In Defense of the Ideal of a Life Plan

Joe Mintoff

University of Newcastle

Joe Mintoff is a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Newcastle, Australia. His primary research interests are in moral philosophy, specifically the theory of rational choice, the philosophy of Socrates, and ancient approaches to the question of how to live. His articles have appeared in Australasian Journal of Philosophy, American Philosophical Quarterly, Ethics, and Ratio. This paper was first published in The Southern Journal of Philosophy (2009) Vol. XLVII. pp 159-186.


Aristotle claims at Eudemian Ethics 1.2 that everyone who can live according to his own choice should adopt some goal for the good life, which he will keep in view in all his actions, for not to have done so is a sign of folly. This is an opinion shared by other ancients as well as some moderns. Others believe, however, that this view is false to the human condition, and provide a number of objections: (1) you can't plan love; (2) nor life's surprises; (3) planning a whole life is of no use since the world changes too much; (4) as do our values; and (5) planning a life is something only dreary people would do. The aim of this paper is to examine these objections, as part of a broader attempt to defend the relevance of a eudaimonistic approach to the question of how to live well.

Everyone who can live according to his own choice should adopt some goal for the good life..., be it honor or reputation or wealth or culture-a goal that he will keep in view in all his actions. (For not to have ordered one's life in relation to some end is a sign of extreme folly.) Therefore, before all else, he should settle in his own mind, neither hastily nor carelessly, in which of our concerns living well consists, and what are the things which make it possible for human beings.

Aristotle, Eudemian Ethics 1.2 1214b7-13 (trans. Woods; as quoted at Larmore 1999, 101-2)

Charles Larmore rightly claims that "[o]ne could not hope for a clearer statement [than the above] of the view that the good life depends on organizing our existence around a plan, choosing all our actions with a view to making possible the overall goal we have set for ourselves" (Larmore 1999, 102), having initially settled upon that plan after carefully considering which of our prereflective concerns are intrinsic parts of a good life. This is an opinion shared by ancients and moderns alike (Fried 1970, 98-101; Rawls 1971, 407-416; Richards 1971, 29-46; Cooper 1975, 91-115; Feinberg 1989, 534-5). Others believe, however, that this view is false to the human condition, and they object to the idea that life is something we are to lead and not something we should allow to happen to us (Slote 1983, 40-52; Larmore 1999; Pendlebury 2000). The aim of this paper is to respond to these objections.

1. Intentions, Plans, and Life Plans

A life plan is a plan writ very large. A plan is an intention writ large. And an intention is a mental state playing distinctive functional roles (see, e.g., Bratman 1987; Meie 1989). Unlike other intentions and plans, though, which may govern only a small range of activity over a short range of time, a life plan is one that (if it lasts) governs nearly everything one does over a significant proportion of one's life.[1] It has all the features of other intentions and plans, but its comprehensive nature means that some take a distinctive form. There are six features we need to note.

(a*) A life plan must have a single intentional object. Aristotle suggests that we adopt some one goal for the good life, "be it honor or reputation or wealth or culture" {EE 1.2 1214b8-9; see Cooper 1975, 94ff. for another interpretation). This would indeed provide an intentional object for all we do. However, some might feel that a life in which our single highest-level plan is (for example) to be wealthy is much too limited, and even such a potentially rich life as one devoted solely to culture would still be unduly narrow. Further, a set of more than one highest-level plans-to pursue wealth and culture, or (a more contemporary example) to pursue an academic career and to raise a family-does not seem sufficiently unified to count as having a single intentional object, and so it is unclear how it could constitute a single plan (see Ackrill 1980, 26, and in response Kraut 1989, 218-19).

We are familiar, however, with sets of quite disparate actions having sufficient inter-dependence for us to treat them as parts of a unified end. Consider, for example, a triathlon (see MacDonald 1991, 50, for the example but not the following explanation). A person might have three successive ends-to swim 2 km, to cycle 50 km, and to run 10 km-and different ways he can perform each of them, though some will be better than others: considerations of style apart, this just means in quicker or slower times. These ends probably conflict: the quickest way of performing one activity will cost him a very slow time in the others, and so how he performs each activity will be constrained to some extent by the others. This conflict might make no difference to his deliberations: he swims his 2 km how he pleases, without thought to the influence this will have on how well he performs the other two activities, and without thought of how long it will take him to complete all three together. He is just swimming, and then cycling, and then running, and no more. But the conflict could make a difference: our athlete could explicitly decide how he will perform each activity and how long it will take, with sensitivity to the constraints imposed by the other activities, with a preference for shorter over longer times, and with the overall aim of completing all three in good time. If so, everything he does as he completes each activity will be explained by this decision, which in turn will be explained by the aim of completing all three in good time. He is no longer just swimming, cycling, and running, but also (as we say) completing a triathlon.

There is no reason why the set of our actions over a significant proportion of our lives could not have a similar interdependence. A person might aim to pursue an academic career, raise a family, and might have yet other ends, each of which could be realized in different ways, some better than others: though, in this case, what makes an academic career better will obviously differ from what makes family life better. These ends will inevitably conflict: they are sufficiently rich to bear deeper and deeper engagement, at the cost of more and more time and resources, and so the pursuit of each will be constrained by the others. Again, this conflict could make a difference to what he does: upon reflection, our academic family-man could explicitly decide how and to what extent he will realize each end, with sensitivity to the constraints imposed by his other ends, with priority given to some ends over others (implying that he would judge that some ways of realizing them all are better than others), and with the overall aim of well realizing them all together.[2] If so, everything he does as he pursues these ends would be ultimately explained by this decision-why he makes one everyday choice rather than another, why he pursues it in the way he does, etc.-which in turn will be explained by the aim of well-enough realizing all of them together. This set of quite disparate actions-pursuing a career, raising a family, and so on-would have sufficient inter-dependence for us also to treat them as parts of a larger unified end (viz., these final ends together with the plan for realizing them), though we may lack a name for it.

This is the way, then, that we might follow Aristotle's advice and adopt some goal for the good life, while still pursuing more than one of the highest-level ends he considers as possible candidates.

(b*) A life plan ultimately controls and guides all actions (cf. Bratman 1987, 16; Meie 1989, 20-23). My intention now to perform now some simple action (e.g., taking a drink) is conduct-controlling in a very simple way: it simply guides my action. My intention now to realize later a more complex state-of-affairs (e.g., my children's faring well after my death) is conduct-controlling in a more sophisticated way. Aristotle suggests that we keep our chosen aim in view in all our actions (EE 1.2 1214b9-10). However, most everyday actions are guided, in the first instance, by the plans I have for that day. They are guided by a life plan only in the sense that the chain of control eventually arrives at that life plan. This control involves three further features.

(c*) A life plan has (revocable) stability (cf. Bratman 1987, 16-17; cf. Meie 1989, 25). It closes the issue of how to lead my life, and only certain (very) "important" changes in my circumstances will prompt reopening of the issue, and reconsideration about whether to continue with that plan.[3] If intentions were unstable, they would not be able to exercise control over my later actions, and if they were irrevocable then it might be doubtful how voluntary those later actions are. It is important, however, that the stability of an intention not be confused with the range of ends and the length of time it governs. A life plan, in particular, has as its range nearly everything I do over a significant proportion of my life, but might be quite short lived if events intervene very soon after it has been formed. Conversely, an intention could have as its range only a small range of activity over a short period of time, but might nevertheless be quite stable.

