Category Archives: Authoritarian Morality

Moral Harm & Moral Worth

Everything I write about moral philosophy is heavily influenced by Kant. But I never claim to write with any authority when I express Kantian themes. When writing, in my previous post, of how human choice completes the moral causation in a morally correct action, I just could not resist the temptation to included a flash of insight into what Kant meant by “moral worth.”

Kant did not clearly mean what I mean by the term. That is why after this post I will rarely use “moral worth.”

In this post, I first specify how I use “moral worth.” This specification expands my model of divine command morality. Second I offer my putative insight into what Kant meant by “moral worth.” This insight leads to the third and final phase of the post: a preliminary discussion of positive and negative freedom of the will.

I define “moral harm” and “moral worth” as co-relative terms. Moral harm is the moral result of an agent willfully disobeying a moral law. Moral worth is the moral result of an agent willfully obeying a moral law. They are moral results because by agents’ choices they come to be in the moral order or structure. By being in the moral order they are norms. Moral harm is a norm that there ought to be deprivation of good and moral worth is a norm that there ought to be good. Willfully disobeying a moral law is rejecting the good at which the moral laws aim while willfully obeying the moral laws is endorsing the good at which moral laws aim.

I am expanding my model of divine command or authoritarian moral thought. Although I still maintain that it articulates the moral thinking of many people. I have already made a case that that moral harm as the production of a norm that some harm ought to be is crucial in ordinary moral thought. Indeed, that thought generates authoritarian moral theory. Here the new feature is the willfully disobedient agent generates the harm requiring norm; not the divine moral authority. I can make a case that ordinary moral thought recognizes that willfully obeying a moral law ought to be followed by some good. It is the obedient agent who creates this norm

How did Kant use the “moral worth”? To answer, I review some ideas about moral action from my previous post.

A moral action results from the agent adding his or her choice that the moral law be obeyed to the partial choice of the moral authority that the law be obeyed. The authority’s choice is partial because it grants agents the freedom of will to complete the authority’s choosing. Free will is here the positive freedom, “freedom to,” to will as the moral authority wills.

Now if the agent’s choice is nothing but to obey the moral law, we have a case of pure or total moral causation. As a moral action nothing but the willing of the authority that the law be obeyed and the willing of the agent that the law be obeyed were operative moral causal factors. No physical factors were operative in the willing; only the moral factors of willing that the moral law be obeyed.

Kant seemed to hold that only pure moral actions had moral worth and he definitely never wrote that moral worth is the production of a norm that some good ought to be done.

With this concept of a pure moral action the use of “moral worth” leads to requiring the theoretically important taking a stance on free will along with theoretically uninteresting self-examination of motivation. How can I know if I chose what was right only because it was right? And: Is it really right that we strive to choose because but only because the action is right?

I do not pursue the self-examination questions.

I am forced, though, to confront a tension between positive and negative freedom of the will. Negative freedom, “freedom from,” would be choosing while being free from physical causal factors.

Perhaps Kant held that if choosing is not free from physical factors, then it loses its capacity to be free to choose as the authority chooses – it loses its positive freedom. I want to avoid interpreting Kant. So, I avoid further efforts to interpret what he meant by moral worth.

But I cannot avoid the problem of whether or not moral and physical factors can co-mingle in a moral action. I begin facing the problem in this post by announcing a dualistic stance on free will and mixed motivation.

The positive freedom to choose to obey the moral law is not lost in the moral order by the agent’s not having in the physical order the negative freedom of being free from physical causal factors for his choice. Only some moral motivation is necessary to place an action in the moral order.

I elaborate on this stance on positive and negative freedom in my next post.

Moral Worth Closes the Ought/Is Gap

This post is an account, from the perspective of divine command morality, of how human choices have moral worth by creating morally correct actions.

However, I still write of the divine commander as only a moral authority. I think the post is more effective by inviting the reader occasionally to think of the moral authority as God. Also I do not want to write as a moral theologian. I have not come to the notion of a moral authority as God from some religious system. I started in moral theory by expanding the notion of the harm in violation of a moral law. This expansion of a notion of moral thought led to the notion of a god-like moral authority.

