This Post interrupts my series of posts on gradualism of the law. However, it clarifies the moral theory I use in my book. This moral theory, which I call character morality, underlies what I say about gradualism.
The “Kantian” character morality which I use in my book Confronting Sexual Nihilism distinguishes between being the right kind of person and doing what is right. Being the right kind of person is being a person with good moral character. Doing what is right requires choosing the act in a situation required by the moral law specifying what ought to be done in that situation. Right action, then, requires at least implicit recognition of moral rules. The right kind of person develops maxims, or personal policies for acting, of the form of choosing the act in situations required by the rules of morality. Becoming the right kind of person requires choosing to develop maxims in accordance with the moral laws because having such maxims is the right way to be. Character, and maxims constituting good character, need to be chosen because they are right, viz., the morally right character and maxims to have. Good moral character has to be chosen for its own sake. If you choose having a good moral character for some other goal such as reputation, happiness or even heaven, you do not really have good moral character but a system of habits you would set aside if you discovered that they did not lead to that other goal.
Rather than trying further to clearly define my terms, here I hope to clarify this distinction between doing what is right and being the right kind of person by confronting a challenge that is often brought against this type of character morality. This challenge focuses on the phrase “choosing what is right because it is right.” Often the right act to perform needs to be done with some motive different from a sense of duty, i.e., choosing it because it is right.
For instance, the right act may be for me to show and share, to some extent, my wife’s interest in shopping. This moral law of sharing an interest in my wife’s interest could be traced back to some more fundamental moral principle about a spouse’s duty. But going back to first principles is not my concern here. So, I am obliged to do two kinds of acts. One kind is choosing to accompany her on particular trips with a show of interest. A second kind is to choose to do various things to develop a genuine inclination to make such trips. My duty to share her interest in shopping cannot be accomplished while having even in the back of my mind that I am doing my duty by becoming interested in the shopping trip. My duty is to become interested in the shopping directly; not to perform my duty.
These choices to go on shopping trips and develop an interest in that kind of activity rest on a policy I have adopted of trying to be a husband who does not neglect his wife. My maxim is to share innocent interests with my wife. If I am building moral character by choosing to have this maxim I can do so because it is morally right. It is a morally right maxim because it is consistent with a general moral requirement that I am to love my wife. Love requires wishing for her welfare and this includes enjoyment of innocent activities.
Contrast this shopping situation with one where a man has a wife who loves malicious gossip. (My wife does NOT have this vice.) A maxim of sharing this interest with his wife would not be consistent with more general moral rules. A man could not choose this maxim because it is right.
In review: In character morality acts are to be chosen with the motivation morally proper for those acts. However, maxims for choosing acts are to be chosen because they are the morally right maxims. I should choose the maxim of trying to be a proper husband simply because it is the right maxim to have. Once I have chosen that maxim, the acts I choose to implement that maxim, or personal policy, are to be motivated by inclinations needed for them to be sincere actions, if the actions are of the kind which require both external behavior and inner feelings.
A last note about a good man being a better lover:
Some might think that I should choose to be a good husband because I love my wife. I do not slight my wife by choosing to be a good husband because that is morally right. Indeed, being a good husband because of love for my wife makes me less than a reliable husband. Love is so hard so separate from feelings. With the lessening of feelings of love my sense of duty towards my wife may well diminish. Once I accept the duty to be a good husband because that is the kind of man I ought to be, I have all the particular duties of maintaining, cultivating feelings of love and showing love.
My book Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism was released by Tate Publishing on March 11, 2014. See Book Web Page for information about the book. The publisher’s listed price is $26.99. Printed copies can be purchased here by credit card for $12.99, plus $3.71 for shipping and handling.
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Charles F. Kielkopf
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