(d*) A life plan is means-end coherent, in that the process of realizing it will lead to the formation of further intentions: "I will frequently reason from the intended end to intended means or preliminary steps.... And I will frequently reason from more general to more specific intentions" (Bratman 1987, 17; cf. Meie 1989, 23-24), and the same applies to life plans. If intentions were not means-end coherent, they simply would not exercise any control over my later actions even if they managed to persist. This implies that an intention to A will often lead to what we will call motivated intentions (i.e., I formed that intention because forming it contributes to realizing A), though (as we will see) this is not to imply that a life plan need necessarily motivate all other ends.

(e*) A life plan will constrain all other plans and will itself be constrained by no other plan. Intentions, in general, are consistency-constrained, both amongst themselves and relative to one's beliefs (Bratman 1987, 17). If I cannot realize an intention at all, I will abandon it; if I cannot realize both of two prior intentions, I will abandon one or the other. If intentions were not consistency-constrained, then it would be possible for an intention to persist in full consciousness even though completely overridden by some conflicting intention and, thus, possible for that intention not to be conduct-controlling. This implies that the formation of any given intention will be constrained by other, pre-existing, intentions (i.e., I would not have formed the intention were I to have judged that forming it is incompatible with realizing those other intentions).

This implies, in particular, that life plans are consistency-constraining. I will seek consistency between a life plan and any other plan, as well as consistency with my beliefs about what is possible. If I cannot realize a life plan, I will modify it; if I cannot realize both a life plan and a more specific plan, I will abandon one or the other. Typically, I will give up the more specific plan- since plans ground expectations about how I will behave and thus facilitate deliberation (Bratman 1987, 17-18), and (as we will see) allow for the prudent management of those affairs, it will typically be less traumatic to abandon the more specific plan.

Finally, (f*) a life plan is typically partial though it also often exhibits some hierarchical structure (Bratman 1987, 29). These features, and the two previous, capture what those who talk of life plans often take to be central to them. Thus, "those who achieve 'inclusive' ends in their lives do so by means of a kind of life-plan that orders desires and purposes in a hierarchical structure, relegating to its proper place each passing impulse, specific desire, general means, intermediate end, and ulterior purpose" (Feinberg 1989, 534; see also Finnis 1980, 129; Larmore 1999, 99). A life plan ultimately controls whether we have various ends and purposes, and whether we act upon or encourage various impulses, desires, and emotions.

Aristotle says that everyone who can live according to his own choice should adopt some goal for the good life, though he does not say exactly why he should do so. Perhaps he thinks adopting goals is desirable for its own sake, or perhaps choice-worthy for something else.

So consider, then, the evaluative claim that the most desirable life is one with a plan-more precisely, that some life with a plan is more desirable (or, at least, is not less desirable) than any unplanned life. This claim is not true, and this paper does not aim to defend it. Unreflective lives can be well-lived ones: an easy-going man of modest intelligence might without much forethought spend his entire life in one community, acquiring in turn a job, a wife, and children, but nevertheless the community might turn out to be stable and crime-free, and he might end up with a job well matching his abilities, a wife complementing his own needs and wants, and a good reaction to parenthood (Pendlebury 2000, 4). Spontaneous lives can be well-lived ones: a come-what-may woman might lead a life so unpredictable that it is clear she has no plans, but even so she might also (like a good jazz musician) be responsive to the randomness of events in an elegant way and exhibit improvisation in her actions that pleasingly makes sense in response to the improvisation of others. It is possible to live well without a life plan.

Alternatively, then, consider the normative claim that the most choice-worthy life is one with a plan-that having some plan for one's life (and thereby a life with a plan) is more choice-worthy than having no such plan. This is the claim the paper aims to defend. Our easy-going hero was lucky in his choices, our come-what-may heroine lucky in her talent, but the rest of us cannot expect to be so fortunate. We cannot expect to be so lucky in our circumstances or to be such naturals in how we conduct our days that we can succeed without deliberation or planning, and even less can we expect to be lucky or to be naturals in how we lead our lives, and if so we cannot expect an undeliberated and unplanned life to be a success. John Rawls captures the idea nicely: "[i]t is not inconceivable that an individual, or even a whole society, should achieve happiness moved entirely by spontaneous inclination.... For the most part, though, we are not so blessed, and without taking thought and seeing ourselves as one person with a life over time, we shall almost certainly regret our course of action" (1971, 423-24). It is possible to live well without a life plan, but unwise to try to do so.

Now it is not the aim of the paper to argue positively for this claim, but only to respond to various objections to it. Nevertheless, it will be useful to mention briefly one of the chief arguments for the ideal of a life plan, namely, that planning is prudent in the management of one's affairs (see MacDonald 1991, esp. 4659, and Becker 1998, ch. 6, esp. 114-18 for similar arguments; cf. Rawls 1971, 424; Larmore 1999, 105).[4]

We all have everyday aims we take seriously, aims that we are committed to judging have some value. We do not pursue each everyday aim in isolation and without foresight but show some sensitivity to, and on some occasions explicitly deliberate about, higher aims (if any), conflicting aims (if any), and later times, since otherwise we risk a poor realization of all those aims. When our everyday aims conflict (as they often do), we must and do decide in outline and subject to revision what we really want for our day and how much we really want it, which decision guides our subsequent actions and commits us to a conception of what is better or worse for that day as a whole. It would be folly not to consider our everyday aims, not to decide which of them are most important, and not to aim to well-realize them all. But life is a day writ large, and-this is the central point- the same things that make it reasonable for a person to strive for coherence among their everyday aims will also make it reasonable for them to strive for coherence among their aims at the highest level. We seriously pursue not only everyday aims, but (on pain of regress) we also have highest aims, which we also take seriously, and which we are committed to judging of highest and greatest value. And so, for exactly the same reasons, we are committed not to ignore the fact that each day is part of a life more broadly, and show some sensitivity to, and on some occasions explicitly reflect about, our highest aims, as far into the future as they cover. And since our highest aims are likely to conflict, then, for exactly the same reasons, we are logically committed to decide in outline and subject to revision what we really want for our life and how much we really want it-that is, to decide upon a life plan-that subsequently guides all we do during our life and that commits us to a conception of what is better or worse for our lives as a whole. When so much more is at stake, it would be even greater folly not to consider our highest aims, not to decide which are most important, and not to aim to well-realize them all.

Some, however, disagree with the ideal of a life plan. In a paper that directly targets the ideal and most fully canvasses the key objections to it, Charles Larmore encapsulates his concerns with the protest that "[t]he idea that life should be the object of a plan is false to the human condition" (Larmore 1999, 96). Other authors register similar complaints about the idea (Slote 1983; Pendlebury 2000).[5] The main objections, more precisely, seem to be as follows: (1) that there are some important goods that should be part of one's life but cannot be part of any plan; (2) that, in particular, being surprised by a good of which one had no inkling is itself an important good that cannot be part of a plan; (3) that the world being as it is, one's beliefs about the outcome of living in a certain way will often be unreliable; (4) that ignorance of the good being what it is, one's judgments about the value of living in that way and its outcome are liable to change; and, finally, (5) that the type of person who plans may have control over their lives but is unattractive for all that. For one or all of these reasons, then, some people have felt that it is unwise to make one's life the focus of a plan. What truth is there in these objections?

