The Suffering of Moral Saints by Aaron Smith

The Suffering of Moral Saints by Aaron Smith


In the thought-provoking video, “The Suffering of Moral Saints,” created by the Ayn Rand Institute, Aaron Smith examines the problematic way morality is often perceived in our society. Building upon Larissa MacFarquhar’s book, “Strangers Drowning,” the video challenges the popular notion that one must sacrifice their own well-being for the sake of helping others. Smith explores the lives of individuals who dedicate their lives to serving others, known as “do-gooders,” and questions whether their extreme selflessness is truly a morally exemplary way of living.

Reevaluating the Concept of Morality

The book, “Strangers Drowning,” sheds light on the lives of do-gooders who prioritize the needs of others above their own. These individuals are willing to sacrifice their security, comfort, and personal goals to make a positive impact on society. While their intentions are commendable, it raises important questions about the limits of morality and whether one’s own life should be entirely sacrificed for the sake of others.

Questioning the Equation of Morality with Altruism

An unsettling aspect of the do-gooder mentality is the deeply ingrained belief that morality is directly equated with altruism. According to this conventional but potentially dangerous way of thinking, living a morally upright life requires one to prioritize the needs of others above their own happiness and well-being. However, the book and video raise doubts about the validity of this equation, exploring the potential conflict between morality and an individual’s own life.

The Ambivalence of the Do-Gooder Lifestyle

While the do-gooders’ commitment to improving the lives of others is admirable, the book highlights the ambivalence and uncertainty that can accompany such a way of life. These individuals often find themselves torn between their altruistic mission and their own personal desires and aspirations. This ambivalence brings to light the intricate web of ethical considerations that arise when one chooses to dedicate their life to serving others.

Striking a Balance between Morality and Self-interest

The equation of morality with altruism creates an inherent conflict between fulfilling one’s moral obligations and living a life that is personally fulfilling. It is crucial to acknowledge that living an ethical life does not necessarily require sacrificing one’s own well-being completely. Instead, the book emphasizes the importance of finding a balance where individuals can make a positive impact on society while also pursuing their own goals and aspirations.

Reassessing the Conventional Notion of Morality

The idea that the suffering and sacrifice of one’s own life equate to moral righteousness has become deeply entrenched in our society. However, this conventional notion must be critically examined to ensure that individuals are not compelled to abandon their own happiness in the relentless pursuit of moral perfection. The book and video stress the importance of reevaluating our understanding of morality and embracing a healthier, more balanced approach.


“The Suffering of Moral Saints” challenges the prevailing view that morality requires excessive self-sacrifice. The book, “Strangers Drowning,” illuminates the lives of individuals who dedicate themselves to serving others and prompts us to question whether their extreme selflessness truly embodies moral excellence. By reevaluating the equation of morality with altruism, we can strike a balance between fulfilling our moral obligations and pursuing our own happiness and well-being. It is through this nuanced understanding of morality that we can navigate the complexities of living an ethical life while preserving our own personal fulfillment.

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