Renovation Philosophy


The contents of this page are derived from ¶¶17 and 18 of VIOLENCE and SELF-OWNERSHIP by Dr Steven Foulds.
Unbound copies of VIOLENCE and SELF-OWNERSHIP (237pp, A4, double-sided, laser printed) are available for purchase from the author. Go to

The Basic Principles of a Reliable Ethic

A Renovated Personal Morality

A Suitable Culture
Virtues Ethics
A Vocabulary of 'Better' and 'Worse'

A Renovated Personal Morality

Respecting Integrity
Cultivating Respect for the Value of Integrity
Corrupting the Morality
Virtue in the Absence of Community


No person escapes the ethics by which we all evaluate possible ways of life and personal characteristics as more or less valuable than the available alternatives. So you are not free to eschew ethics; you are free only to choose which ethic you will choose to institutionalise in your life and, thereby, impose on the world. The foundation of your ethics is the kind of person that you are choosing to be (see About Being a Person). The ethics of lying, for example, are different for someone choosing to be honest than they are for someone choosing to profit monetarily from her dealings with other folk. It is not my place to instruct anyone on what kind of person they should be, but one of my interests in VIOLENCE and SELF-OWNERSHIP is the possibility of being more self-owning and less violent than is normal for human persons. To this end, I start my formulation of a suitable ethic by trying to separate the rules that are necessary for any reliable morality from anything and everything that is not.
    To see why this is so consider a situation in which I want to get my sums right, I live in a community of folk who think that they are getting their sums right, but want 2+3 to equal 4 when they are paying others and 6 when others are paying them. This is incoherent and promotes conflict. I want to detoxify myself from this kind of thinking so that the rules I follow are self-owning. To reveal self-owning mathematical rules I put aside anything that is not necessary. This is because the reliability of a mathematical rule doesn't emerge from any contingency, such as someone's political authority or preferences, but from the cultural integrity which is necessary for maths to work at all. Such a rule doesn't tell me which numbers to add, divide or multiply, and it won't justify any output I'd like just because I like it; the very rule that enables me to be right also enables me to be wrong.
    The above analogy is intended only to illustrate what you are trying to do and why you are going about it by pursuing the necessary rules of self-owning ethics. I want to get my ethical 'sums' right. This is a skill - a matter of know-how which I need to learn - and what developing this skill needs is not some 'book of answers' (knowledge-that) but criteria by which any ethical evaluations can be tested for reliability (i.e., I want to know how to get my ethical 'sums' right). Only what is necessary for getting my ethical 'sums' right can do this. Nothing contingent is necessary. So my race, gender, preferences, socioeconomic status, nationality, habits, and so on, are irrelevant to reliably reasoning about the value of, say, cheating or being honourable as a way of life.

As far as I have been able to discover, there are just two rules that are necessary for a reliable morality.

Principle One: As with mathematics, only certain rules, structuring [giving form to] certain relationships, are necessary for morality because it is these relationships that give any culture the integrity from which the intended output reliably emerges. If certain rules are necessary to the ethic then these rules will apply impartially to all ethical performances; they won't change from performer to performer in the way of political preferences. Again the analogy with maths holds; if a rule of mathematics really does emerge from the necessary integrity of maths then that rule applies to every mathematical performance in whatever circumstances; the status or preferences of performers don''t come into it. If the rules necessary for a reliable ethic cannot logically include anything contingent, moral rules must also be universal; that is, they will imply impartially to all self-owning self-government regardless of the self-governor's race, status, gender, and so on. Thus the first measure of a reliable morality is that its rules are impartial.
    In actual practice, everyone believes that their reasoning is sound and that any reasonable person would agree with them anyway. This means that everyone already purports to be showing which reasons for performing are sound. So if, for example, you do x in a circumstance because you feel like it then you are implying that feeling like doing x as a sound reason for doing x in the circumstance. There is a kind of tacit law-making here, an implication that you are an ethical reliable performer - you are doing the right thing - and that any similarly reliable performer would be led by sound reasoning (like yours) to do the same thing in the same circumstances. The popular disclaimer to the effect that "I'm not making rules for anyone else" is just a way of avoiding this responsibility.

A universal rule is impartial between performers but partial between performances. The same rule that justifies my belief that 2+3=5, for instance, thereby justifies another's belief that 2+3=5. A moral rule that justifies me lying to another in a circumstance similarly justifies another lying to me in the same circumstance. If I think that my lying to another is justified in a circumstance, but that having another lie to me in a similar circumstance wouldn't be, then you are thinking partially [politically] rather than morally (it is analogous with my believing that 2+3=4 when you are paying another and 6 when another is paying me). So a test of impartiality is to imagine how I would evaluate a performance if the rôles of myself and those my performance affects were reversed. If I conclude that it would be valuable for me to, say, tell a lie to get an advantage, and I want to know whether or not you are thinking morally rather than politically, then I need only to ask myself whether or not I would hold your lie to be valuable to me if it was someone else telling the lie at your expense.