2. "You Can't Plan Love"

An obvious first objection to the idea of a life plan is that there are some important goods that should be part of one's life but cannot be part of any plan. Spontaneity is a favorite example (Larmore 1999, 110), though Michael Slote focuses on love and friendship. "Because love, or the state of being in love, is generally recognized to be largely outside our rational control, people do not usually take steps or exert efforts to attain it. Yet we (nowadays) tend to think of love as a basic human good, as something indispensable to human flourishing" (Slote 1983, 44). Love cannot be part of any life plan-it is outside our rational control, it cannot be controlled or guided by any plan, nor a fortiori by any life plan (clause b*). But love is indispensable to human flourishing, and so the wise person will forgo a life plan.

The response to this objection is to agree that love is indispensable to human flourishing but to deny that it is outside all forms of rational control. Perhaps love is like spontaneity. We cannot be spontaneous at will, any more than we can love at will. But we can aim to be spontaneous: "we may still devise methods of indirection by which we can bring ourselves into the desired state of acting unreflectively" (Larmore 1999, 110). And our spontaneity is not outside all forms of rational control: few are so spontaneous that they would not notice if they were about to fall over the edge of a cliff.

So too we can aim to love. At the very least, many of us want to love. Now this desire has an intentional object: to love, a state-of-affairs that is more easily imagined than described. It is (revocably) stable: we are very unlikely to stop wanting love, given how indispensable we think it is (though we can imagine continual bad luck in love prompting reconsideration). It is means-end coherent: out of a desire for love, we improve our appearance, we date, and (if lucky) we try to spend more time with someone we find attractive. And, finally, this desire is consistency-constrained, as Slote himself admits: "if one really wants (hopes for) love to figure in one's life, one will avoid setting obstacles in its way, e.g., by signing up with the French Foreign Legion" (Slote 1983, 44). The desire to love, then, may play all the familiar functional roles of an intention, and Slote is simply mistaken to claim (45) that we do not pursue the condition of love.

Nevertheless, it does seem odd to say that we can intend to love. The problem is that intending to A seems to require a flat-out belief that one will A (that is, the intention closes the epis-temic issue of whether one will A), and we are rarely in a position to believe flat-out that we will love (since, as we pursue love, the epistemic issue of whether we will find it is sadly very much open). However, intending to A does not require a flat-out belief that A. "Perhaps I intend to carry out a rescue operation, one that requires a series of difficult steps. I am confident that at each stage I will try my best. But if I were to reflect on the matter, I would have my doubts about success.... I do not actually believe I will fail. But neither do I believe I will succeed" (Bratman 1987, 38). Similarly, we might be able to intend to love, even though we have doubts about our success. Further, we could be in a position to believe flat-out that we will love. We state without oddity that we intend to be spontaneous. Now even though we cannot be spontaneous at will, the grounds for our statement could be that we intend to do something (e.g., to have a few drinks) that we can reliably predict will lead to our being spontaneous. Similarly, we might intend to do something (e.g., to vigorously pursue a strong mutual attraction) that we can reliably predict will lead to love, and this is just as much grounds for stating that we intend to love. Admittedly, these cases are rare, but they do show that any inability to intend to love is primarily the result of contingent circumstances.[6]

Further, it is not only possible to aim to love, but our aim is not outside all forms of rational control (cf. Railton 1988, 102ff; see my 2006 for details on the following), for we need to distinguish two senses in which our actions and dispositions might be under our rational control.

On the one hand, some end A is motivated by a different end Β when one aims at the first because one judges that A or aiming to A contributes to realizing Β (to an adequate degree, dictated by one's priorities-understood henceforth), where this contribution might consist in A's leading to Β (e.g., A is a causal means to B) or its following from Β (e.g., A is a constitutive part of B). Note that, in a derivative sense, some desire, impulse, or emotion is motivated by an end when one acts upon it (or strives to inculcate it) because one judges that doing so contributes to realizing the end. For example, an intention to buy a set of joggers would be motivated by a plan to run a triathlon if we intend to do so because we judge that running a triathlon requires a new set of joggers, and-less commonly-a passionate desire to win the race could be motivated by the same plan if we strove to inculcate the desire because we judged that it would help us run the race.

As Slote correctly points out, coming to love someone is typically not motivated by some distinct end, such as pleasure. His point about rational control presumably relates to the fact that the natural psychological processes by which we become attracted to another typically have little to do with ratiocination and that we cannot come to love someone just like that. Further, acting out of love is also not motivated by pleasure or some other distinct end but, rather, by our love. We love another only when our actions toward them are motivated directly by their welfare (that is, out of our love), and not by some fine calculations about the pleasure it will bring us (that is, not for the sake of our own pleasure). Love and loving actions cannot sensibly be treated as motivated by some plan and so cannot be motivated by some life plan. That is why we might think that there is something amiss with someone who takes steps to attain love.

On the other hand, then, some end A is subordinate to a different end Β when one aims at each but would not aim to A if one were to judge that neither A nor aiming to A contributes to realizing B. And, again, some desire, impulse, or emotion is subordinate to an end when one would not act upon it (or would strive to eliminate it) if one were to judge that acting upon it (or continuing to have it) does not contribute to realizing the end. Subordination is not motivation. Consider, by analogy, the way a child might be supervised by her father (cf. NE 1.13 1102b30-32). On some given occasion, she desires sweets and so consumes some. The explanation of this is wholly internal to her: she desires sweets and consumes them because she enjoys their taste (though no doubt there is a more complex physiological story to be told), not because she thinks they are healthy (she has no such thoughts), and not because her father thinks they are healthy (she is not always mindful of her father's wishes). Still, her father was watching. And he might have interfered: he has enough concern about her health that he would have prevented her from acting on this desire if he had thought that her eating sweets on this occasion would be detrimental to her health. But he didn't, all was well, and-in the jargon-the child's action in this case was therefore subordinate to but not motivated by her father's concern. Similarly, our own desires, impulses, and emotions might be supervised-not by our parents any longer-but by our own reason. We too desire sweets and consume them quite simply because we enjoy their taste and certainly not because we think they are very healthy, but even so we may have enough self-control not to act on this desire and not to consume them if we thought that doing so would be detrimental to our health. More generally, when all is well, the explanation of the existence and operation of some emotion or action might be provided solely by various natural processes (e.g., the physiological processes referred to above) and not at all by more reflective processes (e.g., explicitly evaluative processes), even though these more reflective processes would interrupt it were they to judge that it did not contribute to (say) the happiest life possible. Our own desires, impulses, and emotions might therefore be subordinate to but not motivated by other larger aims.

In particular, coming to love someone, and acting out of that love, could in this way be subordinate to but not motivated by a plan, such as leading the happiest life possible. If so, there is a sense in which our coming to love, and our acting out of love, could be within our rational control. We count as loving, in the usual sense, since our love is motivated by psychology not a plan-we desire the other and act on this desire quite simply because something about them leads us to enjoy their company (the underlying psychological processes are the ones usually recognized to be distinctive of love), not because we judged (for example) that they would be a good match. But we also count as having rational control over our love, in a familiar sense, since our love is subordinate to a plan-notwithstanding our feelings, we have enough self-control not to act on those feelings and not to pursue the relationship if we were to judge that they would be a bad match. Love, then, can sensibly be treated as subordinate to some plan and, in particular, to some life plan.

Such love might not be enough for some.

