How to Pick a Cause?

Dear Aristotle,

I have a friend who is a vegan, a friend who is an environmentalist, a friend who is a feminist activist, a friend who is a yada-yada-yada!

How do I pick a cause to champion when there are so many to choose from!?

Thank you

– Nina

Dear Nina,

I find it interesting that so many young persons today attach virtue to “having a cause.” Having a cause was not a big part of my moral frame work that I explain in the Nicomachean Ethics.  Instead, I was more worried about agents developing virtuous character traits, because once these traits are engrained, then the moral life will follow. Whether or not this involves championing a cause depends on the individual and their circumstances. It is certainly possible that championing a cause is a big part of the life of a virtuous person. But it is also possible that championing a cause will not be central to the life of another virtuous person.

Who do you admire most in your life? When I ask my students, the most common response is a friend or family member that showed an unusual level of kindness, generosity, and self-sacrifice. I’d say only 10 to 20% would mention some type of advocate. This suggests that intuitively, when we think of what it means to be a good person, fighting for a cause is not at the top of the list. Why not? One possible reason is that those who champion causes often do so more in words than action. I have argued that virtue is a disposition toward action, not a disposition toward speaking or believing. If an individual’s championing is mostly talk, it might not have as close a connection to admirable moral character.

None of the above is to say that there is anything wrong with having a cause, or anything wrong with trying to find one. But I wanted to lay out some basic moral points before addressing your question directly. As to finding a cause if you do decide this is the path to take: you might start by thinking about your skill sets. We all have different talents and different life experiences. If we want to help as much as possible, then we should focus on two things. One, what sort of skills do I have that are uncommon, or that rise above the skills of the average person. Second, we should ask, what do I enjoy doing and what motivates me to get out the door and leave the comfort of my home? While skills are an important part of the story, we shouldn’t forget that these skills will do little to help the world without the motivation to exercise them. Hence, if you care about actively supporting you cause instead of just verbally doing this, you should pursue a cause that motivates you. If you aren’t sure, then spend some time on google and ASU’s webpage. Do a search of all the clubs at ASU as there are hundreds. Which ones stand out to you as something you enjoy? Also use google to find volunteer opportunities in your community. Spend extra time looking into those ones that you think you’ll excel at and enjoy. You might have to try more than one volunteer group or club before you find something that feels right. However, if you are a good person and a person whose life is suited for advocacy, then you will know when the right opportunity comes along.



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