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Types of integrity

Notes on Cheshire Calhoun,“Standing for Something.”

[Against the background of some contemporary conceptions of integrity as a virtue, Calhoun will argue that this virtue, whatever private merit it may have, is in the end a “master” social virtue not only because of its deployment of so many other virtues but because of its critical role in determining, through a community of contributing agents, what virtue itself is.

First, she discusses three prevailing contemporary views of integrity.]

I shall call these the integrated-self, identity, and clean-hands pictures of integrity.

[The integrated-self view of integrity] captures our sense that people with integrity decide what they stand for and have their own settled reasons for taking the stands they do. They are not wantons or crowd followers or shallowly sincere. Nor are they so weak willed or self-deceived that they cannot act on what they stand for. The actions of persons of integrity express a clearly defined identity as an evaluating agent.

Because the notion of wholeheartedness regularly occupies a central place in philosophical accounts of integrity, it is worth probing whether it should. Taking inconsistency and ambivalence in turn, I shall sketch out two examples that suggest that integrity may sometimes in fact require resisting the impulse to resolve inconsistencies and ambivalence.

The compatibility of inconsistency and integrity

[Maria] Lugones, for instance, is both Latina and lesbian. In struggling against multiple oppressions, she is faced with the task of not only affirming her Latina identity as it is constituted within Hispanic culture, but also her lesbian identity as it is constituted within nonheterosexist lesbian communities. But the meaning and value systems (for example, concerning gender, sexuality, and family) that make those two identities possible conflict. Within Hispanic culture, lesbianism is an abomination. Within the lesbian community, Hispanic values and ways of living do not have central value. As a result, “Latina lesbian” is not a coherent identity [nor is, and for analogous reasons, identifying oneself politically, as I have, as a “Nixon liberal”], nor is there a single, unified conceptual and normative perspective which could count as the “Latina lesbian” perspective and thus no single perspective from which to take issue with both racist and heterosexist oppression. “I do not know,” she writes, “whether the two possibilities can ever be integrated so that I can become, at least in these respects, a unitary being. I don’t even know whether that would be desirable. But it seems clear to me that each possibility need not exclude the other so long as I am not a unitary but a multiplicitous being.”… [“Hispaneando y Lesbiando: On Sarah Hoagland’s Lesbian Ethics,” Hypatia, V (1990): 138-39.]

[Though we need to ask whether there is anything impugning integrity here or whether, instead, the set of ideals around which this particular integrity is built are simply scarce (i.e., the community of openly lesbian-Latinas is still relatively small). Unusual loyalties are not, in virtue of being unusual, somehow less viable…

But there is another issue here, more fundamental. Are Latina and Lesbian values really irreconcilable despite Lugones’ doubts? (Or, in my case, am I being incoherent in having great sympathy toward one of the least respected of American leaders, more so than perhaps any other, while at the same time holding as central principles political views that from most common perspectives appear far left of center?) One could approach this two ways: insist on having a unitary being and disciplining convictions or at least rationalizing them into ordered submission or apparent coherence, or one might embrace existence as a “multiplicitous being,” finding it tolerable if not always comfortable and avoiding the feeling of artificiality that may attend too effortful attempts at forcing coherence. That much effort at coherence would seem to cut against integrity of at least one important kind. Why can’t I be conflicted at the very heart of my being, knowingly so, and be real at the same time?… But the question is: is this a proper place to rest? Is there no imperative to seek coherence—even where there is no assurance that any will be found? I suggest there is, for men, at least. A woman has other callings, a different moral agenda. Integrity simply means something quite different for her. Multiplicity does not have the same opprobrium for her as for him—and for good moral reasons (as we argue elsewhere). This difference will set parameters for what each will find acceptable in their heart of hearts.

Lugones has the luxury of at least entertaining the notion that she is ok being a “multiplicitous being.” I might give very sophisticated reasons for why Richard Nixon, despite his obvious faults, if not, indeed, in part, because of them, contributed more of substance than almost any other president in the past century or more to precisely those causes that many progressives would support. And the values underpinning these arguments would instantiate are closely tied to others that form the core of my identity (even more than my politics). I will leave that apologia for another occasion, but the relevance here is that I feel compelled to justify such a counter-intuitive claim—in the interest of preserving a dear, unitary, coherence. It would further my self-definition.*

(*Editor’s note: As always (this can never be repeated enough, it seems), Luno writes of women and men in the Weiningerian archetypal, heuristic sense, not of them as individuals or even as classes. He is always discussing feminine and masculine principles that do most obviously manifest themselves in classes and individuals but never anywhere in pure form. To further complicate matters on another level, Luno is himself, like Lugones, of Latin American heritage. Though not, to the best of our knowledge, homosexual, he has remarked that a disproportionate share of his intellectual heroes were.)]