Michael Pendlebury grants that love could be part of a plan, but asks rhetorically: "Which would you prefer: a passionate love that takes root, grows, blooms, and flourishes naturally and of its own accord, or a well-controlled liaison that meticulously implements a plan that once consumed your soul?" (Pendlebury 2000, 6); he therefore implies that love under rational control is poor love indeed. However, while natural love is the best love for our lives, it is perfectly consistent with subordination to some plan. Suppose we are gardeners, and someone asks us: "Which would you prefer: a vibrant tree that takes root, grows, blooms, and flourishes naturally and of its own accord, or one well-controlled and meticulously trained along the rigid lattice work of some pre-existing plan?" We might respond that we prefer trees growing naturally to ones espaliered. (We prefer informal to formal gardens.) But, with our eye on the whole garden, we would take it that such a preference is perfectly consistent with taking care that our trees do not overshadow one another, that (for example) we would always avoid planting aggressive trees, regularly trim those encroaching too far, and occasionally uproot those requiring too much work. (Even informal gardens are planned.) So too, we rightly prefer a love that grows naturally to one espaliered as Pendlebury describes (a motivated love, in our terminology), but this is perfectly consistent with taking care that our loves-not only for people, but also for the other ends we think are important-do not overshadow one another (subordinated loves).

Others-Nietzsche comes to mind, when he suggests that the healthy soul is spontaneously active and cares nothing for strategy and calculation (Nietzsche 1996, 1.10)-might insist that the sort of love most worth having cannot be subordinate to reason at all, that it involves so much passion and intensity that its value is reduced with every bit of rational control. However, while such wild love could not be subordinate to any plan, it is very far from the best love for our lives. Someone whose love is not subordinate to any plan pursues it, by definition, with no sensitivity to any conflicting ends he has, or to the future upshot of his passion: he does not think of those ends or of the future, and even if it occurred to him that his behavior will harm those ends and have a detrimental upshot then he simply would not care. Someone without any such sensitivity is a great danger to himself: admittedly, it might (perhaps) be better for him to pursue such love and abandon all that he had hitherto held dear-his work, his wife, his children, his morality, perhaps even his life-but it might be worse for him, very much worse, and he simply does not care to try to consider which it is. Wild love is as much a threat to our flourishing as wild spontaneity, which would not care to notice the edge of a cliff.

Aristotle suggests that we adopt a goal for the good life, Slote claims that love is indispensable to human flourishing, and since nothing prevents it from being one of the elements of a plan, we would do well to make love one of our goals.

3. "You Can't Plan Life's Surprises"

Closely related to the idea that spontaneity is part of a good life is the claim that discovering a new good is itself an important good that cannot be part of a plan. Larmore himself has two basic criticisms of the ideal of a life plan.[7] One-to be addressed below-is that our conception of the good is bound to fall short of the good that life has yet to show us and of which we now have no inkling. The other-to be addressed in this section-is that "being surprised by a good of which we had no inkling is itself an invaluable element of what makes life worth living" (Larmore 1999, 99), and that these moments of wonder and redirection are of inestimable value (112). Since being surprised in this way is outside our rational control (more so than love), this implies that such surprises and life plans are incompatible and that the (minimally[8]) wise person will have another reason to forgo the rigidity of a life plan.

The response to this objection is to agree that being surprised like this is outside our rational control but to deny that such surprises and life plans are incompatible and to deny that they are of very much value in themselves.

Life plans and being surprised by a hitherto unknown good are not incompatible. As we have seen, the life plan of a rational person is revocably stable (clause c*), and this means that she treates as closed the issue of how to lead her life, and would reopen the issue only if there are certain very "important" changes in her information. Still, such changes may occur-she may have a conversion experience. And if she does, it is consistent with our account that she reconsiders her current commitments, and perhaps as a result of that reconsideration redirects her life. The stability of a life plan, recall, should not be confused with its overarching nature. And so, even though she cannot control their occurrence, a rational person with a life plan could still experience the surprises that Larmore thinks are of inestimable value and could act to redirect her life should she see fit.

However, being surprised by a hitherto unknown good is not as invaluable as he thinks. He is right to point out that it can be a delight to discover some new good and that this delight itself is of some value. Our rational person will have made such experiential discoveries for herself and will probably have an abstract awareness that there are very many goods-as yet unknown to her-the discovery of which would be a delight. Early in life, for example, she will be delighted to discover many different types of goods of which she was previously unaware- sexual activity, romantic love, social participation, philosophy-and this may lead her to redirect her activity from one to the other, and so find greater fulfillment in the longer term than she otherwise might have. If sensible, she will realize that there are probably many other things she could come to take an interest in. The problem, however, is that there are too many such goods, and too little time to enjoy them in all their depth.

Later in her life, the discovery of a new good may not lead to redirection, in which case the delight may be of mixed value. There are many goods through which she might find fulfillment, but to find fulfillment in many of them she needs to devote herself intimately to it. Human limitations being what they are, it follows that she can devote herself only to a few of these goods, and her devotion to them must come comparatively early if it is to be intimate. But if she is devoted to these few, the sudden discovery of the attractions of other goods-other sexual partners, another romantic love, other social groups, other academic disciplines-may be met not only with appreciative delight but also some sadness and frustration at the goods whose delights are tantalizingly close but never to be enjoyed in any real depth. She might prefer not to have discovered these new goods at all.

Further, even if a discovery later in life does lead to redirection-if she comes to see (say) that the life of science is more valuable than that of social engagement, etc., and adjusts her life accordingly-the delight is still not what is of most value. The delight in a good is surely less important than the good itself, and this suggests that becoming aware of that good early (even without the delight of her discovery) is preferable to a belated delightful discovery of it. The primary significance, then, of the discovery of a greater good will not be in the delight of the discovery, but in the fact that she will be able to live better. She might prefer to have become aware of the new good right from the start.

Aristotle suggests that we should settle in our own minds, neither hastily nor carelessly, in which of our concerns living well consists. Neither hastily nor carelessly-early in life, there is room for experimentation without foreclosing the possibility of later, longer-term, commitment. But we should eventually settle on some goal-late in life, further experimentation comes increasingly at the expense of longer-term and more intimate commitment, and so at the expense of a good life. As our lives progress and take shape around an ongoing plan, therefore, moments of wonder go from being important parts of our education to vivid reminders of paths not taken. It is right that this should be so, for a good human life necessarily involves intimate relationships with good things, and only so many such relationships are possible. But it is simply extravagant to claim that experiences of wonder are of inestimable value and that our lives would mean less were they not to contain such moments.

4. "Planning Is No Use: The World Changes Too Much"

The world being as it is, our beliefs about the outcome of our living in a certain way will often be unreliable. In general, the rationality of planning now to do something later depends (to put it crudely) on our beliefs about the outcome of that action and our judgments about the value of that action and outcome, and also depends on whether it is rational to make any plans now at all or to wait and decide later. And the rationality of that depends on those central features of plans identified above. They imply that a plan formed now will predictably influence behavior later (clause b*), but will also involve a decreased sensitivity and openness to the occurrence of possibly relevant factors in between (clause c*). If the information now is good and unlikely to change, then the predictability may well be worth the insensitivity, and it may well be rational to make plans. Otherwise, it may not be. This applies to life plans and to our beliefs about the outcome of our living in a certain way: "[o]ur plans, when we put them into practice, certainly risk defeat at the hands of reality. And disappointment may seem inescapable when so complicated a matter as life itself is made the object of a plan" (Larmore 1999, 97). Pendlebury lists various factors that affect how well our lives go but that he claims are beyond our prediction and control: the circumstances into which we were born; our characters and dispositions and those of our nearest-and-dearest; who we happen to meet and the effects of our first meeting; how people react to us in critical circumstances; what joint actions and processes will emerge from our interaction with other members of groups to which we belong; our health and physical constitution, and how they will be affected by different lifestyles; large-scale social, political and economic circumstances, and their probable effects on our lives; natural circumstances, forces, and accidents (Pendlebury 2000, 6). These are just a few illustrations of the ways in which information about the outcome of living in a certain way is very poor indeed and may be subject to changes in the long term, thereby making it irrational to plan so far ahead. The minimally wise person would not make plans.

