In Season 2 Episode 1 of The Eudo Podcast, Dr. Paul M. Gould consider the questions, why be good? And why even care about virtue and vice?
In the Republic, Plato tells the story of the myth of Gyges in order to set out the question – Why be moral? Gyges was given the opportunity to live life as an invisible entity, able to do anything he wanted to do with no one ever discovering what he had done. He could do whatever he wanted and would be assured of getting away with it. Given the chance to live life like this, the question Plato raises is, would a person want to be moral?
After a good deal of dialogue, Plato concludes that being moral was inherently valuable, apart from any additional benefits it produced or harm that it enabled a person to avoid. So, being good is inherently valuable.
Why Should We Be Good? Why Should We Care About Our Character?
Christian Miller offers four reasons in his book The Character Gapon why we should care about becoming better people:
First, virtuous lives are admirable and inspiring.
- We admire someone—whether in real life or in fiction—and an emotion becomes involved – the emotion, according to psychologist, called elevation.
- We are uplifted or inspired to live great lives and be better people; We want to be like those we admire.
Second, virtuous people typically make the world a better place.
- Those who have the virtue of honesty or compassion or courage or wisdom tend to make the world a better place. We would much rather be around someone who is honest or just than someone who is cruel or a serial liar.
- Good character makes a better world.
- This is why the question—is Christianity good for the world—is so important. Christians—as followers of Christ—are supposed to be men and women of good moral character.
Third, God wants us to become good.
- Consider for example, Leviticus 11:44 (in the OT) where God says to his people “consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy” (NIV).
- Or Jesus’s words on the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6 for his followers to be salt and light.
- Or Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 5:1 to be “imitators of God” to “live a life of love” (NIV).
- Or Peter’s charge to Christians in 1 Peter 2:12 to “live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (NIV).
Fourth, a good character can be rewarding.
- In other words, a good character isn’t just good for the world, it is good for me too.
- Living a life of integrity brings peace.
- Being compassionate can be a source of joy and contentment.
- Being grateful or hopeful or loving, according to the psychological studies, actually brings health and wellness.
- While these things aren’t the goal of being virtuous, they are a welcome by-product.
Proverbs 10:9: “The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out” (NIV).
- This doesn’t mean we’ll be perfect, this side of heaven, but the life oriented toward virtue, is a life of peace and flourishing—it is a life oriented toward the good and as a by-product, it is a pleasing and joyful life, a life of security and contentment.
So, why be good? Because it is intrinsically valuable (in itself) and because it produces further valuable states of affairs (in ourselves, in others, and in the world).
- Christian Miller, The Character Gap
- Plato, The Republic