2014 Year in Review

At the end of 2013, I offered a rough sketch of a comprehensive ethical theory that includes both other-directed, moral virtues, such as honesty and justice, and self-directed, non-moral virtues, such as intelligence and fitness. Starting from my proposed three ethical precepts for human movement and the need to scale these precepts for considerations of age, injury and disability, I suggested a hierarchy of all virtues based on the distinction of scalability. Primary, non-scalable virtues are those that apply to all individuals regardless of age and intellectual and physical capacity. A person should not torture, rape or murder another human being. Secondary, scalable virtues include fitness, intelligence and other non-moral and moral virtues whose standards may vary. A person may lie to save the life of an innocent, and we should not expect a 75-year-old woman to carry a 250-pound man from a burning building. Within this hierarchy, I proposed a complementary relationship between secondary virtues, where strengthening one virtue helps strengthen another. I also suggested that the secondary virtues provide a foundation to support the primary virtues.

2014 Year in ReviewAt the beginning of 2014, I set out to give evidence for the relationship between secondary virtues. In January, I cited several studies demonstrating the connection between physical fitness and intellectual capacity. Researchers from the University of Illinois and the United Kingdom showed that increased physical activity and fitness can improve learning, memory and academic performance in children and adolescents. [1],[2],[3] A University of California study demonstrated that women who walk more frequently show less significant declines in cognitive test scores than those who walk the least, and each additional mile the subjects walked per week was associated with a 13% lower chance of cognitive decline. [4] A study in the Annals of Behavior Medicine demonstrated that senior citizens who walk regularly have improved memory, learning ability, concentration and abstract reasoning, as well as a reduced risk of stroke. [5] Moreover, the Cleveland Clinic Foundation discovered that subjects who consistently focused on imagining they were moving their little fingers and flexing their elbows displayed significantly greater strength gains in these muscles than a control group which performed no imaginary exercises. [6] So increased physical activity and physical fitness improve cognitive performance across age groups, and increased mental focus appears to improve physical capabilities.

In March, I shifted focus toward moral virtues and presented research on the effect of regular yoga practice on prison inmates. A study by the Oxford University Departments of Experimental Psychology and Psychiatry showed that prisoners who participated in regular yoga classes showed an improvement in positive mood, a decrease in stress and greater accuracy in a computer test of impulsivity and attention when compared to a control group. [7] A study published in Nursing Research demonstrated that incarcerated women who completed a twelve-week regimen of two yoga classes a week exhibited reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression. [8] And a 2008 study showed a mere 8.5% of prisoners who attended four or more yoga classes were re-incarcerated upon release, compared to 25.2% of those who attended between one and three classes. [9] So yoga provides one example of how physical activity can help put people in mental states where they are more likely to act ethically, and can actually help them refrain from unethical behavior.

Of course, yoga is considered a very gentle and mindful physical activity. A counter to yoga’s benefits comes from what I call the Bully Argument, which suggests that those who dedicate themselves to more aggressive forms of physical fitness may become more hostile and violent toward others and may use their exceptional strength, power and other physical capabilities to overwhelm weaker individuals. In July, I provided a counter to the Bully Argument, based on testimonials about the positive effects of mixed martial arts (MMA) practice for war veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In San Diego, Todd Vance provides such training, based on his own experiences with PTSD. He returned from military action “angry, confused, combative. He got into fights and drank a lot.” [10] Vance used MMA practice in conjunction with medication and counseling to manage his symptoms, and now extends the same physical therapy to others in his position. “I come here and I feel better than I do when I leave the VA,” said 13-year Marine Corps veteran Jason Jones about Vance’s classes. [11] So even physical activity like MMA that seems the polar opposite of yoga and a prime candidate for the Bully Argument actually appears to promote ethical behavior. The Bully Argument is unfounded, and we have even more reason to believe that pursuit of physical fitness encourages moral virtues.

In September and October, I explored the converse relationship and attempted to show how having moral virtues and moral values gives one reason to value physical virtues. Given the immense variety of ethical theories, I proposed dividing these theories between those which hold that the value of other humans should be considered simultaneously (if not before) the value of oneself (altruism), and those which hold that the agent’s own value has primacy over the value of others (egoism). I further divided egoism into objectivism, which places emphasis on so-called higher values such as production, achievement and love, and hedonism, which identifies pleasure as the only value. Because objectivism values production and accomplishment, adherents of this theory appear more likely recognize the importance of physical fitness in achieving their ends than do altruists and hedonists. With altruism and hedonism at opposing ends of the ethical spectrum, if I can show that adherents of both theories have reason to value physical fitness, similar arguments should apply to theories in the middle of the spectrum.

In September, I addressed hedonists who seek to maximize lower pleasures, i.e. pleasures which appeal to the basic senses and include food, drink, sex and natural and pharmacological highs. Given that most of these pleasures lead to undesirable side effects and a decreased life expectancy when enjoyed to excess, the hedonist has reason to minimize said side effects and work to increase life expectancy in order to maximize her total pleasure over time. Improving physical fitness has been shown to work on both fronts, reducing drug-related brain damage [12] and increasing life expectancy [13] without the use of drug intervention. [14] Exercise also improves the quality of certain lower pleasures such as food [15],[16] and sex. [17] So the egoistic hedonist has reason to value fitness in some capacity in order to increase life expectancy (and thereby duration of pleasure), improve the quality of pleasures and minimize deleterious side effects.