What makes an action morally correct?

I do not claim any originality for any ideas expressed in my philosophically untechnical essay. Any ideas of value have most likely already been better expressed by Aquinas, Kant and J.H. Newman.

Differences between moral laws and physical laws help distinguish a physical action from a moral action.

Regard a situation to which a physical law applies a cause. Regard the action that the law says follows the situation an effect. In the physical order the effect occurs invariably. The physical law of nature has power within the situation to which it applies to bring about the effect. A physical cause bringing about its effect is a physical action.

For the moral order, talk of cause and effect requires qualification.

For the moral order, think of a situation to which a moral law applies as a partial moral cause. For instance, an opportunity to steal under the law “Do not steal” is a partial moral cause. Regard what the moral law demands for a situation a possible moral effect. Not stealing in the example is a possible moral effect of the law.

The will of the moral authority is that the partial moral cause actually be followed by what is called the possible moral effect. However, the moral authority does not make its will totally effective because for the good of the agent in the situation, the moral authority wills that the agent add his or her willing to the authority’s willing to actualize the possible moral effect. If the moral authority fully willed the event, it would invariably occur and we would have only a physical action.

The combining of the agent’s willing with the moral authority’s willing converts the partial moral cause into a full moral cause which then actualizes the possible moral effect. The agent completes the will of the moral authority by willing what the authority wills for the situation.

A full moral cause followed by the actualization of the possible moral effect is a morally correct action.
An instance of a morally correct action is an instance of moral causation

Our capability to bring about a morally correct action by willing as the moral authority wills is free will. The moral authority grants us this capability because its is good for us to will as it wills for it always wills what is good. Our free choice has moral worth when it complements the will of the morally authority, or God, to produce a morally correct action.

I close by sketching some terminology. The terms need elaboration in subsequent posts. A morally incorrect action occurs when an agent chooses not to complement the will of the moral authority. An action in accord with morality is an action which is what the authority wills for the situation but the agent did not think of what the authority would will. An action not in accord with morality is an action which is not what the authority wills for the situation but again the agent did not think of morality. Actions which are merely in accord with morality or not in accord are really only physical actions.

A person of good moral character is a person who strives to, and is usually successful, in fulfilling the will of the moral authority. A person of virtue habitually chooses to fulfill the will of the moral authority (God). A person of virtue is morally better than a person with good moral character.

The following reflections on moral choice reveal an assumption that although every physical action has a cause those physical actions which are also morally correct actions do not have a physical cause of their being morally correct actions. This assumption also requires examination in subsequent posts.

Why Be Moral? Secularism vs. Divine Command Morality

The question “Why be Moral?” is a significant question.

Verbally it seems like a trivial question of “Why ought I do what I ought to do?” An accusation of triviality might run: What is there about “ought” that you do not understand when you ask why you ought to do what you already know you ought?

A quick dismissal of the triviality accusation runs: You really do not understand all dimensions of the meaning of “ought” if you cannot sympathize with people who, when faced with demands of morality contrary to their inclinations, seek something to strengthen their resolve to meet those demands.

But is it a philosophical question?

Way back at the beginning of the twentieth century H.A Prichard challenged its philosophic significance in his influential essay “Does Moral Philosophy Rest on Mistake?” Mind, 1912.

Perhaps on an austere conception of philosophy quests for moral motivation are not philosophic. I do not hold such a view of philosophy. However, while not forgetting that this significant question is primarily about motivation, I shall not focus on motivational dimension of the question. I use the question as an occasion to sketch out pictures of what is involved in obeying moral laws. “This issue of motivation for being moral can be developed as question for fundamental philosophy – call it metaphysics, ontology or study of being per se. It ultimately becomes a question of whether or not in being there can be a moral order.