Larmore introduces but does not himself endorse this objection, responding that it does not really undermine the idea of a life plan. "Snarled and unpredictable though the ways of the world may be, we can set our sights on ends whose achievement seems minimally imperiled by chance or misfortune" (Larmore 1999, 98). This has been a prominent (though not, as he claims, near universal) strand of advice within the philosophical tradition. The Stoics claim virtue and the Epicureans claim tranquility as ends minimally imperiled by chance and misfortune (Epicurus 1993, Menoeceus 130, Doctrines 15, 21, Fragments 45, 67; Epictetus 1995, Handbook 1, Discourses 1.1), and on that basis recommended planning our lives around them.

This type of response, however, is not very attractive.

In the first place, the flight to the most secure goods is liable to leave behind things of great value. The Stoics have been notorious throughout history for their claim that the only thing good in itself is virtue, and its implications that we should emotionally detach ourselves from external things in general and other people in particular (Epictetus 1995, Handbook 26, on which see Cicero 2001, IV.68), and that pain is not bad in itself so that a man could be happy on the rack so long as he remained virtuous (Cicero 1945, V, on which see NE 7.13, 1153bl9). The Epicureans fare somewhat better on this score, since they give friendship a role in the good life (Epicurus 1993, Doctrines 27), but there are other things they thought should be excised from life: foodstuffs beyond bread and water (Fragments 37), sexual activity and passion more generally (Sayings 51, 80), material wealth (Sayings 25), and involvement in the wider world (Doctrines 14). We would need to be very sure indeed about the qualifications of these philosophers (and others like them) before we submitted ourselves to their radical therapies.

In the second place, the flight to the most secure goods still leaves one vulnerable to failure. Epicurus says the only thing we should ultimately want is tranquility, but there are desires we cannot avoid but that may not be as easy as Epicurus thinks to satisfy, and the desire for the quiet life has its own complications (Epictetus 1995, Discourses 4.4), in which case tranquility is likely to be only imperfectly achieved in a lifetime. The Stoics say the only thing we should ultimately want is to be morally virtuous, but even they admit that this is a tall order and that there are very few sages in the world (see Becker 1998, 107-8, on ideal agency as an ability to make choices that is developed to the limit of human capability), and so becoming a sage is likely to be a lifelong project that very often is not successful. These goods, no less than those more commonly pursued, are also vulnerable.

A more attractive response is to remind ourselves that, for those fortunately placed, the social world is organized precisely to mitigate the uncertainties of the world at large, to render regular what would otherwise be irregular. Since this response applies just as much to the next objection, we shall consider it in the next section.

5. "Planning Is No Use: Our Values Change Too Much"

Our ignorance of the good being what it is, our judgments about the value of how we are living and its outcome are liable to change. As we saw above, the wisdom of making any plans depends on how good our information is and how likely it is to change, and this thought applies not only to our beliefs about the outcome of what we plan, but also how valuable we think those outcomes are: "our conception of our good, drawing as it does on previous experience, is bound to fall short of the forms of value which life has yet to show us" (Larmore 1999, 99, also 98, 103, 108, 111, 112; cf. Slote 1983, 41-43).[9] Worse still, it even seems that the ability to deliberate well about these matters only ever comes after we need it: "wisdom seems to be available only long after the time at which it could do us the most good, only at a vantage-point later in life from which a person can look back and see how wisdom might have enabled him to avoid the very mistakes that helped to make him wise" (Slote 1983, 52; cf. Larmore 1999, 110 on the happiness that comes with having children as an example of this). Now if we really do have a life plan, then we take it to be settled how we will lead our lives and would reconsider only if very important changes were to occur (clause c*). But a minimally wise person would not be so settled on this matter, nor be so closed off to the forms of value that life has yet to show. A minimally wise person will not have a life plan.

Now it is indeed implausible to claim that it is always useful to reflect upon life as a whole and to make it the object of a plan. In the course of his own defense of reflection, John Stuart Mill claims that "[h]e who lets the world, or his own portion of it, choose his plan of life for him has no need of any other faculty than the ape-like one of imitation. He who chooses his plan for himself employs all his faculties" (Mill 1982, 123). Mill is right but is unfair to some of those whose decisions are dictated by the external world. Some simply lack the capacity to choose. There are those-children, the mentally incapacitated-who lack the cognitive ability to make decisions about how to spend their days in a way that would adequately realize their ends (for shelter, food, clothing, etc.). It is appropriate that their guardians should make their decisions for them and that (up to a certain point) the faculty of imitation be the one they most exercise. Others have the capacity, but few real options (Broadie 1991, 4). This lack of choice may arise in a number of ways- from their presence within a rigidly traditional society, from grinding poverty-and it will be unfortunate that the most sensible thing for such people is to let the world dictate their plan of life. Yet others have a choice but face too much instability. In times of great social insecurity, when social roles are rapidly changing, when society's material circumstances face threat, or when there is much fragmentation in values, there is little place for long-term planning, and the wise person will have no choice but to react to events in the world. In all these cases, then, reflection upon life as a whole will either make no difference or not be worth trusting at all.

It is, however, plausible to claim that everyone who has the capacity to choose, who can live according to his choice, and who lives in a stable society, would not be foolish to undertake reflection. Someone so fortunately placed will have the choice between simply accepting from society a ready-made pattern of life, created with no particular person in mind, and creating for himself a tailor-made pattern of life, one consciously sensitive to his individual personality. Mill clearly has a preference for the latter: "Human beings are not like sheep; and even sheep are not undistinguishably alike. A man cannot get a coat or a pair of boots to fit him unless they are either made to his measure or he has a whole warehouseful to choose from; and is it easier to fit him with a life than with a coat, or are human beings more like one another in their whole physical and spiritual conformation than in the shape of their feet?" (Mill 1982, 133). But there is more to be said for ready-made patterns of life and their utility in planning a life.

Ready-made patterns of living, just like ready-made coats, will be easily available to the not-too-poor in a stable society. And not only that.

First, information about the outcome of leading a ready-made life will be readily available and will not be as unreliable as Pendlebury suggests. A stable society will have means of dealing with the uncertainties he mentions. We will be able to trust our circumstances. Ready-made provision will be available (if we are not-too-poor) for dependable protection from the risks posed by the natural environment, and for adequate care of our health and physical constitution. Large-scale social, political, and economic circumstances will be stable enough to allow us to have (e.g., through family and friends, and the popular media) more or less accurate vicarious experiences of what it is like to live in various ready-made ways-for example, to have children- which the stability of society will render comparatively reliable over the longer term (cf. Friedman 1989 on the contribution the concrete lives of our friends make to better-informed moral deliberation). And we will be able to trust people. The character and disposition of ourselves and our nearest-and-dearest will be within our powers of prediction, given the intimacy of such relationships. The communities with which we are involved will be able to render their joint actions more reliable through the expedient of mutual agreement, which social fidelity will allow us to depend on. And though we will remain unable to predict or control the other people we happen to meet, and how other people react to us in critical situations, social civility will protect us from the worst that might otherwise occur. Of course, none of these means will deal perfectly with the uncertainties Pendlebury mentions. But even though they sometimes fail-even though storms sometimes destroy houses, doctors sometimes fail to cure, economic positions and social roles sometimes disappear, even though some relatives are unreliable, some communities are unhealthy, and some people are criminals-even so, the person whose beliefs about outcomes relate primarily to ready-made lives will probably not be disappointed if he makes such a life the object of a plan.

