You see that remark everywhere. Anywhere from job listings to online personals, people are always seeking those who know what they want. I never quite understood what this might mean. How could anyone not know what they want? I know what i want, and those around me know what they want (assuming they are being honest with me). You might not know how to get what you want, but how could you not know what you want? It baffles me, really, and the next time i see that phrase, i am going to email whoever wrote it and ask what they mean by it.
This is something that has been bugging for quite some time now, but i was prompted to write a post about it because this exact issue came up in my Ethics lecture the other day. My Ethics professor, my wonderfully brilliant Ethics professor, of all people, used that seemingly meaningless phrase, “some people don’t know what they want.” In Book I Chapter VII of Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle discusses the search for a self-sufficient good, a final end, the one thing we aim at. His assumption is that you could be aiming at something, but not be sure what you’re aiming at. My question is, if you don’t even see the target, how could you be aiming at it? That would be like someone handing me a bow and arrow and telling me to shoot at the red circle when there isn’t one. In any case, the question that naturally follows from Aristotle’s proposition that some people don’t know what they’re after is, how do you tell what you’re really after? One way is to get it first and then figure out if that’s what you’d been wanting, he says. The only way to know what you’re after is to blindly go after something, get it, and then see if you’re satisfied with it. If you are, that’s what you had been wanting. But if humanity really did function in this primitive trial and error method, we wouldn’t get so far now, would we?
The only way i would be able to accept this proposition is if Aristotle were talking about children, but that does not seem to be the case. In that chapter, he talks about flutists, sculptors, craftsmen in general; no mention of undeveloped minds. But even in reference to children this proposition wouldn’t make sense, because undeveloped minds do know what they want. Babies cry because they want milk. They cry because they want sleep. If they’re crying, it means they want something, and their crying alone proves that they are aware of this desire. If they didn’t know what they want, there could be no outward expression of their desire.
But all this aside, what does it mean to not know what you want? Somebody please enlighten me.