David Hume is well-known for reminding us that “is” does not imply “ought.” Two other connections between “is” and “ought” are less remarked upon. Logically we cannot infer that something is done from there being a moral law that it ought to be done. Of even more importance is the truth that in nature what ought to be done frequently, far too frequently, does not occur.

There is an obvious difference between moral laws and physical laws. Regard a situation to which a physical law applies a cause. Regard the action that the law says follows the situation an effect. In the physical order the effect occurs invariably. Apparently there is no need for an intermediary to link cause and effect.

For the moral order regard a situation to which a moral law applies a cause. For instance, an opportunity to steal under the law “Do not steal” is a cause. Regard what the moral law demands for a situation an effect. Not stealing in the example is an effect of the law. As just noted: all too frequently effect does not follow cause in the moral order. In the moral order there is a need for an intermediary to link cause and effect.

Human choice is the intermediary connecting “ought” with “is.” We can choose not to make the connection. We are asking whether we ought to make that gap invariable. What should move our will to do what is right?

Choosing is for something. Choosing is goal driven – teleological. So investigating how choosing, or willing, connects moral cause with moral effect is investigating why the choice is made. Investigating for what a moral choice is made we are investigating at least an aspect of the issue of why we should be moral.

Looking at the “Why be Moral?” question as an occasion to ask what links moral cause with moral effect can lead to many, if not all, of the questions of moral philosophy. For instance, it provides an occasion for asking whether there are moral laws and choices let alone free choices.

I am comparing what I have called divine command morality with progressive morality. I am not preparing a book on moral philosophy. Developing a metaphysical account, or as I prefer to say “a picture,” of reality suitable for divine command morality is what I plan to pursue in my next few posts. Development of this picture of a dynamic moral order is part of my critique of secularism. This dynamic moral order is part of a religious picture of reality which seems presupposed by our ordinary moral language. Thus a rigorous secularism needs to radically revise our moral language. Pointing out that need is a criticism of secularism.

Authoritarian Morality as Divine Command Morality

The purpose of this post is to give a philosophic reason for re-labeling “authoritarian morality” as “divine command morality.” Secularization is primarily a religious movement but it also contains a philosophic reductionist program. I want to turn my development of authoritarian morality into a critique of secularism by critique of its reductionist program.

Reductionist programs aim to show that some of the kinds of things we talk about cannot be real – cannot have being. Thus, nothing we say about them could be true. For instance, a materialist reductionist program aims to show we need say nothing about thoughts and sensations to say all that can be true. A secularization reductionist program aims to show that we need say nothing about anything resembling a god, goddess or sacred item to say all that can be true. Reductionist programs have the strong goal of showing that certain kinds of things cannot be. They do not aim at showing only that there are not these kinds of things. *Reductionist programs are at the heart of philosophy – what is being such that some of what we talk of can have it and others we talk of cannot?

I have constructed the concept of authoritarian morality from the notion of moral harm as a notion of harm which ought to be for violation of a moral law. I have shown that there is a close match between our ordinary moral talk and the moral talk of a hypothetical person who explicitly held an authoritarian moral theory. See, for instance, Authoritarian Morality in Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural.The concept of a moral authority was developed far enough to justify talking of the moral authority as a god. See Core Concepts of Authoritarian Morality and Authoritarian Morality Enchants Reality

So, the philosophic component of secularization needs to show that the notion of moral harm is of something which cannot be. If successful, secularization has very significant implications for how we should think of morality. Morality becomes weak progressive morality. For instance, secularization tells us that if we think clearly we will not think that any harm which does occur is harm which is deserved because of a violation of a moral law.

To review: Secularization requires elimination of the notion of moral harm. Elimination of the notion of moral harm renders morality insignificant if we really think about what we assert in a moral judgment. A secularist should, as future posts will bring out, hold an emotivism interpretation of moral judgments.

* In my book: A Kantian Condemnation of Atheistic Despair: A Declaration of Dependence Lang Pub. New York 1997 I show that serious atheism is modal atheism which holds that there cannot be a God.

Moral Harm, the Death Penalty and Intrinsic Evil

This post brings out a significant modification of the concept of intrinsically evil act.

