509 Most moral acts are performed without deliberation as a natural response to a situation. These acts range from spontaneous rage or altruistic sacrifice to everyday acts of kindness, meanness or indifference that, collectively discharge the values and character of a person over time in a variety of circumstance. In such actions, choice is not absent, but is implicitly resolved without becoming an object of awareness. The choice is ”automatic,” but with hesitation or delay it can become a conscious terminus.
510 The closer the choice to the endstage of the process, the greater the constraints on the final form, and the less possibility for the unexpected to occur. The shift from the automatic to the volitional in speech is a microcosm of what occurs when there is hesitation in action. When the hesitation or indecision in action is a sign of choice or conflict at a conscious or unconscious phase, as in word search, there is also a feeling of effort or agency, and prominence of the conceptual precursors of the action and of options prior to act-selection.
511 An act of heroism may be foolhardy, one of caution or cowardice may be prudent, but the act, whatever its content or assessment by the agent, or by others, is an expression of the core self or character. …The more immediate or impulsive the response, the greater its affinity with that of other people in similar circumstances. Rage, fear and flight, for example, are common to all of us, Hesitation penetrates the ground of impulse by a diversity of individual thought, and the ensuing action is more expressive of the uniqueness of personality. The result is often a partial or stepwise action that illustrates the value-distribution over time, as opposed to an immediate action, which illustrates the dominant value at the moment. …More often, reflection cancels an action, or replaces it with ambivalence.
512 At times of uncertainty, decision is most likely to be guided by adaptation to the social environment. The egoism of a moral calculus tends to prevail when right conduct is clear yet self-interest prevails. In some respects, the more deliberative the action, the more it approximates that of an informed political decision, where impulse is fractionated by the complexity of the situation and the best strategy to achieve a goal. …An act that occurs without reflection suggest the pimacy of instinctual will or uncouscious motivation. An act that engages conscious intention is rooted in moral logic and choice. The contrast of spontaneity and deliberation is that of automatism and freedom. This contrast is central to the relation of thought to action.
513 Deliberation is no guarantee of good conduct. Spontaneous action can involve moral or immoral outcomes, deliberation can lead to ethical or unethical conduct, or obstruct a person from acting in an ethical way.
514 The value-configuration undergoes a gradual evolution with age and experience, hopefully in the direction of a lessening of egoism. However, at any stage of life, unless the individual undergoes a personal crisis or a spiritual conversion, the equilibrium of self and other is unlikely to dramatically shift simply through learning. The criminality of the young may dissolve into the benignity of age, but the reverse also occurs, as the idealism of the young gives way to the corruption of power and money. It is doubtful that an immoral person, young or old, could be persuaded to abort a planned criminal act by an appeal to an other-centered value, though an egoistic one, e.g., fear of punishment, might be a deterrent.
515 We see this in both the individual and in society, when conflict leas not to an action that is energetic and forthright, but to compromise, inaction and delay, though there are occasions when inaction and/or compromise are preferable. When a decision is distributed over many people with differing views, or when one person hold beliefs and values that are incompatible, or if one set of values does not predominate, conflict or compromise is inevitable.
517 An examination of the microstructures of choice (Brown, 1996) affirms that concepts are not conveyed, but survive into consciousness, as deliberation or indecision uncovers the covert struggle in their actualization.
518 Competing claims on (within) the individual owe to opposing values or beliefs. In a sense, there are competing selves. Mandelbaum (1955) has written that moral conflict within a person has the same general form as conflicting judgments between people, just as obligation takes a similar form whether it is internal or external. …Ideas propagate as knowledge infiltrates concepts to add nuance to bias. Latent contents are activated out of memory and novel arguments are elicited through propagation or metaphoric extension. Knowledge has its effect by impression or imaginative fusion. Lines of thought or patterns of memory are facilitated and brought to bear on precursor concepts. The gradual assertion of a leading concept reinforces the action path, less by impulsion than an elimination of competing trends. Deliberation is not anticipatory , it revives past objects obscured by a fixation on the present. Ideally, it forges an act that is seamless and spontaneous, as the study of a musical piece leads to a flawless performance. Spontaneity in moral conduct as an outcome of knowldge and reflection is preferred to goodness as a resuolt of moral drill. However, the effect of knowledge is to facilitate commitment by reinforcing presuppositions, not by adding conviction. Did Kant no say, “I must abolish knowledge to make room for belief.”
520 The value of self and other are co-temporal at their origination, and continuous in the process leading from self to object. When two egocentric desires or values clash independent of the needs of others, the choice is non-moral. When ego- and exo-centric values clash, the choice is moral. Since values derive from drives, which are adaptive, the origin of every value supposes a social factor.
