Susan Wolf

Moral Saints


  1. Definition:  The Moral Saint is as morally good as it is possible to be.
    1. The Utilitarian saint is a “loving saint” – for this person, his own happiness IS the happiness of others.
    2. The Kantian saint is a “dutiful saint” – a rational saint.


  1. The moral saint is TOO good and simply annoying.
    1. Such a person can’t have permission to develop non-moral perfections.
    2. Such a person can’t experience the joy of non-moral perfections.


  1. For the moral saint, no SELF is actually necessary.  The person can develop skills, but only for others, not for the sake of the development of the skills in themselves.
    1. Maybe we critique moral saints because we are jealous of them???


  1. The utilitarian saint will become annoying, condescending, and hypocritical
    1. Why are these things the case?


  1. Kantian saints must be calm deliberators.  Are these saints?


  1. Wolf suggests that a more Aristotelian or Nietzschean view would be good.  They would both recognize that moral ideals don’t make the best personal ideals.


  1. A person may be “perfectly wonderful” without being “perfectly moral.”  This is an important point – it has MORAL importance.


  1. What is Wolf’s view of individual perfection?


A brief synopsis of Wolf’s view:


                  Wolf is a critic of the moral pint of view and is instead after a conception of morality advocated by a point of view of individual perfection.

                  Moral saints do not serve as morally compelling ideals.  To be a moral saint is neither good, desirable, nor rational. 

                  The moral saint would possess the virtues to an excessive degree.  –Wouldn’t make negative evaluations of others.  Wouldn’t favor people for traits they have. 

                  The moral saint would be “too good for his own good.”  He would have to ignore or “crowd out” the non-moral virtues” as well as the characteristics of a person that make him “well-rounded and richly developed in character.”  The moral saint, according to Wolf, will not “read novels or play tennis” – his life will be “strangely barren.”

                  The moral saint couldn’t enjoy comedy, couldn’t develop skills in gourmet cooking.  There are things he could do to use his time better.

                  There is a LIMIT TO HOW MUCH MORALITY WE CAN STAND.  “When the moral saint drops his fishing trip or other personal enjoyment for others, we don’t wonder how much he loves morality, but how much he does not love these other things.”  The moral saint is incapable of experiencing the kind of joy that comes from developing non-moral traits.

                  The real utilitarian would not embrace moral sainthood as an ideal.  To be a moral saint would produce more unhappiness in the long run if everyone cultivated the traits of the saint.

                  The Kantian rational saint can’t exist.  For Kant, there are duties of self-mastery and apathy that exist such that we must ensure that our PASSIONS are not so strong that they interfere with our ability to deliberate.