May 132013

As I mentioned in this post, I’ll be speaking on the concept of “Moral Amplifiers” at ATLOSCon in less than two weeks. (Yes, you can still register… and you should too!) Here, again, is the abstract of my talk:

Objectivism upholds seven major virtues as indispensable to our lives. Yet what of other qualities of character — such as ambition, courage, spontaneity, liveliness, discretion, patience, empathy, and friendliness? Are these virtues, personality traits, or something else? Diana Hsieh will argue that such qualities are best understood as “moral amplifiers,” because their moral worth wholly depends how they’re used. She will explain why people should cultivate such qualities and why they must be put into practice selectively.

When I introduce people to the concept of “moral amplifiers,” people often want examples thereof. (Yay!) My standard go-to examples are persistence and ambition. Everyone sees that these qualities are often beneficial, but they’re not always so. Plus, I love to use Lance Armstrong as an example of ambition gone wrong.

Interestingly, the list of moral amplifiers is really quite long — because most of the qualities that people think of as virtues are, in fact, moral amplifiers rather than virtues. Here’s the list of moral amplifiers that I created — based on lists of virtues such as this one — when preparing my proposal for ATLOSCon:

  • Ambition
  • Agreeability
  • Assertivenesss
  • Calmness
  • Charity
  • Charisma
  • Cautiousness
  • Charitablity
  • Choosiness
  • Compassion
  • Conscientiousness
  • Cooperativeness
  • Courage
  • Courteousness
  • Creativity
  • Curiosity
  • Decisiveness
  • Dependability
  • Determination
  • Diligence
  • Directness
  • Discernment
  • Discrimination
  • Discretion
  • Discipline
  • Easygoingness
  • Eloquence
  • Empathy
  • Endurance
  • Enthusiasm
  • Equanimity
  • Exactingness
  • Fairness
  • Fidelity
  • Flexibility
  • Forbearance
  • Fortitude
  • Friendliness
  • Frugality
  • Generosity
  • Gentleness
  • Helpfulness
  • Humorousness
  • Idealism
  • Inventiveness
  • Joviality
  • Kindness
  • Liberality
  • Lightheartedness
  • Liveliness
  • Loyalty
  • Magnaminity
  • Mindfulness
  • Neatness
  • Openness
  • Optimism
  • Orderliness
  • Passionateness
  • Patience
  • Perseverence
  • Persistence
  • Persuasiveness
  • Pessimism
  • Predictability
  • Prudence
  • Punctuality
  • Reliability
  • Resiliance
  • Respectfulness
  • Resourcefulness
  • Self-Confidence
  • Self-Control
  • Self-Directing
  • Sensitivity
  • Simplicity
  • Sincerity
  • Spontaneity
  • Steadiness
  • Tact
  • Temperance
  • Thrift
  • Thoughtfulness
  • Tolerance
  • Toughness
  • Trustworthiness
  • Zealousness

Clearly, I’m not going to run out of material in my talk! I plan to pick just a few of these to discuss, as I have some theory related to Aristotle’s and Ayn Rand’s differing conceptions of virtue that I wish to cover too. I’ll explain how Ayn Rand’s conception of virtue is really something quite distinct from traditional conceptions of virtue — and how those differences represent a major advance in thinking about ethics.


  • Tjitze de Boer

    That’s quite a list and I had to look up one or two, a lot of them seem to me to be words for the same thing, can you differentiate them all in some way?

    • Diana Hsieh

      Some of them are pretty similar, but I tried not to include any exact duplicates in meaning. About the negative ones… I’ll have to think about that. Many of them, I think, are just plain vices, in that they’re always wrong.

      • Tjitze de Boer

        Of course they just work both ways, I just thought of moral as only good, but any amplifier turned to an evil purpose just makes the evil worse, its much better when evil isn’t disciplined or inventive.

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