Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Integrity and Struggle

UPDATE 6/9/11: The latest draft of this paper is now available here.

Here's one last wrinkle (for now) to my work on integrity. Many accounts of integrity emphasize the importance of having an "undivided" self. But this raises questions about whether it makes sense to say that a person of integrity sometimes experiences significant inner struggles. It would seem not, to the extent that inner struggles are evidence of a divided self. Here, I argue that persistent inner struggles which are the result of persistent temptations and afflictions are not inconsistent with the thought that a person who must deal with such afflictions can be thought to have (or manifest) integrity. Indeed, some people are paradigms of integrity in the way in which they deal with temptations and affliction. Comments appreciated.

(previous draft removed)


  1. (I won't keep saying "Good paper!" at the start of each comment, but that doesn't mean I won't think it.)

    It seems to me, having very quickly read this, that temptation, reason, and integrity are not simple concepts. The verb "to tempt" can be used as a success-verb ("Can I tempt you to have another piece of cake?") but you are quite right that it is also correct (and probably more normal, in fact) to speak as if temptation is something that can be resisted. So the word has at least two kinds of use. The same seems true about reasons. I think I see Gaita's point about the man back from the Himalayas not deliberating about whether to commit adultery, but I think people who talk about him weighing reasons might mean that he feels the weight, the pull, of temptation. Gaita, I think, would accept this. And to feel the attraction of a person just is, in one sense of 'reason', to have a reason to have sex with that person. Perhaps Gaita's point is that we should not over-intellectualize reasons, but I suspect that the word 'reason' has multiple uses (or one complex use). And finally integrity. In one sense a person lacks integrity if their beliefs and feelings are not integrated, but it seems wrong to me to deny that someone has integrity in any sense if they are tempted to do bad things that they never actually do. You mention kidnapping, I think, as an example, but a person who was seriously tempted to kidnap would seem to me to be mentally ill. Would we deny that such an ill person has integrity just because of this illness, assuming that they always resisted the temptation? That would seem unfair. As Kant saw, there is something very admirable about such resistance. And this could be expressed by saying that the person had great integrity.

  2. Right (about most of what you say). The point you make about kidnapping makes want to re-think the appeal to Brewer, or more particularly, to be clear about the extent of the point I think he's supporting. (I had a feeling that would be a problem spot.) Brewer's limited point is that in some cases a person's persistent temptation to do certain things--maybe take political bribes is a more plausible example (it's Brewer who talks about kidnapping)--would seem to lead us to question the sincerity or depth of that person's conviction that taking bribes is wrong. (Here I should have already stipulated that the relevant person has that conviction.)

    The difference might come down to what I mention toward the end--whether the temptation is open to correction. (And presumably some are; otherwise every immoral temptation is, roughly, mental illness!)

    But right: "family resemblance" might be a relevant notion to bring in when talking about integrity (and reasons, etc.). (I'd actually toyed with that in the context of integrity, but this is where I went instead.)

  3. Yes, not every temptation is a symptom of mental illness. But people can have various relations to their temptations. They can be experienced as coming from outside ("another attack") or as being more a part of the person concerned. The latter kind of case is the one, I think, that suggests a lack of integrity. But I'm sure temptation is a complex phenomenon, and I think it's possible to adjust one's conception of what is happening. It might be possible, for instance, to train yourself to think of it as coming from somewhere else. Referring to family resemblance might help here, but it also might distract anti-Wittgensteinians. So I like the way you have gone, but it might be worthwhile to make a passing reference to family resemblance.

  4. What you say about "distracting" anti-Wittgensteinians is roughly why I decided to avoid it. But I'm not quite happy with the phrase "alternate conception of integrity" because I want to say, yes, sometimes we mean just what Cottingham is talking about when we say "integrity" but other times not. (And I'm not happy with the thought that Cottingham might just say that there's integrity on the one hand and fortitude on the other.)

    I'm not sure about "somewhere else"--smacks of "not me." I get, "this isn't the 'real me'" as a way of saying, "I don't identify with this." But as I suggest in the paper, this way of thinking could also be dangerous--perhaps when it gets too (or maybe even a bit) metaphysical.

  5. I agree that there's a danger with the "somewhere else" idea. I was thinking, for instance, of people who regard temptation as coming from Satan. And those who call on a higher power (which some people think of as part of themselves) to help them overcome temptation. Conceiving the self as divided might threaten integrity, but I'm not sure I would want to say that old-fashioned religious belief does.