Top News, Articles, and Interviews in Philosophy

The Ambitious Academic: A Moral Evaluation

Philosophy News image
"Ambition makes you look pretty ugly”(Radiohead, Paranoid Android)In Act 1, Scene VII of Macbeth, Shakespeare acknowledges the dark side of ambition. Having earlier received a prophecy from a trio of witches promising that he would ‘be king hereafter’, Macbeth, with some prompting from his wife, has resolved to kill the current king (Duncan) and take the throne for himself. But then he gets cold feet. In a poignant soliloquy he notes that he has no real reason to kill Duncan. Duncan has been a wise and generally good king. The only thing spurring Macbeth to do the deed is his own insatiable ambition:I have no spurTo prick the sides of my intent but onlyVaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself And falls on the other.(Macbeth, Act 1, Scene VII, lines 27-29)Despite this, Macbeth ultimately succumbs to his ambition, kills Duncan, and reigns Scotland with increasing despotism and cruelty. His downfall is a warning to us all. It suggests that ambition is often the root of moral collapse.I have a confession to make. I am deeply suspicious of ambition. When I think of ambitious people, my mind is instantly drawn to Shakespearean examples like Macbeth and Richard II: to people who let their own drive for success cloud their moral judgment. But I appreciate that there is an irony to this. I am often accused (though ‘accusation’ might be too strong) of being ambitious. People perceive my frequent writing and publication, and other scholarly activities, as evidence of some deep-seated ambition. I often tell these people that I don’t think of myself as especially ambitious. In support of this, I point out that I have frequently turned down opportunities for raising my profile, including higher status jobs, and more money. Surely that’s the opposite of ambition?Whatever about my own case, I find that ambition is viewed with ambivalence among my academic colleagues. When they speak of ambition they speak with forked tongues. They comment about the ambition of their peers. . .

Continue reading . . .

News source: Philosophical Disquisitions

blog comments powered by Disqus