Being Stuck With Virtue

Let me open this blog with a realistic statement: It is and will remain the case that the best way to feel good for members of our species is to be good.


It’s obvious to me that the biotechnological promise to free us from the constraints of virtue for the happiness that accompanies pure freedom will never be kept. We’ll never achieve immortality—or some absolute transcendence of the limitations of embodiment. The best we might achieve is a kind of indefinite longevity, which would make death seem more accidental and so our beings more contingent and our moods more anxious than ever. Even if our moods become chemical silly putty in our hands, we still wouldn’t have what it takes to choose the moods that make us most happy with being who we really are.

We, in our pride, don’t want the zoned-out contentment we imagine cows have. We want to remain alienated enough to appreciate Johnny Cash, without going through the hell of being Johnny Cash. We want to be artistic and sensitive as we can be while being, unlike John, cheerful and productive members of our high-tech society. And anyway, if our moods got too good, we would stop obsessing enough to fend off the real threats to our very being—like terrorists, asteroids, and such. The search for the perfect mood inevitably leads us to realize that the good stuff (like love and pride) depends on the hard or bad stuff (like worthwhile work and death), and once we achieved that sort of wisdom, it seems to us, we wouldn’t want our moods chemically altered after all.

We have an inalienable right to our moods, in part, because they aren’t random collections of chemicals but natural clues to the truth about who each of us is. We also have a right to our moods because what we’ve been given by nature, if used well or virtuously, is good enough. Nature, Darwin was right to say, intends members of all the species to be happy by living according to nature. But the great anti-communist dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn added that we weren’t born only to be happy, because we were also born to die.  The way to be happy is to live well with what we can help but know who we are as self-conscious mortals.

We’re stuck with virtue as human beings. There are natural reasons for that. We’re hardwired for virtue, so to speak, because we’re hardwired for a kind of language and or speech that opens us to the truth about ourselves and our world that no other animal can acquire. And we really can’t change our hardwiring in a way that will make us both distinctively or proudly human and genuinely happy—and we want both—without being good, without acting in a truthful and morally responsible way.

So we need, above all, a realistic science of virtue that incorporates what we know through natural science, philosophy, theology, and the humanities generally.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Can the keto diet help treat depression? Here’s what the science says so far

A growing body of research shows promising signs that the keto diet might be able to improve mental health.

Public Domain
Mind & Brain
  • The keto diet is known to be an effective tool for weight loss, however its effects on mental health remain largely unclear.
  • Recent studies suggests that the keto diet might be an effective tool for treating depression, and clearing up so-called "brain fog," though scientists caution more research is necessary before it can be recommended as a treatment.
  • Any experiments with the keto diet are best done in conjunction with a doctor, considering some people face problems when transitioning to the low-carb diet.
Keep reading Show less
Promotional photo of Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister on Game of Thrones
Surprising Science
  • It's commonly thought that the suppression of female sexuality is perpetuated by either men or women.
  • In a new study, researchers used economics games to observe how both genders treat sexually-available women.
  • The results suggests that both sexes punish female promiscuity, though for different reasons and different levels of intensity.
Keep reading Show less

Want to age gracefully? A new study says live meaningfully

Thinking your life is worthwhile is correlated with a variety of positive outcomes.

YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • A new study finds that adults who feel their lives are meaningful have better health and life outcomes.
  • Adults who felt their lives were worthwhile tended to be more social and had healthier habits.
  • The findings could be used to help improve the health of older adults.
Keep reading Show less