Critical Summary: Moral Saints

In Susan Wolf’s Moral Saints, she starts out by stating her belief that “moral perfection, in the sense of moral saintliness, does not constitute a model of personal well-being towards which it would be particularly ration or good or desirable for a human being to strive” (79). Wolf supports this statement by describing the two types of moral saints, the Loving Saint and the Rational Saint. The Loving Saint is “someone whose concern for others plays the role that is played in most of our lives by more selfish, or, at any rate, less morally worthy concerns” (80). On the other hand, the Rational Saint is someone who “pays little or no attention to his own happiness in light of the overriding importance he gives to the wider concerns of morality” (80). Whichever moral saint one might be, his or her main goal, according to Wolf, is being as morally good as possible.
At first glance, I thought Wolf’s claim that being a moral saint was undesirable was completely false. However, I do not think I fully comprehended or thought about what a moral saint was. For instance, on the outside, because moral saint contains the word “moral,” it seems automatically good and desirable. However, Wolf’s explanations soon altered my initial opinion. My initial change in opinion started with her statement that the moral virtues in these moral saints “crowd out the non-moral virtues, as well as many of the interests and personal characteristics that we generally think contribute to a healthy, well-rounded, richly-developed character” (81). It was at this point that I began to realize the reality of the title of a moral saint. Of course, everyone should strive to be morally good; however, the word “saint” was what I should have originally focused on as opposed to the word “moral.” “Saint” implies an extreme case. To be a moral saint, one’s life would be fully dedicated to being morally correct in all aspects at every moment. This means that he or she would have no leftover energy to put into joyful activities, hobbies, or relationships that make him unique and well-rounded. Susan Wolf’s description of the meaning of a moral saint made me realize the significance of looking at other aspects of life with strong importance rather than viewing morality as the best way to develop an ideal or good self.

One thought on “Critical Summary: Moral Saints

  1. Mathilda

    Hannah, I really enjoyed reading your critical reflection of Susan Wolf’s “Moral Saints”. Like you, I initially had my doubts towards the text, as I believed that striving to be a moral saint should be a good thing; it must be the ideal. However, after reading the text, it becomes clear that striving to be a moral saint should not be one’s goal. Perfection, in all aspects of life and not confined within morality itself, is an illusion. Believing that perfection is attainable is simply a delusion that we create. Furthermore, perfection is just boring. Mistakes are what make us human; do we really want to live our lives like robots? Instead of becoming moral saints and striving for moral perfection, we should want to lead our lives being the best version of ourselves we can be. Working our hardest and being noble should be the goals. Living as a Rational Saint is actually a deeply disturbing thought. Being selfless to that extreme point will only lead us to lose our sense of self. The Rational Saint becomes too quick at letting go of his or her happiness for the sake of others. Yes, I believe selflessness is an admirable trait. But, allowing that to be your guiding principle would be a massive mistake. I am positive that Mother Teresa herself did not completely forsake her own happiness to allow her to help and aid others. Being a moral saint is not only a terrible goal, it is an impossibility. Forming bonds and relationships with those around us should be something we all aim to do; without friendships and love, like Aristotle and other philosophers have argued, we cannot be virtuous. We can use our relationships with others as a guiding tool; if we aim to constantly replace others’ happiness above our own, we will be empty versions of our true selves.

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