Feeling bad about oneself is a common response to realising that one has acted wrongly, or that one could have done something morally better. It is a reaction that is at least partly inspired by a cultural background that Western civilisation has been carrying on its back for centuries. But contrary to appearances and folk beliefs, not only does our tendency to feel guilty fail to promote morality, it can also be an obstacle to moral behaviour.
Last week I attended part of a fascinating conference on Trust, organized by the Blavatnik School of Government in Oxford. In her opening paper, Katherine Hawley raised many interesting questions, including those of whether trustworthiness is a virtue and whether it can be a virtue of institutions. Continue reading
The tragic sinking of the South Korean ferry raises again the problem of moral luck which Bernard Williams did so much to expose in his famous 1976 article on that topic. The South Korean president has now claimed that the captain of the ferry is a murderer, implying that he is subject to the same degree of blame as any other murderer. Continue reading
Let me introduce you to Armstrong the Good Giraffe. Appearing in the news last week due to his goodness (and probably his giraffeness), Armstrong is a man in a costume who goes around voluntarily doing good deeds. Throwing himself into helpful tasks – such as providing free water and bananas to runners, picking up litter from beaches, and cleaning cages at cats and dogs homes – Armstrong clocks up an impressive number of non-trivial good deeds. Most impressively of all, he reportedly enjoys it.
He comments that doing these good deeds makes him feel ‘happy’ and ‘cheery’ and that this is why he does them. At first glance, this may make us think he is particularly remarkable: he not only goes about investing more time and energy into being helpful than most would reasonably expect of a person, but he also relishes it. But, I want to ask, are people like Armstrong really at the top of the moral ranks? Is there not something about effort – about having to try – that we value? Continue reading