Principle Two: Millennia of politics have clearly shown that (a) not respecting persons, (b) respecting a P moiety1 of persons more than a not-P moiety, and (c) deferring to the performances of P-moiety persons, are all ethically unreliable because they contribute both to inself-owningity and to the compulsive human violation of integrity. This suggests that a reliable ethic for being-with others as a self-owning person would have to prescribe an equality of respect for all persons. To accord with a true articulation of what it is to be a person in the world, and of the function of ethics in this project, this equality would have to account for the fact that ∙ all persons are different and ∙ the character of ethics precludes having equal respect for all performances (the job of an ethic is to evaluate differences; an 'ethic' which prescribes equal respect for both honest work and cheating, for example, isn't doing its job). There is no equality of fact between persons; we all have different characters, strengths, weaknesses, and so on. So this can be done only if there is a common aspect of being a person in the world that is equally valuable to all persons regardless of their many contingent differences. A fact which meets this criterion - and the only fact which meets this criterion - is the cultural/natural integrity whereby persons evaluate possibilities in the world in terms of a permeate project. This is the integrity which is specifically violated by politics (which values some person above others on the basis of contingent differences such as social status, race, and gender), and the violation of which is experienced by persons as wrong. On the basis of this fact, I conclude that a second test of a reliable morality is that it prescribes an equal respect for the cultural/natural integrity of all persons. This measure extends the first by interpreting impartiality as an impartiality of respect; we evaluate the performance while respecting the performer.

Respect is the skill of treating a fact, which has value for [is relevant to the welfare of] someone or something, as (1) valuable and (2) under the ownership of that person or thing. I respect a bird's nest, for example, when I treat it as valuable property of the bird even if the bird itself has no concept of property and no culture by which it evaluates its nest as valuable. So respecting the cultural/natural integrity of persons entails treating it as both valuable and as their property even if they don't.
    This measure does not require that I respect everyone's projects or performances equally. The difference between respecting persons and respecting performances matters not only for the being-useful-towards of an ethic but because, under dichotomy, the alternative to political partiality is often said to entail an uncritical acceptance of everyone's beliefs, performances, and projects - including their lies, superstitions, prejudice, cultural self-aggrandisement, and violence. The flaw in this is easily discovered by asking myself how respect for persons would be served by treating the projects of, say, a thief as worthy of the same respect as those who work for their material possessions. The answer is that it is not; reliable ethics require that I treat the cultural/natural integrity of the thief with respect, not that I evaluate her performance as a thief as being equally valuable as other possibilities that were open to her.

1. It is a feature of non-moral (i.e., political) thinking to dichotomise all possibilities into an 'upper class' and 'lower class' moiety (see VIOLENCE and SELF-OWNERSHIP ¶9). Where I need to refer to an instance of this, violence-disposing, logic, I distinguish the supposed upper class a 'P' and the supposed lower class as 'not-P'.


The issue facing persons is that of how we should live our lives and what cultural characters we should thereby actualise for ourselves. Each person is settling this issue by means of a way of life that emerges from a personal ethic. This means that if I choose to be-towards less violence and more self-ownership in my life than is normal then I need to renovate my personal ethic. The specific project, in this chapter, will be that of doing this. This project will have the same fundamental structure [integrity] as any other human project. In this case:

An input value
Being less violent, and more self-owning, than is normal for human persons

The relevant facts
1. As a person I depend on various kinds of integrity for every actual or possible fact that I value.

2. Like everyone else5 I am addicted to the politics of violating integrity in pursuit of the pseudo-significance of status in various hierarchies.

3. Both violence and self-ownership are personally ethical projects, so any instrument being-useful-towards actualising the valued possibility, of being less violent and more self-owning, will be a personal ethic

4. Any ethic being-useful-towards actualising the valued possibility, of being less violent and more self-owning will be a morality satisfying the two basic principles given above.

A suitable culture
A moral culture (to be chosen as part of the project).

The valued output
A personal morality is suitable for someone trying to be less political and more self-owning than normal.

In this project, the four input facts can be evaluated as true or false. All other aspects of the project are exercises of moral and logical skill [knowing how]. So none of these is either true or false; they are simply more or less valuable, suitable, and reliable. Note also that the value I put on self-ownership does not entail that self-ownership is valuable or that you should value it as I do. All that I am claiming is that if my analyses of violence and self-ownership are broadly accurate then I should be able to generate a personal morality being-useful-towards being less violent and more self-owning. If, like me, other human persons value being less violent and more self-owning then the personal morality generated by this project could be-useful-towards that end.


The human commitment to politics is a big part of both our violence and our inself-ownership. I cannot do away with ethics altogether, so an apolitical (i.e., moral) ethic is necessary. There are three families of moral culture which may serve: two performance-centred and one performer-centred.
    The performance-centred moralities are ∙ procedural (that I ought to perform in ways that are fair, good, respect others, and/or are otherwise my duty to perform) and ∙ consequentialist (that I ought to perform in ways that I believe will output the most valued consequences). Procedural moralities describe valuable procedures in terms of performing in conformity with rights, justice, respect for persons, and so on. Consequentialist moralities evaluate performances in terms of their estimated usefulness towards desired or desirable outcomes; they narrate that valuable performances are those which are most likely to result in valuable consequences either for the performer or for everyone.
    Performer-centred moralities ['virtue ethics'] assert that (a) how I perform both inputs to and outputs from who I am, and (b) being a valuable self (i.e., the kind of person from whom valuable performances flow) is the relevant point of personal morality. So what I ought to do is use my power of self-actualisation to try to become a valuable person - knowing that a valuable person is one who habitually performs in a valuable manner.

What generates the distinction between these three families of moral culture is the way in which the rules that they outputs can clash. Where a procedural morality may, for instance, urge me to respect the rights of others, even if doing so threatens to result in a less valuable output than would otherwise be possible, a consequentialist morality would urge me to disrespect the rights of others if that promises to have a more useful outcome.
    None of the above cultures describe what the case is according to some discovery of facts. They prescribe what a case ought to be according to some concept of value, and they all assume the same logical connection between what is valuable (the input value) and what I ought to do about it (the rule-set). This connection reflects the universal human assumption - which is necessary to being a person in the world - that some performances and/or characters are more or less valuable than others and that the more valuable should prevail over the less valuable (i.e., that I ought to perform/prefer what is valuable to that which is less valuable). The differences between them emerge from how each is being-useful-towards the actualisation of valuable possibilities and bad. In consequentialist ethics, for example, the end [output] justifies the means even if the means are cruel, unjust, dishonest or whatever. In procedural ethics and virtue ethics, however, the end does not justify the means if the means are vicious, unfair, violate rights and so on.

