The End Is Near?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Unlike the typical subsistence farmer, who would clearly understand the end result of his work, Thoreau claims not even to know the point or final goal of all his labor.

"End result"

If this isn't redundant--since a result is an end--what is it?

When we hear someone refer to an "end result," they're usually referring to a single result--seldom more than three. For example, the SparkNotes quotation suggests that the typical subsistence farmer's understanding of the end result of his work is a harvested crop.

That's one result of his work, but the adjective "end" means "final or ultimate"; and is the final or ultimate result of his work simply a harvested crop?

Say the farmer's work consisted of choosing a crop, tending it, and then harvesting it. Say he chose to farm wheat instead of corn or sorghum. Say the results of his choice meant more money for the wheat seeder and, consequently, more wheat on the market. The farmer likely takes this into account because it probably bears on his choices, but let's go a bit further.

Imagine that the wheat seeder decides to purchase a new pair of shoes with the farmer's money. It'd be very unlikely that the farmer would take that into account. Or that the cobbler, with his money from the wheat seeder, decides to invest in wheat futures. That would certainly impact the farmer's choices, but it'd seem impossible for him to know this before making them.

We could imagine a lot more resulting from this one choice, because we think that the "final and ultimate" result of something is ultimately all encompassing--all the results of one's actions. And that's something we--and a few others--don't think anyone can understand.