In October, I turned to altruism, the belief that an action is ethical if it benefits someone other than the agent. Perhaps the strictest form of altruism comes from Peter Singer, who claims humans are morally required “to prevent bad things from happening unless in doing so we would be sacrificing something of comparable moral significance.” [18] So if I can save a life by donating a sum of money to a particular charity without endangering my survival, then by Singer’s argument, I am morally required to do so. A corollary of this argument is that I can be a better altruist by preventing the greatest amount of bad, such as by saving or improving the lives of many other humans through various charitable works. Singer and I agree that perhaps the most efficient way to do so is to pursue a career with a high earning potential, since an agent can do more good by financing multiple individuals to perform beneficial work, than by performing that work alone as a single agent. According to the Journal of Labor Research, people who exercise for at least three hours a week earn 9% more than those who don’t. [19],[20] Furthermore, since improved physical fitness increases life expectancy, a physically fit altruist has greater opportunity to earn and give in order to help others. For these reasons, the altruist has reason to value fitness in some capacity in order to maximize his charitable efforts.

Having thus addressed the relationship between the secondary virtues, I will turn my attention to the primary virtues in the coming year. In particular, I hope to find answers to two questions:

  1. How do secondary virtues, and physical fitness in particular, work to support the primary virtue?
  2. Is it possible to derive secondary virtues, especially those relating to fitness, from the primary ethical precept of human inviolability?
These questions will serve as the main tasks of the KineSophy project in 2015.


  1. Raine, Lauren B., et al. “The Influence of Childhood Aerobic Fitness on Learning and Memory.” Plos One. 11 Sept. 2013. Online. 29 Nov. 2013. http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0072666.
  2. Kaplan, Karen. “Physical Fitness boost brainpower in kids, study finds.” Los Angeles Times. 11 Sept. 2013. Online. 29 Nov. 2013.  http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-physically-fit-kids-learn-better-memory-20130911,0,6326552.story#axzz2nrpOEGui.
  3. Sifferlin, Alexandra. “Study: More Active Teens Get Higher Test Scores.” TIME. 22 Oct. 2013. Online. 29 Nov. 2013. http://healthland.time.com/2013/10/22/study-more-active-teens-get-higher-test-scores.
  4. Journal of Applied Psychology, October 2000. Cited in “The Human Brain.” The Franklin Institute. Online. 29 Nov. 2013. http://www.fi.edu/learn/brain/exercise.html.
  5. Annals of Behavioral of Medicine, August 2001. Cited in “The Human Brain.” The Franklin Institute. Online. 29 Nov. 2013. http://www.fi.edu/learn/brain/exercise.html.
  6. Society for Neuroscience, Annual Meeting, November 11, 2001. Cited in “The Human Brain.” The Franklin Institute. Online. 29 Nov. 2013. http://www.fi.edu/learn/brain/exercise.html.
  7. “Prisoners doing yoga may see mood benefits, study finds.” BBC News. 11 Jul. 2013. Online. 16 Feb. 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-23268302.
  8. Pilon, Mary. “A Series of Poses for Fitness, Inside and Out.” New York Times. 3. Jan. 2013. Online. 15 Feb. 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/04/us/inmates-find-health-and-solace-in-yoga.html?smid=tw-share&_r=3&.
  9. Landau, Pashupati Steven and Gross, Jagat Bandhu John. “Low Reincarceration Rate Associated with Ananda Marga Yoga and Meditation.” International Journal of Yoga Therapy, No. 18, 2008. Online. 20 Feb. 2014. http://www.prisonyoga.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/ReincarcerationStudyIJYT.pdf.
  10. Perry, Tony. “To exorcise devils, vets exercise fists.” Chicago Tribune. 19 Sep. 2012: 20.
  11. Perry, 2012.
  12. Fell, James. “Exercise: Alternative reward for those battling addiction.” Chicago Tribune. 12 Jun. 2013. Online. 27 Aug. 2014. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-06-12/health/sc-health-0612-fitness-fight-addiction-with-exerci-20130612_1_todd-crandell-drug-addiction-reward.
  13. Goldberg, Carey. “Every Minute Of Exercise Could Lengthen Your Life Seven Minutes.” WBUR’s Common Health. 15 Mar. 2013. Online. 15 Aug. 2014. http://commonhealth.wbur.org/2013/03/minutes-exercise-longer-life.
  14. “Could exercise be as effective as medication?” NHS Choices. 2 Oct. 2013. Online. 15 Aug. 2014. http://www.nhs.uk/news/2013/10October/Pages/Could-exercise-be-as-effective-as-medication.aspx.
  15. Horio, Tsuyoshi and Kawamura, Yojiro. “Influence of Physical Exercise on Human Preferences for Various Taste Solutions.” Chem. Senses 23: 417-421, 1998. Online. 29 Aug. 2014. http://chemse.oxfordjournals.org/content/23/4/417.full.pdf.
  16. King, Neil A. “What processes are involved in the appetite response to moderate increases in exercise-induced energy expenditure?” Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 58(01): 107-113, 1999. Online. 30 Aug. 2014. http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=2843456&fileId=S0029665199000178.
  17. Penhollow, Tina M. and Young, Michael. “Sexual Desirability and Sexual Performance: Does Exercise and Fitness Really Matter?” Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, 7: 2004. Online. 30 Aug. 2014. http://www.ejhs.org/volume7/fitness.html.
  18. Singer, Peter. “Famine, Affluence and Morality.” Ethical Theory, Ed. Russ Shafer-Landau, Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2007, p. 506.
  19. Kosteas, Vasilios D. “The Effect of Exercise on Earnings: Evidence from the NLSY.” Journal of Labor Research, Volume 33, Issue 2, p. 225-250. Online. 14 Sep. 2014. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs12122-011-9129-2.
  20. Sanburn, Josh. “One More Reason to Hit the Gym: You’ll Make More Money at Work.” TIME. 8 June 2012. Online. 16 Sep. 2014. http://business.time.com/2012/06/08/one-more-reason-to-hit-the-gym-youll-make-more-money.