To insist that, even in [240] these cases, integrity requires wholeheartedness would be to make practical deliberation over whether a value conflict ought to be resolved oddly irrelevant to integrity….

[But it doesn’t seem, at least not without more information provided, that there is anything that cannot, in principle be resolved here. And so a coherent account of apparent conflicts does seem called for. One can very well seek to promote a Latina identity and also a Lesbian one by cherry-picking precisely which elements of each identity one has affinity for. Integrity and discriminating taste, one has to hope, are not incompatible… But is this an authentic feminine response? Do we veer uncomfortably close to what is derisively termed “rationalization” in pushing coherence? Why does Calhoun suggest the impulse to find resolution is “oddly irrelevant to integrity”?]

The compatibility of ambivalence and integrity

Indeed, one might generally think that whenever one’s own and others’ interpretations of one’s motives conflict, one ought to resolve that conflict in favor of one’s own judgment. The integrated-self picture of integrity suggests just this conclusion. Feminists have also tended toward this view. Recognizing that ambivalence is generally endemic among members of oppressed groups who suspect that dominant interpretations of their motives and actions are mistaken but for whom there are as yet no clearly articulated arguments discrediting dominant views, feminists have regarded such socially produced ambivalence as [241] destructive of integrity. For reasons that will become clearer in the last section, I am unpersuaded that this is so.

[Classic instances of “socially induced ambivalence” might also include proverbial Jewish self-hatred or Catholic guilt or Calvinist universal depravity… I have argued that it can be a great source of strength and inspiration, and, yes, integrity, to look critically upon one’s self and values, even, if not especially, when one is a member of a victimized group. This, of course, means to take what is given you at face value, realize its universal applicability, and build from there. One embraces vulnerability in order to better attack oppression. (An inclination to pathologize might recognize elements of passive aggression here, but the subject of integrity is rather alien to that impulse, anyway.)]

Anyone who regards herself as an equal in autonomous judgment to others cannot be indifferent to what others think. When one’s own and others’ judgments come into serious conflict, ambivalence may be a way of acknowledging that equality. Ambivalence does not necessarily signal a failure on the agent’s part to make up his mind about what he really believes and wants. Agents can have reason to resist resolving ambivalence. In particular, they may think it important to acknowledge a basic assumption underlying practical deliberation, namely, the equality of deliberators.

[One might go further and suggest that from the “equality of deliberators” it may follow in some cases that because I am ambivalent (and take my ambivalence as a sign of genuine appreciation of real difficulty) and you are not, you should be.]

A second picture of integrity owes a good deal to Bernard Williams’s work. On this view, integrity is a matter of having a character and being true to it. To have a character, as Williams sees it, is to have some ground projects with which one is so strongly identified that in their absence one would not be able to find meaning in [242] one’s life or have a reason for going on.…

Picturing integrity as fidelity to projects with which the individual deeply identifies has intuitive appeal.

On the centrality of “identity-conferring commitments” to the concept of integrity

It would seem, then, that on matters that are not strongly connected to one’s sense of self-identity, one cannot act without integrity [according to Jeffrey Blustein]. But this does not seem right. We recognize persons with integrity not only by their willingness to incur great losses for the sake of what they hold most dear, but also by their conscientiousness in smaller matters having no strong bearing on “the agent’s broad conception of his or her life’s direction.” We expect persons of integrity not only to stand up for their most deeply held and highly endorsed commitments, but to treat all of their endorsements as ones worthy of being held by a reflective agent.15

[This would be true if integrity does have about it a moral imperative to apply to every detail of one’s life the same scruples upheld in regard to “core values”. Integrity then is less a virtue than an imperative, less ever a fait accompli than a perennial challenge.]

[Footnote]15What does seem right about Blustein’s position is that some self-deception and weakness of will is compatible with an “all things considered” assessment of a person’s character. In answering the question—‘Is this the kind of person that, all things considered, we would describe as having integrity?’—it is most relevant to look at how a person stands with respect to her core commitments. A person might be pervasively weak willed with respect to very low-order principles or to the application of core principles in fairly trivial cases, but she might exhibit great strength of will and courage in sticking to her convictions when core principles or more serious cases are at stake.

