The Art of Worldly Wisdom [with active TOC and footnotes]

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Our degrees. Compare course. Compare up to 3 courses. Compare courses. Come to an open event at St Mary's Don't miss your chance to meet academics, tour the campus and check out our facilities at an upcoming open event. Book Now. Get Involved. Get in touch Have a question? Attitudes toward Law. The Essence of Moral Law.

Law as Rational Order. Law and the Common Good. Law and Legitimate Authority. Effects of the Law. The Natural Law. Precepts of the Natural Law. Universality and Immutability of the Natural Law. The Unity and Mutability of Human Nature. Mutability of Some Precepts of the Natural. Relationship between Natural Law and Human Law. Natural Law and Eternal Law. Unjust Law. Exceptions to the Law. Anthropological Value of the Moral Conscience. The Judgement of Conscience. Potential Conscience.

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Moral Knowledge. Actual Conscience. Types or Forms of Conscience. Types of Potential Conscience. Types of Actual Conscience. In Respect to the Act: Antecedent,. Concomitant, and Consequent Conscience. In Respect to Moral Quality:. Right or Negligent. In Respect to Subjective Certitude:. Certain, Sufficient, Doubtful. In Respect to Objective Truth:. True or Erroneous. Law, Virtue, and Conscience. This volume is the second, expanded edition of a book that appeared in this series in Autumn , crowned by a publishing success for which I would like now to thank the readers.

The book was born from my experience in the chair of moral philosophy at the Pontifical University Urbaniana in Rome. Our students, in fact, hailed from the most diverse cultures and formative experiences. But my students came from every continent on earth — and more than a hundred different countries. Further, as is well known, a single country can be home to multiple cultures and traditions. Where was a philosophy teacher to start? Clearly, there had to be another way: the phenomenological option. This meant not beginning with theories even the most important ethical notions elaborated over the long course of the history of philosophical thought , and not stopping short at cultures while nevertheless admiring their richness , but going behind all this, back to the things themselves , concentrating on the moral experience of every human being, soliciting from it the moral principles that can serve as its guide.

The challenge, then, was to describe the humanum in terms comprehensible to every person. These students, though commonly lacking in historical-philosophical instruction, are nonetheless very motivated to learn. Hence, this book was conceived to be useful to students with a classical formation, as well as those who do not possess such a background but greatly desire to learn.

The book has a very conversational tone, like a dialogue. I believe this to be the best method, not only for an introductory text such as this one, but also as a philosophical approach tout-court. Augustine to G. Marcel, has been at the service of the concrete human being, putting such a one in contact with the truth that dwells in the intimacy of his or her own heart. For this reason, on nearly every page of this book, I have sought to highlight the necessary existential meaning of moral-philosophical research: I am, in fact, deeply convinced that philosophy is sapientia vitae and, precisely for this reason, can and should be cultivated with love.

In classical ethics — a paradigm of which can be found in the thought of Aristotle and St. In modern ethics — for which we can take as a paradigm the morality of Hobbes — the point of view moves to an external observer, legislator, or judge, who seeks criteria, principles, and the norms of just action. Modern ethics, then, is an ethics of the third person, while classical ethics is an ethics of the first person.

Ethics of the third person aims at creating a social order where man as a being of desires or as autonomous subject can do what he wants without hurting others, or hurting them only with a better end in mind. Concerning what each person does to satisfy his own desires, or the use that each person makes of his own freedoms, modern ethics refuses to speak, since this is supposed to be a purely private and subjective question. Everybody can manage his own life however he wants. In this way, however, a system of principles and norms is tacitly at the service of the interests of individual, free subjects, for whom one wishes to guarantee satisfaction — the maximum satisfaction.

This is tantamount to recognizing that the importance of individual subjects — of their freedom and their desires — is primary. But silence reigns concerning the meaning of the life of these free subjects. Why, should the utilitarian rules of justice be observed? The principle of the intelligibility of a normative ethics of the third person must be located in the ethics of the first person.

Human conduct, in fact, in as much as it is constructed and produced by the acting subject, contains an original, practical knowledge that is not reducible to the knowledge of the legislator, the judge, or the critic; an operative knowledge that has its own logic. Such practical knowledge focuses on the problem of the meaning a person should give to his own life. Hence, the option for a first person ethics is justified primarily not so much by fidelity to a tradition the argument ex auctoritate is first in theology but last in philosophy , as by the exigency of moral discourse itself, by its very essence.

