The question is inspired by a couple of quotes by Confucius:

The superior man thinks always of virtue; the common man thinks of comfort. The virtuous man is driven by responsibility, the non-virtuous man is driven by profit.”

Assuming the above definition of virtue and virtuous, and disregarding the question of the desirability of an outcome where "virtuous" men increase over time, what practices could a future human society adopt to bring about the gradual increase of "virtuous" people in their society?

One more specific way to concertise the question based on the first quote only: If a society wanted to incentivise people to ignore "comfort" and prioritise "virtue", what culture, practices, legislation would that society want to encourage/employ?

I am mostly interested in your thoughts from the perspective of interpreting "comfort" as behavioural/generalised inertia in people, or as lower-level needs in Maslow's pyramid of human needs.

EDIT: To clarify, my question was inspired by Confucius, not necessarily referring to that tradition/philosophy. I understand I have not given a clear definition of virtue as I was hoping for people to give diverse answers. The only invariant that I wanted to emphasise is that the "virtuous" state would require more effort than the "non-virtuous" one that would be achievable by inertia (low effort behaviour).

Let me try to ask the question more specifically. Lets' assume that the basic needs as defined by Maslow in this future society can be met for everyone; it still stands to reason that some people in this society would strive to be virtuous (achieve some kind of transcendental needs that correspond to virtue, however that may be defined - intellectual, physical, balanced between the two etc.), while others would not, least of all due to the default effect.

So my question is, assuming this future society wants to reduce over time the number the people who, although they have their basic needs satisfied do not strive for virtue, what (cultural) practices or philosophy or policies could this society adopt?

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Brainwashing and religion seems like you best options. What are our ethical constrains? $\endgroup$ – Mormacil Jun 16 '17 at 11:32
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Religion is trying this for as long as it exist. Where is your question different? $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Jun 16 '17 at 11:32
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ You do not have a definition of "Virtue" So this question is impossible to answer. "Responsibility" is too fuzzy a concept; is virtue synonymous with responsibility? I don't think so. If it was, why is a virtuous man be honest, trustworthy, kind or helpful? All those require time and putting himself before others, which may conflict with his responsibility: For example, take time away from his efforts to feed, shelter, protect his family, and educate his children. You need more clarity (despite your added commentary). $\endgroup$ – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Jun 16 '17 at 11:51
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Secespitus My answer is a longer explanation of the idea that the OP does not have a good understanding of the terms he is using; Not Maslow, and Not Confucius. I'm not answer for votes; but to try and help a newbie without closing their first question. $\endgroup$ – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Jun 16 '17 at 12:11
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Religion might seem like a good answer, but it really isn't. Take a look at the Bible. Despite all of God's prophets and all the virtuous men, nothing could stop Israel from continuing in sin. $\endgroup$ – JustSnilloc Jun 16 '17 at 12:14

If we want people to strive to be virtuous we need to teach them that. For a very long time we actually did that. There are famous books which were used for milennia. Two classical examples from our own tradition, no need to go to China:

It becomes all men, who desire to excel other animals, to strive, to the utmost of their power, not to pass through life in obscurity, like the beasts of the field, which nature has formed groveling and subservient to appetite.

All our power is situate in the mind and in the body. Of the mind we rather employ the government; of the body, the service. The one is common to us with the gods; the other with the brutes. It appears to me, therefore, more reasonable to pursue glory by means of the intellect than of bodily strength, and, since the life which we enjoy is short, to make the remembrance of us as lasting as possible. For the glory of wealth and beauty is fleeting and perishable; that of intellectual power is illustrious and immortal.

[...] It is unlawful either to weigh true morality against conflicting expediency, or common morality, which is cultivated by those who wish to be considered good men, against what is profitable; but we every-day people must observe and live up to that moral right which comes within the range of our comprehension as jealously as the truly wise men have to observe and live up to that which is morally right in the technical and true sense of the word. For otherwise we cannot maintain such progress as we have made in the direction of virtue.

Cicero's De Officiis, although written by a pagan author, was declared (in the 4th century!) legitimate for Christians to use (Wikipedia); it was copied thousands of times, and it was the 3rd book to be printed; hundreds of editions were published. Up to the middle of the 20th century it was considered an essential part of a well-rounded education.

And many more examples can be brought; alonside Cicero's, Seneca's works were also used for the education of young people so that they would conduct their lives in accordance with the expectation of morality.

This tradition of explicitly teaching moral values was eroded gradually, basically because it cannot but reside on the foundation of universal moral authorities -- be they Greek and Roman Stoic philosphers, the Christian New Testament, or whatever. This came into conflict with the current postmodern understanding of "epistemological and moral relativism, pluralism, irreverence and self-referentiality" (Wikipedia).

So the true question is, do we the human society want people to be virtuous? And if so, are we willing to indoctrinate the young generations with our ideas? Because, if the answer is yes, we know how to do it. We have done it for millennia. It's not hard -- the minds of young people are malleable and they will readily accept what they are tought. But, apparently, we don't, because in the present day we the human society are no longer sure of what virtue is and what is its value.


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.