how our everyday decisions are made by external forces, not by our own will.

Why do you wake up so early in the morning? Because you have to go to school.
Why do you have to go to school? Because you want to get a good job in the future.
Why do you want to get a good job? Because you want to live a stable life… and so on.

We are doing something for something else, for something else, for something else… In other words, we are acting heteronomously. And when we act heteronomously, according to Kant, we are not truly free because “we are instruments, not authors, of the purpose we pursue” (Justice P.110). We do what external forces tell us to do. We become slaves.

Here I learned a lesson from Kant to have happier days and enjoy life.

I tend to ask “why” for things I have to do, calculate my actions and I feel chained.

Why do I have to go to school when I can stay in my house watching movies? Why do I have to pay money to have lunch with someone I don’t even like? It’s not worth the money… Why do I have to write this report if my professor is not going to read it anyway? It’s not even worth my time… Why does my mom tell me to clean my room? I’d rather sleep!

But maybe instead of asking “why” I do it, doing it as an experience in itself, can help becoming positive. Therefore, intentionally switching your action from heteronomous into autonomous. Once you start asking “why”, all your actions become heteronomous (you do it because others tell you to), but if you start thinking “I do it because I do it” and just appreciate the experience as an end in itself, you might be able to feel a little bit lighter and freed from social constraints.

In addition, try not to calculate whether what you do is worthy of your time/money. When you compare something to other things, it necessarily becomes influenced by external forces. Each experience is independent, so again, enjoy each of them as an end in themselves without considering other factors.

These two advices might not lead you to become someone that modern society demands – someone productive, efficient and profit-maximizing – but maybe they can help people simply enjoy each moment of their life in today’s changing, hectic world.

Don’t try to be too productive (though it is surely one way to fulfill your life), there is another way to enrich your life ; to discover the beauty of unproductiveness.


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