In recent posts I have been linking moral harm with retributive punishment. I have labelled moral theories which accept a notion of moral harm “authoritarian moral theories. In my next post I will explain why I change the label from “authoritarian moral theories” to “divine command moral theories.”

All divine command theories recognize a moral command condemning the intentional taking of a human life. All divine command theories accept that harm ought to occur upon a violation of a moral law, i.e., they all accept the notion of moral harm. Harm is inhibition of a basic human good. See Duty vs. Love for a discussion of basic human goods. Retributive punishment is infliction of some, or all, or the harm which ought to occur for violation of a moral law.

Retributive punishment can be proper or improper. The propriety of retributive punishment raises complex issues about how much harm, how, on whom and by whom. Careful investigation of these issues is far beyond my competence and experience. Here I will assume that execution is not always too much harm for murder. See Virtue of Retributive Punishment for some thoughts on the complexity of the concept of retributive punishment. Excuse, then, my writing without all sorts qualifications which should be made.

The focus of this post is primarily on how consideration of even the possible permissibility of the death penalty requires a reconsideration and restatement of the notion of intrinsically evil act or in principle wrong act.

A moral command categorically condemning the intentional taking of a human life tells us that the intention taking of a human life is intrinsically evil. That is to say that under no circumstances, regardless of the good aimed at by so doing, and the consequences for so doing is it morally permissible to take a human life.

Note that I have used “good aimed at by so doing” rather than “intention for so doing” as it is usually said. This re-wording emphasizes that the notion of “intrinsic evil” has to be linked with the inhibition of some basic human good for the sake of another good.

The intention to inhibit a basic human good for the sake of promoting some other good is always morally illicit. But an intention to inhibit a basic human good for the sake of inflicting the harm which ought to result for violation of a moral law may be morally permissible.

Consider a case of a man who has been found guilty of cold-blooded murder. To execute him simply for the sake of deterring others from such acts and preventing m from ever doing so again is not morally permissible. However, to execute him with the intention of inflicting the harm which ought to occur for murder is morally legitimate. The deterrence value of his execution and protection of society are then benefits of a morally legitimate action.

For me this need to modify the concept of intrinsic evil has been a surprise about a the implications of moral thinking.

Moral Harm Distinguished From Vengeance

In my previous post, I admitted that I had lived over 80 years with deficient moral thinking. More precisely: moral thinking deficient for thinking as a Christian. Some might say that my moral thinking was just fine for progressive moral thought.

I suppressed the component of moral thinking which I now call “moral harm.” Moral harm is harm which ought to be because of a violation of a moral law. Concomitant with suppression of the notion of moral harm, I suppressed use of a notion of retributive punishment. I understood retributive punishment as infliction of harm which ought to be simply for violation of a moral law. When I had justified punishment, I always analyzed proper punishment as corrective action. In punishing, I believed that we should look to make the future better; not try to correct the past. I had a teleological notion of punishment. As a result of my failure to accept a notion of retributive punishment, I could not think consistently about a fundamental doctrine of Christian belief: Jesus suffered and died for our sins.

In this post, I trace my implicit dismissal of the notion of moral harm to an explicit dismissal of the notion of vengeance. This provides an occasion to distinguish moral harm from vengeance.

I was blessed to have been educated in a home and in schools where revenge or “getting even” were categorically condemned. The “Sermon on the Mount” amongst other passages guided our moral teaching. Even now, I sometimes think that the only special moral teaching of Jesus was categorical condemnation of revenge. Of course, this is not to say that we did not take revenge or look out for opportunities to “get even.” If I had been in a culture which accepted dueling, my personality would have led me into numerous duels. Probably, getting revenge or rationalizing our revenge were our most common sins. The rationalizing misled me to keep suppressing the notion of moral harm. For people would often say I am just giving them what they deserve” when clearly they were delighting in inflicting harm on someone who wronged them. Implicitly, I kept thinking that any notion of infliction of harm for a wrong would be revenge.

