Morality lies in the capacity to choose and the responsibility that comes with decision, but choice depends on values embedded in character. Desire and conflict are manifestations of such valuations, while the final moral act is an adaptation of the psychic to a social world of duty and commitment.
… the tendency in moral philosophy has been to slice off psychology, eliminate the psychic precursors of action and focus on conduct, its context and justification. Psychology is individual covert, inferential, messy and complex, while action for the most part is clear and explicit.
Certainly, for a moral subjectivism, the antecedents of an action are fundamental.
The goal of a moral philosophy is a human psychology that incorporates a personal judgement of one’s acts and aspirations, ideally, a self-realisation of the better portion of one’s character.
Intentions are primary to resolve or disambiguate values and choices.
Choice is central to moral action, but there are desires without (explicit) choices, choices without acts, and acts without choice, though there is an implicit choice in every thought and act.
There is a qualitative difference in form between thinking a thing and saying or doing it.
Each moment, action resolves a mix of personal values, past experience, present conditions and future expectations, even if the person is revealed to be someone he himself does not admire.
It has to be conceded that “free will” comes at a price; once confronted with indecision, one is already in trouble, the more so if choices have equal weight. The greater the menu of options, the multitude of perspectives, the detachment, the less a person is likely to commit to a single path of action. The openness obligated by reason becomes a sanctuary for moral retreat. Reason confronts options exposed in the suspension of action and a withdrawal from objects.
We can begin by putting reason aside, for it does not help us to act. Knowledge is essential in providing conceptual alternatives, but it must be implanted in values for the right act to arise. … An emotional push is necessary for choice.
… the failure to search for error, a too hasty leap to the truth, or an easy acceptance of dogma – scientific, philosophical or religious – are marks of intellectual dishonesty and an attack on truth itself.
To act with an internalised social conscience is to be morally scrupulous. Darkness should remind us of light, the Buddhists say, and in the same sense the knowledge of life’s gifts ought to be tinged with a melancholy for their loss, for oneself and for others.
… detachment is less the assumption of another perspective than the capacity to entertain multiple perspectives, as in a dialectic, in which personal interest is neutralised by deference to alternative points of view. Ambiguity is the antidote to dogma and error. This entails a categorical perspective that does not capitulate to rival attitudes but surrounds them.
… conscious knowledge of right and wrong is not so much a prescription for action as a justification for actions motivated by the values through which knowledge was installed by the experience. … The idea that the knowledge of right and wrong can tell one what to do is sheer causistry.
Goodness may derive from a sense of duty or responsibility, but most people think it ought to flow naturally from character. … Goodness as obligation uncouples feeling from action when the impulse to self-interest is overcome.
Duty as motivation exacts a response by way of values; but duty as mere obligation is coercive and thus intrapsychically inert.
With the primacy of action, agency, thought and desire are subordinate to conduct. What them becomes of moral theory if the feeling of passivity to a thought, say in obsession, or that of agency in voluntary action, turn out to be phenomenal by-products of act- and object -realisation, not measures of actual control?
Even in the best of people, the examined life cannot fail to discover traces of moral corruption. We must account for our acts, and injuries to others, but it is the inner life that calls us to judgement.
The problem for subjectivism is to import greater significance to the psychic precursors of action, and to bring action back into the mind of the subject where it arises, rather than displace it into the world where it has its effects.
I think the ought of duty or obligation will continue to be a confound for a naturalist theory of value unless the necessity in virtue can be shown to be grounded in the is of natural process. Duties must be conceived as psychological constructs, values in ones character, not motives or brakes on conduct.
Goodness of character is to rightness of conduct as potential to actual, not universal to particular.
In mathematics, the numerical concept of ‘one’ has a formal identity across applications … This is not true for a real entity, which does not remain unaltered when it is separated from its context in order to compare it to similar entities in other minds or the same mind at different times. Every actuality actualises a unique qualitative ground.
The right becomes the good when conduct recedes from the objective surface of the mind to its sources in subjectivity.
Authenticity points to the unconscious moral tendencies of the individual that actualise valuations in the self-concept. Morality applies to the resolution of character and choice, the reconciliation of an authentic yet unconscious self with the decision and freedom to choose that are necessary to informed moral conduct.
What gives a person pleasure or makes one happy is not necessarily good in a moral or aesthetic sense. The dissociation of pleasure, desirability and the good is such as to vitiate theories of pleasure, happiness and desirability on the basis of goodness.
Desire is a conceptual feeling that arises in the “drive-representations” that lay down the self and its conceptual feelings or value categories. Desirability is desire that moves value outward from self to object. Desire specifies value in the desirability of the object. Desirability is the desire for an object of worth, since not all objects of worth are desired. Desirability straddles the subject/object transition. Because of its greater proximity to the object, desirability relates more to preference or taste that to desire, which is closer to drive-based affects.
