Stoicism on Morality: Virtue Ethics VS Consequentialism in 21st Century
There are different views when it comes to morality. But these are the two questions we will investigate today.
“Does the end justify the means?”
“Should one live a virtuous life?”
At the end of this article, I’ll give you a little insight on how to use this information as someone who aspires to pursue their life’s purpose.
Related article: My Ultimate Vision For You: Why Stoic Leaders Exists?
But before we start, let’s get the definitions out of the way.
Consequentialism is the philosophical position which judges the good of an action by its results and consequences. Its essence is best captured by the aphorism “The end justifies the means.”
The essence: “What will the outcome of my decisions will be?”
Virtue can be described as the excellence of character. Therefore, Virtue ethics holds virtuous acts above everything else. It is one of the three normative ethics. It measures action against a set of virtues, the goal being a virtuous person.
- Stoicism is a great example of virtue ethics. Stoicism holds the virtues of wisdom, justice, fortitude and temperance among other things. Virtue ethics emphasize the character of the person making the decision.
The essence: “Are my actions motivated by virtue?”
Explaining Virtue Ethics
Once upon a time, there was a famous painter. He decided to make a painting of the noblest person in the world. He traveled far and wide, and finally, on a mountain, came across a saint who was famous for his wisdom.
When he saw him, the saint was surrounded by innumerable followers who worshipped him like God. When the painter requested the saint to let him do his painting, the saint agreed. The painter made his painting and kept it in his drawing-room.
Many years passed. The painter decided that he should now paint the wickedest man of the world. He again traveled far and wide, and finally, in a prison, he found a person undergoing punishment for innumerable heinous crimes.
He took permission from the jailer to paint the wicked man, and upon securing it, brought him home. The wicked man asked, ‘Why do you want to make my painting?’ ‘Because you are the most wicked person in this world,’ replied the painter.
In the drawing-room, the painter asked the wicked man to sit on a chair and he started painting him. The wicked man saw before him the painting of the noblest man and asked the painter, ‘Who is that man?’
‘He is the noblest man in this world,’ the painter replied
Upon hearing this, the wicked man wept and wept.
‘Why are you crying?’ asked the painter. ‘Are you feeling ashamed about yourself, sitting opposite the noblest man of the world?’
‘No,’ replied the man. ‘The other painting is also mine.’
Stoics believed that the greatest challenge of life is to maintain the moral values and ethics in our life. It is too easy to slip from the cliff and lose everything in the process leading to a life of ignominy and shame.
It is true that you may not be able to rise again.
Here is what a consequentialist would say about ethics.
“I don’t care being honest or virtuous. if I want to take something, then I’d do everything in my power to do so. I may lie and be cunning but at the end I take what I want. What matters is only the end result. “
From this perspective, consequentialism is the representation of human greediness. If the end always justifies the means, it is okay to bring misery to people as long as you benefit from it.
You can kill the annoying colleague as long as he is out of your way. You can go to the extreme and live a life out of virtue which Stoics hold above all things.
Imagine you and your friend, Anna are enjoying a tea party. Since you are such good friends, she knows you drink it with sugar thus pours some into your cup.
When you drink the tea, however, sweats start to ooze from your skin and in seconds you die due to suffocation.
Apparently the white substance Anna thought as “sugar” was actually a deadly poison.
In this circumstance, as you might see that Anna didn’t mean to kill you. It was a mistake, an unfortunate accident. However, the question remains,
“Would you charge Anna with murder?”
Apart from the fact that dead people can’t charge others with murder, if the end justifies the means; it would take only seconds to figure out the answer.
Jail is the only destination for Anna. The intent is irrelevant. She poisoned you and therefore caused your death. These are the irrefutable facts. The “accident” is nothing but a petty excuse.
Yet most people wouldn’t think this way. If it really was an accident, it would be unfair to punish Anna as a cold-blooded murderer. She is not a threat to society.
It was an accident, therefore, she doesn’t deserve a full penalty. However, consequentialism sees no difference between an accident of murder and a real intention of murder.
What Does This Mean For You In 21st Century?
Let’s say you just started your own blog, you have a website, you are a creator and you have been writing content/making videos on the topic of your life’s purpose.
Here is the problem.
Nobody cares about you.
In this circumstance, a consequentialist would do anything so that people would come and care about his work.
He would pour a lot of money to advertising and marketing. He would sometimes lower the quality of his products so that he can market more. And when he does get the attention, he would pride himself as doing valuable and meaningful work.
Why? Because, he thinks if he doesn’t get recognition, the work he is doing is completely meaningless.
But, wait a minute, how true is this?
Your work doesn’t suddenly gain value when you get recognition. Recognition and society approval is arbitrary from the work you do.
It may be true that touching the other people’s hearts gives meaning to your work but the attention you get from them is not a direct indication of your work’s “meaning”.
Here is an example: A Justin Bieber music video has millions of clicks but your educational video content which actually adds value to people’s lives has only 50 views.
Where is the justice in this?
There is no justice.
As the late great Arthur Schopenhauer said;
“A person who writes for fools is always sure of a large audience”
Understand that this is how society works. Accept it. Your job is to set realistic expectations and trust yourself on this journey.
Do not beat yourself up about clicks on your videos or visits to your blogs. If you want to become famous, if you want the attention and fame, make a contract with a casting agency and produce a high-quality music video.
That is certainly a lot easier if you just want the money.
But If you do meaningful work for the minority (you should), do not expect the majority to respond – especially fourteen year old little girls who watch Justin Bieber all day.
Don’t Get Me Wrong…
Although I point out that it is foolish to expect huge fame, I do not mean to completely refrain from advertising and marketing. If you do meaningful work, you want people to see it, otherwise what is the point?
You need enough recognition so that you can make enough money to keep doing what you love. And thanks to the recognition, you also reach more people.
Now, that’s a win-win situation if I see one.
“For any kind of business to exist, you need marketing. Period.”
So the key here is finding the balance when it comes to content creation and marketing. You’ll only succeed to make a positive impact in the world if you can balance both of these metrics.
If you become too lost in theory, your voice won’t be heard. If you become too practical, then you lose the substance and core.
Do not aim for the fame and recognition you see with what majority holds as valuable ( ex. entertainment) when what you do is what minority holds as valuable (ex. education, self development).
For more on this, I strongly recommend reading my in depth review on the fantastic book “Ego is the enemy” by Ryan Holiday.
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If you liked this article, you might also like these:
- My Ultimate Vision For You: Why Stoic Leaders exists?
- Mind Blowing Interview With Massimo Pigliucci
- Stoicism on Wisdom: You Don’t Have Problems
- Stoic Book Review: Ego is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday
- Stoicism Training With Epictetus
- Stoic Reading List: 6 Must-Read Books To Get You Started
- Stoicism on Wisdom: Don’t Rationalize Irrational Behaviour
- Stoicism on Morality: Consequentialism and Virtue Ethics
- Stoicism on Courage: How to Develop Self-Esteem?
- What is Stoicism? A Definition and 3 Stoic Exercises To Get You Started
- Negative Visualization: An Ancient Stoic Technique For Creating Happiness
Until next time, have a great day!