The criteria for selecting a moral culture that is suitable for my project are just those justifying the adoption of any instrument for any purpose. First, the culture should be reliably useful-towards the project for which is has been selected. Second, it should be one which as many interested parties as possible can use to their advantage. On the basis of the above considerations, I evaluate a virtue morality as the most suitable for someone who is intending to be less violent and more self-owning than is usual.

The Culture of VirtueA virtue is an ability that enables the person who uses it to reliably achieve some value. Virtue ethics are cultures which narrate that persons should cultivate virtues. Cultivated virtues are habits such as those being-useful-towards being a good cook or poker player. A moral virtue is any cultivated virtue being habitually input to, and output from, the project of being a valuable person. If kindness is a moral virtue, for instance, then performing kindly is a valuable habit that can be cultivated. More importantly, performing kindly would give you a kindly character and having a kindly character would be your reason for performing kindly; performing kindly because you are kind would become a way of life. Moral virtues may or may not clash with other cultivated virtues. The virtues of a good cook, for example, are quite compatible with being kind; the virtues of an ambitious businesswoman may not be.
  Virtue morality is an ethical culture which narrates that persons should cultivate moral virtues. What counts as a virtue is defined by the input value of the culture. For my specific project, being habitually less violent and more self-owning as a person would be virtuous. Applying a culture of virtue to this project would acknowledge that I was born with various strengths and weaknesses but argue that, regardless of my natural or social inheritance, I can and should cultivate habits which are reliably being-useful-towards actualising the possibility of being less violent and more self-owning. Working out what those habits would be is part of the project.

I evaluate a virtue morality, as the most suitable culture for a violation-recovering personal morality (although not, I suspect, for social morality), by a difference of degree only. There is nothing magical about virtue morality such that adopting it will somehow immunise my reasoning against my own addiction to politics. It is just that, as a vehicle for my own attempted detoxification from politics, as a means of living a more self-owning life, virtue morality seems a degree more reliable than the other ethics, for four main reasons:
•    My performances actualise a character by actualising possibilities that are valuable to that character. Only a morality of virtue addresses this circularity directly, and only virtue-talk acknowledges that cultures are an instrument for actualising a certain kind of character. The performance-centred ethics reduce all ethics to a social function. But ethics are not just cultures which determine social performances; they also and especially determine who we are [our character] and the significance of our lives. Because being a person in the world is a project which settles the only issue which I have to settle (i.e., what way of life to live and, thereby, what kind of person I am being) I hold that these two outputs of morality matter more than its social function. My ethics primarily serve the project of being who I am in the world; they output my character and the significance of my life. Only a performer-centred morality seems fully sensitive to this fact.
•    The ease with which consequentialisms serve politics makes them unreliable for my purpose.
•    Virtue morality seems to offer the best ground on which clashes between duties and consequences can be resolved. For example, procedural ethics urge me to tell the truth even if the consequences promise to be disastrous. Consequentialist ethics, on the other hand, urge me to lie if that promises the most profitable outcome. Virtue morality would urge me to be a valuable person and to intelligently balance duties and outcomes on a case-by-case basis, in the most valuable way I can, because that is what a valuable person would do. This promises to be far more relevant to performing self-owningally as a person in the real world than does choosing either of the conflicting performance-prescribing ethics.
•    The performance-centred ethics imply that persons were somehow made to serve value; only the performer-centred morality properly avows that values were invented by persons to serve the project of being persons in the world.

Where both procedural and consequentialist ethics primarily urge me to perform in certain ways, virtue morality addresses my life-value directly by urging me to choose being a certain kind of person and let my performances flow from and back to that. This is more radical than other ethics in the literal sense of addressing the input value which is the real root [radix] of all ethics. Virtue morality does not, however, flip-flop from 'doing' to 'being' under some strained 'faith versus works' dichotomy; I cannot, for example, be honest without performing honestly. The morality simply acknowledges that my character and performances are integrated and that similar performances can be more or less valuable according to the character which motives them. This specifically relates moral virtue to self-ownership. So say, for example, that I have a surplus of food, I learn of someone else who is hungry and I share some of my surplus with her. To the recipient of my giving it is unlikely to matter why I share my surplus; a hungry person doesn't care whether I am being genuinely caring, showing off, stroking my ego, on a tax dodge, earning Brownie Points with my god/goddess/guru, or whatever. She is just happy to fill her belly. So, from an performance-centred point of view, it is good/valuable to perform the right/valuable act for whatever reason. From an performer-centred point of view it is still good to do right, but it is better [more valuable] to do right because that is what a valuable person does. In this case, for instance, giving is a virtue because it actualises a valuable possibility both for the recipient and, if done for the right reason, for my cultural character. All ethics address my performances, but my life-value does not just inform my performances but also my reasons for performing. The performer's reason for giving some of his surplus to someone in want is not addressed by ethics that address only his performances. Virtue morality addresses not only my performances, both procedurally and in terms of probable outcomes, but also specifically addresses my reason for performing as I do. To be a virtuous person, in terms of virtue morality, is to be one who is normally [habitually] generous for the right reason - with the right reason being that of being-towards the kind of person who normally does what valuable persons do. This does not contradict performance-centred moralities, and a morally virtuous person is more likely to be giving, in any case, than is someone normally vicious who gives only in hope of a profitable return of some kind. But, under a virtue morality, the most valuable object of a personal morality is not just to be good or do good, but to integrate both. To 'be' is always to be something or someone; and being a person, in particular, is something I do - a skill that I perform. So being virtuous heals the artificial dichotomy between doing and being by being-towards the kind of person who is skilling himself in the rôle of performing the kind of valuable acts that only valuable persons can perform. It is about developing and practising the skills of being a valuable person. This means that a giving person, for example, is not only normally disposed to give to others (the virtue is stable by being habitual) but also reliably successful at doing so fairly, rationally, and to good effect.

