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  • Ends: what we aim to do.
  • Means: the things we use and the actions we take to create our ends.

Is there any mention of a condition that includes the subject treating means as ends or the opposite or both?

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  • $\begingroup$ Just "being human"? $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Dec 23, 2022 at 15:59
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    $\begingroup$ In a pathogenic way? $\endgroup$ Dec 23, 2022 at 16:07
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    $\begingroup$ To the extent humans are pathological. See also en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consequentialism $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Dec 23, 2022 at 16:08
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    $\begingroup$ I don't know what this looks like "treating means as ends or the opposite" - I know what prioritizing means over ends or the opposite looks like, but not what treating them looks like. Can you provide some examples? $\endgroup$
    – Arnon Weinberg
    Dec 27, 2022 at 7:44
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    $\begingroup$ Like @ArnonWeinberg, I am finding it hard to grasp exactly what you are trying to describe. Maybe a combination of Michael's answer and my comment to it answers the question, maybe you are looking for something different. I'm just not sure. Are you able to elaborate within your question a little more on what you are after? $\endgroup$ Feb 1 at 7:53

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The matter in question is whether there are behavioural conditions which confuse instrumental value and intrinsic value. In common terms, instrumental value references means to an end, or the tools and steps needed to arrive at the naturally desired or intrinsically good object or state of affairs. Intrinsic value, in contrast, refers to an end in itself, or something which satisfies biological desire or otherwise some divine good. In psychology, the corresponding terms are intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

In modern complex society, many common goals are instrumental. Some are moreover very general, such as money, education, and social status. With how popular these goals are, the prevailing culture may not recognise their pursuit as inherently pathological, even when done in excess. Less general, more specific obsessions like collecting cars or refining skills that may never be used are also usually accepted as merely people being people. Technically any case where an intermediate goal is pursued without desire for its end goal may fall into this category, as for example having sex without desire to reproduce. But in practice, and indeed in this example, there can still be other benefits, such as physical and mental exercise. Yet arguably, chasing some instrument on the grounds of a highly unrealistic fantasy scenario may be inherently maladaptive.

With that said, there are some notable obsessions which may be more likely to be questioned by society. Obviously personal taste comes in, and those with a maladaptive instrumental obsession may be unwilling to reconsider. A particularly noteworthy example is compulsive hoarding, or the unnecessary, often cluttered accumulation of items, sometimes of very low or negative value. Here, the item's instrumental value may be grossly over-assessed; or otherwise the scenario where its accumulation would be net beneficial may be extremely unlikely to occur. A perhaps more common and maybe more accepted example is overeating. Rationally, the inherent value in food consumption is in its sustenance. But because of how the urge manifests, the instrument may be taken as the end in itself.

A fairly common theme seems to be the accumulation of instrumental goods, skills, and tokens beyond their reasonable expectation of utility. The person appears to forget or have trouble assessing their usefulness or likelihood of being needed.

In the case of building skill, a further consideration is the goal orientation behind its pursuit. From Wikipedia:

In general, an individual can be said to be mastery or performance oriented, based on whether one's goal is to develop one's ability or to demonstrate one's ability, respectively. [...] [Goal orientation] refers to how an individual interprets and reacts to tasks, resulting in different patterns of cognition, affect and behavior. [...] Individuals with a mastery orientation seek to develop their competence by acquiring new skills and mastering new situations. [...] Individuals with a performance orientation seek to demonstrate and validate the adequacy of their competence to receive favorable compliments while avoiding negative judgments. [...] A mastery orientation is characterized by the belief that success is the result of effort and use of the appropriate strategies. [...] A performance orientation is characterized by the belief that success is the result of superior ability and of surpassing one's peers.

Hence, a person who obsesses over a skill or other achievement may be doing so mainly for recognition or fame. The point at which such effort becomes pathological may differ from that of the person doing so based on an irrational or unattainable fantasy scenario.

One explanation for some of these phenomena is that certain evolutionary instinctual urges may be unfit or unadjusted to the modern environment. The human obsession with sugary foods is one example. It may be not necessarily that the person is thinking irrationally, but rather that their intrinsic drives are out of alignment with rational instrumental need. Nature may have instilled higher emphasis on the instrument than is suitable for current times.

Another hypothesis is that mental associations may have been formed, perhaps in early life, between some auxiliary or peripheral object and some intrinsically desired end. Especially if that end goal is unattainable, chasing or dabbling in related or associated mental objects may bring temporary relief. This is analogous to scratching around an itch. A common example is maladaptive daydreaming, where excessive time is taken in mental fantasy, often at the expense of other needs. Like in hoarding disorder, irrational or unreflective assessment of scenario likelihood may waste time that could have gone toward needs or opportunities more accessible.

TL;DR: compulsive hoarding; overeating; maladaptive daydreaming.

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    $\begingroup$ With your intro to intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, the lines can be very blurry. An extrinsic motivation for money can also be intrinsic in the sense that becoming financially rich may be the ultimate goal. Obtaining a smaller amount to invest in a larger project makes money both intrinsic and extrinsic in value at the same time. $\endgroup$ Feb 1 at 7:44
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    $\begingroup$ Trying to define hoarding in terms of intrinsic/extrinsic motivations can be tricky, too, as reaching the end goal may not be able to be seen by the hoarder. "Comfort eating" can result in overeating due to the fact that the eating is not necessarily providing the desired comfort level.... $\endgroup$ Feb 1 at 8:00
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    $\begingroup$ @ChrisRogers -- I agree. Ascription of purpose and intent is often rationalisation of otherwise fluid and heuristic instinctual urge. The line between goal and means is particularly unclear when both may bring motivation on their own. The distinction is further blurred by automaticity, or unconscious offloading as behaviour patterns become second-nature, possibly obscuring the original intention. Indeed, behaviours can be driven by multiple intrinsic and extrinsic motivation simultaneously. $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Feb 1 at 15:31
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One example could be 'misidentification' whereby a person identifies themselves with their biological instincts and thinks their purpose, their end, is to procreate, whereas procreation is a means to self-fulfilment.

More generally, from Kant:

Now, I say this: Man, and in general every reasonable being, exists as end in itself, and not merely as means, of which such and such a will can make use as it pleases; in all of his actions, in those which concern himself as well as in those which concern other reasonable beings, he should always be considered at the same time as end.

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