Second, judgments about the value of leading a ready-made life and its outcome need not be as liable to change as Larmore supposes, for our conception of the good derives not only from our personal experiences but also from the values acquired as children from our parents, and from our awareness as adults of the dominant values of our society. Even Mill admits that there is likely to be much value in the ready-made patterns of living that society offers (Mill 1982, 122, 129)-witness, for example, the value placed upon children-and so the person whose conception of the good derives primarily from these ready-made values will probably not find this conception to fall short of the forms of value that life has yet to show.

It follows that wisdom about how we might live need not be available, as Slote suggests, only after the time at which it could do us most good. Consider a form of reflection-call it conservative reflection-that (i) starts with ready-made patterns of living and ready-made beliefs about what they are like, (ii) proceeds by employing the familiar processes of local deliberation with ready-made values, and (iii) aims to choose a pattern (perhaps slightly customized) whose realization of those values (again, perhaps slightly customized) is dis-preferred to no other. In a stable society, such reflection will give us some ability to deliberate well enough how to lead our lives-whether, for example, to have children-just at the time we need this ability, even though we won't know in rich detail until after we have made the fateful decision why it was a good decision to have made. For very many people, pace Larmore (1999, 103), reliance on conservative reflection will put them in a position to grasp in advance an instantiation of their good, even if only abstractly and in broad outline.[10]

We may conclude, therefore, that if we are fortunately placed, then we can have some confidence that the unreliability of the world and the changeability of our values will not make planning our lives useless.

Still, this planning will possibly close off opportunities for pursuing the goods that we will only later come to appreciate. Larmore is right when he claims that "[i]n retrospect we may wish that, instead of weighing our options judiciously, we had acted impulsively, letting ourselves be carried away by the passions of the moment, since then a good would have been ours whose value we only now [truly] appreciate" (Larmore 1999, 108; my emendation, for if something stirred our passion then we must have had some appreciation of its value). We may desperately wish we had not chosen the prudent way and had redirected our lives toward the option that inflamed our passion. We may wish we had the practical wisdom at the time to have seen its true value. We admitted above that is possible to do quite well without a life plan, and similarly it is possible to have a life plan without doing as well as we might.

However, these lost opportunities do not mean we should not have acted prudently. Larmore is wrong to conclude that "[w]e may rightly reproach ourselves for having been prudent at all" (Larmore 1999, 108). We are forced to make decisions. We can expect (though not always achieve) better decisions from the half-way skillful consideration of options ("weighing" is too tendentious a description of the process) than from following our passions-in retrospect, we would more often wish that, instead of letting ourselves be carried away by the passions of the moment, we had considered our options judiciously, etc.; and in prospect, we should not forget that the upshot of our considerations may sometimes be to allow ourselves to pursue the passion. Further, we may have been diligent in our cultivation of this skill, even though we only got half way. In such a situation, we should not reproach ourselves because we were forced to make a decision that, through no fault of our own, was beyond our level of skill. We insisted above that, though it is possible to live well without a life plan, it is not wise to try to do so.

Aristotle suggests that everyone who can live according to his own choice should adopt some goal for the fine life. In this paper, I suggest rather that this is so only for those who, in addition, have the capacity to choose and live in a stable society.

6. "Planning is Unattractive"

A person might reluctantly agree that it is not wise to live without a life plan, but only in the sense that it is not wise to live without (say) regular dental check-ups-something you should do, but unattractive in itself. We can see this if we think about our reaction to the planning that might occur during the very early stages of a life. Slote argues that such planning is no virtue in a child (Slote 1983, 45-51), and Larmore agrees: "those [children] who trade this play for planning, weighing their interests and capacities, making up their mind about their goal in life and devoting themselves to achieving it are a dreary lot" (Larmore 1999, 105). Slote and Larmore explicitly restrict these comments to children, but my suspicion is that some such worry is in the back of the minds of many who reject the idea of adults planning their lives. This therefore suggests the objection-not stated by either Slote or Larmore-that adults who actually sit down and plan their lives are just as dreary and are so unattractive that the highest wisdom is to eschew life planning. But why might such adults be so unattractive?

Perhaps because they are too rigid. Slote argues that children who plan their lives do not allow life to influence or change them, and that, even if they have some natural talents, making plans too early closes off possibilities too quickly (1983, 46, 47). However, this need not apply to adults, since while experimentation is a virtue in a young person, commitment is a more important virtue in an older person (section 3). Rigidity is sometimes a mark of strength.

Perhaps because they look foolish. Slote argues that children are not ready to take active control of their lives (1983, 46), but this type of consideration would apply only to those few adults who are not fortunately enough placed for planning to make a difference to their lives, and who would thus appear foolish if they tried (sections 4, 5). Adults will typically not look foolish to take active control of their lives.

Perhaps because they display weakness. Slote argues that a desire in children to plan their lives often results from anxiety or impatience over the future, pressure, or an unfortunate lack of trust in the future (1983, 46, 49). This applies to adults as well. He discusses an academic woman with a nontenured position in the same city as her tenured husband, and her temptation to make a decision now about what to do if she does not get tenure. Making a decision, Slote thinks, might not be wise: "If, for example, she decides in advance to live apart from her husband if that is the only way she can pursue her career, may that decision not make her slightly withdraw from him during the period of uncertainty about her tenure...? By the same token, if she decides in advance to stay with her husband, may that not affect the seriousness or the energy with which she pursues her career during the period of uncertainty about tenure?" (Slote 1983, 41-42; cf. Larmore 1999, 97, 99). Given all this, to make such a decision about tenure would be a sign only of her fearfulness in the face of anxiety over her prospects for tenure. These comments suggest a more general and more fundamental objection, that the desire to take charge of our lives- another important argument for the ideal of a life plan-reveals only fearfulness in the face of anxiety over the uncertainties of life.

The desire to take control of our lives, however, need not be due to weakness. No one would object, for example, that the craftsman's desire to take charge of his materials reveals only weakness. The competent craftsman aims to realize his end as well as he can. To realize this end, he will need as much control as possible over his materials (lest the end not be realized as well as it might be), but will also need knowledge of the limits of that control (lest overconfidence leads to mistakes).[11] Now while it is the mark of an immature craftsman to let the limits of his knowledge dictate premature activity, we ordinarily think there is something admirable about a craftsman who aims at the best, and thus nothing improper in his desire to be master as far as possible over his material. The same applies to living. Each of us should aim to live as well as we can-we have already seen that life is richer in more goods than we possibly attain in a lifetime. Not to see the good on offer shows a gross blindness to what is good, seeing that good but not wanting it shows irrational insensibility, and so the rational human always wants more.[12] There is nothing unattractive about aiming to live the best life possible, and so there is nothing unattractive in itself in the desire to be the master as far as possible of our lives.[13]And while making premature plans in the desire to take control of our lives might be due to weakness, the weakness resides in making the premature plans, not in the desire for control. The desire for control is not weakness.

