Rightful Pride: Identification With One’s Own Admirable Powers And Effects

Reposted from June 23, 2010:

Pride is essentially the personal identification with something admirable.  When I am rightly proud of my traits, I rightly take the traits themselves each to be admirable in one way or another and rightly take myself to be admirable insofar as they are part of me and expressions of me.  When I am rightly proud of my various virtues, I rightly recognize in each of them both an intrinsically good power and a reliable tendency to use that good power to achieve actual good ends.

When I am rightly proud of the members of a group of people to which I belong, this often takes the form of recognizing my direct and indirect contributions to the excellent powers and excellent effects in the world which are attributable to the group as a whole or to its individual members.  In pride, I  recognize my contributions to the group’s admirable features and accomplishments or to its individual’s features and accomplishments.  If my child has an admirable trait, I might take pride in my genes which were responsible for that trait and/or my contributions to her upbringing that helped create or shape or enhance that trait.  If my child or friend or colleague or student or brother or government or company or charity or parent, etc. has an admirable virtue, I may rightfully take pride in that virtue insofar as I contributed to its creation, development, or reinforcement through my own positive influence.

When I admire a person or group’s excellence that I had a part in creating, I admire the person or group itself for being the sort of person or group to manifest such an excellence.   And, additionally, I should admire my own successful power to create excellence when I recognize my positive contribution to creating this admirable trait in a particular person or group.   I should see that person or group’s resultant excellence as an extension of my own excellence, that person or group’s power as a function of my own power, and the positive results of that person or group’s excellence or power as my own positive results to whatever extent I made them possible.  It is only proper to feel affection to the cause of a good effect and therefore only proper to feel affection for oneself wherever, and to whatever extent, one is the cause of a good effect through one’s excellent powers.

When I am pleased with the pleasant consequences of my own successful activities in any area of life (from creative labors to social interactions to moral feats, etc.)  I should take considerable pleasure in myself for being a significant factor in these good things happening.  And to the extent that my good effects required other contributors who made me capable of doing as I did, I should also feel affection and pleasure for all those others who played a role in the valuable outcomes and in creating my intrinsically valuable characteristics through which those outcomes were achieved.  This affection most immediately should take the form of gratitude for all those who have in great or small ways made possible both my admirable powers and their valuable consequences.

In order to have a morally accurate sense of responsibility, I should identify myself with every effect on the world which is at all attributable to me to the precise degree that it is actually attributable to me; no more and no less.  To the extent that my effects are good, they are intrinsically admirable and in properly identifying myself with what is intrinsically admirable, I should feel what we call pride.   To the extent that my effects are on balance bad, they are intrinsically lamentable and I should feel what we call shame.

To the extent that my shameful effects are also the effects of others who contributed to the malfunctioning or non-functioning of my powers, they are intrinsically lamentable and I should be ashamed of them.  By saying I should “be ashamed” I mean that I should see both my defective character traits and their unfortunate consequences with displeasure insofar as they are intrinsically bad and contribute negatively to the world.  And to the extent that my own immediate ill-effects are others’ remote ill-effects, I should not take all the blame for them but share it with each according to his actual responsibility.

It is irrational and unjust and, therefore immoral, not to properly assign credit or blame.  It is both unfair to myself and a general ethical failure to underestimate the value of my own contributions to the world wherever they are objectively present.  And it is also unfair to others not to give them their proper credit for their own objectively valuable effects in the world, and that includes giving them their due credit for any contributions they make to my effects on the world.

Proper moral judgment means proper assessment of credit.  Proper moral feeling requires love for things in whatever ways and to whatever extents they are good things and the hatred of things in whatever ways and to whatever extents they are bad things.  Rightful pride, as a virtuous mode of judgment and feeling, properly loves the objectively good expressions of oneself, as manifest both in one’s own traits, powers, and effects, and also in others’ traits, powers, and effects which are traceable back to one’s own influence for their creation or development.

As Aristotle rightly pointed out, an ideally and perfectly virtuous person would never feel the need for shame since he would never do something shameful in the first place.  So insofar as someone is requiring shame, he is not fully and perfectly virtuous, but is still susceptible to some moral failures.  Nonetheless, I would say that an individual is feeling and judging in a morally virtuous way when properly feeling shame at his truly lamentable traits or effects.

So, when I do the shameful thing, I do something which should be hated and am myself something worthy of hate (in this one respect at least).  But when I feel the appropriate shame for myself as identifiable with a shameful action, I judge with proper moral judgment and feel with proper moral feeling and, therefore, despite whatever moral failure has preceded this judgment, I still express a genuine virtue of excellent moral judgment, what Aristotle called phronesis (or “practical wisdom”).

Phronesis is a morally wise power of intelligence which both properly assesses the right means to the right ends at the right time and place and in the right manner and which properly motivates one to good actions.  Obviously in committing the moral failing, this virtue itself proved imperfect in the shameworthy person, but when this shameworthy person recognizes the fault and responds with the proper judgment and emotion, he proves himself to admirably possess at least some phronesis worth being proud of after all.  So, in this way, even when we become ashamed, we can at least be proud of the fact that we are capable of responding with proper shame.

The foregoing has shown the respects in which the virtues of pride and shame can be classified as sub-virtues of phronesis. They are virtues of proper moral judgment, feeling, and motivation.  Pride contributes to the structure of moral motivation by creating an aspiration to do the good because one wants to be identified with that which is excellent–both in terms of creating excellent effects and intrinsically functioning excellently for its own sake.

