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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
• Altruism: The interests and well-being
of others should be considered in
determining the moral rightness of one’s
• 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
• Thomas Hobbes
– Seventeenth Century English
– 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
• Glaucon
– 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
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 News program Equal Time.
• In the program, shown originally over six years
ago, the subject is cheating by college
• The program is set at San Jose State. which
has an unusual testing system that makes it
easy to seem, rather than be, virtuous.
• Let’s watch…
– Lawrence Vogel, a Professor of
Philosophy at Connecticut College,
• “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
• 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
– Madame Bovary
• Great novel published in 1857 by
the French novelist Gustave
• 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
– “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.
There are questions
about morality:
 General normative ethics
– What are the basic
standards of
– What are the
differences between
“right” & “wrong”?
– What is the nature of
moral virtue?
 Applied normative ethics
– Is the death penalty
morally justifiable?
– Abortion?
– Racial, gender, or
age discrimination?
– Recreational drug
– The “war on drugs”?
These are questions in normative ethics.
What about non-normative
Ethics is a branch of axiology,
& it has its own sub-branches:
 Normative Ethics
– General - the
attempt to define
the basic
standards, & rules
of morality
– Applied - the
application of
moral principles,
standards, & rules
to specific moral
 Non-Normative Ethics
– Descriptive Ethics the scientific study
of moral beliefs &
practices (part of the
social sciences)
– Metaethics - critical
thinking about
normative ethics
(e.g., “Is moral