[Take for example judgments that impugn the character of certain public figures—ones for whom we have detailed biographical information—such as Bertrand Russell. He is often admired for his principled stand on matters of war and nuclear-disarmament and other worthy social and political issues, yet his reputation for womanizing evinces a certain cavalier attitude toward finer points of decency especially in personal relationships. William Clinton, whose capacity for expressing compassion endeared him to many (however inconsequential his empathy often proved itself to be), may serve as another example. One need not be a saint to see in these men less than stellar examples of any kind of integrity, whatever other virtues one may care to attribute to them. Wittgenstein, who despaired of his own incapacity for sainthood, was more than a little disgusted by Russell’s moral shallowness—at least in one sense of what morality requires of us. And, if integrity is, as Calhoun is going to suggest, a “master virtue,” can one showing little signs of it really be forgiven as easily as one lacking a more dispensable trait?]

On the “clean-hands” theory

The clean-hands picture offers a different take on this same theme. On this picture, integrity is a matter of endorsing and, should the occasion arise, standing on some bottom-line principles that define what the agent is willing to have done through her agency and thus the limits beyond which she will not cooperate with evil.

…given that a person believes an act is wrong apart from its consequences, having integrity may indeed require that she not do it or at least regret doing it. But integrity does not require believing that there are such consequence-independent wrongs. The only necessary condition of moral integrity is that one do what one takes oneself to have most moral reason to do. [Integrity only seems to require internal moral coherence.] For consequentialists, that will mean cooperating with evil. For nonconsequentialists, it will mean not cooperating or regretfully cooperating with evil.

[Cf. certain Gandhian principles of nonviolence with a passage from Merleau-Ponty on terrorism which I paraphrase: To refrain from violence toward the violent is to conspire with them.

(Editor’s note: “We do not have a choice between purity and violence but between different kinds of violence. …to abstain from violence toward the violent is to become their accomplice.” Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Humanism and Terror, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969), p. 109. Also quoted in one Luno’s early notebooks.)]

A social virtue, too…

Characterizing integrity as a purely personal virtue does not imply that there is anything self-indulgent about striving to have integrity. But it does imply that integrity is not essentially connected to how we conduct ourselves among others and that its fitting us for proper social relations is not what makes it a virtue.

[The claim that integrity is purely an esoteric virtue has a prima facie plausibility if one is addressing its effects on non-intimate relationships with others. Otherwise, it seems manifestly false. This is also related to why the utilitarian is more likely to see it as dispensable if the price is right in terms of consequences. Recall, utilitarianism was originally a doctrine motivated by legislation or public policy (hence, crowds) and then extended to private ethics—a sphere in which closer review is not only mandatory, but conceivable… Though Calhoun is about to offer an interestingly different argument for why an exclusively private value for integrity is not plausible even in non-intimate, civil relations.]

Contrary to the integrated-self, identity, and clean-hands pictures of integrity, I am strongly inclined to think that integrity is a social trait and that its fitting us for community membership is precisely what makes it a social virtue.

[Calhoun is making the case for the immanent rather than transcendent goodness of integrity. This, as an ultimate move, is characteristically feminine. A masculine approach would move in the opposite direction: defend its immanent value to point up its esoteric, in the end, heterocosmic one.]

Looking at integrity as a social virtue enables us to see persons of integrity as insisting that it is in some important sense for us, for the sake of what ought to be our project or character as a people, to preserve what ought to be the purity of our agency that they stick by their best judgment. It is to a picture of integrity as a social virtue that I now turn.

Purity of agency becomes instrumental for Calhoun. Why should, for her, agency’s purity matter?

As one among many deliberators who may themselves go astray, the individual’s judgment acquires gravity. It is, after all, not just her judgment about what it would be wrong or not worthwhile to do. It is also her best judgment. … She takes a stand for, and before, all deliberators who share the goal of determining what is worth doing.

[We need people to value their own judgment sufficiently for them to take it with the utmost seriousness since from these individual judgments the values of the community of co-deliberators are formed.]

But if integrity is the virtue of having a proper regard for one’s own judgment as a deliberator among deliberators, it would seem that integrity is not just a matter of sticking to one’s guns.

Integrity calls us simultaneously to stand behind our convictions and to take seriously others’ doubts about them.

[Calhoun steers the justification for integrity as a virtue toward the social. For contrast, a masculine strategy would steer it toward the formation of individual character which clearly and directly encompasses the three views of integrity she discusses. Self-clarity, non-wantonness, an identity closely allied with a mission, a project or “standards,” and an ultimate willingness to refuse compromise with what militates against a principled identity. But integrity, so far described, is the outward face of an internal ideal of purity whose ultimate justification lies in transcending dissolution in an alien, intractable universe. It encompasses all the conceptions she discusses—the integrated-self, identity, and clean-hands conceptions—but, while consistent with the social application Calhoun brings out, does not imply it.

She wants to give this transcending ideal material and social utility. This is characteristically feminine.]

Posted by luno in sex differences, Moral Consciousness, Deontology, Utilitarianism, feminism, Moral Theory (Thursday January 4, 2007 at 1:18 pm)

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