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Self-Cultivation and Moral Choice

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Philosophical luminaries including Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, David Hume, and John Stuart Mill have all theorized that our human capacity of reason calls us to become the best that we can be by developing our “natural abilities.” This article explores the thesis that the development of our talents is not a moral duty to oneself and suggests that it may be avoided for other reasons than failures of rationality. In the face of the opportunity-costs associated with different life-goals, resistance to developing our powers may spring from an informed and perfectly rational choice in favor of an equally valuable alternative to talent development as a way of life. Thus, the arguments in this essay suggest that the predominant, rationalistic view in defense of a duty to develop one’s talents ignores a distinctively human capacity, namely, the capacity for reasoned moral choice. The paper argues, however, that we do well in viewing the development of one’s talents as worthwhile. In other words, it is correct to sustain that the individual would be acting in a morally deficient manner if she declined to develop her abilities for the wrong reasons even if no duty to self to avoid that course of action exists.

Affiliations: 1: Political Science Department, Rollins College, 1000 Holt Ave, Winter Park, FL 32789, USA, jmaskivker@rollins.edu

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