Moderately abstract

Man hardly needs a theoretical justification for selfishness. So although perhaps no one perfectly embodies disinterested ethical principles, and everyone struggles to reconcile their self-interestedness with the principles they struggle to live up to, and even if perhaps the greatest hope for happiness both individually and collectively lies somewhere in the uneasy middle region between care for others and care for oneself, it does not necessarily follow that equal intellectual space should be granted to self-interested reality and ethical principles, unless, as some like Adam Smith have tried to do, the selfish and self-interested can be put to the use of the ethical. For like massive bodies in a gravitational field, the weight of self-interested motives warps reality around itself and does not need the support of theory. As Mary Sarton said, “one must think like a hero to behave like a merely decent human being.” One ought not make the unsophisticated mind’s classic mistake of believing a description of an unpleasant reality or potential reality to be tacit support for it, but it is equally common for more dour minds to mistake a hope for a naive belief in the existence of that which is hoped for. And of course another distinction exists between genuine ideals and unrealizable fantasies. But as long as we bear all these differences in mind, and remain always conscious of what ideals really mean in practice, I think that it is perhaps best to keep our minds just a little elevated above the wilderness we slog through everyday, for in some sense, to use another metaphor, our lives are like the trajectory of a snake, which leads with its head.

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