Morality, Virtue and the Public Figure
According to the dictionary Grand Robert, the term “public” means
“what concerns people as a whole and what belongs to the social or
political community and is done in its name”; a public figure is
defined as “a person who is invested with an official function or
plays an important role in the social or political life of his or her
In relation to these definitions, it is possible to identify different
categories of public figures with more or less important roles : a
political figure such as a government Minister who creates laws and
take important decisions for his country; an intellectual and a "star"
who is defined as "an artistic performer or athlete whose leading role
or superior performance is acknowledged" (www.dictionary.com).
This essay will firstly attempt to explain what is the meaning of
morality, its importance and the relation with virtues, with some
examples and then it will identify the rights and wrongs of expecting
a public figure to have a higher standard of morality than someone
with little or no public role, in relation to the different moral
principles and virtues explained before.
I- Importance and meaning of morality and the relation with virtues
A) A short / quick definition
As Comte-Sponville defines it, "morality is composed of all duty,
which means the obligations or proscriptions we impose on ourselves,
independently from any / all reward or sanction and even hope"
(Comte-Sponville, 2000, Dictionnaire de la philosophie, p. 390).
To illustrate his theory he uses a very simple example : if tomorrow
is the end of the world, morality will remain as it wouldn't allow
people to kill, rape or be egoist or nasty, while politics which needs
a future, won't survive.
Harman (1977) argues in the same way by highlighting more precisely
that morality may be something we learn as a consequence of our
As Kant argues, an action is morally valuable only if it is selfless ("Les
Grandes idées morales et les grands moralistes", 1906). Morality
requires us to respect humanity inside us and in other people.
In fact, someone will impose on himself these kinds of rules in a free
and selfless way, because they appear to him to be universal. That
means that whatever the differences between civilisations, periods or
religions, people looking for wellbeing are leading to the same
values. These values are crucial as they enable people to live
together with the same references of behaviour.
B) Differences between morality and virtue
The same word can mean both a morality principle and a virtue but
there is a fundamental difference between the two. If we take the
example of generosity, the idea is a moral concept, which means that
we have a duty to give back a part of what we received. On the other
hand, the effort of giving this generosity is the concern of virtues
and it is not limited to give money but also give time, comfort and