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This has not only theoretical consequences in the sense of a moral science that is theoretical -practical , but also existential, pedagogical, didactic, and social. The division of the material presented here serves this approach. In chapter 2, we proceed to a close, phenomenological examination of moral experience presented in such a way as to grasp its constitutive elements. Chapter 3 continues with a study of voluntary behavior, shedding light on the structure of human action. Chapter 4 presents the central theme of the good life: virtue. After an explanation of the general characteristics of virtue, there follows an in-depth study of each cardinal virtue.

Hence, chapters 5, 6, 7, and 8 are dedicated respectively to wisdom, justice, fortitude, and temperance. Chapter 10 then presents the essence and function of the moral law, with particular reference to natural law. Finally, in chapter 11, we examine the role and dynamics of the conscience in morality. The objective I have pursued here is clarity and essentiality , simultaneously combined with the exigency of the thoroughness expected in a course of instruction.

But I would then be speaking to colleagues rather than students. Certainly, using a cryptic, esoteric tone, I would be better able to avoid objections. I preferred, rather, to put my own thought at stake, without dissimulation. Obviously, it is up to the reader to judge if and to what extent I have succeeded in reaching my goal. My gratitude remains the same for all those who have contributed to the publication of this Outline of General Ethics in both the first and second editions: my colleagues, for their precious suggestions special thanks to professors G.

Mazzotta and L. Last but not least, I want express my appreciation to the translator, Cynthia Nicolosi. References to and citations from classical texts in the history of thought are given in essential form in the footnotes. The bibliography printed at the conclusion of this volume suggests specific editions of these sources. Contemporary texts to which I refer have sometimes been very helpful instruments in the understanding and exposition of the different themes treated here.

In citing them, I recognize my debt to their authors and, at the same time, invite the reader desirous of further study to have direct contact with them. Many cross-references appear in the course of this volume. I hope that these will not weigh down the reading of the book, but rather, will serve to highlight the unity of ethical discourse as a whole.

The text also includes two excursus. The first, in chapter 8, constitutes a brief digression into anthropology, motivated by the awareness that sometimes students of ethics have not yet encountered the study of the philosophy of man. The second, in chapter 9, is an historical synthesis of ethical thought from the Enlightenment to our own time. In the event it should be necessary to abbreviate the reading of these pages, these excursus can be skipped without prejudice to the understanding of the whole.

A very brief reading is also possible by skimming over chapters , given that the essential traits of the cardinal virtues are explained — in extreme synthesis — in chapter 4. For the first time, perhaps, you have stumbled upon a book about ethics.

At the center of the painting, surrounded by all the major philosophers of antiquity, are the figures of two men walking. On the left is the old Plato B. Each has a book with him. I am not trying to compare the present volume to the Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle which, I hope, you will soon have the chance to study! I only wish to introduce you to this discipline.

To do so, I will begin by asking what interest guides ethical research 1. Secondly, we will define the relations between this study and faith 1. We will then describe our method 1. And lastly, we will concentrate on the object of our research 1. Is your personal identity reducible to that of everyone else? Well, these are the questions and desires from which the study of morality proceeds. They are questions that can be synthesized into one single question:. At this point, you might be asking yourself: What does posing these questions mean for a Christian? What else can philosophy add?

It can, however, help us understand Revelation better and penetrate its meaning more profoundly. This concerns a service rendered on two fronts: on the one hand, philosophy discovers certain truths that facilitate the reception of the Gospel; on the other hand, philosophy unmasks certain errors that impede this reception. To do philosophy means to embark on a rational investigation of man, the world, and God, seeking to know the truth.

According to this view, good and evil are simply ways of seeing things: To me, a certain behavior looks good, to you it looks evil. I must leave you free to do what seems good to you, and you must leave me free to do what seems good to me. Assuredly, whoever thinks like this, as along as they continue to think this way, cannot receive the Christian moral message. If my freedom is the only criteria of good and evil, why would I ever submit to the law of God?

Our task, therefore, is to push rational knowledge onward in the search for truth and the refutation of error. In so doing, we also render a service to theology. As it is, we feel ourselves invited by faith toward a profound exercise of our reason. But does this mean, then, that philosophy should content herself with serving theology, furnishing her with tools and preparing the road before her? Or that theology lays down the obligatory routes which philosophy must follow? Not at all. Philosophical knowledge has its own specificity which can never be diminished.

This is particularly evident today in the complex and secularized society in which we move. In the debate on subjects that are tearing to pieces the consciences of nations, indeed, of the whole world e. As a result, we must learn to give our arguments a philosophical basis. These people maintain that our faith obstructs the freedom and scientific nature of research because it is a collection of prejudices that is, judgements formulated before rational investigation that corrupt the comprehension of things. What can we make of these criticisms?

