..virtue often depends not on humility but on arrogance
June 9, 2011 1 Comment
Discussing a new book (The Lucifer Effect) by Philip Zimbardo, the social psychologist Professor Nussbaum ended on an upbeat note: “Let us hope that The Lucifer Effect, which confronts us with the worst in ourselves, stimulates a critical conversation that will lead to more sensible and less arrogant strategies for coping with our human weakness.”
I don’t quite know what “sensible and less arrogant strategies” might be, but I do know that while humility generates some virtues, there is also a vital connection between arrogance and virtue. Why is it that most people behave decently? No doubt in part because of the fact that they are decent and virtuous people. They may well also fear the consequences of bad conduct. “The passion to be reckoned on,” as Hobbes remarks, “is fear.” But one of the other main bases of virtue lies in the fact that people think, with a certain contempt and derision: “I wouldn’t do that evil (base, etc.) kind of thing. I am above such conduct.” Some moralists consider such moral arrogance as itself a vice. The ability to understand oneself in such moral terms, however – as a “lady” (rather than merely a woman), or as a “gentleman”, or even as an honest person, indeed even as being merely common or garden decent – commonly rests in part on feeling superior to others. In other words, virtue often depends not on humility but on arrogance.
– Kenneth Minogue, The Servile Mind (2010)