Posted June 1, 1995

"Standing For Something" Journal of Philosophy 92:5 (May 1995): pp. 235-260, by Cheshire Calhoun (Colby College)

Reviewed by Paul Weithman, University of Notre Dame, (Paul.J.Weithman.1@ND.EDU)

Integrity, Calhoun remarks, is clearly a virtue. What is less clear, she says, is what it is a virtue of or why it should be prized. Calhoun sketches three "pictures" of integrity that have gained some philosophical currency, and criticizes each before sketching a picture of her own. The three portrayals she criticizes are the pictures she titles the "integrated self view", the "identity view" and the "clean hands view".

Each of these views, Calhoun says, has two problems. The first is that each ultimately reduces integrity "to something else to which it is not equivalent" (235). The second is that each makes of integrity what she calls a "personal" rather than a "social" virtue. Thus problems with each of the views may occur to the reader. It is a virtue of Calhoun's essay that her criticisms are not the ones that first occur to reader; they are probing, imaginative and original. While the critical part of her article is careful and creative, I want to concentrate on Calhoun's own proposal, put forward in the last third of her piece.

Integrity, Calhoun says, is a complex that includes the disposition to "stand by [and to act on] my best judgment" (253) about what I ought to do. It is uncontroversial, as Calhoun notes, that that complex of dispositions must include some social elements. Without due regard for the opinions of others, it verges on stubbornness or arrogance. Calhoun goes beyond this, however, in arguing that what makes integrity a virtue is its social character. The person of integrity, Calhoun argues, is one who acts as if she is one member of a community of co-deliberators, all of whom are trying to determine what it is best to do. Co-deliberation, Calhoun thinks, requires that persons stand by their best judgments, and recognize that their best judgments matter to others who are trying to decide what to do. What makes integrity a virtue, Calhoun concludes, is that it is the complex of dispositions that inclines the person of integrity to do just that. It is a virtue because it is "a desirable mode of conducting oneself among others" (252).

Calhoun's account is an extremely interesting alternative to the standard view that integrity is what she calls a "personal virtue", a complex valuable because it inclines the person of integrity to the right relation to herself and her character, her beliefs, desires and judgments. I merely raise a couple of questions about it.

(1) Whom does the community of deliberators include? Calhoun's examples of people with integrity include Galileo and Luther. Their sticking by their best judgments initiated causal sequences among whose effects is that we, removed in time and space, believe their best judgments were good ones. So their community presumably includes us. But in what sense of "act as if" did they act as if their judgments would matter to those who live centuries later? For most of us, acting as if our judgments mattered as much as Galileo's or Luther's requires a sense of self-importance that only great self-deception could sustain. It would therefore betray a lack of integrity rather than its possession. Indeed, for the person who reads another's diary undetected, her judgment may matter only to herself. Does integrity require her to act otherwise?

(2) Suppose we have an answer to (1), so that a person acts with integrity only if she acts as if her judgment matters to some community C of which she is a member. Consider someone who judges that her judgments matter to some different community C'. If she acts as if that judgment matters to C', then by defition, she fails to act with integrity. But if she acts as if her judgment matters to C, she fails to stand by one of her judgments about what she ought to do, and so also fails to act with integrity. That some people cannot act with integrity may not be troubling if we recognize a further complication to which I now turn.

(3) On Calhoun's analysis, integrity is in part a disposition with respect to propositions, or a disposition with respect to one's own propositional attitudes. To act with integrity in marriage, for example, is not simply to stand by one's spouse. It is to stand by one's judgment about a proposition expressing the importance of fidelity. This may seem odd, but recalls an important intuition. Intuitively, people of integrity seem to be people who bear an important relation to TRUTH, and it is propositions which are bearers of truth.

This brings up an important complication in accounts of integrity. Standing by one's best judgment is virtuous behavior only if the judgment is true. Someone who stands by a false judgment about what it is best to do may not be culpable, but she is not displaying integrity. Some people are, because of circumtances or character, incapable of ascertaining what it is best to do in a given situation. In such a case, it is not possible for the person to act from integrity, perhaps through no fault of her own. Thus, to adapt an example of Foot's, the conscientious Nazi who sticks by his judgment about German superiority is incapable of acting from integrity in a certain range of cases. Or if he does (again to follow Foot) integrity is not operating as a virtue for him.

If I am correct in suggesting that integrity requires a disposition to stand by true judgments, then the account of why it is a virtue will be more complicated. If integrity is a social virtue, it must be because individuals' disposition to stand by the truth is ultimately of social value. This is a question I cannot examine here. Anyone who wants to do so will benefit from Calhoun's careful and stimulating article.