For my part, before declaring that Christians can or cannot do philosophy, I believe we should ask ourselves what it means to be a philosopher. The philosopher is a thinker who seeks a rational basis for his judgements without making an appeal to myth, faith, or majority opinion. As long as his judgements are founded on rational arguments, his discourse is scientific. A philosopher does not have to bracket his faith be it Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, or any other. The only thing required is that he not draw arguments from the truth of faith , that is, that he keep his discussion on a rigorously rational plane.

Therefore, the Christian like every other person can be a philosopher. Though it can be integrated with moral theology, it nonetheless possesses its own validity, a validity which theology must recognize. In other words, philosophical ethics is mistress of her own house. Having thus defined the relationship between philosophy and moral theology, we may now occupy ourselves more closely with the method of our philosophical research.

How should we conduct our study in order to be true philosophers? We must then identify the point of departure for our investigation 1. Many Ancient Greek philosophers taught that philosophy is born from the experience of wonder in front of being. While the experience of wonder can be very exciting, it can also lead to excessive stress. To be amazed means not being able to explain the why and how of certain phenomena.

When it comes to the universe, being, or man himself, I must confess that I cannot understand everything about myself or my surroundings. This is rather frustrating! Not only frustrating — it can produce a true and proper anguish. The unknown, the mysterious, attracts and frightens me at the same time.

We can side-step the sometimes disquieting path we must walk with the object we wish to know. In so doing, we may escape anguish. Instead, we would be devoting ourselves to that most dangerous of human mental activities: ideology. If the philosophical question is born from wonder, its answer will not be found by fleeing or denying wonder. On the contrary, we must continue in a state of wonder! For wonder to be possible, we must cultivate in ourselves the virtue of reverence for reality.

Reverence implies the availability to listen thoroughly, the effort to be quiet in order to understand rather than prepare our own discourse while the other is still trying to speak , and the renouncement of any attempt to imprison an object in something already known. Nietzsche Such an attitude aims at dominating reality in order to enslave it to oneself. All this assumes an enormous gravity when it concerns not just inanimate things, but human beings. The philosopher must maintain himself in an attitude of delicate and sensitive reverence for reality in itself. The third virtue we must cultivate in our training for philosophy is firmly joined to wonder and reverence: loving desire.

The Greeks spoke of philosophical eros. This expression probably sounds a bit strong and scarcely comprehensible to our modern mentality. Such thinking would be opposed to wonder and respect! So, wonder in front of reality, reverence for reality, and a loving desire for the truth constitute the fundamental attitudes of philosophical inquiry. We must now ask ourselves what the point of departure for our investigation should be. Should we start with the Pre-Socratics and then work our way up to our own time to see how the problem of morality has been treated in the history of Western thought?

This is a legitimate kind of study. Clearly, philosophy does not begin with books. Books themselves are the product of the activity of human beings who have put their thoughts into writing. But these thoughts are not born out of thin air; they are the result of a reflection on experience. Each of us has life experience — in particular, moral experience — something personal and yet common to others.

From childhood, we have reflected on these experiences and formed certain ideas concerning what is right and what is wrong, what is beautiful and what is ugly, on good and evil, on man, the world, and God. And these contacts are realized in dialogue. So, philosophical reflection on our own life is enriched and enlivened thanks to dialogue with our neighbor, be it spoken or written. In some cases, yes. But not necessarily.

In addition, such conditioning is the stronger for not being recognized. If someone deceives himself into thinking that he is totally free, that he has a pure and virginal intelligence of things as they are. Plato describes the condition of such a man with the image of a prisoner chained in a cave who sees shadows projected on the back wall and believes that the whole world is there before him.

No prisoner can free himself if he does not first understand that he is a prisoner! If you want to be free from conditioning, you first have to admit that you have been conditioned. You must first of all recognize the traditions in which you have lived. I myself grew up in a context marked by a western, neo-Latin, Italian mentality; I am a Catholic Christian and I live in a country that declares itself to be Catholic in majority; I was brought up in a family where some behaviors were applauded and others stigmatized; I attended certain schools, etc. Proceeding in this way, we can attain an ever greater level of objectivity.

Whoever is aware of the risk of being conditioned is already potentially free from conditioning. To free ourselves from conditioning, to be as objective as possible, we must distinguish between two concepts that are very often confused and confusing: the obvious and the evident. Obvious for them , but mistaken in itself! What I know, I know in as much as it is present to me.

