Can Virtue Be Its Own Reward?


Can Virtue Be Its Own Reward?

Virtue really can be its own reward, as it may seem trite to say. But for this to happen requires that our behavior be repeatedly, and in many ways, reinforced by a surrounding social group. With such a history, the individual’s actions that the social group calls virtuous can become learned generalized reinforcers to the behaving individual. Under these conditions the behavior of the individual actually does become self-reinforcing (its own reward).  However other good outcomes caused by this behavior are likely to be delayed and unknown to the well-behaving individual. This is the main reason that it is important to identify good and effective moral codes to teach within all sociocultures. Children, adolescents and even many adults cannot anticipate the delayed harms that later derive from bad behaviors and are therefore doomed to foolishly damage themselves and their sociocultures.

George Washington knew this and so should we all.

There exists in the economy and course of nature an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness … we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.” –George Washington, First Inaugural Address, 1789

The eternal rules of order and right, to which Washington was referring comprise a moral code  which has been recognized by philosophers and religious leaders through the ages: It is called Natural Law.

This moral code, which provided the guiding ethics for America’s 20th century meteoric rise to world dominance may someday be confirmed and supplemented with ethical precepts derived from a scientific analysis of moral values and actions. Such an analysis is possible and essential to the long-term survival of all sociocultures.

V. Thomas Mawhinney, Ph.D. , 12/12/11

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