Goodness Trumps Uniqueness

Advocates of modern eudaimonism and the “true self” place great value on individual uniqueness. Consider David L. Norton in his 1976 book Personal Destinies (p. 16):

According to self-actualization ethics it is every person’s primary responsibility first to discover the daimon [on p. 5 equated with the “true self”] within him and thereafter to live in accordance with it. Because perfection is incompatible with the conditions of existence, one’s daimon can never be fully actualized in the world, but by living in truth to it one’s unique perfection can be progressively approached.

Later in the same book, Norton asserts that “the moral necessity in ‘what must be done’ rests in the conviction of a ‘something which I, alone, can do'” (p. 189).

But it’s not only philosophers who prize uniqueness: some years ago Roland Fryer discovered that, in the 1990s, 228 babies born in California were given the name “Unique” (and to increase the uniqueness factor one was named “Uneek”, one “Uneque”, and one “Uneqqee”).

Yet how important is uniqueness really? The focus on uniqueness reminds me of marketing claims such as “the best Detroit pizza restaurant in Biloxi” – perhaps true, but ultimately meaningless. Plus, does your plumber or dentist need to be unique, or merely good at what they do? Does your neighbor need to be unique, or merely good?

Even further, the drive for uniqueness could lead one seriously astray. Here’s Norton again (p. 156): “the implicit end of every actual life is equivalent in worth to every other; specifically it is the perfection of every worth of its unique kind.” Yet that perfection might be morally suspect; even Norton, invoking a famous example from Leibniz, observes that “betrayal is the essence of Judas, and the perfection of Judas is the perfection of betrayal”!

If the end game is celebrating the “perfection” of Judas and the like, then uniqueness cannot be a primary value in human life. Goodness trumps uniqueness.

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