A Vocabulary of 'Better' and 'Worse'. Various cultures provide us with various ways of talking about differences. New Zealanders, for example, use a vocabulary of metres, centimetres, and kilometres, for discoursing about differences in length or distance. Americans use a vocabulary of inches, feet, yards and miles. All human cultures of measure - ethical, mathematical, scientific, economic or whatever - are instituted communally. The differences between, say, shorter and longer distances, good apples and rotten apples, well-played games and those that are badly played, performances that are fair or unfair, and so on, are all real, but they can be expressed only once we institute vocabularies for ∙ discoursing about them and ∙ formalising a shared measure of the differences between them. These vocabularies enable us to evaluate and talk about differences - and that is all that they do. They do not commit us to believing that centimetres or inches are real, only that the differences they quantify are. I can measure differences by weight, length, colour, breaking strain, or whatever, but I cannot find the scales of measure (the grams, centimetres and so on) among the differences; I can find lengths of string, but I cannot find bits of length in string.
    A vocabulary of difference matters for ethics because comparative [relational] characteristics, such as those of good and evil or beauty and ugliness, are not discovered in objects but in the differences between certain performances, attitudes, things, and relationships, and others. I cannot, for example, point to any quanta of kindness or cruelty in an act. Nor can I lay the kindness of a performance against any measure of goodness built into the constitution of the world. But I can point to differences between performances, I can know that the differences are real, and it is the differences that I measure when I compare performances with each other - not that a performance is good or bad but that any one performance is more or less valuable than a possible other or others in a context where more than one is possible. If the supposed goodness 'in' a performance is elusive, but the differences between more or less valuable performances are both accessible and can be compared with each other, then it makes sense that the basic object of moral evaluation is neither good nor evil but the differences between better [more valuable] and worse [less valuable] states of affairs.
    A comparative vocabulary helps to clarify and simplify my morality because my actual choices are seldom between a clear good or clear evil. They are, rather, nearly always between a limited range of possibilities, none of which is clearly right or wrong but which are nearly always more or less valuable [better or worse] in comparison to the others. To do good, on a logic of difference, is just to choose only from among the more valuable of such possibilities as are actually open to me; I do not have to pursue or achieve some abstract ideal or essential good, an accessible better is enough. Once a comparative measure is institutionalised, the comparative 'better' and 'worse' and superlative 'best' and 'worst' can take over the task of narrating 'good' and 'evil' without implying any thingish status for values.

If I have a choice between several possible ways of performing, all of which are variously more or less valuable than others according to some ethic, the difference is not that some acts are simply good while others are simply evil. But I am not justified in saying that there is no difference in the value of what I do or don't do just because no one can point to 'the good'. I simply have a limited range of possibilities, some of which are more or less valuable than the others open to me, and I choose among them according to the differences in value. These possibilities are best measured against each other; it makes no sense to measure the value of what I can do in a circumstance against what I cannot do or (as is common among humans) against what I could do if only I or the circumstances were different. What does make sense is to notice that ∙ all performances, possibilities, and facts, are evaluated by persons according to one kind of ethic or another, ∙ some performances, open to a person in a circumstance, will be more or less valuable [better or worse] than others according to that ethic, ∙ the differences in value are real, ∙ some differences are more significant than others, ∙ the differences in significance are comparative (it is the possibilities actually open to a person, in a circumstance, that are more or less valuable than each other) and ∙ a vocabulary of better or worse is a suitable way of talking about comparative differences. Using this language, I could say of someone who does wrong according to an ethic, and then does right according to that ethic, not that she is a good person or a bad person but only that she has made herself a better person than she would have had she not done the good, and a worse person than she would have had she not done the wrong. This might not be as simple as a good/bad dichotomy, but it is far more truth-disclosing.


A personal morality which satisfies my input value, and the basic principles of reliable morality, is that of cultivating a habit of treating integrity, in all its forms, as prima facie valuable; not that I should never violate any integrity (which would be impossible) but that I should institute a habit of performing as if respect for integrity was good, caring for integrity was better than good, and violating integrity was worse than good.
    This morality makes sense not only because integrity is valuable but also because it directly addresses the habit, of violating integrity, which I have found to be both the source of human violence and inimical to self-ownership. In effect, the morality renovates my moral default standard. A default standard is the rule that applies in the absence of any special justifications for doing otherwise. In parentocentricity, being-towards status by violence is the default standard, and I assume a right to violate what I can unless someone else can either stop me or show me that I shouldn't. A morality of prima facie respect for integrity reverses this logic by favouring the value of integrity rather than the value of its violation. Thus, for a renovated morality, the input value would be that of integrity in all its forms. The rule emerging from this value would be that I ought to respect integrity. Respect for integrity would be the default standard, a base-line measurement of adequate value ('good'), nourishing integrity would be a better [more valuable] than the default while violating integrity would be worse [less valuable].

