Why Have Character?

Does it ever make sense to do the right thing, even if no-one knows that you did?

Materialistically speaking, that makes no sense. After all, don’t we do the “right thing” to raise the opinion that others have of us? If we make a sacrifice but no-one knows we did, isn’t that wasted effort?

Materialistically speaking, it is wasted. Imagine a world with no God, governed only by an impersonal natural law, that consists solely of material (physical) objects. It is irrational to expend effort that might benefit someone else and not yourself. In this impersonal world, one should expend one’s energy on helping oneself.

Yet, we are all aware of altruistic impulses. Altruism is often explained as a trait that developed through evolution. Altruism provides a survival benefit for the species as a whole, even though it might harm any individual member of the species. So, altruism exists because it is an instinct that evolved.

Thoughtlessly following our instincts is hardly how we view our lives. I would venture to say that nearly all of us of believe we do things for a purpose, or that what we do is rational. We have a good reason for what we do. However, altruistic behavior does not seem to have a good reason behind it.

Perhaps you have some sort of non-materialistic belief that there is something called “good” and you want to see more good in the world. I call belief in the “good” a non-materialistic belief, because it is a belief that is neither confirmed by an experiment nor rooted in the material world. For reasons I suggested already, this belief in the “good” is more than an instinct. We don’t behave in complex behaviors simply due to instinct. We find reasons for our behavior.

I encourage you to consider what you believe. Perhaps you will not call this belief a “faith”, but it is rather close to that. We certainly have beliefs that we cannot justify on strictly rational grounds.

Sometimes, my need to be irrational makes me want to hang my head. Why can’t I live a rational life? Isn’t a rational life superior to an irrational one? Eventually, I surrender to the irrational and accept it. That is my fate, and the fate of everyone I know.


About Anthony Mannucci

A physicist (yours truly) turns his attention to many subjects...

Posted on September 14, 2013, in Book Related. Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.

  1. Dear Tony
    I wish you had given an example. Great question, which I’d like to ponder some more, but please let’s have an example. With kind regards, Geraldine

  2. Dear Tony

    Would it be true to say that being caring of the needs of others and trying to be of help in relieving suffering is something which is ‘good’ and people should aspire to seeing more of this ‘goodness’ in the world. The fact that one may receive no recognition or thanks for help extended, need not take away from the value of extending kindness to ungrateful people. Are you optimistic about current strategies of co-operation between the U.S and Russia with regard to dealing with the issues of disposing of chemical weapons in Syria? Much better than rational? strategies of material bombardments of supposed sites?


  3. Geraldine, Irene has a good example. In considering Irene’s example, I would say that her desire to relieve suffering is not justified on strictly rational (cost/benefit) grounds. Irene, it is great that you act on that desire. Would you say this desire comes from a personal need that you have? Or does it come from a personal philosophy that you have developed?

    • I have been fortunate to have had family members, teachers etc. who modelled the sort of behaviours I try to aspire to. I wouldn’t consider that the desire to relieve suffering is driven by a personal need. Does that include a need to assuage imaginary guilt, as attributed to us by hostile others, for whatever reason? Seeing practical evidence via improvements in behaviours, mental and emotional well-being, as a result of my attempts to be of help, are reward enough.

      What does annoy me are the useless interventions of servants of professional policy (professional or otherwise) and the wasteful use of resources that do not promote the public good.

  4. Irene, that’s great that helping others comes naturally to you. I agree that those thinking “guilt” plays a role are often wrong. Assuming guilt as a motivation is a very negative way of viewing things. Unfortunately, helping others does not come naturally for many people. Some people say they want to help, but really do not. I would bet that someone who genuinely cares about helping others will do more good than a “professional helper” as you say.

  5. It is a sad fact that helping others does not come naturally for many people, and to that we could attribute many reasons to do with insecure family attachment, dysfunctional factors in their upbringing, lack of role models to define relative concepts of good and bad etc. I am sure there is no such thing as people who are born evil. The development of compassion stems from our awareness of these factors. But in instances of being aware of horrendous examples of cruelty and public apathy in face of it, the compassionate person is in danger of retreating in despair. How can our society overcome feelings of apathy and disillusionment with their political representatives, and how can well -meaning individuals conserve their instinct to be a force for good in the world?

    As regards, professional helpers – the natural reaction is to accord respect to those who have worked hard to attain professional qualifications. The assumption is that they have an informed ability to make appropriate decisions relevant to the apparent characteristics and type of dysfunction they seek to cure, improve etc. What concerns me, is that the earlier idealism which has motivated them, can turn sour, as a result of workplace conditions, like budgetary controls, confusing and contradictory guidelines for good practice, clients who wilfully misinterpret the rationale for their decisions. etc. Quite a can of worms indeed.

