From an external standpoint, an obligation is independent of what the subject wants to do, but for the subject, there is no felt obligation if it is concordant with his desire. When the ought and the want coincide, the ought drops out. The conflict between the ought and the want is part of the sense of obligation, which is the feeling that one should or must do something for the self or for another person that is contrary to one’s desires.
The ‘good’ thing to do may be consistent with character, but it may not be the ‘right’ thing to do. The good is centered in character, the right in conduct. The good is closer to intentions, the right to outcomes. If the immediate outcome is good, and its subsequent repercussions bad, the decision might have been good, i.e. based on good intentions, yet the action might have been wrongly chosen. In contrast, a decision based on value stems from character. It is what is considered the right and natural thing to do regardless of the outcome, regardless of whether it is “objectively right”, assuming that could be determined at the time of the action.
If the moral logic of a computer could be programmed in advance with a hierarchy of valuations, and could calculate the probability of the most favourable outcome rather than the antecedents of choice, motivation or personal repercussion, would this help the individual decide what to do? And does this mode of thought have anything in common with human cognition?
… from a biological point of view, the prospective direction of responsibility to a child, which is the forward direction of evolution, outweighs the retrospective direction to parents, who are irrelevant from an evolutionary, i.e. reproductive, standpoint.
If moral statements are neither true nor false, true statements do not lead to moral obligations. A statement of truth is itself al kind of action, a verbal act, and does not lead to another motor or verbal action. Action is not the outcome of truth, but a means to clarify uncertainty. It aids in the closure on indecision. In this respect, an action is itself a test of the truth of a statement, thus it is a kind of truth, or a search for truth. One could also say that the finality, irrevocability and definiteness of an action add a new truth to what previously existed.
There is much to be said for the notion that the most fundamental facts are errors that enjoy their truth from the limits of our capacity to refute them. Science attempts to test a belief for its truth, though a profound truth, as Niels Bohr once remarked, may not contrast with an error or a falsehood but with another profound truth.
Subjectivism is neither impersonal nor egocentric. Social adaptation sees to that. Impersonality is achieved, not by objectivity or rationality, but through empathy, self-denial and acts of “imaginative fusion”.
Morality is, finally, an obligation to one’s ideal self or the best of one’s character.
Logical arguments are an uncertain guide to the thought process, as are the choices that emerge from them. We tend not to sound a position too deeply or rationally, but rather take it on a ‘gut’ feeling and then seek arguments to support it. William James wrote that philosophy is more a matter of passionate vision than reason, the reason coming afterwards as a justification.
… the masses absorb and tacitly condone the values responsible for their own shame or subjugation.
The obligations of convention have the force of moral duties precisely because they are internalised in character, even if they are independent of knowledge or agency at the time the action occurs. …
A person is ultimately responsible for his own character regardless of the choices available when he acts, and he should be held accountable for that character even if he denies responsibility.
Self-examination involves a scrutiny, so far as possible, of the unconscious values driving conduct. The goal of a moral education is to instil values that are life enhancing and humanitarian, that preserve individualism and at the same time enlarge the self-concept with other-directed concerns.
A desire is intentional. The self is antecedent to and directed toward an object. Desire is the feeling of a relation of need or want that is directed from the self toward an object or to the concept of the object. … An obligation differs from a desire in having the self for its object. The self feels an obligation, but it is the self that is obligated. The object of the obligation is not the action the self is obliged to perform, but is directed to the self.
Desire and obligation arise in the self, but their actualisation-bias has a different course. Desire corresponds to the agentive or voluntary feeling of an action, obligation to the passive or receptive feeling of a perception. … A loyalty is some combination of the two, namely an obligation that feels like a desire, in which the self has a commitment to the obligation. In loyalty, the self feels as much an agent as an object.
The compulsion of obligation is linked to an external, perceptual and impersonal object. The agency of loyalty is linked to an internal, active and personal act. This reflects a bias to perceptions that exteriorise and become independent, or a bias to actions that are self-realisations.
There is a continuous transition in the feeling of outer and inner in relation to the structure of agency, from enforced to compassion, from obligation to desire, from the duty to serve out of necessity to the wish to please out of love. The ought becomes the want as extrinsic constraints on egoism internalise as voluntary commitments.