I will explain: It is true that there are craters on the moon, but this is not evident to me because I have never had the chance to see them. Therefore, for me, the proposition:. In the case of craters observed with the telescope, this concerns sensible evidence , as in the case of the proposition:. This is evident to your senses, to your vision. But there also exists evidence of an intelligible kind, as for example the proposition:. This is evident to your intellect. Examples 2 and 3 are cases of immediate evidence , that is, of evidence gathered directly from reality sensible in the case of the printed page, intelligible in the case of the triangle.

There also exists, however, mediated evidence which is attainable thanks to the mediation of a defined series of immediate evidence. To understand this, think of the theorems of mathematics: you know that the sum of squares constructed on the sides of a right triangle is equal to the square constructed on the hypotenuse.

Is this evident? Is it immediately evident? Certainly not. It must be demonstrated. I can demonstrate a theorem because I proceed from an immediately evident proposition from which other evidence is obtained, and then other evidence. This conclusion at the end is also evident, but thanks to the demonstration, that is to say, in a mediated way. Thus, in philosophy, there are some kinds of evidence that are immediate , for example, that moral values can be realized only by persons can you imagine an honest brick or a prudent salad? The point of departure for our investigation can be nothing other than experience and that minimum-of-philosophy which each of us carries within himself.

Nevertheless, so that our work be scientific, we must be aware of the conditioning deriving from our culture and education. Hence, the task of philosophy is that of dismantling the obvious to gain access to the evident. We have seen in what relation philosophical research stands to faith, and we have explained the salient characteristics of philosophical method.

At this point, we must apply what has been said to the specifically ethical research that we are doing. As we have done already, we will use both words indifferently, moved only by stylistic exigency. We have said above 1. The first step of our research, then, will be to discover in ourselves and in dialogue with our neighbor if an experience of this type exists, essentially distinct from all other types of experience and irreducible to them.

We will then describe this experience, penetrating into its essential nucleus, so that we may begin to draw from it the first consequences for human action. So, we are to occupy ourselves with moral experience. But from what point of view? What type of knowledge do we intend to have of this object? Do we limit ourselves to describing it? Or do we extract certain practical indications for our way of living, that is to say, certain regulations and norms? And, if so, what type of norms will these be?

There are various currents of thought which hold that ethics is a merely descriptive science and, consequently, non-proscriptive. Positivism is a current of thought that arose in the 19th century following the enormous progress achieved by the experimental sciences. As the positivists saw it, the method of the experimental sciences — so valid and fruitful — had to be extended to all other branches of knowledge.

Moral science has no other end than the description of the practices and customs of different peoples. Ethics is thus transformed into human ethology or cultural anthropology. Weak Thought , a very recent movement and still rather prolific, has little or nothing to do with positivism. And yet, in its encounter with ethics, it reaches strangely similar conclusions. Though originating in different interests, both positivism and weak thought negate the possibility of constructing a normative ethics. What can we make of this kind of thinking?

I think, Dear Reader, it gives us the opportunity to start using our heads in a critical way! Beginning with the positivists, we can schematize their way of arguing thus:. Anyone who knows a minimum of logic will recognize here a formally correct syllogism. I would say that it is taken arbitrarily for truth. Why should ethics or philosophy in general conform itself to the model of the experimental sciences? How can one justify the choice of a determined type of science experimental as a paradigm and model for all the sciences? Note well, too, that this affirmation cannot be justified in any way with the methods of experimental science, the supposedly only valid methods available.

I mean to say: there does not exist any experimental, scientific procedure which can demonstrate that every science must conform itself to the model of experimental science. Moreover, it is clearly false because it is self-contradictory that is, it simultaneously affirms and negates the same thing. It affirms that science must be non-normative while at the same time imposing a norm: the norm of not imposing norms!

This norm, thus declared, negates the norm itself. Let us pass now to examining the attitude of weak thought. Here, also, the reasoning proposed can be schematized thus:. A We are all equal. B You and I have different opinions. This time, the syllogism does not work even at a formal level.

In order for it to work, it would be necessary to insert an intermediate demonstration probatio media , admitting:. B 1 Opinions are worth as much as the man who expresses them. But I do not see how this affirmation can be acceptable. Frankly, it seems absurd to consider as criteria for evaluating an opinion, not the relationship between thought and the reality of the object of thought, but the relationship between thought and the subject thinking.

Is it really true that you and I are equal? If you are a saint and I am a vicious pervert, do we really have the same worth? Was the wise Socrates as valuable as the brutish despots who condemned him? We noted above that libertarians are the self-appointed advocates of these ways of thinking, in the name of the democratic spirit. Alas, they do not take into consideration that democracy itself is put in serious danger by this type of reasoning. True democracy is conditioned by the clear distinction between freedom and arbitrary act. Hence, the arguments of positivism and weak thought, claiming that ethics must be a merely descriptive and non-normative science, are fallacious.