522 Only when a person is oblivious to his own motivations can an act be considered and end in itself. That is perhaps why goodness seems to occur in people of great simplicity. Only when the means to achieve an end are transient can they be said to portend goals. When a fractious truce becomes a substitute for a lasting peace, when deliberation persist beyond the conflict that was its source, we can say the end is superseded by the means. But, in many cases this simply implies that the original goal has been forgotten, attention has been diverted, other priorities take its place, etc. Unless this goal is continuously in sight, the means/end relation will be uncertain.
524 – 525 A coherence of the synthetic and the analytic, the universal and the particular, occurs when the whole resonates in the parts and the parts partake of the whole. A powerful realization of this relation has been, for many thinkers, from Aristotle to Shcopenhauer, the very definition of genius. …Concepts are not inductions of facts, but generate facts as realization of value. The accommodation of concept to fact is an historical process of fact-creation, the transition of conceptual valuation into objects that seem value-free. Concept and fact are reconciled in the relation of thought to action, or deliberation to spontaneity. We see comparable reconciliation of abstract potential to concrete possibility in the adjustment of ambition to achievement or of the desired to the attainable. …The conceptual and the material, like the mental and the physical are symbiotic concepts. The one supposes the other, to which it is a response. A fixation on facts as building blocks of concepts can suffocate an ambiguity that may be our best approximation to truth. Assertion and refutation seem to be the sole paths to knowledge, but what sort of truth survives? A negation, unlike a refutation, constrains; it does not reject but exposes the nugget of truth that remains after a mountain of error has been excavated. The limits of any theory are at stake when anything is described, for a description is a piece of the theory that supports it. For every category, there is another just beyond its contours. Every statement plumbs the depths of the presupposition on which everything depends. …The consequences of an action are the grounds on which we decide whether or not a person is responsible.
526 …within the domain of immediate, automatic or spontaneous action, for good or bad, there should be equal responsibility according to the psychological structure of the act regardless of its moral worth.
527 We do not attribute the same degree of volition to immoral acts as moral ones, regardless of whether they are spontaneous or deliberate. This dissociation introduces mercy and compassion into the system of justice, but makes no sense at all from the standpoint of human psychology. …It seems to boil down to a choice between a theory that is universal to volition or one that is individual to character. A theory of volition, in order to be useful in attributing responsibility , would have to entail that choice is independent of character, for otherwise intention would be a sideshow to the main act of personality, with every act a sampling of some aspect of character. If conduct is determined by character, which in turn is the outcome of one’s causal ancestry, volition would be a sort of psychic slight-of-hand en route to acts and objects. If intention is fully based in character, conduct should be judged irrespective of whether or not it is voluntary. The self, slave to the mistress of character, still believes it is living freely. …If intention does uncouple from character, a person would have the power to choose the right – or veto the wrong – course of action, to some extent independent of what sort of person he is. Then it would be fair to judge that action as a unique volition. There is a problem with either case. If we judge the individual according to his character, of which the volition is an expression, the volition is irrelevant. A volition independent of character is a momentary quirk.
528 -529 Volition is ingredient as the self goes out to its subjective aim in a trajectory from unconscious potential to the definite and the real, from value to fact. Every thought or action begins with the values, belief and personal experiences that, collectively, comprise a personality. Character is fundamental to who we are, what we think how we act. Reason develops out of the ideational context created by conceptual feelings, which in turn are generated from the core personality, as an expressive, not instrumental, feature. Values enrich those construct that incline the self to personal and social ends. They facilitate dispositions to configure concepts and their implementation in words and acts. It is more likely that character lays down volition than that volition influences character and, thus, that responsibility begins with character, not volition. Even if we are not the authors of our own character but its victims or beneficiaries, the question remains whether the self freely chooses, or whether character spills through intention into behavior. IF the latter, the objective judgement is the only judgement we can make, even if it stops where the subjective is felt to begin. A judgement of conduct by others leaves untapped those inner states that constitute the great part of its structure. For an object theory these states are inferred. For microgenetic theory, the process leading to the act, not the act itself, is the primary datum. …If volition is bound to character and free choice is illusory, which is not to say inefficacious, is there a possibility that character can be changed by an act of will? If a person cannot choose his acts, can he decide his values? If not, we are automatons without agency or personal responsibility, with as little reason to praise a good act as blame a harmful one.
530 Can the self assume a posture that is receptive to moral education? The subjective criterion of responsibility would then not be restricted to whether a person acts responsibly, for this may be beyond his control, but whether he is mindful of his moral failings and open to the growth of personal values that are empathic and life enhancing.