Wanting to Be Better: On the Self-Defeating Character of Moral Perfection

  • Kamila PacovskáEmail author
Part of the Nordic Wittgenstein Studies book series (NRWS, volume 6)


In the closing part of his paper “Moral Integrity”, Peter Winch elaborates on J. L. Stocks’s point that “morality can require that we abandon absolutely any specifiable end, including the end of one’s own moral perfection”. In the opening parts of my paper, I question whether aspiration to moral improvement can be in genuine conflict with morality and argue that it depends on how one conceives of the relation between an “end” and one’s interests. Winch himself proceeds to claim that moral perfection cannot be conceived in an external way as an end and illustrates his point with the example of Father Sergius. I elaborate on his analysis of the aspiration for moral perfection and show that if such an aspiration is not regulated by the virtue of humility, it backfires into forms of self-centred corruption, such as self-deception and pride. Moral ambition can thus lead to wrongdoing performed in the very name of morality. This formulation of Stocks’s claim is illustrated in the last part by the example of banker Bulstrode, whose proud pursuit of moral perfection and consequent self-deception results in a crime.


Moral perfectionism Ethics Humility Virtue ethics Moral philosophy 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of PardubicePardubiceCzech Republic

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