We can assert, therefore, that moral philosophy is not a descriptive science even if description plays an important part within it. It is fundamentally a normative science: it prescribes certain obligations and imposes certain prohibitions. The engineer says: if you want the roof to stay up, you must support it with beams of these dimensions.

The doctor says: if you do not want to die of cirrhosis of the liver, you must stop drinking alcohol. What distinguishes science or technology from morality is that the former regard certain particular ends that man can choose for himself — or not. Morality, on the other hand, concerns itself with the end of human action as such, that is, the end which man cannot determine for himself. If I do not want to die of cirrhosis of the liver, I have to.

But why should I try to avoid death? Morality, on the contrary, expresses categorical norms: you must behave in this or that manner, not only to obtain a particular end, but to realize the end of human existence as such. Technologies prescribe how someone should act to be a good engineer, a good doctor, etc.

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An ethics reduced in this manner immediately provokes a radical question: Why should I submit myself to such norms? The usual response to such a query is: Because this is the way to be morally good. To which it is easy to reply: But why should I be morally good? Hence, before arriving at the formulation of norms, moral philosophy is called upon to reflect on the foundation of the norms themselves.

Thus, the exigency of developing our human personality is the basis of morality. As we will see, the full realization of this development constitutes a happy life, while the means of this development are the virtues. In synthesis, we can say that moral philosophy is the science of the good or virtuous life, and therefore, precisely for this reason, it is the art of happiness.

Anyone who has followed a course of philosophy in high school, however, will find the sound of this word familiar. For this reason, I will begin right away with clarifying the meaning of phenomenology for us. In my opinion, then, phenomenology consists in letting the object which concerns us speak for itself so that we may discover what it is, its essential nucleus, and gather truths rooted in its essence.

As was noted in the previous chapter, the object which concerns us here is moral experience. We must ask ourselves, then, if specifically moral experiences, distinct from every other type of human experience, actually exist 2. We will begin, first of all, by discussing the positions of those thinkers who negate moral experience, asserting that it can be reduced to other spheres of human experience 2. According to Marx , morality is nothing other than a superstructure that depends on the economic power relations.

The only real structure for Marx is the relationship of production and work. This structure necessarily generates a complex of superstructures capable of supporting and defending the structure itself, such as religion, morality, metaphysics, law, the forms of government, etc. On the horizon of Marxist thought, then, moral experience — analogous to religious experience — is seen as a sort of alienation man seeks himself in a mistaken direction or mystification power invests with mystical significance that which is purely and simply instrumental for the conservation of existing relationships.

Freud was the great discoverer of the unconscious. He revealed that a great part of what happens at the level of our awareness is the result of something inside us, in our depths, of which we are unaware. Consequently, moral experience, in particular, is the result of unconscious mechanisms of repression and censure , above all regarding sexual desire or libido.

The libido is thus repressed, sublimated, and censured. Morality the entire ensemble of rules, norms, and models of behavior is the result of this repression and its consequent identification with the father figure. On the basis of ideas such as these, some thinkers have theorized the end of any kind of morality.

Nevertheless, morality is not dead. In the unconscious , taboos tied to sexuality have been supplanted by other taboos, for example, that of death or suffering. In place of a resentment against life and strength, there has been substituted a resentment against the weak which seeks their liquidation, be they fetuses, deformed children, the sick, the aged, etc. Moreover, the economic structures of society continue to produce their super-structural models, making use of the powerful means of mass communication to impose rules of behavior that serve the system.

Yet, notwithstanding all this, there persist true moral attitudes that bear witness to how much moral experience is rooted in the essence of human life. We will examine these experiences first in reference to our judgement on the behavior of others, and then in reference to the judgement we make on our own behavior. In front of the behavior of others, spontaneous reactions of approval or disapproval arise within us. A first phenomenon to take into consideration is that of scandal. In the past, people were scandalized by an action that transgressed the dominant canons of behavior.

As a matter of fact, however, this is just how things are proceeding. You would think that nothing could scandalize us anymore. Yet, in reality, we continue to be scandalized by many things. Clearly, the existence of scandal affirms the permanence of moral sense. It means bestowing on these deeds, even implicitly, a negative value judgement. This not only supposes that there is no moral apathy; it implies reference to an axiological horizon [i. The framework of values has changed this mutation must be examined critically , but moral sense remains.

Another phenomenon to consider is admiration. The Latin word expresses the esteem and wonder that is felt in front of things that are both beautiful and extraordinary. This sense of wonder is underlined by the German expression Bewunderung , from Wunder : marvel, wonder. We feel admiration before very different objects. In fact, our admiration changes essentially according to the type of object eliciting it. In classical terms, we can say that the concept of admiration is not univocal, but analogical. I can admire a natural spectacle an alpine panorama, a sunset on the sea, etc.