But how can we distinguish moral harm from vengeance? Moral harm is harm which ought to be for violation of a moral law. Vengeance is harm, or attempted harm, to balance harm done to me, or a group with which I identify. I use “balance” to emphasize that vengeance, like moral harm, is not teleological. They do not aim at producing good. They aim at restoring the status quo ante the violation or injury. Reaction to an injury to protection oneself or deter future injuries is not vengeance.

But despite that similarity, the differences are tremendous – they are in different categories. Confusing moral harm with vengeance is a category mistake. Moral harm is in the category of moral norms. They are ad hoc commands that harm ought to be for this violation. Vengeance is in the category of events taken, or planned, in the natural world.

Could a person in fact unite vengeance and moral harm in a single action by inflicting harm on some one who violated a moral law to harm him? No. If his intention is to satisfy his desire to “get even” he has not fulfilled the prescription that harm ought to be done for violation of the law.

In general, I think that it is best not to have victims inflict retributive punishment because it is then so easy to confuse vengeance with obeying the moral laws about moral harm. The result being a confusion about the legitimacy of the notion of moral harm.

Progressivism vs. Catholicism

Is progressivism* consistent with Catholicism? No! There are many inconsistencies; especially in moral theory. But here I focus on theology in order to show the necessity of the notion of moral harm for understanding redemptive suffering.

Moral harm is harm which ought to be for violation of a moral law. Catholicism holds holds that Christ suffered torture and crucifixion to fulfill the prescription for the moral harm required for human sinfulness. In paragraph 601 of The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Christ’s suffering is called “redemptive suffering” Progressivism rejects the notion of moral harm. Hence, progressivism rejects the notion of redemptive suffering.

Am I saying that someone who takes a progressive approach to morality cannot be a Catholic or Christian? No. I am writing about a moral theory I built up from a foundational idea that there ought to be no harm and intended it reflect popular progressive moral beliefs. I write of Catholicism as body of doctrines. I point out a contradiction between these two theories. Progressivism cannot be a consistent Catholicsm. Catholicism cannot be a consistent progressive morality.

People are not theories. What people think are at best bits and pieces of theories. People do not think, say or believe all the implications of what they say or believe. A Catholic who takes a progressive approach to moral issues need not ever think or say anything which contradicts fundamental Catholic teaching about redemptive suffering. A Catholic can say words such as “Jesus Christ is our saviour who died for our sins” without every trying to spell out what it means. He can regard them as holy words he is supposed to say or immediately accept it as all a mystery which we cannot even start to understand.

For all that I know, people can be both morally progressive and Catholic. Indeed such people may be very good Catholic. I do not hesitate to judge another person’s character. But I do not judge a person’s character on the basis of the logical consistency of theories I develop from bits and pieces of what they say. For instance, I think Joe Biden might be a good Catholic despite the fact that his moral progressivism on abortion and homosexuality place him in contradiction to Catholic teaching. He might well be too busy thinking about other issues to draw out implications inconsistent with progressive morality from Catholic doctrines on redemption. Biden is not a good example for other Catholics. But he may have an innocent childlike faith in the words and ceremonies of Catholicism which is pleasing to God.

However, there are some of us for whom trying to understand is crucial for letting words guide our lives. So, if I were to say that what Jesus Christ accomplished by his suffering and death did far more for humanity than anything such as discovering a vaccine for Covid-19, I need to have some concepts or ideas which I can use appreciate why I would say something like that. If I cannot even start to make sense of it, I won’t believe it. But I want to believe it to avoid the nihilism of progressivism. Here then is a situation in which there is my faith seeking understanding. Faith seeking understanding is theology.

My faith is holding fast to the words of Catholicism. My theologizing is the constant effort to think of why I would say those words.

The notion of moral harm is a key to gaining at least a part of understanding. Hence, I will be using moral harm in theology exercises to gain some understanding of the Paschal mystery.

*Perhaps, I should use “moral progressivism” to distinguish it from “progressivism” which is used to label a variety of political views which are successors of what used to be called liberal views.

