Paradoxes of moral motivation

Journal of Value Inquiry 39 (3-4):299-308 (2005)
In suggesting that “philanthropy is almost the only virtuewhich is sufficiently appreciated by mankind,” Thoreau did not wish to denigrate charity, but he took offense when even minor Christian leaders were ranked above Newton, Shakespeare, and other creative individuals “who by their lives and works are a blessing to mankind.”1 Such individuals might be motivated primarily by caring for nonmoral goods, such as scientific truth, aesthetic appreciation, or creative achievement. Yet, paradoxically, they often benefit humanity far more than they could have through direct humanitarian service. This creativ- ity paradox has been given less attention than paradoxes of self-interest and altruism, but it contains an important insight about moral motivation. It also forces us to clarify the distinction between moral and nonmoral goods, and hence our conception of what morality is
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DOI 10.1007/s10790-006-7526-1
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