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Pride: the enemy of ethics

By Al Gini, Ethics Expert

There is no one single explanation or reason for unethical behavior. But, in my mind, there is a leading candidate for this rather dubious distinction. It’s what modern psychologists refer to as delusional narcissism, and what the medieval Pope Gregory the Great called “the queen of the seven deadly sins” – pride.

Philosopher Baruch Spinoza called pride a “species of madness,” because it leads us to think that we can accomplish all things. The fundamental psychology of pride is that it produces a distorted view of self and the world. Pride is about self-absorption, excessive self-esteem, inordinate self-love, and egregious self-evaluation. The Oxford English Dictionary defines pride as “an unreasonable conceit of superiority … and overweening opinion of one’s qualities, talents, and abilities.”

In effect, what pride does is to strip the ability of a person to be objective, to make sound judgments, to be critical. Pride is an excuse for excess, a roadblock to moderation, and a stairway to arrogance. Pride, says poet and Trappist monk Thomas Menton, robs us of our humility and our basic concern for objectivity, because we are constantly focused on self. For Thomas Aquinas, pride is more than narcissism; it is the “distorted desire to be exalted.” This desire, suggests Aquinas, leads to an exaggeration of our ability and rights and contempt for the ability and rights of others. For Aquinas, pride is the beginning of every sin because pride leads to complete “selfishness” and to the total abandonment of the concept of “selflessness.”

Pride diminishes the possibility of ethical conduct in regard to others, because pride reduces one’s view of the world to very narrow priorites: me, myself, and I.

Story courtesy of Loyola magazine (Spring 2013).

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