Research Article

‘Who are we to judge?’ – On the Proportionment of Happiness to Virtue

Garrath Williamsa1

a1 Lancaster University


The claim that happiness and virtue ought to be proportionate to one another has often been expressed in the idea of a future world of divine justice, despite many moral difficulties with this idea. This paper argues that human efforts to enact such a proportionment are, ironically, justified by the same reasons that make the idea of divine justice seem so problematic. Moralists have often regarded our frailty and fallibility as reasons for abstaining from the judgment of others; and doubts about our deserving some proportionment of happiness or unhappiness often arise insofar as virtue and vice may be explained on a causal basis. This paper argues that our fallibility and our susceptibility to social influence render judgment and response indispensable, because – given these characteristics – our actions and responses decide the morality that we actually share with one another. In this situation, to ‘judge not’ is to abandon the field to those with no such scruples.

Garrath Williams is Lecturer in Philosophy at Lancaster University, UK. He has written on Kant, Hobbes, and Hannah Arendt, on institutions and responsibility in liberal societies, as well as in applied ethics. He is currently completing a book on moral responsibility.