Without some degree of consistency amongst our beliefs, as well as our desires and emotions, and between our inner life and our outward actions, things fall apart. Our own lives can become too confusing to bear. Without some way of matching the life we are trying to live to the world and the particular circumstances in which we find ourselves, we run the risk of losing touch with reality, or of being crushed by it. Integrity would seem to require both inner consistency—that the elements of the psyche be more or less integrated into some kind of coherent, harmonious whole (call this, if you wish, the self)—as well as outward consistency—that one’s beliefs, desires, and emotions, and one’s actions, too, be appropriately responsive to how the world actually is. We would not say that someone who has fallen prey to a massive delusion, who lives, as we might say, in a fantasy world, has integrity. Nor would we say of it of someone who is utterly paralyzed by inner conflict and indecision, who vacillates between various options, says one thing and does another, or changes his or her mind every time the wind blows. Consistency—both within oneself and in relation to the world—is important. However, if there is something important in Whitman’s, at first glance, irrational embrace of self-contradiction—and I think there is—then it is possible to care too much, or in the wrong way, about consistency. In that case, we can’t simply equate integrity with a life of practical and psychological consistency, even if a life of integrity requires these in some degree. Or, paradoxically: consistency might sometimes require that we live with inconsistency.I fear I may be playing much too fast and loose (a little fast and loose I can live with, for now at least), so comments will be appreciated. I anticipate a separate essay on steadfastness (in which, among other things, I will again take a crack at Winch's discussion of the Amish elder in his essay, "Moral Integrity"), although you can probably get some ideas about where that might go if you make it to the end of this one.
UPDATE (12.16.11): It occurred to me last night that one thing I should consider here relates to what Gaita says about the "child of two cultures" he imagines in his own discussion of integrity--that the conflict between the two cultures is the source of this person's weaknesses and strengths. I want to think about what some of those strengths might be. (This probably connects up with Whitman.)