What is Progressive Morality?

“Progressive morality” is a term I recently introduced to refer to a type of moral theory contrary to the authoritarian morality I support. Progressive morality is an extension of a theory about sexual morality examined in my book* which I called Progressive Sexual Morality. The guiding thought of progressive sexual morality is the moral neutrality of sexuality. The morality neutrality of sexuality holds that in principle any sexual activity is morally permissible. The guiding thought of progressive morality is that no harm ought not be.

A good way to answer, “What is Progressive Morality?” is to show how progressive sexual morality can be made a progressive morality. In my book I implicitly connected progressive sexual morality with progressive morality’s thought that harm ought not be with the provision that coercive sexual acts are not permissible. Progressive sexual moralities are easily incorporated into progressive moralities if they would drop any absolute condemnation of coercive sex. It is remotely possible that a coercive sexual act produces less harm than any other act open to the rapist under the circumstances.

Do progressive moralities hold the moral neutrality of sexuality? Yes. Progressives hold the moral neutrality of every type of act. In principle, any act, even an act done to intentionally inflict harm, might be the act which produces the least harm in certain circumstances.

Act utilitarism is the fundamental method of moral evaluation for progressive morality. The basic good is satisfaction of human inclination and harm is frustration of inclination satisfaction. There cannot be any specification of any other condition such as development of talents as a good. Such a specification would characterize it as something we ought to pursue. But if we ought to pursue it then there needs to be a sanction for failing to pursue it. But sanctions open up the prospect of harm that ought to be. Inclination satisfaction becomes the good by default. Everyone naturally has this goal and there is no need to command people to have it.

In effect, the guiding thought of progressive morality is that there ought to be no frustration of human desires. And the right act in any circumstances is the act, which after balancing satisfactions with frustrations, produces the highest amount of satisfactions.

Progressivism is a humanism with its restriction to human desires. And with human desires ultimately determining what is right or wrong, “man is the measure of all things.”

The most interesting aspect of progressive morality comes out in explaining the status of the norm “Harm ought not be” which we just interpreted as “there ought to be no frustration of human desires.” Progressives are not naïve. They realize that at the present time there are kinds of desires whose satisfaction produces harm as well as kinds of people whose system of desires aim at what is harmful.

The explanation brings out why they can be called “progressive.”

Obviously, they cannot take “harm ought not be” as an imperative with sanctions. Progressivism makes assumptions about human nature. Some of the most important assumptions are as follows.
1. Moral language is part of human thinking and use of moral language actually modifies human desires and guide human behavior. It is not for telling the truth or somehow indicating the way things are.
2.Humans have some desires, such as occasionally desiring that others satisfy their desires, which could be called moral desires. (It’s simply not a sociological fact that people are totally selfish.)
3. What people desire can be modified. In particular, with development of technology people can be educated to care more for the satisfaction of other’s desires.
4. Technical progress will continue to provide resources for desire satisfaction so that, amongst other things, there will be less conflict over scarce resources.

So, progressives who bother to think about the foundations of their moral stance look at their guiding thought that there be no harm as a normative principle pervasive in human thought which their inclinations for human satisfaction leads them to take it very seriously. They might admit that they are higher on the compassion inclination scale than most other people. After noting that they are simply following amoral nature in their moral endeavors they look to technical advances and education, which may use moral language, to develop schemes for maximum desire satisfaction in the future. This future, which they most certainly will not see, most likely will require somewhat different kind of people with somewhat different desires. But such a future is possible. To be working on a scheme which leads to this right kind of future is being on the right side of history.

* 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. See Ch. IV for my justification see pp. 72ff. for discussion of moral harm. Free copies can be obtained here by credit card by paying $3.75 for shipping and handling.