Perhaps, finally, people who plan their lives are so dreary because planning itself is the very opposite of spontaneity. The objection we considered above (section 2) was that life planning is (extrinsically) bad since having a life plan is not consistent with spontaneous activity in other parts of one's life. The objection we are to consider now is different, that life planning is (intrinsically) bad since life planning is not a spontaneous activity itself.

However, the spontaneity and intrinsic value of any activity in general depend on the competence of the agent. There are the virtuosos, rarities in any craft, who spontaneously and effortlessly produce outstanding results. Their talent and training has brought them to the stage that doing the right thing has become second nature. What practitioner of any craft would not want to be a virtuoso? There are the competent, who produce good results but with a caution-making awareness of their limitations. As a result of this caution and uncertainty, their good results are often only made with some effort and little spontaneity. It is often a painful and slow process, but they may persist if they judge that the good results are worth the pain, or if there is some hope they may themselves become virtuosos. Many practitioners of a craft will fall into this category. And, finally, there are those we might call the doubly ignorant, who produce poor results completely unawares, but who nonetheless may act spontaneously and effortlessly. Their ignorance of their incompetence allows them to persist unworried in their free-flowing ways. These are different groups of people. In particular, given that values have a certain objectivity (assumed at Larmore 1999, 98), the first and third groups are distinct, notwithstanding the spontaneity that underlies their actions.

So too the spontaneity and value of decision-making in general, and life planning in particular, depends on the competence of the decision-maker. As we have seen (sections 4, 5), if we engage in conservative reflection and are fortunately placed, we can have some confidence that the unreliability of the world and the changeability of our values will not make planning our lives useless. We will be halfway competent at life planning, though our thoughts about how to lead our lives will come only with some effort and will be unattractively stilted and hesitant. Being a virtuoso deliberator of true spontaneity should obviously attract us much more, but is probably beyond our reach. Being a doubly ignorant deliberator of false spontaneity should repel us, for while spontaneous activities are pleasurable and even joyful, the joy is not so important that it is worth risking our lives over. Halfway competent adults will persist with planning, therefore, because it will probably save them from a grim fate, and because practice might-just might-make perfect. The desire to be a virtuoso at living, with all that entails, is far from an unattractive one.

Aristotle suggests that not to have ordered our lives is a sign of folly. In this paper, I claim that doing so need not be unattractive (if we are virtuosos) and that, even when it is to some extent unattractive (if we are only halfway competent), it may nevertheless be worth the cost.

7. Conclusion

We may now gather the threads of the discussion to formulate a defensible version of the claim of Aristotle's that started the paper.

None of the objections we have considered impugn the claim that everyone who has the capacity to choose, who can live according to his own choice, and who does not face too much instability, would be wise to adopt some life plan-to decide in outline and subject to revision which of career, family, wealth, culture, etc., he really wants as highest aims in his life, and to decide what priority he really wants to give them-a life plan that subsequently guides his actions and that commits him to a unified conception of what is better or worse for his life as a whole. As we have seen, to have ordered his life in this way is perfectly consistent with experiencing some of the finest things in life (such as love); does not render him insensitive to moments of wonder (though he may not act on them); is of some real use if he can trust the values and circumstances of his society (as he may); and (if he is at least half-way competent) the planning itself and the reflection that goes with it need not be too unattractively stilted. Accordingly, early in life, there is room for careful experimentation about what living well consists in (e.g., culture) and what things are merely necessary for living well (e.g., wealth), without foreclosing the possibility of later, longer-term, commitment. But, later in life, further experimentation comes increasingly at the expense of longer-term and more intimate commitment, and so he is wise, eventually, to settle on some things he judges to be worthwhile in themselves and pursue them in proportion to their importance. He would be wise, in short, to settle on some life plan.[14]


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[1] A life plan is therefore comprehensive in two ways. First, it governs "nearly everything" one does, in the sense that it constrains everything one does and controls nearly everything. It governs all the very general plans one may have (say) to pursue an academic career, to raise a family, and so on, though there will be some small actions- for example, taking an afternoon walk just for the sake of it-that will not be controlled by one's life plan (one does not go for a walk because one's life will be better for it) though one will be constrained by it (one would not go for a walk if one's life would be worse for it). Second, it covers a "significant proportion" of one's life. Obviously, it need not aim to govern the initial years of one's life-childhood is over by the time one acquires the capacity to plan one's life. And nor need it cover the later years, if it is still properly to be called a life plan-retirement is very distant when one becomes able to plan one's life, and one's plans then for career and family may include nothing about how one will spend retirement, but they are still life plans for all that.

[2] And how should this judgment of well realized be made? Or the judgment that one way of balancing (say) career and family is better than another? Not like the triathlon case, through the application of some numerical measure, which would be implausible and unattractive in these cases. Comparison, however, need not be commensuration. In the small, we make everyday decisions more confidently than we can explain them, in that much of our ordinary day-to-day decision-making involves incommensurable values but nevertheless very often admits of a reasoned conclusion (Stocker 1992, ch. 6; but cf. Richardson 1991). And in the large, there are whole systems for making decisions in specific subject areas, such as law and medicine, that do not involve the literal weighing of options in terms of some commensurans. Every day we make judgments of what is better and what is good, even if we cannot adequately say how we should make such judgments. To understand what it is to have a life plan, we do not need to be able to answer the questions above, but merely remember our everyday practice.

[3] In general, a change in circumstances is "important" enough to prompt reconsideration of a plan if "reasonable" habits of reconsideration would prompt reconsideration under those circumstances. Bratman says that such habits are "reasonable" when "their expected long-term impact on my rational desire satisfaction exceeds an appropriate threshold" (1992, 7; see also Bratman 1987, 64-65). Plausibly, this entails that changes in everyday plans typically will not imply changes in the reasonable habits of reconsideration. However, the notion of rational desire satisfaction is obviously very similar to that of a life plan, and this means that changes in life plans typically will imply changes in the reasonable habits for reconsidering a life plan (since the reasonable habits are relative to one's current life plan or rational set of desires). This may or may not be a problem. If one thinks it is, then, taking a leaf out of John Rawls's Theory of Justice, one can say instead that habits of reconsideration are "reasonable" when they are habits that would normally be useful whatever a person's minimally coherent plan of life.

[4] There are two further important arguments.

(ii) Planning allows one to take charge of one's affairs, something intrinsically valuable (Larmore 1999, 96-97; Slote 1983, 42-43; Cooper 1975, 125). Activity is fundamentally more valuable than passivity- "existence is to all men a thing to be chosen and loved, and ...we exist by virtue of activity (i.e., by living and acting)" (NE 9.7 1168a5-7; emphasis added)-and planning something is as far as possible to exercise control over it. It follows, more generally, that making one's life the object of a plan is preferable to allowing happenstance to influence how it unfolds.

(iii) Planning is simply what practical rationality consists in (Richardson 1991: esp. 184-89; Hurley 1989, ch. 10; Larmore 1999, 99). A set of beliefs or desires is rational just in case it is harmoniously ordered, which it is just in case all its elements fall under some unifying principle or plan (respectively). It follows, applying this idea more broadly, that a rational life will be one all of which falls under some unifying plan.

The first two arguments for the ideal of a life plan-relating to the prudent management of life, and taking charge of one's affairs-capture a number of other justifications.

