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The Virtue of Self-Compassion

Abstract

To be self-compassionate is to show compassion not (only) for others but for yourself. Research in psychology suggests that self-compassion leads to improved well-being and functioning. With the psychological research in the background, we give a philosophical account of self-compassion and its ethical significance. We build a definition of self-compassion, suggesting that self-compassion is different from but closely analogous to compassion for others. Our definition departs from the most prominent definition in the psychological literature but is well-equipped to guide ongoing empirical research. We then argue that self-compassion is a virtue. Self-compassion makes ordinary people happier and more likely to act well, and the self-compassionate person understands and values herself correctly; she sees herself accurately as a needy, vulnerable, limited human whose interests matter. If we are right, then the ethical relationship with self is more complicated than philosophical treatments have so far acknowledged. The virtuous person does not only meet moral duties to herself or exercise permissions to favor her own interests. She also has an emotional relationship with herself, which incorporates enlightened self-understanding and self-care.

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Acknowledgements

The authors are grateful for helpful comments from participants at a workshop on ‘Neglected Relationships,’ held at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München in October of 2019; and from two referees for this journal.

Funding

We are very grateful to Saint Louis University and the John Templeton Foundation for funding this work as part of a collaborative research project under their Happiness and Well-being Initiative, entitled ‘Compassion at the heart of well-being: An interdisciplinary study of well-being in a healthcare setting.’

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Correspondence to Simon Keller.

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We declare that we have no conflict of interest or competing interest in presenting this research.

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Keller, S., Huppert, F.A. The Virtue of Self-Compassion. Ethic Theory Moral Prac 24, 443–458 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10677-021-10171-x

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10677-021-10171-x

Keywords

  • Compassion
  • Flourishing
  • Positive psychology
  • Self-compassion
  • Virtue