Ethics for Everyone

Moral wisdom for the modern world

Is Lance Armstrong a Success?

Is Lance Armstrong a success? It depends on who you ask.

Lance Armstrong's last Tour de France has not been what many thought or hoped that it would be. He is currently 25th in the GC standings, going into the second rest day of the Tour. In the past, Lance has always been lucky with respect to crashes and injuries. But not this time. Of course, his 7 Tour wins were not merely products of luck, but were the result of physical and intellectual skill, determination, and large amounts of hard work.

The success of Lance Armstrong on the bike in the Tour de France is unprecedented. He is a controversial figure in the sport; some claim that his success is due to doping.  However, he might be right that he is the most tested athlete on the planet. Even so, Lance has never tested positive for banned performance-enhancing substances.

But is Lance Armstrong a success? In a forthcoming book I co-edited with Jesús Ilundáin Agurruza, Cycling - Philosophy for Everyone: A Philosophical Tour de Force, Greg Bassham and Chris Krall address this question. As they point out, on many classical and medieval theories of success, the answer to this question is "no."  Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Augustine, the Stoics, and Epicurus would of course disagree on many things, but Lance falls short of each of their notions of success, for different reasons. For example, Lance has stated that he is not a religious believer, and Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, and Augustine all think that religious belief and/or service are an important part of a fully successful life.

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But on a contemporary view discussed by Bassham and Krall, Lance is in many ways a successful human being. Philosopher Thomas Morris offers a theory of success which he calls the 3-D Approach to Life:

  1. Discover your positive talents.
  2. Develop the most meaningful and beneficial of those talents.
  3. Deploy your talents into the world for the good of others and yourself.

On the 3-D Approach, Lance is a success. First, he has discovered his positive talents. In Texas, where football reigns, Lance discovered his abilities in the endurance sports of running, swimming, and cycling. He had to work to excel at these sports, and work he did. Over time, it became clear that Lance had amazing abilities and great potential on the bike, and with the help of Chris Carmichael and others, and after a battle with cancer, he became perhaps the greatest rider in the history of the Tour de France. Not only did he develop his talent, he has deployed it for good in his battle against cancer through the Livestrong Foundation. While many famous athletes and celebrities squander not only their wealth, but also their potential influence for good, Lance provides a positive example of someone who spends what U2 frontman Bono calls "the currency of celebrity" in a good way--helping to fight the deadly disease of cancer.

Lance Armstrong is not a perfect human being, but in many of the ways that matter, he is a success. In fact, he is extraordinarily successful, but not because he has made large amounts of money, dated rock star Sheryl Crow, and achieved worldwide celebrity status. Rather, he is a success insofar as he has discovered and developed his talents, and then deployed them in a way that serves the common good.

Copyright Michael W. Austin

Follow Mike Austin on Twitter.

Michael W. Austin, Ph.D., is a Professor of Philosophy at Eastern Kentucky University.

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