3.5 Conclusions: Living Ethically

In this chapter, we have explored why one might be wise to consider an ethical life and how one might best go about deliberating moral choices. In the end, it may be impossible to convince an immoral person that a life of morality for its own sake is to be valued. The shepherd Gyges may have attained the world, but in doing so may well have lost his humanity. As one ancient philosopher put it, “For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36). Can a life of immorality truly serve us? Or was Socrates right, that no one can harm your soul except you, yourself?

It’s important to distinguish here between a kind of happiness brought about by short-term gains that can be won immorally and the kind of long-term joy that is possible through a life of goodness. This kind of joy cannot be bought or stolen. It comes from a life lived in conscious accord with our own self-chosen values and principles. Take a profound relationship, for example. It is clearly one of life’s joys, but it is not a matter of self-seeking or deception. A relationship is not something we get but something we slowly, over the years, become. The reason we cultivate deep relationships is ultimately about giving, not taking. The same must be said about our relationship with ourselves. Yes, we have the ability and freedom, in many cases, to “get away with” acting immorally. But what does that do to our self-worth? Ethics can and must in the end be about cultivating inner peace with ourselves. A fully mature human being recognizes this long-term gain as far more important and nourishing than the short-term rewards which might come from acting against our true natures.


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PPSC PHI 1011: The Philosopher's Quest by Daniel G. Shaw, Ph.D. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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