Pride: A Deadly Sin?

Weekly Debates

The Society convened for its twelfth debate this semester and the inaugural Caroe Debate, held in honor of a Philodemician, Jessica Caroe (COL ’06), who tragically passed away with her fiancée in a 2012 car accident. The 2006 graduating class of Georgetown endowed the Society with a medal, the Jessica Caroe Award for Progress in Eloquence, for the Philodemic Member inducted during that academic year who has demonstrated the greatest improvement in his or her extemporaneous floor speeches, to be voted upon by the members inducted during that academic year and the current membership secretary. On behalf of the entire Philodemic Society, I am pleased to announce that the winner of the first Caroe Award is Mr. Victor Wang (NHS ’15).

The resolution for the evening was Resolved: Pride is a virtue, not a vice. Christian ethics declare pride to be one of the seven deadly sins, alongside wrath, greed, sloth, lust, envy, and gluttony. In contrast, the Catholic Church also recognizes the seven virtues to correspond inversely to the sins: humility, patience, charity, diligence, chastity, kindness, and temperance.

Ms. Caroline Egan (COL ’15) of New York presented the framing of the debate by defining a virtue as “a quality that helps people do better in society” and pride as “a high or inordinate amount of confidence in oneself and one’s abilities.” She distinguished between altruistic pride and hubristic pride: the former is a sense of self-worth internally derived from one’s achievements, while the latter is a confidence in oneself to achieve beyond what is possible or likely. Altruistic pride is a virtue, as it is simply feeling worthy of one’s own love for oneself. Though she acknowledges that hubristic pride is more problematic, she concludes that it is also a virtue because it “gives you hope to achieve imaginary possibilities” and “gives you a sense of what you could be.” Thus, both forms of pride represent virtues.

Mr. Joshua Weiner (COL ’15) of Illinois emphasized that negating this resolution would not be negating self-esteem or self-respect. Those may be ingredients of pride, but pride is more excessive than that. Instead, Mr. Weiner said that negating the resolution was an acknowledgment that one’s pride must be limited, that “the right amount of pride” can be virtuous but pride itself is not a virtue. Similarly, greed, itself a vice, can also be virtuous if limited and channeled positively, as it can inspire great businesses that benefit the world. Thus, pride itself is not a virtue simply because its causes or results can be positive. It is ultimately a vice because if unrestrained, pride leads to selfishness and brings out other weaknesses.

Mr. Stephen Wooten (MSB ’13) of Connecticut countered that pride feels good and can in fact encourage other virtues. “Pride helps you become better,” he said. “Pride can tell you that you are good enough to give some of what you have to the less fortunate.” Moreover, lack of pride or false humility of negative thinking can ruin a person’s life. Mr. Wooten argued that one cannot fault a personality trait for the errors of human ways. Other virtues, such as courage and determination, are still considered virtues even if some courageously determined people use it poorly or have a deluded sense of who they are.

Ms. Hannah Muldavin (COL ’15) of California contended that what mattered the most in determining a virtue is how the quality can be manifested in people’s responses to situations. In many cases, humility (the opposite of pride) produces better actions and generates a more harmonious society. She channeled Aristotle to argue that pride can make problems become intractable and elusive to compromise, pointing to the current disastrous state of the American political system as an example. “Heroic pride is always the downfall of the most well-intentioned heroes,” she said. “Being too full of oneself can stop one from accomplishing one’s goals.”

Mr. Diasti (NHS ’14) argued that any personal quality taken to the extreme will be a vice. What’s worse is complacency, in the words of Mr. Diasti’s grandma. “We live in a world of fabricated limitations, which are being pushed ever and ever more by people who had pride and believed in the impossible,” he said. Mr. Quinn (COL ’15) argued that pride is an inordinate amount of confidence, or when one’s belief exceeds one’s abilities, which leads to treating others poorly and behaving in dangerous ways. Vice President Christensen (COL ’15) corrected the previous speaker by reminding everyone that the definition of pride is a high or inordinate amount of confidence, which is necessary in order to reach one’s goals. “Believing that you are capable in more than what you can imagine can be the greatest motivator,” she said. Ms. Miller (COL ’14) pointed out that Icarus did not meet a fabricated barrier, but a real one. He tried to push the sun though he knew it was a boundary, and that is arrogance. Mr. Spagnuolo (SFS ’14) pointed out that society has many real barriers: it is in fact idiocy for all of us to believe that we will one day become the President or Secretary of State because the actual odds of us doing that are very, very low. “You better believe that pride is a virtue because no one else will believe in you,” he remarked. “Humanity isn’t going to go anywhere if we don’t try to break boundaries.” Mr. Dulik (SFS ’13) said that pride cripples one’s ability to healthfully interact with other people. “Pride produces paragons of mediocrity, destined for loneliness,” he proclaimed. Mr. Desnick (COL ’13) challenged the weak, accommodating framing of the resolution that is collapsing the dichotomy between the affirmation and negation to produce stale debate. “The negation should have to prove that you shouldn’t believe in yourself,” he stated, citing Chesterton and other philosophers that have written volumes backing this position.

