This interesting article by a PhD candidate in philosophy and published in the online journal Aeon (UK) introduces readers to the idea of "moral hydraulics":
"Has the behaviour of another person ever made you feel ashamed? Not because they set out to shame you but because they acted so virtuously that it made you feel inadequate by comparison. If so, then it is likely that, at least for a brief moment in time, you felt motivated to improve as a person. Perhaps you found yourself thinking that you should be kinder, tidier, less jealous, more hardworking or just generally better: to live up to your full potential. If the feeling was powerful enough, it might have changed your behaviour for a few minutes, days, weeks, months, years or a lifetime. Such change is the result of a mechanism I shall call ‘moral hydraulics’. ... In short, hydraulics operate as follows: the elevation of one desire in a closed system causes a proportional diminution in another. ... In [Immanuel Kant's] view, the subordination of self-interest removes, or at least diminishes, hindrances to willing the good. For Kant, the denigration of one’s pathological interests is thus tantamount to removing barriers to acting well. This pivotal mechanism of moral education could be classed as a form of sublimation or diversion, whereby inappropriate desires are channelled into higher pursuits. ... ‘Experimental’ moral education, as Kant describes it, involves exemplary individuals. These are people who have the ability to cause profound shifts in the motivational landscapes of their spectators. This is achieved through the ‘striking down’ of pathological character (the province of our lower drives), corresponding with the elevation of the rational side of our nature. By exhibiting moral goodness, exemplars thus effect the aforementioned seesawing ‘hydraulic’ motivational changes in their onlookers. In so doing, they also impart confidence in the power and practicability of morality. ... [E]xemplars do not make any decisions for us: they merely elevate us morally by causing us to feel shame, a pain-tinged contempt towards our own shortcomings. In this picture, we can think of moral hydraulics as being like a kind of radiotherapy for lower desires, whereby shame ranging over those desires shrinks them until psychological control is returned to the patient’s faculty of reason."
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