It’s not often that I find myself pondering the road taken in regard to the direction of this column. Yet that is exactly what happened in the weeks following ‘A Selfish Morality’ (see The Winterwind Papers Volume 1; Issue 17, May 2011). In that piece I argued – or, more precisely, reframed the view – that human beings behave morally for essentially selfish reasons, a standpoint more specifically known as ethical egoism. I went on to use the character of Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol as a prime example of how self-serving impulses may present the opportunity for moral redemption.
I still maintain this position, but my choice of protagonist may have exposed a flaw in this argument. Hence, I would like to take the opportunity in this postscript to outline this apparent fault as I understand it, and attempt to provide additional comment to resolve it.
Dickens’ Scrooge has become something of an icon where miserly behaviour is concerned.
The penny-pinching misanthrope only cares for the balancing of his accounts in favour of profit: the defining feature of his adult life.
But, given that Scrooge was neither born a miser nor a misanthrope, some doubt may exist as to whether his actions are entirely demonstrative of the selfish moral agent.
In choosing to follow a path which diverged so very far from human fellowship, Scrooge buried his better qualities beneath a carapace of self-centred and uncaring obsession. This did not mean, however, that the unselfish and redeemable Scrooge had been lost, but rather abandoned. The arrival of Marley’s ghost, and the three subsequent visitants, who provide Scrooge with a vision of his past, present and future, enable him to make a genuine choice: maintain the unfeeling carapace, or cast off the miserly ambition for a better way of life. Therefore, is he not saved by recovering the good nature within him, which had simply become forgotten in the dusty, ledger-lined counting house that became his sole raison d’être?
In reply to this point, I would argue that however much Scrooge’s good nature presents a case for genuine redemption, and not simply a selfish reaction to fear, his redemptive choice was inspired by self-serving impulses.