Clearly, the meaning of admiration is different in both cases: in the first, it turns exclusively on the consideration of the beauty or sublimity of natural scenery; in the second, there also enters in esteem for a person or his accomplishment. Let us concentrate, then, on the second case. Admiration for a human work includes appreciation for its author. Nevertheless, this admiration-of-esteem does not have a univocal meaning, either. For example, I can admire the work of an artist and appreciate him in as much as he is an artist without admiring and esteeming him as a man.

Indeed, a man can be a great painter and at the same time be given to violence and thievery! The same can be said of the work of a technician, a scientist, a man of letters, etc. This admiration-of-esteem for a man as a man is a moral experience. We have said 1. Such a sentiment would be impossible if we did not have a framework of values on the basis of which to judge. But let us proceed with our analysis.

Our own behavior is also subject to the judgement we make of ourselves and generates diverse phenomena. Let us begin with the phenomenon of remorse. The word French: remords ; Spanish: remordimiento ; Italian: rimorso derives from the Latin remordere , to bite again, signifying the interior torment consequent on the awareness of an evil that has been committed. The Jewish Dutch philosopher B. The feeling of interior suffering. Remorse is the tragic experience par excellence in which a guilty past raises itself against the present, creating fractures in the soul of the subject.

What is it that creates this inner division? We cannot manipulate or eliminate it. In fact, if I myself had determined this order, I would be able to change it, adapting it to what I have done in such a way as to no longer stand condemned by it. Yet, despite whatever I do, judgement is rendered in virtue of a law that I do not give myself — a law which transcends me. The experience opposite to remorse is that of gratification. We feel this in ourselves when we are aware of having acted or of acting rightly. Probably I have lost some benefit by behaving in this way. I continued to direct my life toward the ideals in which I believe. I can walk with my head held high. I can return my own gaze when I look in the mirror. The significance of this experience emerges by contrast when someone accuses us falsely.

And again, if someone maliciously interprets my innocent behavior, I still do not lose my peace of mind because I know that I have acted honestly. Some reward, gentlemen, if I am bound to suggest what I really deserve, and what is more, a reward which would be appropriate for myself. First of all, we will look at how these experiences always have some voluntary behavior as their object 2. We will than see that in these experiences the will is moved in a very special way: it is obligated by duty 2. Consequently, we will consider the dimension of responsibility inherent in duty 2.

Finally, we will describe the rapport between duty and happiness 2. A first, evident characteristic of moral experience is that it regards the will. The object of moral admiration is precisely the will of the admired subject. Possessing a beautiful quality does not depend on the will of the subject; hence, there can be no merit attached to it. A quality can be appreciated, but not esteemed in a moral sense. I can admire and esteem someone who is very capable in his work or art.

But here, even if my esteem should not extend to the whole personality of the subject, it is clear that admiration also regards what the subject, through his voluntary behavior, has accomplished to become the professional or artist that he is. It is for this that he deserves merit. In the case of genuine moral admiration, the kind we experience when we consider the actions of Socrates, or M.

Atilius Regulus, [38] or Maximilian Kolbe, [39] etc. The motivation for our admiration, if we reflect well on it, is nothing other than their voluntary conduct. Socrates could have escaped his condemnation by means of the flight prepared for him by his disciples, or by agreeing to compromise with his accusers. He did neither. To his disciples, he offered this explanation:.

Gentlemen, I am your very grateful and devoted servant, but I owe a greater obedience to God than to you, and so long as I draw breath and have my faculties, I shall never stop practicing philosophy and exhorting you and elucidating the truth for everyone that I meet. He draws an admission out of the friend who proposed flight to him:. Is it true, as we have often agreed before, that there is no sense in which wrongdoing is good or honorable? Or have we jettisoned all our former convictions in these last few days? Can you and I at our age, Crito, have spent all these years in serious discussions without realizing that we were no better than a pair of children?

Surely the truth is just what we have always said. Whatever the popular view is, and whether the alternative is pleasanter than the present one or even harder to bear, the fact remains that to do wrong is in every sense bad and dishonorable for the person who does it. Is that our view, or not? Well, here is my next point, or rather question. In the same way, M.

Atilius Regulus could have escaped the horrendous torture that his enemies prepared for him either by encouraging the Roman Senate to accept terms favorable to Carthage, or by not returning to the city of his imprisonment. But he willed to remain faithful to the oath he had made. Our will was stronger than the flattery and seduction of improper behavior. We can conclude, then, that moral experience arises only in the presence of voluntary behavior. We can see this more clearly by comparing it with other kinds of experience.

