Today’s youth: Living it our way

The youth are very much moulded by the principles and institutions around them. A society that believes in the combination of all the lines of reasoning should provide the youth with proper universities and educational institutions where they can discover or create their telos

Being told ad infinitum that the youth today have it easy, that we are entitled and spoilt and want everything with the least amount of effort is a trope that a lot of young people in the country can relate to. The danger of engaging in such an act of sweeping generalisation is that society could fail to see and celebrate the diversity of ideas, talents, skills and personalities that the youth constitute and represent and deny them the opportunity to enhance and harness them.

Much vexed by adages like “The youth is wasted on the young”, I decided to endeavour on a small pet project to look in the rearview mirror of history to ascertain what wise individuals who graced the earth before us had to say about youth.

Writing around 300 B.C, Aristotle developed the teleological line of moral reasoning at Lyceum, his own school in ancient Greece. The teleological line of reasoning begins with the premise that humans, and in our case, youth, come to this world with a preordained purpose, and it is our work to actively decipher the purpose for which we were created.

Suppose, when distributing flutes in a society with few of them, who should get it? Naturally, for Aristotle, it should be given to somebody with the finest ability to play the flute.

The consequentialist line of moral reasoning on the other hand prescribes acting in a manner that considers the consequences of one’s actions.

One of the staunchest adherents to this theory was Jeremy Bentham, who in 1780 AD introduced Utilitarianism, whose foundation was consequentialism. Utilitarianism is best summarised by the phrase - the greatest good of the greatest number.

The theory supposes every human naturally wants pleasure or utility and avoid pain or disutility. Therefore, the most apposite modus operando is to pursue one’s happiness and involve in activities that maximise it. So, unlike Aristotle, Utilitarians recommended that one should play the flute if playing it makes one happy.

Another example of a consequentialist line of reasoning is lying to save someone’s life, fully knowing that lying itself is a morally wrong act.

In contradistinction to the consequentialist line of reasoning, is the categorical line of reasoning, which judges an act on the nature of the act itself and not the consequences of the act. So according to Immanuel Kant, one should reveal the hideout of the person regardless of the consequences of the act.

If you lie to one individual and continue justifying it based on consequences, others will lie to you too, and the world will be full of liars. This will be the end of morals.

While the categorical line of reasoning tells us to “do the right thing”, it is silent on what the right thing to do is. The teleological line of reasoning tells us to find our preordained purposed and pursue it to the best of our ability, but is silent on what one can do to exhume one’s true calling in life. Utilitarian espouses acting where you can maximise pleasure and minimise pain. However, it is mum on when and if too much pleasure can lead to pain.

It is easily discernible that today we use all of these lines of reasoning based on the unique demands of the occasion in our life. We join colleges and universities to find what we are good at, to find our “telos” in life. Once we find it, we try to pursue it further and parlay that into a career as we become more aware of how happy pursing it makes us.

One can, however, be an avid painter on the inside but might pursue a career in medicine for better pay offs in life. All modern companies today operate with the bottom line of profit in life, a consequentialist approach to life. So, how is a young person to live today based on all the various lines of reasoning?

Although the world at large is primarily based on the the utilitarian philosophy of the pursuit of life, liberty, private property and happiness, the categorical lines of reasoning  regulate our relationship with friends and family where we try our best not to lie or deceive as we know that to be immoral. We also explore the various things such as writing, singing, teaching that we can be good at.

Hence, the youth are very much moulded by the principles and institutions around them.

A society that believes in the combination of all the lines of reasoning should provide the youth with proper universities and educational institutions where they can discover or create their telos. It should create laws and regulations that help the youth maximise their happiness and minimise their pain and should temper that with institutions and values that promote a more authentic and moral collective sentiment.

Societies that have created institutions that promote a combination of all lines of reasoning among youth have reaped huge benefits.

Bill Gates was about 20 years old when he started Microsoft and Steve Jobs was around 21 years old when he started Apple, both of whom were born in the USA, a country with great academic institutions to train youth and a social environment that promotes the pursuit of self-interest and happiness with moral constraints. On that note, the categorical imperative here is not to blame the youth but to shape and tap their potential while they are young.