Moral ambition

Pettigrove, G. A. and Meyer, M. J. (2009) Moral ambition. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 87(2), pp. 285-299. (doi: 10.1080/00048400802215596)

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The paper opens with an account of moral ambition which, it argues, is both a coherent ideal and an admirable trait. It closes with a discussion of some of the ways in which this trait might differ from traditional virtues such as temperance, courage, or benevolence. The very notion of ‘moral ambition’ may seem to link two ideas that are fatally in tension with each other—perhaps because the objects of ambition (like honour or power) lack proper ethical credentials or because the outcomes of joining ambition and moral purpose (like snobbery or pride) are unsuited to the life of the good person. On the other hand, while the decent person may have a modest programme for moral self-development, perhaps the truly good person is characteristically ambitious about self-improvement. If so, however, might this very ambition mean that the good person can hope for no real contentment, because ‘the state in which he is now always remains an evil one by comparison with the better one into which he is preparing himself to enter’[Kant 1794 Kant, Immanuel. 1963 (1794). “The End of All Things”. In On History, Edited by: White Beck, Lewis. New York: Macmillan. trans. Robert Anchor: 79 (AK 8: 335)]? Such concerns suggest that the seeming high-mindedness of the idea of moral ambition may be undermined by its lack of coherence or its ultimate moral undesirability. The aim of this paper is to identify a kind of moral ambition that is both coherent and admirable. We begin with an account of moral ambition that we argue can get around the objections sketched above. Then we turn to an examination of the relationship between moral ambition and other virtues.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Pettigrove, Professor Glen
Authors: Pettigrove, G. A., and Meyer, M. J.
College/School:College of Arts > School of Humanities > Philosophy
Journal Name:Australasian Journal of Philosophy
Publisher:Taylor & Francis
ISSN (Online):1471-6828
Published Online:06 June 2009

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