This changes the traditional human default standard by institutionalising a universal value (that of all integrity generally) which, when encultured as a virtue morality, outputs a rule urging me to cultivate the habit of treating integrity as prima facie valuable and violation as a prima facie disvalue. This doesn't rule all violence as wrong but as in need of adequate justification; not that I must never violate any integrity, nor that I can violate whatever I like unless I have an overriding reason not to, but that I should not violate even my own property and personhood unless I have clearly adequate justification for doing so.
    The only adequate justifications of violation, allowed by a respect for the value of integrity, are those which, on a comparative scale of the possibilities open to me, actualise more value than the alternatives by being-useful-towards as much value for as little violation as is within the skills that an integrity-respecting [virtuous] person would cultivate. Not that I should never violate integrity, nor that I should always strive to maximise value, but that I should habitually predispose myself towards value and against violation, and should always aim for as little violation of integrity as is compatible with actualising value. So say, for example, that a human child and dog both run into the path of my car as I am travelling down the road. To simply brake would be to risk hitting both of them, and to swerve away from one is to swerve towards the other. If I put a dog in peril, by swerving to avoid a human child, I am enacting an ethic by which, for all persons in all situations, it is better [more valuable] to be the kind of person who would normally risk a dog to save a child than it would be to become the kind of person who would habitually risk a child to save a dog or to whom it doesn't matter one way or the other. I believe this to be reasonable, valuable, and impartial, even though it is implicitly political and I would prefer to eschew all politics if I could. For my belief to be justified there must be some integrity-respecting way of comparing the value of different integrities. As it happens there are two aspects of integrity which, together, enable me to do this.

  • The quantitative aspect pegs value to amount. By this measure a tree is more valuable than one of its branches and two trees are more valuable than one. So, according to this measure, I would need greater justification for cutting down two trees than I would to cut down one tree, and greater justification for cutting a tree down than for cutting off a couple of its branches. I would similarly need greater justification for harming an animal, which has a central nervous system and can experience pain, than I would for harming a tree which does not have a central nervous system and so doesn't experience pain.
  • The qualitative aspect attaches value to the significance that an integrity has for the only foundation which value has (i.e., the permeate projects of persons). It terms of this measure, a tree with scientific or rarity value, cultural or religious significance, for instance, would be more valuable than, say, a plantation trees being cultivated for their timber. The qualitative measure is justified just so long as it is ∘ integrated with the quantitative measure and ∘ comparative - not that some integrity is valuable and some is not but that, measured against each other by the quantitative-qualitative scale which counts all integrity as valuable, all integrities are more or less valuable than others.

To feed my self, or take a medicine to fight an infection, is to value my integrity above that of the foods I eat or the microbes killed by the medicine. To let myself die, rather than violate foodstuffs or a colony of microbes, is to value the microbes or foodstuffs as worth more than me. It is impossible for any person or any ethic to escape this comparison, so it pays to have integrity-respecting measures of comparative value. Cultivating a habit of treating all integrity as prima facie valuable detoxifies my general relationship with integrity by narrating an integrity-valuing bias in the place of an integrity-violating one. Such a person may risk a dog to save a child but would not, for example, cut down a tree on a newly acquired property just to demonstrate his status as the owner of it.
    This matters because one reason for trying to renovate ethics is to detoxify my engagements with the world from parentocentric habits (see About Human Violence). These habits are not chosen by me because I have calculated them to be valuable. They are simply aspects of a species-wide human addiction into which I have entered, and to which I remain in thrall, in spite of my own discovery that violation is not as valuable to being a person as parentocentricity conditions me to assume. Like any addiction, that is a problem for any person who wants to live self-owningally. But the problem with my addiction to violation does not lie in the violation of integrity per se. The problem is the compulsion to violate all integrity, including my own moral and intellectual integrity, under the fear-driven and self-reinforcing illusion that violating integrity is the only and necessary way to be safe, strong and significant.
    This point deserves iteration. The issue which a renovated personal morality is primarily intended to address is not that humans violate integrity in the project of living our lives. That cannot be the issue given that we must violate various kinds of integrity in the project of living our lives. Integrity is the vehicle of all life, and only an integrity-respecting ethic is life-affirming, but all processes violate something; birds violate the insects they hunt, insects violate the plants they eat, and plants violate the ground they penetrate and take minerals from. These are not moral problems, unless I attribute malice to birds, insects and plants, because moral issues arise only when there is a choice of the matter. A plant makes no choice. An insectivorous bird may choose which of several insects to eat but has no choice but to devour insects. Cows violate the grass they eat and humans violate the cows that they eat. I have more choice than natural herbivores or carnivores in the matter of what I eat, and therefore have a greater responsibility. But, although I have some choice over what and how I violate, I am no more free not to violate integrity than is a bird, cow, or wolf. So any moral problem with human violation is not that we violate but how we violate - compulsively, without adequate justification, and at the expense of our own moral, intellectual, social and natural integration. I adopt the value of integrity as the input value of my personal morality, not just because all integrity is valuable, but also because treating integrity as valuable confronts my compulsion to violate it 'head on'. Only this ethic addresses my addiction, directly and to its face, in a way that allows me to actualise the possibility of being a self-owning person in the real world.


If I enculture respect for integrity as a virtue morality then I count it as virtuous [valuable] to be a person who normally cultivates respect for all integrity. This gives me a virtue morality with one main virtue (that of cultivating an habitual respect for all integrity) and one main vice (that of cultivating my addiction to the politics of violation). I count as immoral only those performances which indulge that vice at the expense of that virtue.
    Because integrity is universal to the character off all actual and possible objects of attention, the obligation to respect integrity is also universal. This is not to rule that all violence is immoral, but it does entail that all immorality will be a form of violence. All violations of integrity are harmful to the integrity being violated, that is why they call for justification, but only inadequately justified violations are worse [less valuable] than the renovated moral default standard. If a performance does not violate any integrity then it cannot be morally evaluated by a renovated morality.