  6. Yes! People may not be born evil, but they can be unconcerned with doing what’s good. If one does not care about what’s good or bad, one can easily slip into patterns that are indistinguishable from evil. Evil is one step removed from not caring.

    Idealism can certainly turn sour. You are absolutely correct where that can lead. That’s why every day we need to affirm a positive outlook. I’ve often thought that if one is healthy, then one ought to be at least mildly happy and not bitter. We have a responsibility to be positive if at all possible. That is what I believe.

  7. Thanks again for your insightful replies. I do agree with what you say about having a responsibility to be positive if at all possible. In circumstances where our sense of well being and moral integrity are perceived as being under threat by others, who on account of complex agendas, need to be viewed as on the moral high ground etc. are we in danger of becoming disorientated by falseness posing as genuiness?

    I have heard it said, that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance and the willingness to fight. So, in having a responsibiltiy to be positive, do we tolerate without retaliation, those who demean and mock our intentions to be of help, in given circumstances.? Can assertive behaviours alone ever be appropriate or effective, in face of those who continue to perceive us as ‘difficult’?

  8. Irene, I am not sure exactly what you mean. My first reaction is: if confronted by difficult people who doubt you, try to move away. Some people have an agenda and it is impossible to reason with them. In those situations, try not to engage. Of course, that is not always possible.

    Eternal vigilance and the willingness to fight are not only the costs of freedom, they are needed realities in a diverse and complex world. Whether this should lead to retaliation is another story. I would think that self-defense is needed, but dis-engaging if possible is preferable to retaliating. If dis-engaging is not possible, then self-defense is appropriate. Retaliation is appropriate only if such retaliation prevents further attacks. Has it worked out that way for you? Who is interested in attacking you, and why?

  9. Hi Tony, considering the first sentence of my last post was so abstract and over generalised, I’m sure most people reading it would not have been sure what I meant! In the circumstances I acknowledge your kindness in getting through the verbal ‘fog’ and sending me a helpful reply. It is comforting to think one’s voice has been heard, when oftentimes, others might dismiss the incomprehensible as ‘drivel’, attention or sympathy seeking.
    To attempt more clarity on my agenda in posting on this site, I would need to say a great deal about who said what to whom, how it was subsequently reported, misconstrued etc. The sum total is a great deal of mental/emotional ‘noise’ which has the potential to create more heat than light.

    The trouble with just withdrawing from a situation where there are difficult/problematic people, is that to do so, seems a ‘cop out’ when one is engaged in an activity that is worthwhile and benefits others in a defined way. So, strong feelings drive one on to seek conflict resolution by appealing to others in a given workplace, charity etc. to make judgements. When such attempts are superficial and result in a worthwhile enterprise being closed down, tensions remain unresolved.

    Some of the individuals involved may seek resolution by reforming , excluding those who had previously contributed etc. As regards my feeling of being ‘attacked’, there are different and more insidious ways of attacking people than the obvious. I was on the receiving end of what seemed like a ‘witch hunt’ because I dared to question established orthodoxies and classifications of individuals who were deemed to be more equal than others.

    You ask the challenging question why certain individuals may be interested in attacking me? I think contemporary political correctness/human rights/equality agendas can lead to the creation of mindsets, blinded by a sort of irrational idealism, which imbues them with heightened capacities to disorientate and distress those they deem attackers of their over idealized and ‘must be protected’ disabled fantasy objects. .

  10. I agree that dis-engaging is not always an option. After that come the tough decisions.

    Were you directly affected by the classifications that seemed unfair? Or was this an inequity you were trying to correct because it was the right thing to do? Just curious.

    “Disabled fantasy objects”. Wow! Interesting phrase. Do you mean “disabled” in the sense of physically challenged in some way? Or am I mis-reading this phrase?

    • Hi Tony, thanks for your response. Perhaps I could get back to you when I have more time to consider the most appropriate way of responding to your queries. Some theorists who were inspired by the writings of Freud used concepts like ‘projective identification’, ‘the return of the repressed’ etc. My reference to disabled ‘fantasy objects’ raises a query about the rights of assumed mental health afflicted individuals to create problems within work organisations. By problems I mean communication difficulties, innocent people being blamed wrongfully etc. I could say a lot more………

      • I’m not sure what you mean by a “right” to create problems. People do create problems, and freedom of speech gives them that right.

        Often these problems are caused by a lack of communication. People can ignite their own imaginations and assume the worst, when the problem is simply a misunderstanding due to poor communication. Good communication does not solve everything, but it helps alot. Of course, it takes two to tango.