(iv) Discussing the various meanings a life may have, Feinberg distinguishes between people with some direction and purpose in their lives (Feinberg 1989, 534), and those with rich and various lives exhibiting a fine and harmonious proportioning of instrumental and intrinsic satisfactions (535). A prudently ordered set of desires obviously falls under the second, aesthetic, conception of meaning. And by taking charge of their affairs, they will provide themselves with some purpose in life.

(v) Indicating precisely the basic attitude he thinks is mistaken, Larmore identifies this as the view that "[w]e flourish as human beings ... only if we shape our lives ourselves, instead of leaving them to be the hostages of circumstance and whim" (Larmore 1999, 97; emphasis added). By taking charge of our affairs, we will be able to shape our lives. And through prudent management, we will as far as possible not be hostage to circumstances.

[5] Yet other authors register complaints about similar ideas, but we shall not be concerned with them. Galen Strawson (2004), for example, makes various points against the ideal of living one's life narratively or as a story, but it is unclear how (if at all) this is related to the ideal of having a life plan. While both concern the form of a life, there are significant differences: the first is often concerned with one's past (the beginning always remains part of a story), the second with one's future (one can only plan for the future); related to this, the first is concerned with finding form (in the past), the second with making form; the first places greater emphasis on articulation (stories are there to be told), the second requires very little (so long as the functional roles of plans are satisfied). Stories are different from plans, and so objections to life stories need not be relevant to life plans.

Strawson makes one objection, however, that is relevant. One is Episodic, he defines, when "one does not figure oneself, considered as a self, as something that was there in the (further) past and will be there in the (further) future" (2004, 430). He reveals that he himself is

Episodic: "it seems clear to me, when I am experiencing or apprehending myself as a self, that the remoter past or future in question is not my past or future, although it is certainly the past or future of GS the human being" (433). And he claims that some Episodic lives-the "truly happy-go-lucky, see-what-comes-along lives" (449)-are some of the best there are. If so, then presumably it is not true that such Episodic people should adopt some life plan.

Space permits only a brief outline of what I think are the most plausible lines of response to this objection. First, we might seriously doubt whether anyone really is Episodic. Strawson address this at 2004, 448ff. Second, Episodic people might be happy-go-lucky, but their lives are not good ones, since they seem incapable of love or friendship. Strawson claims that "[a] gift for friendship doesn't require any ability to recall past shared experiences in detail [or, he must add, hope for future shared experiences], nor any tendency to value them. It is shown in how one is in the present" (450), but a relationship lacking these things is as much a friendship as the relationship between two friendly three-year-olds now playing together but who will have forgotten each other after a few days. Third, and surprisingly, the happy-go-lucky lives of Episodic people are not actually inconsistent with the ideal of a life plan. To introduce a familiar idea, it seems that such a person literally treats his further future self like he treats some stranger presently standing in front of him. But if so, then what his further future self does is literally not part of his life, any more than the doings of the stranger are a part of his life. Now it is not part of the ideal of a life plan that a person's plans should govern the doings of other people, and so in consistency we must say it is not part of the ideal of a life plan that the Episodic person's plans should govern the doings of his further future self. By contrast, the Episodic person does at least identify with his closer future, and so that future will be part of his life, and therefore subject to the injunction to plan.

[6] A further response is simply to take the point about intentions but to insist that it does not apply to life plans. We could distinguish between an aim that A (a mental state satisfying clauses a* to f*) and an intention that A (one that, in addition, requires a flat-out belief that A), and conclude that even if Slote establishes that (strictly speaking) we cannot intend or plan to love, we can still aim to love and pursue love, and this is the more important conclusion. At worst, this would imply some change of terminology. It would imply that the term "life plan" is strictly speaking a misnomer (Finnis 1980, 129 notes the unfortunate suggestions of the term), but if we were to continue to use it to refer to a person's ultimate aim, then our slogan would have to be that a life plan is an aim (rather than an intention or plan) writ large.

[7] He mentions a number of other criticisms, some of which we shall discuss below. Others we shall not. One objection is that life plans (at least on the Rawlsian conception) require that one be time neutral in one's planning (Larmore 1999, 106)-however, whether or not this is Rawls's view, there is no reason to suppose that a view that emphasizes the importance of viewing one's life as a whole would suppose that all temporal parts of that life are equally important, any more than viewing a canvass as a whole would lead one to think that all parts of it are equally important. Another objection is that some conceptions of life planning seem to imply that deliberation is abstracted from the concerns of the person at the time but that this is implausible-again, however, there is no reason to suppose that a view that focuses on plans as we understand them would make this mistake, since (as we have seen) such a view emphasizes the background of intentions and plans one has in making any decision, and the planning of a life takes just these intentions and plans as input.

[8] We need to add the qualification "minimally," since a completely wise person, who knows what is good, would presumably not be surprised to learn about goods of which he had been unaware (which means, according to Larmore, that he would be missing out on something of inestimable value). The qualification does not restrict the scope of the argument, however, since few of us are completely wise.

[9] As a corollary to this, Larmore claims that an important aspect of what gives life meaning would be lost by acting in accord with an all-embracing life plan (1999, 97), and that a certain openness and passivity to life might be part of human flourishing (98).

[10] Can conservative reflection be reconciled with the experimentation recommended above? One can imagine someone saying that conservative reflection is most likely or most necessary earlier in life (perhaps for the same reason that students in any craft always start with the established ways), but also that earlier in life is the main period for experimentation (for reasons we have seen). But there is no conflict here. What makes reflection conservative is that it considers ready-made lifestyles, popular thinking styles, and accepted goods. What makes reflection experimental is that it does not involve any commitment to any one lifestyle or to some few goods. And this is perfectly consistent, just as it is for someone to try on many ready-made coats before they buy one.

[11] This control may take different forms. In watercolor painting, for example, "having control does not involve subjecting the watercolour medium to what it is not naturally suited for. On the contrary, having control involves being able to adapt endlessly to the largely unpredictable nature of the medium" (Tabensky 2003, 29), presumably in such a way that one still ends up with a worthwhile painting. In civil engineering, by contrast, having control may involve the ability to impose a complete pre-existing plan on the material, sometimes even subjecting the material to what is unnatural (such as blasting roads through hills). The second presumably involves a higher degree of control than the first, if (as it seems) the final product is typically less influenced by external factors. For the purposes of this paper, it is an open question which form of control is appropriate over our own lives.

[12] This obviously raises large issues about the rationality of maximization, of which little can be said here. See Stocker 1992 and Slote 1989 for critical discussion. At this stage, we may simply remember (section 4) that even if one thought that living as well as possible consisted in something as seemingly undemanding as living in tranquility (Epicurus) or a life of virtue (the Stoics), the world is not likely to be completely cooperative, and so one will continually want more (tranquility, virtue). A rational human always wants more, but that need not mean anything as crass as material goods.

[13] If respecting others is an important part of living well, then living will be more like watercolor painting. Having control over how well one lives would then not involve subjecting others to what is not good for them but, rather, will involve being able to act within the limits of their somewhat unpredictable behavior. If it is not, then it may well be more like engineering. In that case having control would probably require the ability to impose a pre-existing plan on others, sometimes even at the expense of their welfare. This would obviously allow a higher degree of control over one's life than one that respected others. Perhaps this is part of the reason why some (including Tabensky, in personal correspondence) find the suggestion that living is like engineering so distasteful. Again, for the purposes of this paper, I take no stand on this issue.

[14] Thanks to members of the philosophy discipline at the University of Adelaide, and particularly to the anonymous reviewers for The Southern Journal of Philosophy, for their helpful comments on previous versions of this paper.