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.