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Moral Harm as An Intrinsic Evil

Authoritarian moral theories recognize some acts as intrinsically evil. For instance, my Authoritarian moral theory regards masturbation as intrinsically evil. Such a condemnation of masturbation means that under no circumstances and regardless of the intention or consequences is masturbation morally permissible. However, moral harm is not an intrinsic evil for Authoritarian moral theories. Here “moral harm” stands for the intentional infliction of harm to satisfy the sanctions for violation of a moral law. Intentional tolerance of harm as harm suffered for violation of a moral law would also be moral harm as I am using “moral harm” for this post. So interpreting AIDs as punishment for homosexual acts is interpreting it as moral harm.

For example, if a young boy were masturbating, he would be performing an intrinsically evil act. If his father caught him in the act, grabbed him, shook him while yelling at him about being a pervert, the mental pain and slight physical pain are harms that the father not only was permitted to inflict on his son but might well have been his obligation to inflict on his son simply as punishment for what his son did.

The term “Progressive moral theory” is a term I invented. Progressive moral theories hold that in principle the morality of every act depends upon the circumstances of its performance, the intention with which it is performed and the consequences of its performance. So, it seems that Progressive moral theories classify no act as intrinsically evil.

However, Progressive theories also resolve the basic contradiction in moral thought by specifying that no harm ought to be. This does not mean that Progressive theories condemn infliction of harm as intrinsically evil. Under certain circumstances with an intention to produce good and the production of good is likely, harm may be inflicted. What they absolutely condemn is the intentional infliction of harm to satisfy the sanctions for violation of a moral law . This is moral harm. Inflicting harm for retribution. There is not a contradiction with the denial that no act is intrinsically evil. It says at most that an act connected with a special intention to punish is intrinsically evil.

But what is the moral significance of holding moral harm as intrinsically evil if there are no sanctions for performing acts of this type? In Progressive morality what is analogous to intrinsically evil act in Authoritarian morality is a condition or situation which ought not be.

In Authoritarian morality there are acts which ought never be done.

In Progressive morality there are conditions or situations which ought never be.

In Progressive morality harm is what ought never be. So in Progressive morality moral harm is simply harm which ought not be. So inflicting harm or tolerating harm as retributive punishment for violation of moral laws is something which ought not be.

Moral harm still exists, of course. But it exists because humanity has not progressed far enough to realize that Authoritarian morality is really superstitious belief in an enchanted reality with super human authority. As humanity progresses to eliminate erroneous beliefs about reality and moral theory it will realize that the point of morality is to eliminate harm; not to promote harm under any conditions.

The Virtue of Obedience in Authoritarian Morality

Assume for this post that authoritarian morality is correct. What kind of person ought we be? It is clear what we ought to do. We ought to act in the ways the authority commands.

Always acting in accordance with the moral law is neither necessary nor sufficient for being the right kind of person. It is not sufficient because the perfect conformity could be simply caused by the agent’s inclinations. Some non-behavioral specifications, such as the agent’s motives or intentions for choosing, are required. Perfect conformity to the moral laws is also not necessary for being the right kind of moral agent. We want to recognize normal human beings who occasionally succumb to temptation as still being the right kind of moral person.

When I continue trying to specify the mental or non-behavioral conditions for being the right kind of moral agent, I assume that the agent almost always acts in accordance with the moral law. I cannot specify a number. But a person who quite often succumbs to temptation is lacking the strength of character needed for being the right kind of moral agent. The concept of “proper moral agent” is a so-called vague concept with borderline cases.

What about fear of the sanctions for violating moral laws? In authoritarian morality, moral laws have sanctions. If they are violated some harm ought to occur. Fear of the law is neither sufficient nor necessary for being the right kind of moral agent. A person acting in accord with the moral law because of fear may resent or even despise the moral law. A person who thinks the moral law is always right may obey it without any concern for consequences of disobedience.

From the suggestion that a person who thinks the moral law is always right, we have a clue to what makes a moral agent the proper kind of agent. It seems that the agent must obey the law because of some morally significant feature of the law such as being right or aimed at human flourishing if generally obeyed.