Addiction institutionalises habit. To be an integrity-respecting person, in the face of my addiction to the permeate mythos, will involve cultivating new habits. This is why respect for integrity must be a cultivated habit. As a virtue, respect is a matter of habitually caring about what is valuable to someone or something just because it is valuable to someone or something. Integrity is valuable. If I cast respect for integrity as a virtue then, instead of trying to work out in advance what I should or should not do in certain circumstances, I will try to institute a habit of respecting integrity in my daily life. This habitual way of life can then act as a kind of 'moral compass' oriented towards being the kind of person who respects the value of integrity no matter where I find myself. I would then trust my moral compass to keep me being-towards the possibility of living a self-owning and non-violent life even when I am in novel and/or unforseen circumstances.

Cultivating the habit of respecting integrity is not a matter of being idealistic so much as of one of finally becoming realistic. The value of, and my reliance on, integrity, logically entails that the value of that integrity counts when choosing how to perform. To respect some integrity is necessary for any thought, reasoning or value whatsoever. To respect all integrity is the only morality justified by the reasoning that integrity makes possible and meaningful. I stay true to respect for the value of integrity just by trying, in an ordinary human way, to ∙ actualise a harmony [integrity or coherence] between how I live my life and the discovery that integrity is valuable and ∙ reduce the everyday inconsistencies between how I do live my life and how an integrity-respecting morality prescribes that I ought to live it. This is not a matter of being perfect but of making the effort to live as if integrity was valuable (keeping my 'moral compass' pointed towards the value of integrity, so to speak) in a life that is mine alone, and different from everyone else's, in a life setting that is full of constant challenge, failure, change, and new surprises.

Cultivating Respect for the Value of Integrity. The discovery that integrity is valuable, coming on top of the discovery that violation is an addictive way of performing inself-owningally as a person, urges on me a habit, of relating to and engaging with all integrity as valuable rather than just as something to be violated as a means to value, regardless of my circumstances and how I do or do not feel.
    An analogy can be drawn here between feelings-driven love, such as the erotic attraction that lovers feel for each other, and commitment-driven love such as that of a parent for a child. Most New Zealanders, for example, tolerate, excuse, or approve of as honest, the ending of an erotic relationship just because the loving feeling has gone. But if I neglect or walk away from my children, just because the fatherly feeling has gone, I would not be lauded for being true to my feelings so much as condemned for violating my responsibilities to the children. The difference here is between the larger integrity which the different loves treat as valuable. The love that does well to terminate a relationship if a feeling has gone is a love which uses another, or my relationship with another, to satisfy me. The love that does ill to terminate a relationship if a feeling has gone is a love which being-useful-towards the value of another and/or my engagement with that other. Respect for integrity is like that. If, for example, the integrity of children is valuable then what emotional satisfaction I get or don't get out of caring for a child is irrelevant; I respect her integrity (treat it as valuable) just because it is valuable. Knowing how to respect the integrity of a child is one of the skills of this virtue. If I have children but do not take the time and trouble to learn that skill, or if I know that a child needs care and I do not give or contribute to her care just because she is not my kin and/or because there's no emotional benefit in it for me, then I do not value the integrity of children but only my own self-interest. In that case, to assert that I care about children is a falsehood of the kind normal to addicts.

None of this implies that the respect demanded of me, by the value of integrity, is an exercise of only the intellect or will. Virtue moralities address the whole person. Persons are emotional and emotions are belief-laden. So if I truly believe that integrity is valuable then respect for the value of integrity will engage my emotions to whatever extent I am performing self-owningally as a person. To respect my children, for example, is virtuous according to this morality even in the absence of feelings, to feel affectionate towards my children without respecting them is worse, to intelligently respect and love my children is better. So a virtue ethic, enculturing the value of integrity, urges on me the integration of my whole character - biological, emotional, and intellectual.
    To most folk in my present society, the idea of cultivating certain feelings is quite contrary to the idea of being self-owning. self-owning emotions, it is thought, are somehow spontaneous, uncultivated. So to be emotionally self-owning is incompatible with deliberately cultivating emotions that are held to be morally suitable. What this myth covers up is the fact that we all do cultivate our emotions. Virtually since I was born, for example, I have been cultivating excitement in the presence of violation while suppressing emotional distaste for the harm it does; I have cultivated a highly convenient indifference to the suffering of others; anger and indignation at other folk's stupidity and self-righteousness; envy and a desire for tokens of significance that the undeserving get and the more deserving don't. Such emotions make me, and reveal me to be, a collaborator with the very mythos that I intellectually repudiate. So cultivating an emotional regard for integrity will be as much a part of repudiating violence as cultivating disparagement for the victims of violation is part of being normal.
    Cultivating appropriate emotions is not the same as having control over them; if I am anxious, for instance, then I will feel anxious and that's that. But there is no doubt that, in our daily lives, all humans are always cultivating variously virtuous or vicious beliefs and feelings in fact. Because we impose our permeate projects on the world, we cultivate an integrity of belief and feeling both for ourselves and for others in our society. It is what this cultivation is being-useful-towards that a renovated personal morality urges me to change.
Living the integrity-respecting way of being a person does not, however, involve pretending to like doing right. Nor does it require making excuses for or deceiving myself about the harsh realities of human stupidity and violence. A renovated virtue morality obliges me to cultivate an intellectual respect and emotional regard for integrity in all its forms; it does not oblige me to like the performances of my fellow human, to enjoy their society, or pretend that they (or I) are nicer or more noble than the evidence allows.

