Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Virtues

An egocentric value system sounds inhumane. In fact, our very evolutionary development has lead us to feel this way, and society has continued to condemn it. The actual ramifications, though, are far from the anarchist free-for-all that egoism's opponents make it out to be.

A virtue is a trait or action that words towards achieving and maintaining our values. Our primary value, that is, the amelioration of our own life, requires a variety of virtues in order to support it, and a variety of other values are created by acknowledging the self as our highest value. For instance, good health is a value that supports the self as our highest value; eating healthily and moderately is a virtue that leads to attaining this value.

Looking at the current trends in society, we see that the virtues upheld are far from being virtues at all. Charity, for example, is precisely contrary to our preservation of self; charity requires we give of ourselves for the sake of others, not ourselves. Sure, there are some sense where charity is self serving, for instance if the giver gets a great feeling for donating, but the sense of charity by and large is the idea that we give of ourselves totally unselfishly.

How can I be so insensitive, you might ask? When I look around and see rampant poverty, not to mention destruction from natural disasters like tsunamis, how can I just let such need eventually destroy itself? While I disapprove of the altruism that underlies charity, there is a type of "giving" that is mutually beneficial. To sacrifice oneself indiscriminately gains nothing for the person acting, but if we think of charity in terms of investment, then everyone involved wins. For instance, imagine a person who is down on their luck through a series of unfortunate circumstances. A wealthy business owner decides to provide him with lodging and board for a few months, and pays for his education. Later, this formally impoverished person takes a job in the wealthy entrepreneur's business, and ends up being his most productive employee. With out the rehabilitation, the self centered charity, of the entrepreneur, the poor person would never have gotten out of their situation. Because the businessman made an investment, his business is now more productive than his competitors.

Of course, not all investments pay off, which is why it is called an investment and not a purchase. Many other virtues can be thought of in this way, as investments looking for greater future returns. Regardless of the specific form it takes, our highest value is the self, and our virtues must reflect that.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The difficulty with your defining of virtues is that they are inherently defined by vices, which you fail to mention, and which might be implied to be selflessness, altruism, and the like. The difficulty here is creating one single value system for all of humanity, with all manner of people; applying any value system for all seems to be a folly, as we have seen with Kant and others, in that the virtues which work well for one are hardly applicable to another. Perhaps one would be best to understand altruism as a form of self preservation and as giving oneself entirely towards the world which we have come to doubt. Now whether you disagree or not is one thing, but to place a value as such on this or that action is still rather arbitrary. As much as we desire value, nothing you can say can prove value in and of itself; postulates abound, with no proof in sight. Moreover, I find your emphasis on self preservation a tad disconcerting if simply because it ignores the self destructive aspects of human life. Whether or not it leads to happieness is inconsequential, as the drive seems more primal, a need to vent one's energy, namely, the will to power. I assume you're familiar with it, and if not, you should read some more Nietzsche. In the realm of human conduct, we must not focus on the success, but hold the failure to scrutiny, that is to say that we must examine those who failed at self preservation in one way or another and find a manner at which to reconcile this vast difference with the rest of humanity. The will to power seems to be a great example of this, that humanity desires self destruction as well as self preservation. If we are to base values upon natural human desires, this capacity should also be reflected.

1:23 PM  
Blogger RCowan said...

I think one if the merits of the ethical system I promote is the very refutation of deontological ethics. The virtues I specify are simply the logical conclusions to the premises I start with.

Of course, you might not like my premises, and that is certainly acceptable. I realize, like you're pointing out, that no value system can be proved emperically. In formulating a system of ethics I was tempted to simply reject the whole idea, a la A.J. Ayer, and move on to politics instead, but ethics is too important to simply drop altogether. My ethical system as it stands is pretty free form I would say; there isn't much that cannot be justified in one way or another.

As to the will to power, I was always wary of the idea as a whole, primarily because of the extension to inanimate objects. I'm not convinced that a rock has a will, much less a will to self destruction. Regardless, your point about human self destruction is well asked, and merits a response, of which I could give many. Perhaps the marginal gain from self destruction that manifests itself in other realms outweighs the damage being done at first glance (case in point, some one cuts themself in order to affirm their humanity, thus strengthening their psychological health, even if harming themselves physically), or the agent is under the impression that this will be the case (even if it is not). The self destructor could just be outright immoral as well, it really depends on their intention and the actual consequenses of their self destructive action.

Of course, in the end, we all fail at self preservation, but I'm not convinced that this is necessarly a refutation of the ethical theory I propose.

11:07 AM  

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