There are human experiences that do not move the will. Knowing some truth of mathematics or natural science, for example, can leave the will completely indifferent. Does knowing that the square root of is 14 move you to want or not want something? Probably not. Now, compare these experiences with some others. Take, for example, the aesthetic experience of contemplating something beautiful. In fact, the experience of the beautiful gives rise to a desire to prolong or extend the experience. In aesthetic experience, the will is attracted by pleasure , while in moral experience, it is obligated by duty.

We are scandalized by deeds that should not happen, that cannot be permitted, that someone society, the authorities, etc. We feel remorse when we understand that we have betrayed our duty to do or to avoid something. We were obligated to do something, but we willfully fled from this obligation. Before the prospect of consenting to an injustice, a voice rises within us that shouts firmly: You must not! You are obligated to deny yourself no matter what the cost!

Let us concentrate now on the phenomenon of moral obligation. In appearance, obligation or duty seem to be realities that exclude the freedom of the subject: I am free if I am not obligated. I feel free when I have no duty to fulfill. In reality, this is a very superficial way of looking at things.

Let us consider our experience somewhat more attentively. In what circumstances do we perceive a duty? I have no sense of duty in regard to being tall, or being born on such and such a day, or having had these parents. We see easily enough that the perception of a duty obligating us to behave in a certain way would be impossible if we were not simultaneously aware of our capacity to behave in another way. Let us take a banal example: On a deserted street, I find a wallet containing a notable sum of money and the identifying documents of the owner.

I know very well that I have a duty to return the wallet, a duty that startles me because I realize I also have the power to keep the money for myself. I must do something, but I must to it freely — meaning that I could just as well not do it. Hence, the experience of moral obligation involves freedom. Where freedom is lacking, there is no moral experience.

High-Level Thoughts

Moral duty presents itself, then, as an appeal, a call that we must freely answer. This means that moral experience is always an experience of responsibility from the Latin respondere , to answer. But we are also aware that our lives unfold in a context of relations with other people, in a society.

Hence, we must all render account for our conduct to other human subjects and to the community as such. If it is true that duty obliges my will, it is also true that I can perceive a duty only if a good is presented to me. I mean to say that a certain action for example, to return the wallet to the legitimate owner presents itself as good , and therefore , I feel that I must do it. Everything depends on understanding why some actions present themselves as good and their contraries as bad. We must take this discourse a little further, entering again into the depth of the conscience, asking ourselves about our desires, our aspirations, our hopes, and our plans 2.

We can then clarify the concept of good in view of moral action 2. Lastly, we will consider what approach to take to the problem of moral evil 2. There are those, in fact, whose sole aim is to satisfy every impulse as quickly as possible. After a while, however, this way of life ends up being.

Why live at all? The search for an end begins, and many hopes come to mind. But the concept of happiness is one of the most vague and undetermined to appear on the horizon of our minds. What does it mean to be happy? The fact is that the object of our desire is not pleasure but the thing that procures pleasure! Certainly, we want to enjoy. What we hope for is something desirable.

But even something scarcely desirable in itself can be considered attractive in view of a further end. For example, a long journey on a train can be boring in itself, but very desirable if it leads me to the embrace of someone I love. And you, Dear Reader, as you read these pages, perhaps you are finding it a bit tiring or boring. What keeps you going? Maybe the desire to learn — or the fear of exams? But why learn — or why pass exams? Perhaps to carry out a certain service?

In effect, there is something for which I must desire and hope, something which represents the meaning of every one of my desires: I want to be happy. I want to realize fully my existence, that is, to develop completely my personality. All that I desire, all that I hope for, I desire and hope for because I believe that it can contribute to my true happiness. If we think about it, the things that we know and the things that we do appear to us as desirable and attractive, as positive values , when we find some merit in them that attracts our desire.

In other words, something presents itself to me as a value by appearing to me as an end or goal of a certain tendency of mine. In every case, it in some way contributes to my happiness. Something presents itself as a negative value if it constitutes an impediment to the acquisition of a positive value, or if I recognize it as repugnant to one of my tendencies or plans. A negative value foreseen in the future elicits fear; experienced in the present, it entails disablement or pain. At this point, we can formulate some first definitions:. This indicates the intentionality of human action. For example, the goal of an assassin is murder.

Objectively, such an end is evil, but the assassin could not desire it if it did not appear to him hence, subjectively as a good for him that is, he hopes to profit from it. In effect, everything that is desired, that moves the will, must necessarily appear, at least under some aspects, as a good. This is evident in the example described above: I can desire to track down the owner of a wallet that I have found.

