Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Columnist

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Columnist

Article excerpt

Byline: RON BEADLE

HOW do I understand my own good? This may sound like an odd question but we all answer it in practice.

I was reminded of this last month when I spoke about moral leadership at the Girls School Association Conference. I thought this would be uncontroversial but I was wrong.

A number of the Sunday Telegraph's readers objected to my suggestion that girls' schools should teach their pupils about Malala Yousafzai, shot by the Taliban for daring to go to school last year or Rosa Parks, whose refusal to accept racial segregation by a bus company produced one of the key campaigns of the civil rights movement.

Some readers took offence that neither of these examples was British while others suggested that neither was a moral leader because both had acted in their own interest.

This argument assumes that you cannot both act for moral reasons and in your own interest. You may be selfish or you may be altruistic but never both; what serves my good doesn't serve yours and what serves your good doesn't serve mine. It is the ideological equivalent of the driver who doesn't let anyone in to their lane.

Of course it's both easy and fairly routine to argue against this. Part of what we do when we let others enter our lane is to encourage reciprocity. Anyone who has driven in Newcastle and London can tell you which is better.

However this argument, sometimes called 'enlightened selfinterest' is still about doing what will benefit me. But if it doesn't we go back to straightforward selfinterest.

Even the most considerate North East driver will become aggressive on London's roads.

The power of this assumption pervades charities too. When they encourage us to give and to raise money they appeal to altruism, the belief that it is better to good for others than for ourselves or to empathy; that the tragedy they are addressing could happen to us.

Once again we have the assumption of us and them, albeit expressed very differently.

The moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre has argued that the idea that we are either doing good for ourselves or for others is a trap that is hard to escape from. …

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