Thursday, December 02, 2004

Four Types of Pride

(Prefatory note: One of the sad facts about contemporary society is that there are very few people who are capable of thinking in a nuanced way within moral categories. Too many are blind to obvious distinctions. Among the blind are TV pundits and others who should know better. One of my self-appointed blogging tasks is to do my bit to bring the requisite moral distinctions back into play. Herewith, a four-fold distinction among arrogance, legitimate pride, morally reprehensible pride, and snobbery.)


One is arrogant if one arrogates to oneself qualities that one does not in fact possess. What I will call justifiable pride is not the same as arrogance. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) describes it as follows:

The proud man does not underrate his fellows, but he insists upon his own merits; he will not bowand scrape before them; he considers that he has a definite worth and will yield to none in thatrespect. Such pride is right and proper, provided it is kept within bounds . . . .
But justifiable pride can transmogrify into the pride that is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, superbia, about which Kant has this to say:

Superbia does not consist in claiming to be worth as much andto be as important as others, but in claiming an extraordinary worth and an especial importance for oneself while underestimating others; it is detestable and ridiculous, for its self-estimation is subjective. If I want to be held in honor, it is useless to set about it by demanding honor and deprecating others; that will not arouse respect, but only ridicule for my presumption. All haughty people are fools; their sole preoccupation is their own superiority and this makes them contemptible.
For a contemporary example, see here.

Finally, there is snobbery (fastus) which, according to Kant,

. . . shows itself when a man gives himself airs and claims precedence, not on account of any intellectual or intrinsic merit, but on the ground of external appearances. The snob is vain in matters of social precedence, attaches importance to things which are of little account, and on any and every occasion, no matter how trifling, he claims the limelight. He would deprive himself of food rather than of his fine clothes and his carriage and pair. He aims at titles and position, and the appearance of gentility. A man of true merit is neither haughty not a snob; he is humble because he cherishes an Idea of true worth so lofty that he can never rise high enough to satisfy its demands. Therefore, he is humble, in the consciousness of his own shortcoming. Snobbery is particularly rampant among the lower, and especially the middle, classes; it is amongst these classes that one finds the social climber, and snobbery is just the scramble for social position.
W. Somerset Maugham in The Razor’s Edge (1943) provides a striking literary portrayal of the snob in the character of Elliott Templeton.

The quotations are from Immanuel Kant, Lectures on Ethics, tr. Louis Infield (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, no date), pp. 237-238. Not available online, to my knowledge.