In this context, we can understand what we mean when we praise someone for “taking pride in what she does”.  What we are saying is that she invests herself in what she does, where this means that she does two distinguishable, interconnected things:  (1) she chooses to properly acknowledge responsibility and thus appropriately identify herself with the outcomes of what she does and (2) she concerns herself that these outcomes are as excellent as possible so that she may herself be excellent as one who creates these sorts of highly valuable outcomes.

Pride is not only about satisfaction with good outcomes to which we have contributed but, as I have all along been indicating, it is also about intrinsic excellence independent of contingent successes.  Sometimes circumstances prevent a superiorly skilled person from even having the opportunities to compete with the inferiorly skilled and so the latter have a more consequential effect than the former, but nonetheless the former is more objectively praiseworthy when we consider excellences themselves and not merely the production of units of goodness.

This helps us understand another sense in which we might be proud of a group to which we belong, which is a unique form of group pride that I will call “class pride”.  Earlier I discussed how we should be proud of our fellow group members to the extent that we know that our own flourishing in our own powers contributed to theirs, such that their successes become partially our own too.  But we can also take pride in those with little or no direct or indirect relationship to us but who are nonetheless significantly like us in a power or set of powers.   When they do great things with our type of power or set of powers it is as though we did it ourselves on one level, for the the excellence we are admiring in them is the same one in ourselves capable of comparable functionalities.  And, vice versa, we can be ashamed when those with our own weaknesses do awful things with our type of weaknesses.

To the extent that we recognize our powers as interchangeable with others for being of the same essential kind, we can take pride or shame in those other people’s successes or failures which are attributable to the functioning of those excellences and weaknesses comparable to our own.  So, were I an engineer, I would be able to look at many of the achievements of engineering to which I was not at all party and still feel proud that the kinds of powers I have are the kinds that made for those achievements.  When I admire a given project I was not a part of, I can realize that were I swapped with the engineers who were a part of it that I too could have produced a comparable outcome.  I am the sort of being who creates that sort of good and so even if I did not create that particular good instance of the thing I create, I can identify with it and feel pride if I know that I could have and that someone like me actually did.

So I love the possibilities of my own power when I admire other people’s actual realizations of that power and, so, take a degree of pride in my fellows’ accomplishments.  This can even extend to the entire human race.  While I should be more proud of those with whom I have more in common in terms of developed powers, I can still recognize that I have anywhere from rudimentary to somewhat impressive forms of the same powers that great human beings have and take pride in them as members of their same species.  And, of course, this door swings both ways too.  I can recognize in the basest human beings extreme manifestations of my own detestable traits.

And it is the same for some forms of national pride, cultural pride, religious pride, gay pride, professional pride, familial pride, etc. (and all their correlate shames).  Any class of people defined by characteristically common values or excellences/virtues/powers, can have members who morally rightfully admire themselves and their own admirable traits in those like them who express the very powers they have within themselves from outside themselves.

In general, when I find that others share an excellence that I rightly love in myself, I should rightly love it in them too in a special way.  I should of course love all the excellences/powers/virtues which people manifest, even (and maybe especially) those which I do not have myself.  Those who embody valuable abilities I do not have are people for whom I should feel special gratitude (for picking up the slack in society for benefits I do not provide).  And also when dealing with those areas in which they are powerful and I am not, I should look up to and emulate them.  But the one thing I cannot do is take pride in powers/virtues/excellences which I do not possess.

But, as I have just explained in talking about “class pride”, when I love in another an excellence that I do also have, I can do more than just admire that good and more than just seek to emulate it, but I can (and should) identify with it and love myself for it too.  And in the case of those who created, shaped, or developed my excellences in me, I can identify with their manifestation of our common excellence in a (metaphorically) “genetic” way which only strengthens and heightens the pride I am entitled to feel.

When I have attained to a power/virtue/excellence through the aid of role models, teachers, and fellow peers, I can take special pride in these people’s excellences because my own were in fact shaped and developed specifically as replications of, and variations on, theirs.  My mentors’ excellences are the parents of my own excellences, my fellows’ and rivals’ excellences are the siblings and cousins of my own virtues.   So, when I love the excellence of my mentors and my fellows, I can identify with their excellences not just as excellences that I share but as excellences that mine share (strictly metaphorical) “DNA” with.  I can love their instantiations of our common virtues as more closely related to my own than just those who I share the generic type.

So, were I a medical doctor I should take special class pride in the positive effects of all medical doctors, but even more special personal pride in the excellences of the doctors who trained me specifically.  And, of course, since their power works through me whenever I express the powers I gained under their tutelage, they can take pride in my practice of medicine as a remote expression of their own power.  In this way, both the teacher can take pride in the student in whom she has infused her own excellences and the student can take pride in the teacher whose excellences are now his own too.

There is much more to say about pride.  In another post, I reconcile it with humility.  I may also  explore the psychological reasons that might explain why pride is sometimes used as an honorific term to denote the sorts of good things in this post but also used as a derogatory word to describe various inappropriate, vicious forms of pride, such as hubris, stubbornness, arrogance, and avoidance of painful truths about the self.  And, of course, having tightly associated pride with the just claims to personal credit, I have stirred a hornet’s nest worth of free will problems that I will hopefully have occasion to explore as well.  Already though I have covered another key related topic, Christianity’s extreme denunciation of pride (as the sin of all sins).  You can catch up by reading that critique in the post, The Christian Logic Of Power, Pride, Humility, Free Will, Original Sin, And All-Consuming Divine Narcissism.

Your Thoughts?

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Nietzsche: Moral Absolutism and Moral Relativism Are “Equally Childish”