  11. Problems?………..Oscar Wilde famously observed that ‘the truth is seldom pure and rarely simple’ and that ‘if one tells the truth, one is sure, sooner or later to be found out…….. Was Oscar just a snobbish cynic, to did he express valid truths about hypocrises in society?

    I try to avoid ‘igniting my imagination’ by observation and taking care to acquaint myself with relevant facts, if at all possible. However, certain people we interact with, may have an agenda of obscuring the facts, so that is one way of causing problems.

    I’ve referred to the issue of the rights of mental ill-health sufferers, to enter the workplace, volunteering projects etc. If problems arise due to poor, unclear, or muddled communication which stem from incapacities in the mental health sufferer, other implicated colleagues may have to put up with resultant stress, poor productivity and an atmosphere of resentment due to misdirected blame. Have those people any rights of redress? Should they not have been informed of the fact that a work colleague may suffer from paranoid schizophrenia, or some other shizo-affective disorder and therefore might have reacted more compassionately to a perceived lesser skilled or inefficient colleague? Or should they have been there in the first place?

    As a result of current human rights/equality legislation in the UK, mental health sufferers have the right to mainstreaming, i.e. the right to anonymity regarding their condition.

    One of the main reasons I have sought advice and support on your site, is that I have been accused of harassing a mental health sufferer. I had not been aware of her condition, but surely knew that her presence was creating stress, and resultant tensions, which led to the wrongful blaming of honourable people and to the closing down of a valuable community service.

    Yes, Tony, it takes two to Tango, but in this case there were others in the dance, who engineered a situation using the supposedly benign powers of advocacy to put words into the mouth of an oftentimes, incoherent person. She was encouraged to view me as attacking her, because I questionned how her contribution was helping the cause of our organisation, whose aims I cared about. This was a disorientating experience to be involved in, because the natural instinct is to show compassion to the mentally disabled. When you obtain evidence, via emails from another party, that the assumed mental sufferer is a mocking, devious individual, the natural reaction is anger and disgust.

    I’d like to thank you for the opportunity of ventilating my feelings over the past weeks, and your helpful responses.

  12. You are welcome.
    This sounds like a very difficult situation. Certainly people with mental health issues can cause stress, but that stress may be relieved if others recognize the problem. It appears that, in your case, not everyone recognized the mental health issues in the individual whom you mention. I wish I had something useful to say. You have almost described a “worst case”: someone with issues that no-one recognizes has those issues. I can only hope the situation has sorted itself out by now.

  13. Thank you for your sympathetic reply. It is heartening to have someone acknowledge that there are undercurrents in scenarios where people in similar situations as myself are targeted as bullies, harassers etc.

    I am afraid this ‘situation’ will never be sorted out, but I guess, I’ve learned that its best to avoid giving opportunities to certain folks with an axe to grind and in search of ‘offence taking opportunities’ and those who feel their mission in life is to protect those who set themselves up as victims.

    I’ll certainly reserve my abilities and energies for contributions to worthwhile situations where there are clearly defined paths of protection from blame mongering zealots.

  14. Irene, yes, please try to find constructive situations.

    I’ve re-blogged a post that seems particularly apt here. You will find it as the latest post.

  15. Hi Tony – I’m just writing to say, that Geraldine who had contacted you on this site, died at the end of June. She had derived comfort from your kind replies at a time when she was concerned about her health. I had been in conflict with her, as you may have discerned from my posts. So sad when a former friendship turns sour and a peaceful resolution is not achieved. I will be tormented by memories of what I shouldn’t have said or done.

    • Irene,

      Very kind of you to contact me. Despite your conflict with Geraldine, I find it admirable that you kept hoping things might get better. Please don’t torment yourself. It will accomplish nothing.

      Take care,


  16. Perhaps the writer above is making the assumption that readers understand the above language. With respect, as an English speaker, I do not. What is the point you are making? That I should study your language so that I may understand you?

  17. Hello – the above comment was in response to a post that was in a language that was foreign to me, but perhaps of far eastern origin? There hasn’t been any follow up? Isn’t it strange how events happen which are unacknowledged? Please who ever the writer was, do explain what you wished to say – and preferably translate your thoughts into English. Thanks.

  18. I am taking it that you mean the articles of Tony Manucci. As someone who responded to Tony’s post, I do not wish any of my responses to be quoted on your website. Sorry I don’t know your name or your website details.

  19. Hello, is there anyone there? I think someone was expressing ‘attitude’ about an opinion I expressed. I just wondered what the justification was?

  20. Why people still make use of to read news papers when in this technological world all
    is presented on net?

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