Living a self-owning life does not require special training, skills, or techniques. All it demands is the response of a whole person: someone whose emotions, reasoning, imagination, and performances, are integrated and being-towards the actualisation of valuable character in a practical understanding of what it is to be a person in the world. The idea that only the lucky, the powerful, and the clever, can afford a conscience is a falsehood that translates choice into a contingent inability. No one is too rich or poor to be self-owningally moral. I do not have to be P to actualise my potentiality for self-owningally doing well, I do not have to be privileged or well educated. I do have to care enough to cultivate the habits of paying attention to reality rather than just accepting my addiction-warped gloss on it. Paying attention is a job that the ordinary practical reasoning of ordinary practical folk can undertake.

Corrupting the Morality Respect for integrity entails choosing a way of being a person in the world, choosing to live as if integrity is valuable, just because I must choose, all choice is a gamble, but the best evidence I have, and the best reasoning of which I am capable, justifies a belief that the most reliable gamble I can make is to be the kind of person who respects all integrity as a matter of course. This is the gamble for which I am most willing to take responsibility. Like all virtues, however, respect for integrity can be corrupted. There is a difference, for example, between a single act of dishonesty and a habit of performing dishonestly. A parent-playing virtue moralist could evaluate a single act of dishonesty as forever damning the person who performed it. Parent-players tend to do this anyway, but the language and logic of virtue morality helps to over-damn both evil and weakness along the lines of, “Performances emerge from character, you performed a lie, therefore you are a liar” - in the continuing present tense of the verb 'are' - almost as if you get to sit one moral test and are proved forever virtuous or vicious by my performance during that one test. This half-truth ignores that character is constantly emerging and changing, throughout life, as the cumulative effect of choices. For the victims of the logic, addiction to parentocentricity can then further twist guilt into self-abnegation - “I have tried to be honest, I failed, so I may as well give up and just go on being normal” - and that is not the point of narrating a virtue morality. It is true that even a single theft would make me a thief, and the force of habit makes it true that past performances are the best predictor of future performances. But even having been an habitual thief doesn't make it any the less valuable for me to stop thieving. This is because being a person in the world is a project that is ongoing and always being-towards the future. I am a fact with potentiality, including the potential for changing who I have been up to date. So, while others may properly ask "How should we best respond to what this man has done or not done?" the issue facing the virtue moralist, at any time, is not "What have I done"? (a question not of ethics but of describing the past) but “What should I now do (being-towards the future) to restore the integrity and/or value that I have violated"?

Similar considerations apply to my relationships with other persons. The performances of a thief, for example, may confront me with a choice between violating his permeate project and letting him go on imposing the disvalue of his violence on a community. Even in this case, a personal virtue morality urges me to perform towards caring about all relevant integrities - including the criminal's - in my response to those performances (see Social Morality and Law). This is because it is integrity that matters. If others unjustifiably violate integrity then renovated morality calls on me to heal the integrities that they have violated - in their victims, their communities, and themselves - rather than to simply write their integrity off as of no account. This call extends to those, such as thieves, who violate their own integrity; that they do not treat their own integrity as valuable does not justify me in doing the same.
    I can judge the performances of others, as they affect the world and the projects of myself and others, just because they do affect me and others - we live with the differences that they make to the world. But I cannot assess how well or badly they are being who they are because neither I nor anyone else knows or can know what it is to live the life of another. I simply do not have the ability, the information, or the authority, to sit in judgement over the self-actualisation of others except where it impinges on neighbours or a community. A renovated personal morality entails that, in being-with other persons, prima facie respect for them and myself becomes part of a default position along with respect for my/their freedom, power and responsibility - I may logically respect integrity by adjudging that persons have done right or wrong, insofar as what they do with their power is accessible to me, but I may not logically respect integrity by purporting to know whether persons are good or bad. This matters because respect for persons is so often confused with respect for performances. I am often told, for example, that I have to pretend that the lies which other folk perpetuate are justified because not to do so is disrespectful. This line is especially popular with those who want to impose dubious and politically-motivated beliefs on an otherwise unsympathetic society. If I want to claim that a communal project should not go ahead because it would offend the fairies living in my garden, for example, then my community would be justified in demanding that I demonstrate that fairies exist and are offendable. If I argue that questioning my assertion is disrespectful, to me and/or my tribe or religion or whatever, and if others are conditioned to believe that respect is everything, then I can unfairly get my own way. For someone trying to be a self-owning person in the world there is no justification for respecting lies or half-truths even if other do believe them. If there are fairies at the bottom of my garden, if witchcraft works, if you really can catch gonorrhoea from accidentally pissing on a sacred rock, then these claims need to be justified according to publically accessible evidence. To accept them as true simply out of 'respect' for those who believe them is not the way to being self-owning.

Humans are also notorious for confusing cosmetics with surgery and outwardly 'keeping up appearances' with inner renovation. Non-conformity, however, does not make someone self-owning any more than going 'brrmm-brrmm' makes her a sports car. What it does do is make an end out of a possible means and issues only in a kind of idolatry. To merely ape certain attitudes, performances, or figures of speech, to dress in a certain way, to observe certain rituals, seasons, dietary restrictions, and so on, is to sacrifice self-ownership for appearances. Worse, it substitutes the appearance for the reality in much the same way that saying “I'm sorry” can be a substitute for doing anything responsible about a performance; it slides from substance to style, ethics to aesthetics, tenor to vehicle, and message to medium. There can be some virtue in hypocrisy, and pretending to be kind or generous can lead to better performances than would a shameless honesty. But there is more integrity, and more virtue, in behaving as I do because of who I am, and changing who I am if there is disvalue between that and what I do.

