Murdoch's Utilitarianism: The Ideal Of Humility

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In criticizing the utilitarian behaviorist framework, Murdoch says that moral philosophy should provide not only an ideal of what it means to be good, but also advice on how to move oneself towards that ideal. One way that the ideal of humility can help a person be good is by providing a test for actions. Instead of asking himself the rather difficult question “Is this a good action?” an agent can ask himself “Would a humble person do this?”, and if the answer is “no”, then the action is probably bad. The same test can be applied to persistent behaviors or attitudes. If being humble is a way of being good, it is worth considering that someone might try to be humble. In addition to applying the test, he might seek out humbling experiences,…show more content…
This is potentially problematic for a couple of reasons; (1) A humble person is outward-looking, whereas self-improvement is inward-looking; and (2) if you try to be humble and find that you’ve succeeded, you are now in the awkward position of thinking “I am humble”. While the ideal of humility involves having “no self”, an ordinary person can’t just discard one’s self and instantly become humble; change takes time. A person in the process of this change can think “I am trying to be humble”, which does not share the contradiction that “I am humble” implies. So for someone at the beginning of the process of unselfing, the second problem is not significant because “success” is so far…show more content…
An ideal humble person has no self to improve, but self-improvement is an essential part of being a real-life good person, and an ideal that excludes self-improvement would not be a useful one. The ideal of humility should not be interpreted as saying that a person should pretend he has no self, but as a humbling reminder of what’s important and what is not. Self-cultivation of humility is only useful insofar as it enhances, rather than distracts from, attention to others, which is of primary
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