How to Create Virtuous Leaders

Sunday, October 30, 2022

What Is It

Ancient philosophers like Socrates and Plato believed that an education focused on developing good character could create virtuous leaders who work for the people, not their own benefit. Nowadays, though, it seems too many politicians are power hungry, corrupt, and out of touch. So how do we train our leaders to be more virtuous? Is good character something that can be taught? And what can we learn from the Ancients about how we can each lead an excellent life? Josh and Ray virtuously welcome back Massimo Pigliucci from the City College of New York, author of The Quest for Character: What the Story of Socrates and Alcibiades Teaches Us about Our Search for Good Leaders.

Listening Notes

Ray and Josh open the show with a brief discussion on the moral nature of the personal and public lives of societal leaders. Is it enough for politicians to be good leaders for the public or should they be good people in their personal lives as well? Can we teach people to become virtuous? How? These are some of the questions considered in today’s show.

Ray and Josh welcome the show’s guest, Massimo Pigliucci, a professor of Philosophy from the City College of New York. Pigliucci suggests looking to the Greco Romans for insight on the discussion. Despite obvious differences between ancient civilizations and contemporary society, the challenge of making a good leader has persisted for centuries. In response to this idea, they discuss the cardinal virtues and the unity of virtues. They question if some virtues are more important than others, how our systems of education and politics play a role, and if education can successfully instill fundamental virtues and principles.

In the last segment of the show, Josh questions what Massimo would do if he had the power to ensure politicians were virtuous people. In response, Massimo would primarily focus on educating students on ethics from an early age as well as highlighting the presence of ethics in every area of life. By teaching the skills to be good people or good citizens, we can by extension teach society’s youth to become good leaders and politicians should they choose to pursue these careers.

  • Roving Philosophical Report (4:28): Holly J. McDede reports on various kings, czars, and presidents across time and place who all appeared virtuous and considerate of the people but were largely incompetent as national leaders. In particular, Jimmy Carter is notorious for his poor governance during his presidency yet simultaneously praised for his humanitarian contributions and public image as an honest politician. Ultimately, the pattern seems to be that good people do not make good leaders, but perhaps there is hope for future leaders to be both.
  • Sixty-Second Philosopher (45:50): Ian Shoales reports on the grand military leaders and their ancient armies throughout history in contrast with the underwhelming leaders of modern day.



Josh Landy  
Do good leaders have to be good people?

Ray Briggs  
What qualities should we expect in our politicians?

Josh Landy  
How can we build character in our next generation of leaders?

Comments (3)

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Saturday, September 17, 2022 -- 7:10 AM

Along with the show on

Along with the show on culture, this question is focused on ethics/morality, seems to me. We try to instill virtue in our youth. By the time they reach age of majority, sixteen or so, they realize exactly how competitive they need to be to make a life. Virtue slips away as an anachronism: nice to talk about; Impractical in a fast paced, modern world. So, get over it. Your question is archaic---good intentions do not capture the gold.

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Daniel's picture


Sunday, September 18, 2022 -- 2:11 PM

So gold overrides virtue as a

So gold overrides virtue as a social good, or is virtue underdetermined by gold as a means of subsistence? Asked differently, is what society lacks in virtue compensated by its import of precious metals, or does the import of precious metals provide resources for virtuous actions only secondarily after collective subsistence is attained? Or again, do you assert that gold is a spiritual supplement for deficient virtue, or is it that virtue stands in material need of gold? As the comprehensiveness of your analysis and sincerity of your commitment to the subject matter is apparent, your answer will be of inestimable value to respective scholarship.

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Allenwood's picture


Tuesday, May 21, 2024 -- 4:40 AM

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