Virtue in the Absence of FellowshipOne problem with trying to recover from my own addiction to the permeate mythos is that, at the present time, I neither have nor know of any integrity-respecting community of self-owning persons with which to engage and/or from which to seek support in recovering. There is no 'Alcoholics Anonymous' for recovering addicts of permeate mythology. Another problem is that I can expect other persons to make my attempts at being self-owning expensive. Those who don't care have always been happy to leave those who do care to clean up their mess, and those who value violence have always treated any attempt at being decent as a weakness to be exploited.
    I cannot solve these problems, but a renovated virtue morality should help me deal with them because such a morality obliges me only to do the best I can with what I have got, and the best I can do with what I have is decrease the quantity and quality of integrity that I violate while being-towards actualising the most value. Parentocentricity conditions me to absolve myself from my responsibility for myself by becoming an effect of other folks' performance; I am, for example, absolved from being honest if everyone else is lying. I do not, however, do the best I can by violating my own integrity in order to respect the integrity of a community addicted to the violation of integrity.
    Both self-ownership and respect for my own integrity commend to me the virtue of making myself into my own rôle-model. Renovated virtue morality is being-useful-towards this just so long as I choose being-towards a self-owning person living a self-owning person's life in the real world. What matters to virtue morality is not whether others 'keep their side of the bargain' because virtue makes no bargain. Virtue morality promises neither penalty nor reward, not an easy life nor a hard one, neither success nor failure. It is irrelevant to the virtuous life whether others appreciate my efforts or just go on being normal. It does not matter whether being virtuous makes me happy, whether a God notices, or if there turns out to be some kind of karmic mechanism that rewards virtue. All that matters is that, having discovered the value of integrity, I take responsibility for what I know by doing my best to treat integrity as valuable. Let others do what they will. I am who I am, I do what I do. What I do is what I can do, and what I can do is enact my own understanding of what is and is not valuable. Whether that changes everything or nothing, a little or a lot, it is enough.
    Because human persons violate our own integrity through our addiction, we cannot depend on ourselves for our own self-validation. We are thus co-dependent on the violated integrity of others for a counterfeit of that validation; we need others to accord with our preferences, and feel unsafe otherwise, so we recruit and are recruited by others to protect and bolster our own self-deception. Virtue morality, however, helps me keep my responsibility focussed where it matters most and where my addiction conditions me to most turn away from it - i.e., on what I am doing with my potentiality for being who I am in the world. An important aspect of this endeavour is that, although success is valuable, it is not all that matters; the ongoing value of being-towards a valued possibility is itself a virtue. There is, for example, little value in being a mathematician if I cannot be relied on to get my sums right. But if I value being a mathematician then there is virtue in being-towards getting my sums right even if I do keep going wrong and have to keep correcting myself. A virtue morality not only makes success more likely, through insisting on persistence, it also makes mistakes more forgivable. So there is serious and valuable being-towards here. I do expect a virtuous mathematician to strive for success with some success; while virtue isn't perfection, the virtuous mathematician, like the virtuous lover, builder, or person, should make less mistakes, and recover from them faster, with practice over time. One of the virtues of being a virtuous person is staying committed to the virtues which make excellence possible even though we all periodically fail to do as well as we could. I expect this of a mathematician, a builder, a lover, a doctor, and the mechanic who services my car. I ask no more or less of myself.

All of this accords with my own understanding that morality is not best being-useful-towards perfection (which is impossible to achieve in any case, and is tempting only because of my parentocentric bias towards god-playing) or some kind of personal 'growth' (the end of all growth is only death). The point of any culture, including discourse, maths or science, is the actualisation of valued possibilities. The point of morality [the evaluative ethics of personhood] is the actualisation of valuable personhood. The moral default is goodness as a standard of adequate personhood, but caring about goodness is not a recipe for either success [political value] or happiness [preference value] in this world. No one who has paid attention to reality needs the Rule of Conservation to confirm that goodness-in does not equal happiness-out. If I set myself up to live a good life in this world then I do so at some cost to myself and without any guarantee of success, happiness, or reciprocity. There is no evidential support for the pious hope that there is some system of reward and punishment in the universe that 'balances the moral books' and will 'pat me on the back' for being a good boy. On the contrary, it is evident that caring is a nuisance and recovering from an addiction is a struggle. Indifference is more effective than goodness at delivering happiness because indifference is a death-copying state. And death, which is the end of value, is also the end of the disvalues, such as pain, despair and discomfort, which cause us unhappiness.
    If a death-like state is what I want, if I do not want to be self-owning enough to care about any integrity (including my own) and want only to be rich, happy, important, contented, or uninvolved, then recovering from my addiction to violation is not the right way to go about that - some sort of drug, secular or religious ideology, busy lifestyle, or other distraction, would be more reliable. If I do care about my integrity, enough to want to recover from my addiction to its violation, then the culture of virtue reminds me that there are no soft options, no excuses, and no one to deceive but myself. If I am tempted to be dishonest when no one is watching, when no one cares, no one would know and none be harmed, then virtue talk reminds me that I am watching, I care, I know and I would be harmed. No one else is listening to my justifications. I am plaintiff and defendant, judge, jury, prosecuting attorney and defence counsel. I do not have to live, and I do not have to live well or strive for a meaningful life. But if no one but me is listening to my lies then all of the normal human excuses for not actualising the value of my personhood seem rather pointless.

Feedback is welcome


Steven Foulds (entry last modified 26 August 2012