Chancellor Iacono (COL ’12) derided pride for its subjectivity and reliance on emotion rather than fact to make a judgment about oneself. “Pride is championing a beauty contest in which the only contestant is also the only judge,” he said. Mr. Taft (COL ’13) took a more positive view of pride, arguing that it is necessary to have “one’s emotional house in order” or some level of pride before one can reach out and help others. Ben Mazzara (COL ’15) posited that pride creates the delusion that you’re too good for something. He prefers the pragmatic approach, which is believing that we’re not too good for anything. Abby Cooner (SFS ’16) said that pride is finishing an accomplishment and knowing that you gave it your best. “Pride is believing in oneself to make oneself better,” she commented. Ms. Wood (SFS ’14) took a critical view of history in justifying her argument against pride, noting that the Soviet Union’s inordinate amount of confidence in their central planning produced mass poverty, destitution, and deaths. Ms. Wynter (COL ’14) argued that the consistent focus on “moderating pride” throughout the affirmation speeches proves that it cannot be a virtue. “A virtue doesn’t require a caveat or corollary,” she articulated, “They are good and desirable in it of themselves.”

Closing for the negation, Ms. Muldavin re-told the story of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to illustrate the harms that pride can bring. When no one is willing to sacrifice their pride to give in, the outcome can be worse for both parties. “We grow up in a selfish society that focuses on ‘I’,” Ms. Muldavin noted. “A proud person thinks they are superior to others and closed off from those around them.” Standing on the affirmation, Mr. Wooten argued that Ms. Muldavin and the floor speeches have misrepresented the affirmation to “make an omelette” of the very fine distinctions of pride. “It’s a virtue to aspire for more,” he said.

Mr. Weiner contended that humility is the true virtue, as it encompasses self-respect but recognizes healthy limits in one’s abilities as well. “Pride does not motivate people to seek feedback or improvement,” he said. “Having pride means that you think you don’t have to change yourself.” In the final keynote address of the evening, Ms. Egan emphasized that “pride is a self-reflective quality that does not say anything about one’s relation to others.” Pride is not vanity or arrogance, and it doesn’t require external validation from others. Further, she provided a strong rebuttal of the negation speeches by demonstrating that any virtue “mixed with idiocy” produces bad results. “Groups that practiced temperance in the extreme died of starvation,” she said. “Excessively kind people can enable others to abuse and manipulate them. Diligence in the extreme, and combined with lack of awareness and reflectiveness, also produces negative consequences.” Thus, we should not fault pride itself simply because “pride mixed with stupidity” also produces evil. “Pride makes you hope for more, and makes you look at the stars. This firm sense of self is what allows you to do good and to reach out to others,” she concluded.

The Society voted 26-1-23 to affirm the resolution. Congratulations to Ms. Egan and Mr. Weiner for being inducted as the newest members of the Philodemic Society!


Chloe J. Krawczyk

One thought on “Pride: A Deadly Sin?

  1. Pride is fundamentally delusional in that it confuses the divining process as a ‘choosing’ process, when the fact is there is no such thing as choice and you are simply a fractal finger of of a beginningless singularity that encompasses everything. That free-will is the universe’s predominent slaving technique because it presumes the existence of evil, when in fact the closest thing to evil is the allowance for psychopathic behaviour in the ‘defense’ from it.

    Fate and patience are the ‘be alls’ of philosophic endeavour. Analyze any choice.


    this ego,

    David Arthur Johnston

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