Today’s virtual colloquium paper is “Jesus and the Virtues of Pride” by Robert C. Roberts and Ryan West. Dr. Roberts received his PhD from Yale in 1974 and is currently Chair of Ethics and Emotion Theory in the Jubilee Centre, the University of Birmingham (UK) and Distinguished Professor of Ethics emeritus at Baylor University. His extensive publication history includes monographs published by Oxford, Cambridge, and Eerdmans (among others) as well as numerous journal articles, mainly focusing on Christian virtue ethics. Dr. West received his PhD from Baylor, under Dr. Roberts’ supervision, earlier this year and is currently Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Grove City College. His papers on virtue ethics have appeared in journals including Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Synthese, and Faith and Philosophy.
Jesus and the Virtues of Pride
Robert C. Roberts and Ryan West
We are grateful for the opportunity to participate in this virtual colloquium. Our paper, “Jesus and the Virtues of Pride,” is to be included in an interdisciplinary volume on pride edited by Adam Carter and Emma Gordon as part of Rowman & Littlefield’s forthcoming series, Moral Psychology of the Emotions (series editor, Mark Alfano). This is the penultimate draft, and we welcome your feedback. Here’s a sketch of the project.
It is commonly thought that humility and pride are traits that repel each other. And so they are, but only in a qualified sense. We propose that there are both virtuous and vicious forms of both humility and pride, and that only some of these are mutually repelling. More specifically, we argue that virtuous pride and virtuous humility are in fact mutually reinforcing, even as each is opposed to both vicious pride and vicious humility. We make our case by offering conceptual analyses of several sub-species of the four classes just mentioned, giving special attention to the presence or absence of those traits in the character of Jesus of Nazareth, whom we take to be an exemplar not only of virtuous humility, but also of virtuous pride.
We take virtuous humility to consist in the intelligent absence of the vices of pride. The latter encompass three general areas of human selfhood: the self as agent, as having special entitlements or privileges, and as a self among other selves. The third area admits division, so we group the pride vices into five species:
- The prides of distorted agency (selfish ambition, domination, and hyper- autonomy);
- The prides of corrupt entitlement (arrogance and presumptuousness);
- The prides of empty self-display (vanity and pretentiousness);
- The prides of invidious comparison (snobbery, self-righteousness, invidious pride, and envy); and
- The prides of tribal superiority (racism, sexism, ethnicism, homophobia, etc.).
We suggest that people with the vices of pride are concerned to have a kind of importance, which, in a way that deviates somewhat from common usage, we call self-importance. The drive for self-importance is exemplified in such things as using one’s agency for personal importance independently of the real value of one’s actions, taking over others’ proper agency, and eschewing others’ contributions to one’s own agency; having entitlements beyond what is proper to one; getting the (usually) positive regard of others in abstraction from what is actually excellent; and being superior to others and having others be inferior to oneself, either individually or in tribal terms. Virtuous humility, then, comes in a number of varieties: there is the lack of vanity, the lack of snobbery, the lack of domination, and so on.
The three areas of human selfhood just noted—the self as agent, as entitled, and as a self among other selves—are generic and unavoidable in the constitution of selfhood. They are fundamental aspects of human life that bear on individuals’ importance—not just the false value of self-importance, but the real importance of persons. People can be important for what they do, for what they are entitled to, and in virtue of their relations to one another. Also, these three belong intimately together, because they all intersect. The virtues of pride—traits like self-confidence, secure agency, aspiration, pride in one’s work, sense of dignity, self-respect, personal authority, pride in associates, group belonging, and secure collegiality—are excellences with respect to the same dimensions of character with respect to which the vices of pride are defects.
If virtuous pride is a positive self-construal in terms of one’s agency, one’s dignity, or one’s entitlements, it would seem to encourage virtuous humility in a special way, namely, by being a proper and genuine satisfaction of a basic human need of which the vices of pride are a perverse and false satisfaction. The fact that the vices of pride speak to the same psychological need as the virtues of pride marks the special intimacy between them. We illustrate this point by exploring the presence of several virtues of pride in the New Testament presentation of Jesus of Nazareth. Furthermore, we suggest that we can discern in the teaching of Jesus that he encourages his disciples to imitate him in many of these respects.
Finally, we suggest that virtuous pride and virtuous humility are each contrary not only to vicious pride, but also to what we call vicious humility. The latter finds expression in traits like deep shame, servility, and a variety of other unrealistically low dispositional self-construals.
That is a basic outline of the conceptual scheme of pride and humility we develop. In the paper, we offer several narrative examples to illustrate the nuances of each trait and their interrelations with one another. We also defend our view against some objections. We welcome the opportunity to explain and/or defend ourselves here as well. Thank you in advance for your feedback.
The complete paper is here. Comments welcome below!
AIRLINE OFFICIAL: All the passengers survived the crash.
REPORTER: Do you mean that all of the passengers survived in the “all without exception” sense of ‘all’, or in the “a great many” or “all without distinction” sense?
A: All I meant was that all of them survived in one of those last two senses you mention. I didn’t mean they all survived in the “all without exception” sense of ‘all’. And unfortunately, several passengers did die.
RELATIVE: I was so excited when I heard on the news that “all the passengers had survived”! “Henry’s alive!” I called out. Imagine my disappointment when I learned that the news report was using the “a great many” / “all without distinction” sense of ‘all’, and that in fact several passengers had died! Now I’m left wondering about poor Henry.
A: I wonder how the students in our town’s high school did on the big state test? How did the underclassmen do? How did the seniors do? I can’t wait to find out!
B: I was just at the high school and heard the news on that: All the students passed the test.
A: Really? Even that Johnny kid from down the block? I wouldn’t have thought he could possibly pass.
B: He did fail.
A: But didn’t you say that all the students passed?
B: I meant that all passed in the “a great many” / “‘all’ without distinction” sense of ‘all’. I didn’t mean that each and every one of them passed.
There are many ways by which non-universalists try to evade the universalist implications of the New Testament passages typically cited as teaching universalism (like those presented in section 2 of my on-line defense of universalism). Sadly, one of the most common is to claim that ‘all’ (and its Greek equivalent) does not always mean “all without exception”, but has some other, weaker sense, and to urge that the passages are only saying that all will be saved in one of these weaker senses of “all”…
In the 13th and final chapter of his book, Sobel discusses Pascalian wagers. According to Sobel, there need not be anything wrong with the practical reasoning involved in a Pascalian wager. In addition to defending this controversial claim, Sobel must explain how, if the Pascalian reasoning is correct, he can be justified in holding on to his atheism. As the chapter unfolds, both contentions are defended as a package. In general, for reasons to be explained below, I disagree with Sobel’s approach here. However, I do agree with him on one thing: religious faith is more a matter of practical than of theoretical reason. In this post I will explain Sobel’s approach and my reasons for disagreeing with it, and in the next I will lay out my own view of the interplay of theoretical and practical reason in religious faith.
Pascal’s original wager went something like this: if you believe in God and you are right, you gain eternal bliss. If you believe in God and you are wrong, you lose little or nothing. If you don’t believe in God and you are right, you gain little or nothing. If you don’t believe in God and you are wrong, things will go very badly for you. (According to Sobel, Pascal himself regards heaven as infinitely good, but hell as only finitely bad.)
Now, the first problem we face is that we can’t just decide to believe things.For now, though, imagine we could. It seems, in Pascal’s case, that it would then be practically rational to believe in God, as long as we think that there is even the slightest (epistemic) possibility of his existence.