Let’s specify recognizing the law as right is recognizing that it is reasonable along with recognizing that it aims at human flourishing if generally followed. There is no suggestion of some type of consequentialist moral theory. There is no claim that a moral law is valid because it is productive of human flourishing. The law specifies what constitutes human flourishing.

But the focus of this post is not what makes moral laws valid. The focus is what attitude towards moral laws makes a law abiding agent a proper moral agent.

Certainly a person whose policy, attitude or maxim is to act in accordance with the moral law because it is right and directed at the good has respect for the moral law and should definitely be classed as a highly moral person; as a person with a strong moral character.

Perhaps, though, having a strong moral character is not quite enough to be a proper moral agent.

A man of strong moral character acts for the law. He does not act for the good of those for whom the law is promulgated. His stance towards the law places the law between people for who’s good the moral authority enacts the laws. He acts for the sake of obeying the law rather than acting for the sake of the human goods at which the law aims. His primary intention is to make himself a person who obeys the law. Would it not be better if he willed as the moral authority wills? The moral authority wills for human good of people subject to the law.

“Willing as” is an asymmetrical relation. If I will as the moral authority wills, it does not imply that the moral authority wills as I will. The authority will is in place for me to agree with. My will is not a choice in place for the authority to agree with.

This asymmetry leaves place for a type of autonomy. Autonomy is thought of as a condition to be defended at all costs. A suggestion of this post is that to be the best kind of person this highest type of autonomy in which you hold yourself to be an agent apart from the law who can choose to obey or disobey is to be let go in order to become a person who really is no longer free to choose not to obey.

A person with a strong moral character maintains a type of autonomy. As I pointed out in the post Autonomous obedience vs. autonomous legislation one can admit that the content of the moral law is from another (heteronomous) while maintaining that as an agent one has the autonomy to obey or disobey the law.

Choosing to obey laws aimed at producing human good is not itself within the scope of human goods at which the laws aim. It stands outside the law. However, as we will see, obedience can be transformed into a human good.

It would be better for him and everyone else if he acted in accordance with the law as if he willed the law. If instead of a strong moral character or in addition to a strong moral character, he obeyed because acting in accordance with the law was a part of his living a good life aimed at having others live a good life. He had been enjoying the goods of acting in accord with the various laws. And now an additional good to those various goods, he was enjoying the good of obeying the law. He now has the virtue of obedience.

To be the best type of moral agent, strong moral character has to be elevated to a virtue of moral obedience. His obedience to the law has to become a habit in which he finds obedience usually easy and satisfying because his obedience is for the good at which the law aims.

Let me try to illustrate obeying the law virtuously from a case from my work in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. A woman, Tina B., to whom I have brought food, clothing and furniture on various occasions calls, during the coronavirus shutdown, to ask me to help her get a TV set. She is partially crippled and lives in wretched conditions with her twenty two year old autistic son. Without a TV they live 24/7 in a squalid basement apartment which is usually dark. In her call she pleaded that she was desperate after 36 hours with emptiness. In truth, I was annoyed by her call. I had other things to do besides solve Tina’s problems.

I decided to get he a TV. What would be the virtuous way of getting her a TV? I did feel compassion for her wretched condition being exacerbated by lack of TV. But acting out of compassion to ease the discomfort of feeling compassion would only be acting as a sentimental person who is focusing on dealing with his feeling. In doing charitable work, one has to be careful about responding to one’s feelings.( You’re open to being a “sucker” at the expense of others who truly need help if you are out to feel good about yourself.) I needed to consider whether I ought to help her. After some deliberation, I concluded that moral laws applied to this situation obligated me to get Tina a TV. The deliberation should bring out that some genuine human good would be realized by her getting a TV.
As a man with strong moral character recognizing my duty would suffice for giving up my afternoon to get and deliver a TV to her. I would act, and as duty also required act, pleasantly for this abstraction of my duty. There is something demeaning to Tina about acting for her to fulfil my duty. She becomes a means to my end of duty fulfilment. The better way would be to get the TV for the good of Tina. A virtuous person would serve her as morality required the sake of her good.