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Why Be Moral?. The question really asks: Why should I judge my actions by any standard other than how they affect my own self-interest? Ethical Egoism: The pursuit and promotion of one’s own self-interest and well-being are the only criteria of right action.

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why be moral
Why Be Moral?
  • The question really asks:
    • Why should I judge my actions by any standard other than how they affect my own self-interest?
  • Ethical Egoism: The pursuit and promotion of one’s own self-interest and well-being are the only criteria of right action.

Altruism: The interests and well-being of others should be considered in determining the moral rightness of one’s actions.

  • Being concerned about oneself hardly needs justification.
    • It’s simply part of being human that each individual seeks, at least in part, to attain his/her own well-being.
  • Are there, however, any justifications for altruism?

Thomas Hobbes

    • Seventeenth Century English philosopher.
    • In his famous work on political philosophy, Leviathan, Hobbes offers an egoistic justification for altruism.
      • To wit: In the long run, it’s in my own self-interest to be concerned about the well-being of others.

Hobbes paints a picture of a world in which everyone pursues his/her own self-interest without any thought about how others are affected:

    • [It is] a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man . . . . In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: And, consequently, no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea;

“no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and, which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan


Examples that prove the truth of Hobbes’ analysis.

    • The Gangs of New York
    • Chicago during the gang wars of the 1920’s.
    • Many an American inner city today.
    • Post Saddam Baghdad
    • Blackhawk Down


    • Character in Plato’s Republic.
    • Urges a wilier form of egoism.
    • Glaucon first accepts the sense of Hobbes’ egoistic justification of a “mutual non-aggression pact:”
      • “And so when men have both done and suffered injustice and have had experience of both, not being able to avoid the other and obtain the one, they think that they had better agree among themselves to have neither . . . .”

Plato, The Republic, Book II


Still, Glaucon argues, insofar as it can, egoism should have its way:

    • “Granted full license to do as he liked, people would think [a man] a miserable fool if they found him refusing to wrong his neighbors or to touch their belongings, though in public they would keep up a pretense of praising his conduct, for fear of being wronged themselves.”

Plato, The Republic, Book II


Glaucon maintains that it is “better to seem virtuous than to be so.”

    • “With his reputation for virtue, [the unjust man] will hold offices of state, ally himself by marriage to any family he may choose, become a partner in any business, and, having no scruples about being dishonest, turn all these advantages to profit. [H]e will get the better of his opponents, grow rich on the proceeds, and be able to help his friends and harm his enemies.”

Plato, The Republic, Book II


Is Glaucon right? It is really better to seem virtuous than to be virtuous?

    • To help us explore this question we will look at an edition of the the ABC News program Nightline.
    • In the program, shown originally over six years ago, the subject is cheating by college students.
    • The program is set at Connecticut College, which has an unusual testing system that makes it easy to seem, rather than be, virtuous.

In the program, Lawrence Vogel, Professor of Philosophy at Connecticut College, says

    • “The very act of cheating puts you out of harmony with yourself.”
    • What does this mean?
    • Professor Vogel illustrates his meaning by giving the example of a basketball game won through cheating, not skill.

If one wins through cheating, would the winning have any meaning or value?

  • If one is only interested in the rewards of winning, I suppose the answer is yes
  • But, what if one is interested in something more, like integrity?
  • Should people value integrity?
  • If they should, then seeming virtuous, rather than being so, won’t work.

Madame Bovary

    • Great novel published in 1857 by the French novelist Gustave Flaubert.
    • Title character is Emma Bovary.
      • Marries the dull-witted Charles Bovary just because he was the first man to find her attractive.
      • Not at all content with being a wife and mother.

Runs up debts with extravagant shopping sprees.

    • Has affairs with other men.
    • All the while, however, she seems virtuous to those who know her.
  • In order to maintain her veneer of virtue, Emma spins a web of lies.
  • Flaubert writes of Emma:
    • “[H]er whole life was a tissue of lies which she wrapped around her love [for her lover] like a veil to hide it.

“Lying became a mania, a pleasure; so much so that if she said she had walked down the right side of the street the day before, it was almost certain that she had walked down the left.”

Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary

  • Trying to seem, rather than be, virtuous takes a large psychic toll.
  • In the end, you lose yourself because, after a while, you don’t know who the real you is.

Is it the virtuous façade, or is it the vicious core?

  • What’s more, almost always, in the end, truth will out.
  • In the end, Emma’s double life is uncovered, and, unable to face the humiliation, she swallows poison and dies a horrible death.
  • Even after her suicide, Emma’s husband Charles refuses to hate her; instead, he pities her.

He pities her because he judges her to be, not so much evil, as poor, wretched, and desperate.

  • Perhaps this can be said of all those who attempt to seem, rather than be, virtuous.