On the Ethics of Pride and Humility
Pride is the pleasure you feel when you contemplate your strength, competence, or superiority.
Humility is the pain you feel when you contemplate your weakness, incompetence, or inferiority.
According to a utilitarian reading of the above definitions, pride is inherently good (pleasurable) and humility inherently bad (painful). Yet if we look at all their potential consequences on well-being, the picture becomes more complex:
|Pride (internal)||Pride (external)||Humility (internal)||Humility (external)|
|Positive||feeling good and confident||seen as influential and inspiring||intellectual or moral pride||seen as trustworthy and reliable|
|Negative||self-delusion||seen as arrogant and irrational||feeling weak and inhibited||seen as servile and inferior|
Ordinarily, when you are proud, you feel good about your power of activity; when you are humble, you feel bad about your lack of power. Yet upon adding the cognitive factor of moral self-evaluation, pride can become delusional (“I’m the best!”), whereas humility can turn into pride (“I’m so humble!”), which too can become delusional.
Whether your expression of genuine pride is useful in a given situation depends on how it is perceived by the people around: if they are prone to envy, your pride expression will be less useful than if they are prone to admiration. Likewise, the usefulness of your genuine humility expression depends on how others receive it: will they see you as secure and virtuous or as spineless and overly apologetic? However, to the extent that negative perceptions by other people give you valuable feedback to improve yourself, they can also lead to positive consequences.
Pride and humility are not simply good or bad. Rather, their complex effects on well-being depend on
- additional cognitive factors rooted in your general self-esteem, moral idiosyncrasy, and cultural value system (e.g., were you raised Catholic?),
- the people who see you expressing those emotions (e.g., are they secure about themselves?),
- your personal relationships with those people (e.g., have they been liking you thus far?), and
- how you handle their judgment of you (e.g., can you use it as constructive moral feedback?).
- The Truth about Pride and Humility
- Why Pride Will Never Die
- On True Pride: Is Ego the Enemy?
- What Is Pride? On the Feeling of Greatness