The Table

Humility and Ambition in Politics: Abraham Lincoln (and a Couple of Others You Might Know)

By Robert C. RobertsNovember 7, 2016

Can one be humbly ambitious? We are all too familiar with the damage of vicious and dehumanizing ambition in political, religious, and corporate settings. Even at a personal level, selfish ambition can be a destructive and demeaning force. Success at the expense of others finds no place in the ethics of Jesus. But is ambition always vicious? Philosopher Robert C. Roberts suggests that we might find a picture of virtuous and even humble political ambition in perhaps the most virtuous of presidents: Abraham Licoln.

In this ebook from The Table, you'll find:

  • A philosophical analysis of ambition as a species of pride.

  • An introduction of Abraham Lincoln's political character throught the virtue of humility.

  • A consideration of Lincoln's ambition; that it was a virtuous and humble political ambition.

  • A discussion of the 2016 presidential election season, considering the ambition of the two major party candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

  • A vision of servant leadership based in human rational-moral nature in light of Philippians 2.

  • Two practical suggestions for leaders to acquire humility that leads to virtuous ambition.


Robert C. Roberts is Distinguished Professor of Ethics emeritus at Baylor University, and Chair of Ethics and Emotion Theory in the Jubilee Centre, University of Birmingham (UK). He is author of many books and articles including Emotions in the Moral LifeSpiritual Emotions: A Psychology of Christian Virtues, and Intellectual Virtues: An Essay in Regulative Epistemology (co-authored with Jay Wood). Professor Roberts received his Ph.D from Yale University in 1974 and has taught at Western Kentucky University (1973–1984) and Wheaton College (1984–2000), and Baylor University (2000–2015), where he retains Resident Scholar status in the Institute for Studies of Religion. He has received research grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and Notre Dame’s Center for Philosophy of Religion. He is currently a recipient, with Michael Spezio, of a grant from the Self, Motivation, and Virtue Project at the Institute for the Study of Human Flourishing at the University of Oklahoma, for a study of Humility in Loving Encounter.

The views, opinions, authors, and contributors represented in The Table do not necessarily represent the beliefs of Biola University or the Biola University Center for Christian Thought.

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