I can desire to return to him what he has lost. I can desire the gratification of my conscience which will come out of this act of restitution. On the other hand, to experience the gratification of my conscience is a delightful good. Here also, the gratification arises from the presence of another good, that is, the returning of the wallet. However, to return the wallet is a good in itself , that is, a good not as a means or a consequence of something else. It is good in itself as an action that corresponds to the truth of things, to the dignity of the human person. As soon as an action concerns a true and proper good, it is designated a virtuous good.

We have, then, some definitions:. But if everything we want is wanted because it represents a good for us, what then is evil?


We must distinguish two levels: that of being the ontic level and that of acting the moral level. On the plane of being, everything, in as much as it is , is good in itself. Its being , in fact, constitutes its perfection. The in-depth investigation of this concept is the job of metaphysics; here we can only give a brief illustration of it. Can a material object a stone, a liquid, a gas be bad? Certainly, a stone can be a bad conductor of electricity , that is, bad in as much as it is little or no use for a determined end.

But this end to conduct electricity well is a finality that we ourselves impose on the stone. It is not that of the stone itself! A liquid can be bad as a drink ; a gas can be bad because it is toxic for man — but neither of these material objects is bad in itself in as much as it is. Perhaps, then, a living being an animal, a plant, a virus can be bad? But why are these creatures bad? Because they are damaging for man , or for sheep, but certainly not because in themselves and for themselves they constitute any evil.

If fables were written by wolves, they would be full of big, bad hunters! For example, we can say that a chair is a bad chair if it has one leg shorter than the others; or that an eye is a bad eye if it does not see well. Illness and death are evils in this sense.

We have said that everything we want and choose, we want and choose because it appears to us as a good, that is, as desirable. Consequently, bad human behavior does not consist in choosing what is bad , but in choosing badly. We have observed that there is an analogy and a hierarchy among goods.

From this perspective, it is clear that an action which involves an ontic evil can be good for example, Socrates drinking the Hemlock. In fact, in the qualification of human behavior as good or bad, it is completely misleading to limit oneself to the consideration of the ontic goods involved. At this point, we have described the essential elements of moral experience.

We are still very far, however, from determining what constitutes a good and virtuous life, a life that realizes true and proper happiness. This will be the theme of the chapters to follow. The phenomenology of moral experience described in chapter two has shown us that moral experience arises before voluntary behavior. We must now take a close look at this latter notion. Since our being cannot be reduced to intelligence and will alone, important though they may be, we will also examine the role of emotions and feelings in our actions 3.

At this point of our investigation, we will be able to tackle the fascinating and complex theme of freedom 3. Under what conditions can our actions be defined as voluntary? This might appear to be an idle question with an all too easy tautological response: A behavior is voluntary when we want to do it! This is true. We will try to bring some light to the subject by first of all introducing a classical, terminological distinction between acts of man and human acts 3. We will then do a phenomenological analysis of voluntary action 3. Think, for example, of all the operations relating to vegetative life digestion, respiration, sleep, dreams, etc.

I am truly the subject of these processes insofar as I am the one who digests, who dreams, etc. However, such processes occur in me without the cooperation of my will. On the same plane, though in a qualified sense, we can speak of acts performed under psychological compulsion sleep walking, hallucinations, raptus, hypnosis, etc. We have seen in the preceding chapter that one of the characteristics of moral experience is the possibility of judging behavior as worthy or not worthy of the human person.

Let us consider, then, the case of a sleepwalker who, in his sleep, throws himself from a balcony and dies. Would we say that he committed suicide? Obviously not! He really killed himself, but he did not do it voluntarily. With this we reach a first terminological and conceptual clarification:. Properly speaking, non-voluntary acts, even though accomplished by a human being , are not qualifiable as human.

We can make two classical distinctions in this regard:. But what is the specific imprint of humanity? What renders man different from all other beings? This is to say that man is capable of understanding and willing. Hence, we can conclude:. In the preceding chapter 2. Clearly, this judgement is correct when it is rational. We have, then, the two sides of the question: on the one hand, the human faculty of aspiration will ; on the other, that of judging intelligence.

We must now look at the relationship between these two realities. If I reflect on my actions, I notice some constant characteristics [49] :. Before acting, I more or less represent to myself what I am about to do. For example, if I think about getting a degree in philosophy, this goal appears to my mind as a good. My will adheres to this good: obtaining a degree in philosophy seems to me desirable. But I have not yet decided anything in its regard. I then ask myself if it is effectively possible that I pursue such a degree.