The passage of what is desired, to what is desirable, to what ought to be desired corresponds to a shift from the subjectivity of desire to an intermediate phase of desirability, and then to an objective valuation of the act or object. The ought begins in the extraction of desire form drive, and continues in a progression toward the object, in desirability, which is “half way” from desire to worth, then concludes with its full objectification in the valuation of external objects.
The objectivity of object value, the feeling of obligation as (usually) external and the subjectivity of desire are interpreted as reversible and interactive, whereas subjectivity objectifies in a unidirectional becoming.
… the self is anything but rational, reason being an endpoint in the passage from meanings to words. For most people, rationality is a rare achievement. … The residual value in abstract and “affect-free” concepts must then be looked for in the value underlying the so-called pure reason.
Naturalism does not equate the good with hedonism, which is antithetical to morals, nor does it appeal to social ecology, or the behavior of sub-human primates, or the imperatives of “selfish genes”. Self-preservation does not translate to pleasure-seeking as the expense of others. The self goes out into the world and fills it with value; it does not accrue value for its own needs.
Loyalty is an affective bias; goodness is impartial. A preference based on kinship, affection, tribe, ethnicity, is rational from the standpoint of self-interest but counter to moral logic.
Truth has empirical and logical grounds, these grounds are thought to be the basis of conviction, but the certainty of truth, i.e a belief that the truth is true, requires the subjectivity of belief to impact on the presumes objectivity of fact.
Beauty differs from truth and goodness in that it may arouse neural configurations that respond to balance, averaging or whole/part relations. This may explain the immediacy of the perception of the beautiful.
As to the association of the ideal good with reason, the good is reinforce by logic but not dependent on it. … In logic, thought retreats from the particular to the idea behind it, or the re4altions between ideas. Logic cannot instruct us how to act in a given circumstance. Logic does not usually tell us what we do not already know. … It is better at refutation than assertion.
The relation of the individual to society might correspond to the part/whole relation in beauty, but individual good is often achieved as the cost of much suffering, while the good of the many demands the sacrifice of the few. At least in this way, the part/whole relation of beauty differs from the one/many relation in society.
The universal is immanent in every particular.
The aha experience, the sudden apprehension of a profound truth, the awareness of time and space in the perception of nature, the apprehension of deep order, symmetry and perfection that gives the experience of the sublime, for truth or for beauty, do not occur with the recognition of the good. Nor is there the same degree of cynicism. Because the good is a secondary construction, a good act raises questions of intent that do not occur for truth and beauty.
Goodness is conceived as the whole of its relations. If objects are relational there is no demarcation of object an property. The bundle of properties that constitutes an act of goodness is a complex of relations. The idea of the good as an object with properties rests on the distinction of substance and quality, or subject and predicate, for the property has to be a property of some object.
The good is not a natural, physiological (culture-independent) category like beauty or colour, or a consensual fact-based category like truth.
… the perception of colour, though subjective, is independent of personality, whereas goodness is directly related to character.
Any property is a category of sub-types, but this is especially so with goodness where the property has both a subjective and an objective aspect.
Even the most obvious property of goodness needs to be contextually decontaminated. An unselfish parent can ruin a child, generosity can degrade the feeling of self-worth, etc. As with truth or beauty, the good is illustrated and taught by examples, but the category of the good rests more precariously than truth and beauty on its concrete illustrations.
The presence of covert emotion in reason, or the ability to rationalise feeling, implies that reason itself has an affective tone. The ideal develops out of the conceptual feeling as an experience of the pre-object category. Put differently, ideals are created out of categories as rational aims that can supplant the affective aims of desire. When an ideal becomes the goal of a desire, the affective element dissolves in an object into which it can discharge, while the rational element reatins the meaning in a concept that is unspecified as to content and intention.
It is not a simple matter to desire a generality, a universality or an ideal that is not accented by some instance of possibility.
… the desire for the category is more like a yearning or a longing, which is a waiting for the object to clarify, while a desire directed to an object embodies the wish to have it: it excludes similar objects and suffers the fear of its loss. Just as we generalise an ideal from the particular in the good objects of desire, we seek an ideal love or in life the particular in the category.
The good is not a natural category, like beauty, nor a logical one like truth, which enfold instances of their expression, but an artifice derived from its examples. … Goodness is a conventional category abstracted from its examples not prior to them.
As an ideal self, the good is a subjective possibility that aims at self-realisation. That is, the categories that specify the particulars of conduct can themselves be idealised at subjective or objective polarity. … On this view, one’s moral duty is not to conform one’s conduct to the ideal good, but to realise in all acts the ideal self.