Thoughts: “Do the Virtues Benefit their Possessor?”

Sirius Black

This week in my business ethics class, we learned a little about willful blindness. Willful blindness is when a person intentionally ignores facts or avoids learning of the situation to avoid criminal liability or responsibility. In Margaret Heffernan’s book titled Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at our Peril, she explains that there are many reasons for this occurrence including: power bubbles, fear of retribution, groupthink, and self-worth.

My professor raised an interesting question: “Does being virtuous (honest, just, charitable, etc.) benefit the one who is?”

I think that my opinion goes along with the majority when I say that having good ethics does benefit the one who is. Some people may disagree and say that being unethical can benefit ourselves too. I feel that the latter pertains only to certain situations, such as when your job is on the line if you don’t choose the unethical alternative. But it is true that choosing what is ‘right’ may lead to more troubles personally.

I confess that I see the world and people in a pretty black and white fashion. There aren’t a lot of gray areas. I feel that there is a relatively clear boundary between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, and I think society also has a general consensus on what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Nowadays a lot of people say phrases like, “Don’t judge me” or “You don’t know me, you don’t know what I’ve been through”. Even though I can understand that everyone holds different experiences and have their own incentives for their actions, I don’t think it is actually possible for people not to judge each other. I feel like it is a natural and psychological process like first impressions and it cannot be stopped by just the conscience. I think it is possible for your judgement to be changed over time or not be heavily influenced in your attitude towards the person, but I don’t think you can stop judgmental thoughts from entering your mind.

In my opinion, if you strongly value morality then your probability of enjoying life is much higher. Having good ethics reflects your values as a person and as a result, your character. To me, everybody wants to be a ‘good’ person. Nobody wants to be seen as a person who is dishonest or has no sense of integrity. And I think this way because I assume that every person has feelings of guilt. I still remember lies I told during elementary school where I ended up hurting someone else. If you commit a bad deed or a lie, you become tied down by them. They drag you down like chains. This idea is similar to the spiderweb layout of lying. Once you start lying, you have to keep lying.

If you have a good character, naturally you will get along better with other people. This may mean that you will have relationships to others that are important to you or people who empower you to be improve as an individual. And in a roundabout way, this simply creates a better society. Who wants to live in a society where people steal or hurt each other? Again, to me everyone wants to belong and be connected to others.

And if you are good to others and others are in turn good to you, you will find that life is just much better. People argue that having good ethics doesn’t mean you will have a good life. As my professor said, “We all know that sometimes evil wins.”

I know that even if you have spent your entire life being ‘good’, bad things can still happen. I know that people can have healthy and ‘good’ lifestyle choices but still get cancer somewhere down the road; But someone who smokes, does drugs, and doesn’t eat proper meals may live until they are 100 years old. I know that by making a right choice, you can lose your job and many negative outcomes can come from that like families breaking apart, relocation, etc.. At the end of the day, is it worth it? Is it worth it to say “I did the right thing” if it causes the complete downfall of your personal life?

Bad things happen to ‘bad’ people. And bad things also happen to ‘good’ people. If you can choose to live your life with a set of principles that highlight honesty, kindness, integrity, and compassion for others, then why not? Because it can prevent personal ambitions or financial success?

I’m sure everyone has a different set of values. And when faced with the choices of economic profit or ethics, it’s not surprising that people will choose money. After all according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you have to take care of your basic needs before you can think about things like morality.

But generally speaking, I really do agree that virtues will benefit their possessors. Maybe in terms of long-term gains, inner peace, or a better society in a bigger picture frame of reference.

What are your thoughts?

“You’re a very good person, who bad things have happened to. Besides, the world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters. We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”

– Sirius Black, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix


Rosalind Hursthouse (1999) pp. 170-177


4 thoughts on “Thoughts: “Do the Virtues Benefit their Possessor?”

  1. Loving the Harry Potter quote!

    Okay, here are my thoughts in response to your thoughts: To be succinct, I agree with you. I think that being a good person benefits the good person assuming that individual cares about being good. Like you, I remember lies from elementary school, and I remember more recent lies. Like you, I think twice before I act. However, being good is only valuable for the individual to the extent to which the individual wants to be good. Forcing goodness upon another is like forcing evil upon someone otherwise inclined.

    1. Your last statement is very interesting, I haven’t thought if it that way before. It reminds me of how my ethics professor always says, “I am not trying to convert you guys to ethics or religion”.

To Loewe:

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s