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Is doing good the better option in the midst of other alternatives?

By Gabriel Dinda

In June 2019, Kenyans woke up to news that Safaricom servers had a technical hitch which made it possible to obtain huge data bundles, free minutes and free SMS’s without having to pay a thing. The news of this ‘problem’ (or ‘opportunity’ as some would argue), spread like bush fire on social media and a number of people ‘reaped’ from this unjustly. Many argued that Safaricom ‘has taken too much from them, and therefore this was sweet revenge’; others still, that it was divine will that they should for once benefit from the errors of such a large corporation. I remember receiving the message of this ‘opportunity’ from a friend of mine, whose knowledge about integrity is unmatched.  You may have also seen cases where fuel tanker accidents cause a stir in a manner in which people rush to harvest the fuel despite the risk posed by such ‘opportunities’. From these cases, a serious question of double standards is exposed. This is what we sought to discuss in the September edition of Aristotle’s Breakfast, where we asked, “Are we virtuous because we lack an opportunity to do what some people in privileged positions of authority are doing?” Is it lack of opportunity or genuine desire (against all odds), to do good?

Aristotle places virtue as a necessary requirement for one to achieve a fulfilled life (happy life). Happiness, according to Aristotle, is what we are ALL looking for, in ALL our activities. The Greeks provided the foundation of virtues and provided a definition which still stands. Societies and states have incorporated virtue in their constitutions and affairs of government which are supposed to be carried out accordance with a predetermined value system.  In Kenya, Article 10 and Chapter six of the constitution echo the same desire by providing guidelines with regard to how persons should treat one another and behave in the public space. The whole of Chapter Six is about how public servants should perform their respective roles in their areas of responsibility. Public officers are expected as a duty to espouse virtue as indicated in the text of the constitution.

Dr. Simon Langat, in sharing his experience spanning 34 years in Public Service, insists that the concept of virtue seems to have been wrongly understood by those in the public service. He asserts that rather than viewing it as a duty, virtue and practice of good should be viewed as something that is more fundamental, for our good and the good of our society. We should be virtuous without any prompting from the law, and in all our actions, public or private. The leaders and everyone else should feel compelled to do good for its own sake. We note further from Aristotle, that virtues are learnt and practiced. This is not anticipated by the Constitution because its basic minimum is that public officers ought to be guided by the virtues only when performing services to the public. This may be problematic because one must practice the virtues. Where do we draw the line between private and public character which we must project? Which face of a moral agent would we take as legitimate in these circumstances? Does the Constitution anticipate achievement of virtue by treating it as duty, as Kant treated ethics? Using examples we were able to see how this is futile and from the discussions the talk was enriched.

The question of ease in teaching adults who are not predisposed to act virtuously came up. Dr. Langat’s response was that leading by example is the best way to handle such, a view which was supported by Paschal Manyuru, a current MAPE student, who shared his experience of interacting with an assistant driver who leads a devoutly virtuous life and became greatly influential. It was agreed that, though in small a way, personal actions had the power to influence others towards acting virtuously.

Virtue is not a state where one finally arrives, but it is a struggle that someone commits to by practicing it on a daily basis and growing in the process. To this extent, Dr. Langat insisted that education should be responsive to the need to instill virtues in a person. Having realized this, governments or people in authority can compromise the education system for the purpose of manipulating the masses. It was therefore agreed that the family should act as the first point of learning and there should be deliberate efforts to encourage and educate the children in virtue.

What happens in situations where people, mostly politicians, seem to mean well before elections but soon after, turn their backs on the same issues that they once advocated for? To this, Roy Were, Quality Assurance Director at the Strathmore University Business School, responded by quoting one of the dialogues of Plato, Meno, where a question of whether virtue can be taught is handled. In the dialogue, it is concluded that virtue can be achieved only by that person who has both the desire and capacity to practice it. To this extent, therefore, the politicians (mentioned above), may have the desire but lack the capacity and so fail to be virtuous in their actions. At all times, we should make efforts to grow in both the capacity and desire to be virtuous.

Gabriel Dinda is a student of Philosophy at Strathmore University.

Aristotle’s Breakfast takes place every month at Strathmore University. To take part, make a booking through jbranya@strathmore.edu

If you have a story, kindly email: communications@strathmore.edu

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